The African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, along with a host of community partners, has embarked on a journey to acquire, restore, and open to the public the historic Merrill-Williams Home at 264 Natchez Street, one of the oldest landmarks of the National Register-listed Natchez Street District.
On April 14th, AAHS signed an Option to Purchase contract for a period of one year with sellers Wilbert and Cassandra Williams Taylor. Pending a successful fundraising campaign, the home will be restored and operated as a learning and interpretation center for the study of African American history in middle Tennessee.
“Preserving the Merrill-Williams House is a huge step forward in AAHS’s goal to preserve the county’s African American history. The property speaks to very important truths in the history of Franklin, rising as it did from the very ashes of the Civil War Battle of Franklin to the transformations of the Civil Rights Movement,” said AAHS President Alma McLemore.
In November 1864, the property was part of the federal line in the Civil War Battle of Franklin. After the war, Moses Merrill, who had been an enslaved worker in town for more than 40 years, acquired the property and lived there until it was conveyed to Tom Williams, son of famed Black merchant A.N.C. Williams, by the early 20th century. The Williams family turned the property into a Natchez Street showplace, building the present house. Merchants, musicians, educators, and antique collectors, the Williams family and their home became a neighborhood institution for the next 100 years.
Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West sees a tremendous opportunity in the acquisition.
“The preservation of the Merrill-Williams House helps to elevate a larger public understanding of Black history, but also serves as a lasting sign of commitment by all to recognize and protect the fuller story of this remarkable town,” West said.
Over in the historic Hard Bargain neighborhood, the AAHS is finishing necessary updates and repairs at its first historic site, which opened to the public 21 years ago. The McLemore House, built in 1880 by formerly enslaved Harvey McLemore, has been preserved and restored, and the result is a tremendous return of investment into Franklin’s rich history.
“We are ready and eager for the next challenge, and look forward to working with all of the partners and individuals who have already stepped up as supporters of the Merrill-Williams House project,” McLemore said.
AAHS is a 501(c)3 organization and tax-deductible donations may be made payable to: African American Heritage Society and mailed to: P. O. Box 1053, Franklin, Tn. 37065, go to mclemorehouse.com or click here make an online donation. For more information, contact Alma McLemore at 615-504-0229 or Stacey Watson at 615-483-3889.