|Reflecting on Lebanon's past|
|Wednesday, May 9, 2012|
May has been declared Preservation Month by the City of Lebanon and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic Lebanon Tomorrow encourages everyone to use this month to celebrate Lebanon’s historic gems. What better time could there be for us to explore our town.
The first stop on a tour of Lebanon’s historical places is the Public Square.
Since its founding in 1802, the Public Square has played a vital role in the story of Lebanon and is the heart of the historic commercial district.
Lebanon’s Square was recognized on the National Register for Historic Places as a Historic Commercial District in 1988. Several fires over the years have changed the predominant architecture so that the Square now largely reflects a late 19th century streetscape with current buildings on the Square dating from the late 1800s thru the 1940s. The one exception is the Bank of America building on West Main that dates to the 1960s.
One of the Square’s unique features is the Town Spring. Located in the northwest corner, close to the replica of Neddy Jacobs’ cabin, the spring furnished the town with a source of fresh drinking water until 1908. Stone steps that led down to the spring were erected in 1824 to provide easier access. Stop to hear the Town Spring today, still bubbling and flowing, some 211 years later.
Another point of interest on the Square is the Arcade Building, 142 Public Square. Built in 1909, it is one of four remaining arcades in Tennessee. With its open atrium and two levels of retail/office space, the Arcade is the original shopping mall. It was the early home of the Chamber of Commerce, doctors’ offices and civic clubs. Current owners are in the process of a total renovation and hope to reveal the original façade, hidden beneath the aluminum sheeting, within the year.
For more information about the Square, pick up the tour brochure and audio CD, “Circling the Square and Beyond,” from the Wilson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 233 East Gay Street, or the Chamber of Commerce on the Square.
Just off the Square at 203 East Main Street is the former Lebanon Post Office. This 1913 Beaux Arts building, now the offices for the Wilson County Election Commission, proudly exclaims the growing importance of Lebanon in the early 20th century.
To the north, at 209 East Market Street, is Pickett Chapel. Built in 1827 as a Methodist Church, this is the oldest brick structure in Lebanon. In 1866, its black congregation purchased the church and continued services for many years. Pickett Chapel, a National Register property, is owned by the Wilson County Black History Associates. The group is shepherding the Chapel’s restoration with the hope it will soon house the Roy Bailey African American Museum.
Off the Square, on North Maple Street, is the historic Lebanon Woolen Mills property. A success story in adaptive reuse, the former mill has found new life as The Mill at Lebanon, a mixed use facility with retail, restaurants and event space. The Lebanon Woolen Mill was founded in 1908 by Dr. H.K. Edgerton. Blankets from the mill were used during World Wars I and II and sold nationwide until production ceased in 1998. The property is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
Moving west reveals one of Lebanon’s first residential areas. From its earliest days, Main Street was the address of stately homes, schools and churches.
The location of 241 West Main Street is the site of a treasured piece of Tennessee history, the Robert L. Caruthers house. The Federal-style home, built in 1828, and updated with Eastlake features in the 1880s, is the earliest surviving brick residence in the city. It was built by Robert L. Caruthers, a prominent attorney and politician. Caruthers, along with his brother, Abram, founded Cumberland School of Law in 1847.
Before he was elected Governor in 1863, Caruthers accepted the nomination in a speech delivered from the home’s balcony. He was never inaugurated due to the Tennessee Capitol’s occupation by Federal forces. The home’s elegant curvilinear staircase is a feature also seen at Andrew Jackson's Hermitage as well as Tulip Grove, both of which were also constructed by the Caruthers home builders, William C. Hume and Joseph Reiff.
Several other homes on West Main that deserve mention are:
The I.W.P. Buchanan House, 428 West Main Street, an 1898 Victorian Queen Anne beauty designed by George W. Barber, a Knoxville architect. Its original owner was Isaac Williams Pleasant Buchanan, head of the Mathematics Department at Cumberland University and first headmaster at the Castle Heights Academy.
The Judge Nathan Green Sr. House, c. 1849, at 607 West Main Street, is important both in its antebellum architecture and its association with the father of Equity Jurisprudence, Supreme Court Justice and professor at Cumberland University School of Law.
The Mitchell House, 106 North Castle Heights Ave., is a Neo-Classical Revival style house built c. 1904 by David Mitchell, fifth President of Cumberland University and co-founder of Castle Heights Academy. This 10,600 square foot property is constructed of Sewanee sandstone. It was acquired by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in 1998 after standing empty for more than 10 years. A meticulous restoration was undertaken and now the property shines with its Corinthian columns and elaborate hand-carved woodwork. It is listed on the National Register.
The Mitchell House is part of the Castle Heights Academy campus. The preparatory school started in 1902 and changed to a military academy in 1917. The campus (1902-1986) originally contained a gym, dormitories, parade grounds, a football field and “Old Main,” the administrative building that now serves as Lebanon’s City Hall and the City of Lebanon Museum and History Center.
Many of these historic places have a connection to Cumberland University. Founded in 1842, the liberal arts university was funded by the citizens of Lebanon. Cumberland’s Memorial Hall, c. 1892, is still used today for classes and administrative offices.
Cumberland has played an important role in the development of Lebanon not only by its academic presence but more tangibly by the neighborhoods its two historic campuses have created. The university’s original building (c.1844) was on the corner of South College Street and East Spring Street. The neighborhood that developed on East Spring Street is one of the earliest in Lebanon. Several antebellum homes still stand on this street.
After the original university building was burned during the Civil War, the college held classes in several locations throughout town. A new campus site was selected and Memorial Hall was built. With the relocation of the university came the creation of a new neighborhood along West Spring Street and South Tarver Avenue. This area, along with South Greenwood and South Hatton, contains many picturesque homes from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Lebanon is full of historic treasures. National Preservation Month is a perfect opportunity to explore the sites mentioned and to discover new ones.