The History Behind the Bars
By Anna Robertson
There is a new “Big House” in town… It is the Big House for Historic Preservation. The Old, Old Jail sits at 112 Bridge Street in historic downtown Franklin. Many have known it to be the white building with boarded up windows next to the “Old Jail,” now the McConnell House event venue. The old, old former jail building has sat vacant for years, waiting for someone to see its potential and to bring it back to life again. Though, it has a past of somber stories, as it served as Williamson County’s third operating jail from 1941 until 1970 – it is still a significant part of the history and community. Luckily, several saw what the building could be and worked hard to make sure that it was restored to be not only a historic site but also a re-branded one. The Old, Old Jail is now the offices for the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County.
For many years after it closed in 1970, the building had been utilized as the County archives, book storage for the school system, a highway patrol outpost and an employment office. The building closed to those needs in 2008 and sat in disrepair until 2013 when The Heritage Foundation purchased it for $25,000, with funds that were donated by FirstBank. That is when the renovation planning began for bringing the building back as the Big House for Historic Preservation. The Heritage Foundation worked on fundraising over the next few years and received enough to begin renovations after numerous donations, including a $1 million donation by Marilyn and Calvin Lehew.
The renovation was done through Street Dixson Rick and Rock City Construction. The team worked on bringing the Old, Old Jail back to life internally and externally by not only adding new, but also utilizing parts of the old structure. Throughout, you will see old cell doors, the old bars across the windows, original concrete and steel walls, and even graffiti from past inmates still displayed on the walls. There is even a jail cell intact on the bottom level for visitors to see.
From jail cells to office space, the new building is one that will amaze. When you walk through the entrance, you will be taken aback by the hundreds of black and white photos lining the walls of the giant staircase from the collection of the Heritage Foundation’s historian, Rick Warwick. These images capture our community’s past. Many recognize their own family members in the images. There are also meeting rooms added to the facility for the community to use, a kitchen and gift shop.
If you are wanting to hear some good stories, take a little trip to the “new” Old, Old Jail. Look at the pictures, see the new and old character of the building, and hear the stories about some of the infamous past inmates. Learn more about the Old, Old Jail and the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County at historicfranklin.com.