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Franklin’s McLemore House brings new life to history with restoration

  • Updated
  • 4 min to read
McLemore House

Franklin’s historic McLemore House is undergoing a monthslong renovation, its first in 20 years — in 1998 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The home was built by a former enslaved man, Harvey McLemore, in 1880, after he purchased the land from his former owner, Col. and later Judge Williams S. McLemore, in a historic moment that helped to spark a new community that has served a source of power and pride in Franklin.

The house sits at the corner of 11th Avenue and Glass Street, its bright white wood siding and wooden porch and columns connect two brick chimneys at either end, and it has a new dark metal roof.

A white picket fence lines the roadway on either side of the house, a flagpole in front of the porch’s swing, and, for the time being, pallets of bricks, an industrial dumpster and a backhoe sit beside the house — a sign of good things to come.

This latest restoration effort is a collaboration between the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and Ford Classic Homes, who coordinated and are working to update the existing Colonial Revival exterior architecture.

In addition to the new roof, the one and a half story home has also received some new cypress bevel siding as well as a replacement and restoration of all 10 windows in accordance with the historical period of the home.

The home’s concrete front porch was also replaced with a wooden porch and columns, with grading and landscaping to be completed before work begins on the inside of the building.

In addition to upgrades to the home’s electrical and plumbing systems, the McLemore House’s interior ground level floors will soon be replaced with repurposed historic pine flooring that was saved from the Ceramic and Craft Workshop that was previously located on the Spivey Tract property before it was acquired by the Battle of Franklin Trust as part of a battlefield reclaiment initiative.

This project, which is expected to be completed in early summer, is not just limited to those who love history, but also serves as a living connection between McLemore and his living descendants.

One of those descendants is McLemore’s great, great granddaughter Laverne Holland, who lives just behind the McLemore House, in the spot where the family garden once grew.

Holland also previously called the McLemore House home before the African American Heritage Society took control of the property in 1998.

It’s then when the McLemore House transitioned from a living home to a staple of living history, becoming the The McLemore House Museum following its first renovation.

Holland has many memories of the home, including her aunt Maggie Matthews who lived in the home before Holland. At one point her aunt ran a salon out of the home after having trained in New York City.

“My strongest memories are of my Aunt Mag living here,” Holland said. “She always had a bunch of flowers all around and club meetings, the Forget Me Not club meetings, and that rock over

Harvey McLemore’s great, great granddaughter Laverne Holland stands inside of her old room inside of the McLemore House holding a framed 1921 photograph of the Forget Me Not Club, which includes an image of her aunt Maggie Matthews.

there, she would tell us, ‘Don’t you come on my grass!”, Holland reminisced with a laugh.

“I was the last person to live here, my children and I, and I always wanted to save it. The Lord just worked it out,” Holland said. “It was a homeplace here that Harvey had established for the family, and I was able to stay here and raise my children and fi nish college.”

As the renovations continue the museum is closed, with furniture and displays shuffl ed around in preparation for the interior work, soon to be set up for tours.

Among the items is a framed black and white group photograph of 14 Black women in matching blouses and long skirts. The group is the 1921 Forget Me Not Club, and front and center, sitting in the grass, is Maggie Matthews.

No known photograph of Harvey McLemore exists, in its place a silhouette of McLemore is displayed on of the many informational banners inside the museum.

According to the National Register of Historic Places, McLemore (ca. 1829 - ca. 1898) was the third African American to purchase property in the Hard Bargain community, and built one of the fi rst residential dwellings in what would become a Black middle-class subdivision made up of professionals such as farmers, teachers, carpenters and masons.

Although the specifi cs of exactly what McLemore looked like, or where all of the various pieces of the original home were salvaged from, including two ornate mantels, it’s evident that the impact of his strength and perseverance has lived on.

“Just look at what he did,” African American Heritage Society of Williamson County President Alma McLemore said in awe as she walked through the home with Holland and former Heritage Foundation Director Mary Pearce. “Look at this house.”

Pearce said that this project has also highlighted the power of unity, and the role of the whole truth in creating a better future and learning from the sins and challenges of the past.

“It’s been a journey for me to understand that one of the most important principles of the idea of standing united as a community is that respecting everybody’s history is a great foundation for racial reconciliation,” she said.

The impact of McLemore’s work also spoke to founding members of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, including Mary Mills, who said that the organization was formed with the goals of informing the public of the prideful contributions of the African American community, educating children and forming stronger bonds between Black and white communities throughout the county.

“We want to continue his legacy,” Mills said. “I hope that this house will continue to remind people of what we have done even after slavery.”

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Holland added. “And it’s a continuing story, it’s not just the McLemore family, it’s all of the African American families in Williamson County. This is a place that they can identify with, a place where heritage has been left.”

Williamson County historian Rick Warwick said that the continued investment into uncovering, recognizing and celebrating African American history is vital to understanding the entire history of Franklin and Williamson County.

“This site is a good focal point for newcomers or people who have lived in the county for a long time to say, ‘this is the story of a family who lived through slavery, through reconstruction and on into the 21st century,’” Warwick said. “I think the whole country is opening up to the need that we should tell the real stories and tell them fairly and I think we’re doing that in Williamson County.”