Natchez Street Historic District
The Natchez Street Historic District is a 25-acre historic district in Franklin, Tennessee that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. It includes an area used to be known as Baptist Neck due to the many churches located on its main street. This area was first developed following the Civil War as a neighborhood for African Americans, who had recently claimed their freedom from slavery, to settle. They built homes, churches and a school and operated businesses out of this neighborhood. The Natchez Street Neighborhood has always been a primarily working-class neighborhood in Franklin.
Backstory and Context
The Williamson County Tax Records of 1871 - just five years after the end of the Civil War - list a number of African American landowners in the Natchez Street neighborhood. For example, Henry Ewing, John Merrill, George and Andrew Patton, Oscar Southall, Ned Bennett, Alex Crutcher, George W. Johnson, Henry Morton, Billy Miller, and Lewis North are among the names listed as owning lots in "Natchez" in the 1871 records.
Henry Ewing was a carpenter, Oscar Southall was a painter, and George and John Patton worked as chair makers. Prosperous merchant ANC Williams lived at 264 Natchez Street and is the area's most well-known early resident. Williams owned and operated the first African -American business on Main Street. The building is still standing, but no longer owned by the Williams family.
During the early decades of the neighborhood's development, several church congregations were formed, all of which are still in existence today. Shorter Chapel AME Church, Providence United Primitive Baptist Church, and the First Missionary Baptist Church are just a few of the still-thriving congregations that worship on Natchez Street today.
The neighborhood's residents also supported a school for their children. In 1888, a school was built on Natchez Street that would serve until it was closed due to integration in the 1960s.
The Natchez Street neighborhood was home to a number of industries during the 1800s, although the actual buildings no longer stand. The 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Franklin show the American Syrup and Preserves Company on Natchez Street near Spring Street and West Main. Southall Brothers Lumber, Planing, and Woodworking Mill was located on the corner of Natchez and Granbury Streets. Owned and operated by W.A. Southall, the mill began operation in 1902. J.W. Beasley Planing, Sawing, and Lumber Mill was also located within the neighborhood. Mr. Beasley built shotgun houses to house the mill workers along Carter and Strahl streets. Nicknamed "Beasley Town," and no longer standing, these homes provided a place to live for lumber mill workers and their families. Encompassing three acres, the area contained thirty-six houses built by Mr. Beasley from lumber sawed at the mill, each of which had a small garden plot. Mr. Beasley collected the rent for these homes each week, and every family was expected to have the rent ready at the appointed time when he made his rounds to collect. Both mills were still in existence on the 1940 Sanborn fire insurance update.
Although the lumber mills were important, tobacco remained the largest cash crop in Williamson County during the early part of the twentieth century. Every fall, millions of pounds of tobacco came through town, earning local farmers record payments. Jewell's Tobacco Warehouse stood on Spring Street. This facility previously housed the American Syrup and Preserving Company, a cannery that went out of business in the 1930s; due to a lack of sufficient produce, the company discontinued operations. It was subsequently turned into Jewell's Tobacco Warehouse and Floor.
Many black neighborhood residents owned and operated successful neighborhood businesses. Funeral homes provided a vital service as well as a profession in the district. Rev. T.J. Patton started the district's most well- known and enduring funeral home in the early 1900s.
The neighborhood was fortunate to have several physicians living in the district that were deeply committed to the well being of its residents. Prominent African-American physicians that lived and practiced in this area include Dr. C.C. Johnson, Dr. J.W. Hudson, and Dr. F. A. McCoy. The district was also home to many of the school's teachers and principals during this time, such as J.K. Hughes.
The history of this neighborhood also includes that of the working-class residents who made it home. Many of the people who lived in the Natchez Street neighborhood were instrumental in literally building Franklin. The 1933 Franklin Directory shows that Natchez Street residents were ministers, stone workers, grocery store owners, private home servants, laborers, teachers, carpenters, plumbers, tinners, drivers, undertakers, barbers, and janitors. Natchez Street resident Albert Blakely was a stonemason in the area during the 1930s and 1940s.
Local grocery stores, including stores owned by neighborhood residents Pokey Morton, George Kinnard, and the Gentry family, allowed residents to purchase groceries and other household items without leaving the neighborhood.
