Museum Collections 

Saturday, October 10, 2020, 11:44 | No Comments »

"We can diffuse the blessings of education and become a virtuous if not a great people. I wish the State University were located in Raleigh, for I do not believe in that kind of education which is obtained in cloisters. The manners of boys should be attended to as well as their morals. The society of the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, is said to have been the most polished in America, and its college, William and Mary, has turned out more celebrated men than any other institution within my knowledge." (Nathaniel Macon, in North Carolina Constitutional Convention, 1835.)

 

Over the last two hundred years, education in Macon County has shifted from single room log subscription schools to the districts we know today. Why this is by no means a complete account of the history of education in Macon County – it is as comprehensive as available records allow. From decades of Franklin High yearbooks to models of original school houses, the Historical Museum's collection of education history in Macon County is extensive. 

Franklin Area

Education in Franklin dates back to the 1840s when a private school existed in Franklin. Around 1849 a private academy for boys was established in the county followed by a Methodist “Young Ladies Academy” which opened in 1854.

The first semi-public school wasn’t established in Macon County until 1875 when the Masons opened part of their lodge on Church Street up for free public education three months out of the year. The remainder months the building served as a subscription schools.

Over the years additional private schools came and went – a Methodist academy in 1888 at the site of the Franklin Terrace Hotel, The St. Agnes School for the girls in 1890 located behind the present Episcopal church on Church Street, and even a teachers’ institute in 1885 which was conducted in the summer months at the Courthouse.

The Teacher Course was instrumental in supplying teachers to rural Macon County. After a summer course in teacher training, a high school graduate could teach – usually in normal schools located in churches and other small buildings.

At the beginning of 1900 – teacher salaries ranged from $20 to $40 a month and the county superintendent was paid $2 a day.

The first brick school building for a high school was constructed in 1910 on a lot between the present Franklin High School and the gym. The school was destroyed in a fire in 1919. A temporary wooden frame building was used until 1923 when a new high school was constructed. That school also burned in 1954.

A grammar school was first built in 1926 and houses 75 high school students and around 250 elementary students. A four-room annex was added in 1948 – today this building houses East Franklin Elementary School.

The use of public transportation came to Macon County in 1927 when school buses began transporting high school students from smaller schools to the high school. A modern 22 room high school building, with a cafeteria, library, and office facilities was built in 1952. A gymnasium was added in 1955 and the building still houses Franklin High School today.

Cartoogechaye Area

The first records of a school in the Cartoogechaye area of the county was known as the Mulberry School. After the Mulberry School came the first Privet School. The second Privet School was built in 1897. Around the same time the Privet School was used in Cartoogechaye, the Conley School was also in operation.

The county’s history of school consolidation dates back to the 1900’s when the Privet School and Conley School was consolidated into the Crawford School – which was weather-boarded and included a cast iron wood stove for heating – something schools prior lacked. 

Highlands and Nantahala

Public Education in Highlands varied over the years – with faint records dating back to 1906. When funding was available and weather permitted, school would be held.

The present Nantahala School was first used in 1951, but before that, the oldest known school in the Nantahala area was the Aquone School, which was located at one time on Rocky Branch. The school was moved to Aquone in late 1885 – an area that is now covered by the Nantahala Lake. The last school term was held at the Aquone School in 1940-41 – the same time the construction of the Nantahala Dam began. Other schools in Nantahala included Kyle School and Mustered Grounds. The Kyle School – also known as the White Oak Flat, was a one-room log building that started sometime before 1880. A new school was built in 1885 and was under the leadership of Beaureguard Dalton, a teacher from Cowee. By 1906, school in Nantahala was expanded from just three months long to an entire year. School terms were often held in churches, in buildings, and even in Henry Wood’s store before a two-story building was constructed in 1910.

Union Area

September 16, 2020 marked the 163 anniversary of the deed made by John Sellers, which made it possible for the Union School to be constructed. The deed outlined plans for a school and church on a two acres property. The one room log building was erected and given the name Union – after the union of the school and church.

By the time Union was constructed, it was the 32nd district school of Macon County. The original building was torn down in 1893 and replaced by a one-room white painted frame building. By 1904 the building was expanded to include an additional room. In 1914 an entirely new building was constructed after the old one was torn down. The new building housed three rooms before an annex was added to allow Union to serve a combination of elementary and junior high school students.

The first lunchroom for public education was constructed in 1936 with the help of the Works Progress Administration. Union School was the first school to use the lunchroom, with other schools to follow quickly thereafter. The process to provide lunch was difficult and made through community donations of old wood stoves and pots and pans. Students often helped to carry water in from a well or spring and each student brought their own plate and spoon from home. Students paid 5 cents for lunch, often paid for with produce from their family gardens.

In 1952 the Maple Springs School house was consolidated to Union School. Maple Springs was one of the first consolidated schools in the county – around 1030 the two-teacher school of North Skeenah and the one teacher school of South Skeenah were consolidated to come Maple Springs School. 100 years prior to Maple Springs, around 1880, a new log school building was built near present day Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. In 1920 a new frame building was erected a the same location and modern equipment was installed.

