By SUSAN LEATHERS
Williamson County’s I-65 corridor is definitely where the action is when it comes to commerce, tourism, dining, shopping and entertainment.
From the northern border of Brentwood to Spring Hill straddling the Maury/Williamson county line, the green spaces that once separated the county’s largest cities are quickly disappearing.
But if you’ll take the time to follow the roads less traveled, specifically those that lead you to the county’s four official “villages,” you’ll discover beautiful landscapes, “Century” farms, homegrown businesses, country diners and a lifestyle that many who live closer to the interstate long for.
The villages – Leiper’s Fork and Grassland to the west, College Grove and Triune to the east – were identified by the county a decade ago as distinctive from one another but sharing similar traits, among them being crossroads communities of historic significance and located in areas with increased growth pressure.
Each now has its own specific Special Area Plan to guide its growth and help preserve its past. Details on all of these plans can be found at the county’s official website, www.williamsoncounty-tn.gov. Search “Villages” to learn about the processes used to devise the plans and who was involved in crafting them.
In the meantime, let’s take a little road trip to each of them in case you want to discover for yourself what the heart and soul of Williamson County is really like.
This small community that dates back to the late 1700s is one of Middle Tennessee’s hottest destinations, though it’s comprised of roughly 1,100 acres and about 650 residents. To some degree “the Fork,” is it’s affectionately called, owes its current popularity and exposure to the movie and music stars who call it home, among the current residents, Justin Timberlake.
With Old Hillsboro Road serving as its “Main Street,” the village hugs the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway to the northwest, and Leiper’s Creek to the south. In 1988, it was placed on the National Register as an official Historic District. Two large parcels of land, one at the village’s eastern border, the other on its west, are protected by the Land Trust of Tennessee.
Once known as Hillsboro, the village got its current name when a post office was established here in 1818. Turns out another Tennessee town already had laid claim to the name for official postal service. So Hillsboro became Leiper’s Fork, though many of its churches, schools and other landmarks still bear the Hillsboro name. Today, however, all mail delivered here carries a Franklin, TN 37064 address.
Hungry? Don’t look for frou-frou dining here. Instead, check out the Country Boy Restaurant (reportedly the oldest running diner in the county) and the original Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant. Want to hear live music? Puckett’s and, on occasion, nearby Green’s Grocery both have you covered. Enjoy and collect fine art? Several of the county’s best fine art galleries, most featuring local artists, are here too.
As the days get longer and temps get warmer, the Lawnchair Theater, tucked behind Leiper’s Creek Gallery, features free family-friendly movies and even live concerts. During the winter holidays, the annual Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade is unlike any you’ve likely ever experienced and truly illustrates the Fork’s whimsical nature.
Nearby, Leiper’s Fork Distillery (the first in the village since Prohibition) is a great place to begin the Masters and Makers Trail, a 70-mile, five-stop driving tour showcasing the county’s home-grown wine, beer and spirits industry. In fact, if you start the trail in Leiper’s Fork, make your second stop Arrington Vineyards and Winery – located within a stone’s throw of another village, College Grove.
One of the county’s earliest communities, College Grove for two centuries has retained its rural roots and feel. Located due south of Nolensville and I-840’s Hwy. 41A exit, what’s left of its original commercial area is set along Horton Highway (SR 31-A) near its crossroads with Arno-College/Bellenfant Road.
Like Leiper’s Fork, College Grove’s “new” name was established in 1860 with the arrival of a post office. Originally the small community was called Harpeth, then Poplar Grove. A toll road established in 1840 linked College Grove to other nearby towns and Nashville to the north.
The arrival of the Lewis and Northern rail line, begun in 1914, helped the commercial center blossom and provided goods and services to the farmers who made up most of the population.
Sadly, few historic buildings remain. Among them are The Bank of College Grove building, College Grove United Methodist Church and the Dr. Urban Owen House. The village is also home to the Owen Hill Masonic Lodge, chartered in 1849.
Today the county-owned College Grove Parks and Recreation Center serves as the village’s hub and is home to Fifty Forward’s College Grove senior center, the College Grove Community Library, a fitness center and wide range of community activities.
