Days Gone By: The Official Historian


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Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.43.52 PMBy Anna Robertson Ham

We are blessed to live in an area of Tennessee that is not only beautiful, but also rich in history. You cannot live in Williamson County – or visit – without learning about something of historical significance. Whether it be the Battle of Franklin, stories of local hauntings that have been made famous on national TV shows, or that we have the largest private Confederate cemetery in our country – just to name a few; Williamson County has many stories to tell, and it is up to certain people in our community to share and tell those stories. These are the special individuals in our midst daily, who have the devotion to dig up these facts, photos and documents that add to what we already know – and what we have yet to learn.

Rick Warwick is one of these devoted individuals who has helped curate the ever-growing amount of information about Williamson County’s past, volunteering as historian for the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County for over twenty years. When the Heritage Foundation moved into part of the Franklin Post Office in 1995, Mary Pearce, the Executive Director of the Heritage Foundation, offered Rick office space to continue his efforts for the county. He was recently appointed as our “official” Williamson County Historian by the Heritage Foundation, following the retirement of Virginia McDaniel Bowman who had served as our County Historian since 1972.

“The recent appointment as County Historian is a huge honor for me to follow in the footsteps of my friend and mentor Virginia Bowman and Col. Campbell Brown. Because Mrs. Bowman did not like to speak in public or take a visible presence, I was often asked to take her place anyway. So often, in fact, that many across the county thought I was already ‘THE’ County Historian. Local newspapers often quoted me as holding that position, much to my embarrassment,” Rick says.

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Rick has lived in Williamson County since 1970 and has been serving our community for many years. He taught 7th grade Tennessee History and Geography at Hillsboro School, and served as school librarian in the Williamson County schools for twenty-three years. He would interview local residents at the time, to supplement the deficient textbook for his classes. Rick’s interest in local history, now has resulted in his authoring eighteen books ranging from community histories, local decorative arts, Williamson County during the “Great Unpleasantness,” and Reconstruction. He has also served as editor of the Williamson County Historical Society’s annual journal since 1989, which has produced thirty-eight journals for the Society and two books on historical markers and local history. Over the years, Rick has served on the boards of the Carter House, Carnton Plantation, the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County and Franklin, and presently serves on the board of the African American Heritage Society of Franklin. Recently, he finished a ten year-term on the Tennessee Historical Commission. From 1995 until 1999, Rick co-chaired the Tennessee Bicentennial Committee for Williamson County.

When asked what a typical day in the life of a County Historian looks like, Rick explains “My day starts at 7am at Merridee’s with the regular coffee gang and then on to the Old, Old Jail (the new offices of the Heritage Foundation). I enjoy the use of Sheriff Fleming Williams’ old office on the first floor, which is convenient to those who enter the front door. While I’m working at my computer, I can expect several telephone calls or email inquiries from people in town or visitors, searching for their family cemetery and wanting a photo of an ancestor, homestead or class photograph. I spend a good deal of time researching in the Williamson County archives, which is a gold-mine for any local history project. I often get a call to come check on a house about to be demolished or graveyard vandalized, which gets me out into the countryside.”

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As an East Tennessee native, Rick’s passion for local history was fueled by learning more about his community after relocating to the area. I really got to know Williamson County in the 1980s and 1990s while I combed its nearly 600 square miles in search of locally made chairs, sugar chests, samplers, coverlets, portraits and all types of furniture for a material cultural encyclopedia I was working on. During this trek across the county, I met the finest folks who welcomed me into their homes, attics and barns. I was fortunate to be working at the time when so many of the old-timers who knew so much about their community were alive and willing to share. It would be impossible to duplicate that research today because so many are no longer living and their family heirlooms have left the county. Also, over the years, I have worked with communities in placing historical markers and helped in organizing committees to write their community’s history. These experiences have been golden for I have collected more friends from Flat Creek to Lick Creek and from Nolensville to Fairview,” he says.

“Since the 1970s, I have been a cheerleader for the preservation of Williamson County’s landmarks and its history. I feel there is a growing interest in county history, particularly from newcomers who want to know about their new home. I hope to offer some classes on local history in the near future. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

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