Franklin Grove mansion

Some 40 to 50 downtown Franklin residents and others met with staff from the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to see and learn more about the organization’s updated proposed site plan for Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens, the former O’More College of Design property located at the corner of South Margin Street and Lewisburg Avenue.

Earlier plans for the property had raised the ire of many downtown residents, particularly over issues such as traffic, parking and noise that could come from its use as an event venue. Signs have been placed in yards throughout the downtown area, stating a strong opposition to the Heritage Foundation’s plan to host events.

Franklin Grove No Event Venues sign

Heritage Foundation CEO Bari Beasley didn’t want to speculate on whether the signs would start coming down, but she did say the new site plan seemed to meet with approval.

“I will say [Wednesday’s] meeting was very positive, and I have a lot of respect for the neighbors,” Beasley told the Home Page. “I have a lot of intent on making this the very best it can be so it’s a win for the entire community — the neighbors, the Heritage Foundation, all the people that will enjoy Franklin Grove. 

“So we want to do a first-class job and we want to make it as wonderful as we possibly can for everyone.”

Beasley said the updated plan will be presented to the city of Franklin Dec. 13, and the Heritage Foundation will seek a zoning change with the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to develop Franklin Grove. Additional stops along the way will begin in January.

The proposal for Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens, which preserves the historic Antebellum property in perpetuity, is designed to become a hallmark of historic downtown Franklin serving the community at large, according to a press release from the Foundation. Nestled on five acres within blocks of the town square, the Foundation says Franklin Grove will be a haven of history, art, culture and education focusing on the deep roots and traditions of Williamson County. 

It will offer an array of walkable gardens; two rehabilitated historic mansions, one featuring rotating art collections and the other housing an innovation center for business development in partnership with Williamson Inc.; a hall for gatherings; and the Lee-Buckner Rosenwald School, an important African American schoolhouse that will have been carefully preserved to tell the story of rural education in the early 20th century.

“With Franklin Grove, we aspire to provide a place that will be the pride of our city for generations to come,” Beasley said in the release. “After months of collaboration with Franklin residents, business leaders and citizens living adjacent to the property, we have taken all feedback into consideration and evolved the original site plan.  

“We believe these modifications and enhancements will bring the community together with a shared sense of excitement for this special project, which will serve Franklin as we artfully manage growth within the framework of the heritage and culture that make our community so desirable.”                                                                                

Modifications to the plan include reduction in overall building square footage, removal of one building and reduction in size of another, adding parking spaces while reducing overall property hardscape, and other modifications to address Historic Zoning Commission Design Committee input.

In addition to the updates to the site plans, the Heritage Foundation announced the selection of community chairpersons for Franklin Grove Estate & Gardens to help share the vision and reflect its diverse offerings.  The new chairs are:

  • Georgia Harris, Community leader and Lee-Buckner School alumna
  • Chris Jones, President of Middle Tennessee Electric and board chair of Williamson Inc.
  • Ed Silva, attorney; past roles include: Board member of O’More College of Design, co-founder of Downtown Franklin Association, chairman of Streetscape for Downtown Franklin, president for Carnton and the Heritage Foundation
  • Ellen Smith, neighbor, O’More School Alumna, and Heritage Foundation board member

These community chairpersons come alongside Franklin Grove Capital Campaign chair Calvin LeHew to heighten the project’s profile and invite community support. 

The Heritage Foundation acquired Franklin Grove to save the property from other development when the former O’More College merged with Belmont University in 2018. O’More, an art and design college, had served 200 students on the 5-acre property for 39 years. Originally, the property was a Revolutionary land grant, divided into two properties belonging to several prominent families of Franklin including the Perkins, Hines-McNutt, Winsteads and Jewells. 

“We know [Franklin Grove] is going to be an incredible asset to our community, and we will put forth the mission of the Heritage Foundation, which is to save the places that matter,” Beasley said. “This place certainly matters to all of us, and we want it to be a place of beauty, reflection, education, culture, arts and preservation. So we’re real excited about it.”