In 1925, the Shorter Chapel A.M.E. Church moved from the Bucket of Blood neighborhood on the northeast side of town into the heart of the Natchez Street community when they congregation built a new sanctuary at the corner of Natchez Street and West Fowlkes,
The first half of the twentieth century marked a time of tremendous global warfare, and current and former residents of the Natchez Street neighborhood provide local ties to this significant time in military history. Despite being denied full freedom within their own country, several Natchez neighborhood residents left their homes after being inducted into the Army to fight for the nation's freedom. Ostranda Williams, son of A.N.C. Williams, served in the Army during World War I and fought in France. Samuel L. Johnson also served in the army with the 351 st Field Artillery Battery D while stationed in France. This company was part of the 92nd Colored Division, an African-American Division created during World I. He returned to the Natchez Street neighborhood and managed several rental properties in the area.29
Veterans. Several area residents enlisted to fight in World War II. Thomas Gordon Patton, of the prominent Patton funeral business family, joined the Army Air Corps in 1944. He trained as a fighter pilot at Tuskegee Air Field, becoming Franklin's first African-American fighter pilot in World War II. Patton gained the rank of captain as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group. Following closely in Thomas Patton's footsteps, Robert Murdic Jr. also trained to be a fighter pilot at Tuskegee after graduating from Fisk University. Latham Mills, nephew of Dr. C.C. Johnson, was Williamson County's first African-American Marine .
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Natchez Street neighborhood was anchored by the vital Natchez High School and several well-established churches. Neighborhood grocery stores, cafes, beauty parlors, funeral homes, nightclubs, and the only local hospital in segregated Franklin that treated African American patients, continued to serve the area's residents. However, the effects of the Civil Rights Movement, integration, urban renewal, and public housing would have long-lasting effects on the neighborhood.
Civil Rights Movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) created an organization named "Citizens for Human Dignity" to promote integration and civil rights in Franklin.
During this time, active military service continued to play an integral role in the lives of Natchez Street residents. The military had been integrated soon after World War II, and black and white soldiers now fought side by side in integrated divisions, experiencing similar horrors during their tours in Korea and Vietnam. Mac Gentry, who still resides at 1106 Park Street, received the Bronze Star medal in Vietnam for his heroism in risking his own life to save three soldiers in danger.
The church and spirituality continued to play an active role in the lives of Natchez Street residents and in the stability of the neighborhood. During the 1950s and 1960s, two additional churches were established with buildings on West Fowlkes Street. Winstead Tabernacle Primitive Baptist Church, located at 130 West Fowlkes Street, was established in 1950, and Fowlkes Street Church of Christ, located at 140 West Fowlkes Street, was established in 1964. Both churches have active congregations today.
Part IV: Reinventing the Neighborhood: Today
The Natchez Street neighborhood and its rich historical legacy is a vital part of the story of growth in Frank- lin, TN. Local residents realize their historical importance to the city, and have begun to organize a means to protect their resources and communicate their history. Natchez Place Inc. was established in 2002 by mem- bers of Franklin's African-American community to generate increased interest in the neighborhood's and the city's African American past. This organization has been active in establishing an office in the Kinnard- Dotson House at 239 Natchez Street, setting up bus tours of African-American sites, holding a Veteran's Day celebration highlighting the military service of the district's veterans, and hosting open houses to share the neighborhood's stories. Natchez Place Inc. is also evaluating potential opportunities for funding to re- store and rehabilitate portions of this historic area. The former school, which now houses the Claiborne and Hughes Health Center, is an excellent example of adaptive reuse of a historic structure. The neighborhood's close proximity to the historic Carter House (NHL Franklin Battlefield 4/5/1985), heavily traveled Columbia Avenue, West Main Street, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and the downtown area make it a desirable location for inclusion in Franklin's frequently toured and visited historic areas.
The entire city of Franklin is being modified by rapid growth and development, and the Natchez Street neighborhood is not immune to the changes that are influencing Franklin. Designation as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places would provide the neighborhood with a source of community pride, an added element in its advertisement as a historic neighborhood, and some forms of protection from commercial and industrial development as the city continues its rapid expansion.
Battle, Thelma. Memories that Lead to a Street Named Natchez. Franklin, TN: underwritten by NationsBank and The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, 1998.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Franklin, TN: 1903, 1928, and 1940.