See Just How Franklin Keeps its Historic Charm

Franklin and Williamson County, Tennessee have some of the best restored, rehabilitated, and preserved properties in the United States. But, this didn’t happen by accident! It’s taken many dedicated citizens and organizations to keep this area authentic.

After a historic property was torn down in the 1960s, a group of concerned citizens banded together to form the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County in 1967 – with a mission of protecting and restoring precious buildings and land.

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During the Foundation’s 50-year history, the organization has called several historic locations home: Dr. McPhail’s Office (now home to Early’s Honey Stand, the Downtown Post Office, and the Priest House (now home to Onyx & Alabaster).

Around 2013, the Foundation grew to a handful of paid staff members, hundreds of volunteers, caring members, and crucial donors. With growth, came the need for a new home. Enter – the Old, Old Jail – not to be confused with the Old Jail or the Old, Old, Old Jail, as locals so fondly refer to them. Though an extremely safe area, Williamson County has had its fair share of jails, and when you’re good at preserving things, you end up with multiples!

Inside the renovated Old Old Jail in Franklin, Tennessee

Williamson County has had seven jails since 1800:

No. 1: From 1800 to 1816, the first jail was located at 117 Third Avenue North.

No. 2: In 1817, a two-story log jail was built on the west corner of Bridge Street and 2nd Avenue North and stood until 1858.

No. 3: The third jail was built in the same location. It was made of stone and brick with two cells upstairs and two down.

No. 4 (Old, Old, Old Jail): In 1905, the county purchased the White Tavern lot and hired Nashville architect T.K. Colley to build a three-story brick jail at the cost of $15,000. (The Old, Old, Old Jail is now home to the McConnell House.)

No. 5 (Old, Old Jail): By 1941, the fourth jail was deemed inadequate, so the county hired J.C. Russell of Nashville to construct this jail of concrete, rock, and steel for $25,000.

No. 6 (Old Jail): In 1971, the sixth jail was constructed on the adjoining lot for $350,000, and it served the county until the seventh was constructed on Century Court for $5.3 million in 1989.

After the Old Jail was built in 1971, the Art Deco-style Old, Old Jail was converted into a variety of offices, and the last tenants moved out in 2008. After this, the building fell into disrepair. However, in 2013, the Heritage Foundation purchased the property from the city for it’s original $25,000, and for the next three years, the foundation would work on raising funds for the rehabilitation project.

In 2016 after a $2.5 million rehabilitation project, the Heritage Foundation moved into its new home.

In early 2018, long-time friends of the Foundation and preservationists Calvin and Marilyn Lehew and Emily Magid donated more than $900,000 to pay the balance of the loan on the rehab project. Fittingly, the Old, Old Jail will be renamed The Lehew Magid Big House for Historic Preservation.

While you’re visiting Franklin and Williamson County, get a sneak peek at some original jail artwork and take a free tour of the Big House. “Visiting hours” are 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

About the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County:

For over 50 years, the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County has preserved historic buildings and green space through advocacy and fundraising. Notable projects include the Franklin Theatre, Roper’s Knob, parts of the Franklin battlefield and the Old, Old Jail. The Foundation brings county history to more than 3,000 public, private and homeschooled children each year through the Heritage Classroom program and walking tours of downtown Franklin.

Events and festivals produced by the Heritage Foundation such as Main Street Festival, the Heritage Ball, Pumpkinfest, Dickens of a Christmas bring hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors to the county each year.

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Meg Hershey