A year-round calendar of community events like its own home-grown Christmas Parade, Easter Egg hunt and any number of community dinners exemplifies the best of small-town living. The Sip and Scoop is the place for coffee or ice cream, but if you need to fill a pantry, Four Corners Grocery & Deli in nearby Eagleville, is the closest grocery store.
Unlike Leiper’s Fork, you won’t find yourself squeezing through hundreds of weekend tourists in the heart of the village, but this southeastern Williamson County community has attracted visitors of another variety – those that come and stay.
Though located outside the official College Grove “village” boundary as defined by its Special Area Plan, The Grove — an 1,100-acre, gated community with homes starting in the low $900,000s — has brought a new dynamic to the otherwise still-rural landscape. It’s built around a Greg Norman-designed golf course.
A second golf community, The Hideaway at Arrington, just north of College Grove, is being developed on singer Tanya Tucker’s former property.
In February, College Grove home sales (ZIP code 37046) led the county in average home price at $825,862. College Grove Elementary School, another community hub, is bursting at the seams.
And in March, more than 50 properties, including some large land tracts, were listed for $1 million or more.
Triune, named in 1845 after Triune Methodist Church, is just a seven-minute drive up Highway 41A from College Grove (and about 10 minutes south of Nolensville). The highway’s intersection with Murfreesboro Road/Hwy. 96, marks the heart of the “village” that’s also easily accessible via I-840.
Prior to the Civil War, the Triune area, previously called Nelsonville, Flemingsburg and Hardeman’s Crossroads, was one of affluence and home to several large plantations, several churches and four boarding schools – two for boys, two for girls. The Bostick Female Academy, built to replace Porter’s Female Academy which Union troops burned, later served as the Triune Public School. Today the building is a private home and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Approximately 1,000 people now call Triune home, though like College Grove, that number is increasing every year as farmland here and in the nearby Arrington community gives way to new residential developments, like King’s Chapel and Arrington Retreat.
The Triune Community Center & Riding Ring, now part of Williamson County Parks & Recreation department, remains a hub for local events and activities. The Triune Riding Club, established in 1962, is the state’s oldest saddle club.
Nearby, neighbors and tourists alike flock to Arrington Vineyards (co-owned by Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn fame), which offers weekend Music in the Vines concerts, Food Truck Fridays from May to October and, of course, wine tasting.
The Tennessee Renaissance Festival, an annual celebration of 16th-century England, is open every weekend in May through Memorial Day just east of the village. The festival’s landmark building, Castle Gwynn, is visible from I-840 and has long captivated passersby.
From the north, the unincorporated Grassland “village” officially begins close to the dual campuses of Grassland elementary and middle schools and the adjacent 76-acre Grassland Park at the southeast corner of Hillsboro Road and Manley Lane.
It stretches south, along Hillsboro Road, through two distinct commercial areas and several well-established subdivisions. There’s lots of history to be found within the Special Area Plan as well as “greater Grassland.” River Rest Estates, across Hillsboro Road from the Grassland schools, is bordered by two historic properties, the William Leaton House on Hillsboro and the John Moran House at the Harpeth River on Moran Road.
Nearby Bethlehem United Methodist Church, established in 1848, remains a vibrant part of the community. Each July it hosts one of the area’s longest-running all-you-can-eat catfish dinners, with the 2019 edition marking its 45th year. The church also is home to the Bethlehem Players community theater.
The community is home to several nurseries and landscape companies, antique and gift shops, small shopping centers and unique eateries. Want a cup of coffee and treat? The Good Cup, est. 2003, feels like home the minute you walk in. Barbara’s Home Cooking, on Old Hillsboro Road, has food just like Mama used to make. Prefer fast food? The Sonic just off Hillsboro on Battlewood Street is always happening.
Worth a visit whether you are visually impaired or not is the Sensory Garden for the Blind, located behind Grassland Park’s ballfields off Manley Lane. Opened in 2011, the garden’s plantings were selected to specifically appeal to the five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight.
With limited sewer service in the area, new development in Grassland is restricted, though several large developments – Laurelwood, Old Natchez and Legend’s Ridge – have all been established just to its west and south. The City of Franklin provides water to the area, which also has a Franklin ZIP code (37069).