The present day Union School was completed in 1952 after land was purchased from J.W. Addington and opened with three teachers and around 80 students. Shortly after the new building opened, the Otto school was consolidated into the Union School. 

Otto Area

The first school house in Otto was built right after the Civil War in 1865 – a spot where three other small schools had been located during the pioneer period. All schools were made from logs and with the help of the people who lived in the community. Around 1898 the schools known as Otto and Tesenta were consolidated and a school house was built between the two areas. In 1910 the schools separated and houses students in Otto until 1932 when the school burned down. By 1933, a new two-room school was built, which is the Otto Elementary School that still stands today, although no longer serving as a school.

The final Otto school was built in 1941 and had 10 classrooms – one of which also served as a lunchroom. In 1957 schools on that end of the county were consolidated and included the smaller schools, Otto, Mulberry, Betty’s Creek, Mountain View, Academy, Hickory Knoll, Lower Tesenta, and Upper Tesenta, the Otto Elementary School became Macon County’s first consolidated school in the same year that the building was completed.

Otto was the first elementary school in Macon County to become accredited – gaining the recognition in 1953.

Cowee Area

The Elmore School was built in the Cowee Valley of Macon County around 1830. Records have been lost over the years, but at some point, the school became known as The Caler School. Some records show that a single room log school once stood where Cowee Baptist Church now stands with other schools located near Snow Hill and Rickman Creek Cove. A large school was later constructed in Cowee and named the Peabody School – near the present day Snow Hill Cemetery. The school was a private school – costing $1 a month per pupil – and houses elementary and high school students for about three months during the year. Another school was built on land donated by T.C. Bryson and was a weather-boarded elementary and high school. The school was moved to its current location in 1941 and was constructed with native stone and consolidated schools included Cowee, Oak Grove, Tellico, Morgan, Rose Creek, Liberty, and Harmony.

Cullasaja Area

Cullasaja School  was opened in 1949 and included the consolidation of Mashburn Branch, Higdonville, Gold Mine, Pine Grove, and Salem Schools. A school that once stood in Ellijay had already been consolidated with Higdonville Bethel with Franklin, Buck Creek with Salem, and Walnut Creek with Pine Grove.

The first school in the Cullasaja community was built in 1880 and was a one-room frame building until 1895 when it was moved about one fourth of a mile. In 1952 the Macon County Board of Commissioners provided $7,000 to the school system to build a lunchroom at Cullasaja School.

African American Schools

History shows that there existed a strong black presence in public education even though the population was not large in Macon County. While one room log cabin schools existed in various communities in the early 1800s for white students, early schools also existed in various communities for black students. Following the separate but equal ruling, schools were established for black children by the government. One report during the 1870-71 NC legislative session book indicates a delay in providing a building for black students in the Mill Shoal Community and the intention to remedy the need as soon as possible.

History also shows another black school located in Cowee, which employed a single teacher, Mrs. S.C. Anderson, a white lady. Having a white teacher for black students may seem unusual, but in Macon County white teachers taught in black schools until qualified black teachers became available.

The two teacher Chapel School in Franklin received appropriations earmarked in the legislative budget from 1922-23 and was constructed for a total cost of $3,000 to serve as the main school for African Americans in Macon County. During the 1940-41 school term, 21 high school students, 122 elementary students were enrolled with an ADM of 16/110. In 1935036 there were 113 elementary students and four teachers. Principal R.B. Watts worked with D.B. Barber, Emma S. England, and Beluah Martin during the term. By the 1940s, the Chapel School, which now serves as the Macon County Board of Education Central Office, was the only black school in Macon County.

History also shows another black school located in Cowee, which employed a single teacher, Mrs. S.C. Anderson, a white lady. Having a white teacher for black students may seem unusual, but in Macon County white teachers taught in black schools until qualified black teachers became available.

The two teacher Chapel School in Franklin received appropriations earmarked in the legislative budget from 1922-23 and was constructed for a total cost of $3,000 to serve as the main school for African Americans in Macon County. During the 1940-41 school term, 21 high school students, 122 elementary students were enrolled with an ADM of 16/110. In 1935036 there were 113 elementary students and four teachers. Principal R.B. Watts worked with D.B. Barber, Emma S. England, and Beluah Martin during the term. By the 1940s, the Chapel School, which now serves as the Macon County Board of Education  Central Office, was the only black school in Macon County.

 To see photos from the museum's collection on education, visit The Macon County Historical Museum's Facebook Page.


Thursday, October 1, 2020, 13:51 | No Comments »

The collections on display at the Macon County Historical Museum predate the existence of Macon County itself – but those pieces are vital in understanding the Macon County we know and love today.


