Nolensville’s Historical Society Works to Preserve City’s Past

Historic Morton Brittain House_ Nolensville’s Historical Society Facebook
Historic Morton Brittain House/Nolensville’s Historical Society Facebook

Historic preservation is a way to transmit the story of a city’s past to future generations and it can also create a sense of belonging. Many cities and towns are doing more to preserve their old buildings because it gives the area a unique identity which draws interest from tourists and those moving from other parts of the country. Nolensville’s Historical Society (NHS) was formed in 2001 and chartered in 2003 to promote knowledge and awareness of the historical heritage of the town and surrounding areas, and to promote the preservation of historic sites. What it has really done is work hard to save the heart of Nolensville when it was quickly changing from the farm community it once was to a suburban stronghold for those wishing to be near Nashville, but not live in the city.

“The history of Nolensville has laid the foundation of what we are today,” said NHS member Trish Szego.  “A strong community foundation exists in which history will always be a part of the brand.” 

Nolensville’s brand centers around the historic district which makes up old town. William Nolen started the town on part of a land grant that he purchased from Jason Thompson. After the United States became independent of England, many who fought in the Revolutionary War received land grants in the area. The town was founded in 1797, taking its name from William Nolen.

First Homes in Nolensville

In the early 1800s, there was a large migration to the area from Rockingham, North Carolina and the town grew along Mill Creek. There was eventually a creamery and mill added that can still be found in the historic district. The town was incorporated in 1839.

Nolen House, home of William Nolen, was built in the early 1800s. He came because his brother, John, had received a land grant and had migrated to the area in 1790. John had one wife and fathered five children, while William had two wives and fathered 16 children.

One of the oldest structures in Nolensville is currently known as “A Homeplace Bed & Breakfast.” It was built in 1820 by one of William’s daughters and her husband. In 1989, Alfred and Evelyn Bennett purchased the home at auction when they realized the only other bidder planned to tear it down. They opened the bed and breakfast in 1990. The home’s carriage house has been used for many businesses, including a doctor’s office and a dry goods store.

The Civil War Reached the Town

During the Civil War, both the Northern and Southern armies foraged the area where there were at the time many farms. General John Wharton’s Confederate Cavalry unit was briefly stationed in the town, and General Joseph Wheeler’s command captured a Union supply train in Nolensville on December 30, 1862. There were also other skirmishes.

Preserving Historically Significant Buildings

“We at the NHS are committed to do what we can to save historically significant buildings in the area,” said Szago, “but NHS does not have the resources to purchase them, so we have worked with the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. They have been a great resource and partner.”

In 2019, a building outside of the Historic District, the Morton Brittain House, was scheduled for demolition. The NHS worked to raise money from local contributors and the Heritage Foundation helped to have the building moved inside the Historic District.  Members of the NHS and local community volunteers are currently fundraising and working to restore the house, which was built in 1870.

Another building that they preserved is the old Nolensville School that was built in the 1930s. The organization was able to get it added to the National Register of Historic Places in March 2012, and it was opened as a museum that same year.

“The museum is a living history museum,” explained Szago, “meaning that it represents not just the past, but also the present and future of the Nolensville community.  One of the main stories told [in the museum] is that of the school itself.  There is a classroom representative of what it looked like in 1937 when the school officially opened.  In 1966, the school was integrated with relative ease.  As a result, 50 students from the Nolensville area were invited to meet with then President Johnson and his wife.”

Other Historically Significant Areas

Another important place is Sunset Park. It was founded by Ben and Mary Chrismon sometime between 1909 and 1929.  Before integration, this park was a popular recreation center for the African-American community throughout Middle Tennessee.  Hundreds of people gathered on weekends for picnics and games because it was the only safe place they could congregate.  As time passed, fewer people visited the park and the area is now being used for livestock grazing. It is still privately owned.

Fundraising to Keep History Alive

The organization is always fundraising, because there is so much to be done to gather history and maintain historic buildings. Each year they have a booth at the Buttercup Festival where they sell their NHS journals, which consist of six volumes telling the story of Nolensville during different periods of time. The society also sells a cook book, “Recipes & Memories”, along with mugs, patches and some killer homemade cobbler with ice cream. In late April, they brought back their Antique, Collectibles and Garden Show. And in the fall, they will be holding a rummage sale. 

“We are bringing back “Finally Fridays,” which will be held on the property of the school featuring music from different generations.  The proceeds from this event will go to Meals on Wheels and the Nolensville Food Pantry.”

Currently, they are looking for new members of the society. Anyone interested in helping to preserve history and helping NHS continue its mission, please contact them at [email protected]. With May being National Preservation Month, it is a good time to get involved with this organization and help save the stories and the significant places of Nolensville’s past.

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