Franklin Grove, Heritage Foundation efforts begin working to open in 2025
As 85-year-old Georgia Harris looked at the land and historic buildings that would soon become Franklin Grove Farm and Gardens, the Williamson County native couldn’t help but feel emotional.
The 5-acre property, once home to the O’Moore College of Design, is being repurposed into a public landmark that organizers hope will serve the community for generations, and a major addition to the grounds is currently in the works.
The historic segregation-era Rosenwald School, the last of its kind in Williamson County, is scheduled to move from its current home in Spring Hill to the new park in downtown Franklin by the end of the year.
“For the Williamson County Heritage Foundation to do this means everything to me,” said Harris, a former Lee Buckner University student. school. “Sometimes it makes me cry a little bit, but I’m so grateful that they bought the school, my school.”
Explore rich history
Harris attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens on November 1. The Heritage Foundation is partnering with Franklin-based Oversite to lead the transformation of Franklin Grove.
Oversite manages construction projects like Franklin Grove on behalf of property owners, according to a statement from the Heritage Foundation. The company’s services include project team formation, complete budget management, scheduling, design and construction.
Franklin Grove is the largest project the Williamson County Heritage Foundation has ever tackled in its 56-year history, and it hopes to proudly display the county’s deep roots and traditions, according to Barry Beasley, the organization’s president and CEO.
“It will be a historic destination that creates a sense of place, timelessness and beauty for all people to engage with education, art, history, nature and community,” Beasley said.
The Franklin Grove estate dates back to the mid-19th century and was said to have been home to a “Women’s Theological Seminary” before becoming the O’More College of Design in 1970.
The campus, which awarded degrees in areas such as fashion merchandising and graphic design, closed in February 2018 after merging with Belmont University to become the O’More College of Design.
The foundation said that the property will include four buildings when it is opened to the public, and plans are underway for all of these buildings.
One of the last remaining schools of its kind
The Lee-Buckner School officially opened in 1927 and served black children in Williamson County until its closure after the 1964-1965 school year, once segregation ended and rural schools were consolidated.
It was one of 24 such schools in Williamson County and housed grades one through eight. In all, historians estimate that Lee Buckner taught 56 children.
Beasley said she hopes to put the one-room school on a flatbed truck and drive it 17 miles to Franklin Grove by December.
“We would like him to be transported at night and have the community line the streets to welcome him to his new home,” she said.
Plans for the school at Franklin Grove include an immersive experience that will allow guests to sit at desks, look at artifacts, discover student stories and reveal the lasting impact of educational endeavors in Williamson County, according to the Historical Commission.
Lee-Buckner is the last remaining Rosenwald School in Williamson County.
The brainchild of Sears CEO Julius Rosenwald and Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington, the Rosenwald Fund supported efforts to build Rosenwald Schools to educate black children throughout the segregated rural areas of the South. In the period between 1917-1932, 5,357 schools were built. Today, only 10% of them remain.
For Harris and others who attended the school, there is a certain amount of pride that goes with preserving Lee Buckner, she said, noting that the Heritage Foundation ensures that its history and the stories of many like it will remain alive for generations to come. .
Palaces, gardens, etc
The school building is not the only historic building located in Franklin Grove.
There are two houses dating from the late 19th century on the property. The LeHew Mansion was built in 1899, and the Perkins-Winstead Mansion was built in 1870.
Plans call for LeHew to house Williamson County’s first innovation and entrepreneurship center. The 4,100-square-foot space will host Williamson County’s newest businesses in partnership with Williamson Inc.
Officials said the center is offering below-market office space in hopes of retaining local talent.
“Our current vision for the chamber and the Heritage Foundation is for this building to be an incubator for businesses to be able to take off and go from a chamber to a 10,000-square-foot space in Williamson County,” Beasley said.
At Perkins-Winstead guests will find the 6,000-square-foot Robert N. Moore Museum showcasing local and national art.
The museum will include a rotating display of painting, photography, sculpture, antiques and furniture exhibits, and will serve as a venue for educational opportunities connected to the exhibits and Franklin Grove’s mission, according to the Heritage Foundation.
Plans also call for O’More’s old classroom building to be repurposed and converted into staff offices, known as the Carriage House.
About 3.5 acres of the property will be home to a large number of green spaces, including water shows, seasonal plant and flower exhibits, and secluded places for meditation.
The landscape plans also call for highlighting the property’s signature, a McDowell oak tree estimated to be 200 years old, the Heritage Foundation said.
The entire construction is expected to be completed by late 2025.