Discover the Fascinating History of Franklin’s Black Citizens on This House Tour

Franklin is famous for its historic home tours, which tell the story of the Civil War’s bloody Battle of Franklin from the perspective of the families who lived through it. But until recently, visitors at Carnton and Carter House only heard stories of Franklin’s white citizens. Now, thanks to a community effort that’s been named “The Fuller Story,” the complex and tumultuous history of the town’s African American population is being uncovered, resulting in a more nuanced and realistic look at the city’s past. 

[March to Freedom Statue]

A bronze statue called March to Freedom now stands in Franklin’s Public Square honoring the U.S. Colored Troops, along with historical markers telling of the market where Franklin’s enslaved people were sold, an 1867 race riot, how Reconstruction affected the black population, and more. The Battle of Franklin Trust has added a Director of African and African American History to its staff. Now, Kristi Farrow is uncovering fascinating new information about the enslaved people at Carnton and Spring Hill’s Rippa Villa on an almost daily basis. And in the Hard Bargain neighborhood to the west of downtown Franklin, the McLemore House has opened for tours. Built by former enslaved person Harvey McLemore, it tells the story of how Franklin’s African American citizens endured and overcame hardships and racism after the Civil War in their bid for equality as citizens of the United States.

[View of Hard Bargain, 1878. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick & The Williamson County Historical Society.]

Born in 1829, Harvey McLemore continued working at Carnton as a freed man for his former owner, W.S. McLemore, until 1880, when he bought four lots from W.S. in Hard Bargain. He built a home on the property and certainly had no idea at the time that the house would shelter his descendants for the next 117 years. 

[The McLemore House. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick & The Williamson County Historical Society.]

Covering two city blocks, Hard Bargain evolved into a community of skilled black laborers during the Reconstruction years after the Civil War. Today, about 130 homes stand there, and a number of its residents are descendants of the community’s original homeowners. Harvey McLemore continued living in Hard Bargain until his death in 1898. He left the house to his wife, Eliza, with instructions to pass it on to his only daughter, Mary Matthews. 

[Maggie Matthews, year unknown. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick & The Williamson County Historical Society.]

By all accounts, Matthews was strong and courageous. She managed to get the court to grant her a divorce from her abusive first husband in 1901, and she also secured ownership of the house in the process. She went on to remarry in 1918 and sent her daughter, Maggie, to Nashville’s first African American Catholic school. Maggie went on to study cosmetology in New York City and become a professional hairdresser. She opened her salon in the front hall of her home—the same home built by her grandfather—and lived there until she died in 1989.

[The McLemore House & Museum today]

Harvey McLemore’s descendants continued living in the house until 1997. That’s when the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County bought the home in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The Heritage Foundation sold the home that same year for one dollar to the newly formed African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, which opened it as a museum in 2002. 

Today, the McLemore House has been renovated and preserved and is open again to the public for tours. Tours include stories of the residents of the McLemore House and Hard Bargain and last about 30-45 minutes. Tickets must be purchased online. To find out when the next tours are scheduled, go to the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County’s website.