FRANKLIN, Tennessee (TN Tribune)—Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West, leaders of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and other community partners in historic preservation announced details of a campaign to acquire and save 264 Natchez Street.
The African American Heritage Society of Williamson County plans to purchase and restore the historic Merrill-Williams House with the goal of turning it into a public learning center.
The home is one of the oldest landmarks in the Natchez community listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The society is aiming to raise the $1 million needed to purchase and restore the property to create a center for the study of African American history in Franklin and Middle Tennessee.
The group met at the home on Wednesday to sign a contract for the purchase with Cassandra Williams Taylor, who was raised in the home after her grandfather Tom Williams purchased the property in 1900.
The Williams family transformed the house into a cultural hub for the Natchez community during the era of segregation, when they hosted art shows and musical performances. The house sat vacant after the death of Taylor’s mother in 2009.
Taylor tearfully thanked the group for their goal of honoring the home’s legacy.
“My mom and dad would be so happy to know that the home will continue long past them, long past me and my children,” she said. “It’s going to be here for the community.”
After the Civil War, Moses Merrill, a man forced to be a house servant while enslaved by one of Franklin’s prominent slaveholders who trafficked Black people, bought the property where he later built a home.
Alma McLemore, the president of the African American Heritage Society, called the planned purchase of the property “a historic day for Franklin and Williamson County.”
“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 BaJle of Franklin to the transforma9ons of the Civil Rights Movement,” said AAHS President Alma McLemore. “In 1864 the property was part of the federal line in the BaJle of Franklin. ARer the war Moses Merrill, who had been an enslaved worker in town for over 40 years, acquired the property and lived there un9l the property 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 an9que collectors, the Williams family and their house became a neighborhood ins9tu9on for the next 100 years.”
Carroll Van West, a historian and professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, said transforming the property into a history center will shed “light on the real truths of what Franklin is and was and what it can be.”