Macon County was officially formed in 1828 and named in honor of Nathaniel Macon of Warren County. Nathaniel Macon served thirty-six years in Congress from 1791 to 1828 and died in 1837. The land that makes up the Macon County border was made from pieces of Cherokee, Jackson and Clay Counties. The actual county government of Macon County was not formed until March 1829.


The land that is now Macon County was originally part of the vast territory of the Cherokee Indians, who shared a sophisticated culture and an organized tribal government. The Spanish were the first of the European explorers to come, under Hernando DeSoto in 1540, and later, under Juan Pardo and probably others seeking gold. No evidence survives of the Spaniards in Macon County, although it is said that Spanish artifacts were one recovered from sites along the Little Tennessee River.


European nations competing for dominance in the New World recognized the importance of the powerful Cherokees. Several major contacts, councils, and battles took place in the county. One of the more colorful early episodes involved Sir Alexander Cuming, a diplomat with questionable credentials. In 1730, Cuming called a council among the Cherokees at the council house on the Nikwasi Mound (still standing on Main Street, Franklin) winning their allegiance to the British King. He took some of their young men back to England with him, including Attakullakulla, the Little Carpenter, destined to become one of the greatest of the Cherokee Indian Chiefs.


In June 1760, British and Colonial forces under Colonel James Montgomery lost to the Cherokee at Nikwasi. The following year the Indians suffered a major defeat under Colonel James Grant, at the Village of Etchoe, near present day Franklin.


Scars of the battle were still visible when Thomas Griffiths arrived in 1767, to dig the Cherokee clay, a pure white kaolin, for Josiah Wedgewood. In one of the great industrial stories of the time, Wedgewood went to enormous expense and effort to obtain the kaolin, which is essential for the production of porcelain. The first of the famous Queensware was made from clay Griffiths brought back from the Village of Lotia, north of what is now Franklin.


The town of Franklin was formally incorporated in 1855. However, the development as the county seat predates even the county’s origin. The town was named for Jesse Franklin, one of two state commissioners who surveyed and organized the town in 1820 as the county seat for what would become Macon County in 1828. Jesse Franklin served North Carolina as a senator and as its 20th governor.


By the time of its incorporation, the town could boast both a boys’ and a girls’ academy. By 1860, it had a weekly newspaper, “The Franklin Observer,” published by L.F. Siler. Evidence of the bustling community's growth is found in the census figures. In 1890 the population was only 281, now it is 3,989. Census figures for each decade show a steady increase.


Twenty years after Franklin was incorporated, two men from Kansas set their sights on the mountain tops in Highlands.
Legend has it, Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson drew lines from Chicago to Savannah and from New Orleans to New York City. They felt that the place where these lines intersected would eventually become a great trading center and commercial crossroads – which lead to the establishment of Highlands in 1875 -- named for its lofty elevation.


As Highlands grew, the town’s vision evolved from a trade route epicenter into a summer resort and vacation destination.
By 1883, nearly 300 immigrants from the eastern states were calling Highlands home. In the early 1880’s the town contained eight country stores specializing in groceries, hardware, and general merchandise, a post office, a hotel and boarding house for summer guests, a public library, four churches, and a first class school.


Very little changed over the years in Highlands – but in the 1920s when the Cullasaja River was dammed forming Lake Sequoyah to provide hydroelectric power, new life flowed into the mountain town. A spectacularly scenic road to Franklin was carved into the rock walls of the Cullasaja Gorge. The muddy roads in and out of town were reinforced with crushed stone. By the time the Chamber of Commerce was established in 1931, the town’s population had increased to 500 with 2,500 to 3,000 summer guests. There were now 25 businesses.


From the 1920s well into the 70s, Highlands grew steadily, with little change until multi-family homes and shopping centers became the norm.


Since its creation in 1875, the demographic mixture of Highlands has been remarkably unique. Founded by hardy pioneers from all over the nation, sober industrious tradesmen from the north, Scotch-Irish laborers and craftsmen from the surrounding mountains and valleys, and wealthy aristocratic planters and professionals from the south, the town has served as a cultural center for well-known artists, musicians, actors, authors, photographers, scholars, and scientists who have thrived in its natural setting.

 


Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 13:51 | No Comments »

Can a county fair be successfully held without a midway operated by an imported carnival?

That is what the front page of the September 2, 1953 issue of the Franklin Press read. No one could have predicted that 67 years later the fair would still be going strong.

In 1953, a group of Macon County residents set out to build a county fair around the county’s rich agriculture and deep farming roots.

Agriculture has been one of the largest industries in North Carolina since before the county was even officially recognized. By the 1820s, about one-third of North Carolina’s population had moved out of state. Many moved west to states like Tennessee or beyond or further south. And by this time farming crops like cotton had depleted soils, making them poor for farming in some areas.

The State Agricultural Society formed in 1818 to help improve farming practices. In 1877 this became the state's Department of Agriculture. The department oversaw farming all over the state to help improve how people farmed. And in 1887 the N.C. College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts began. Today this is N.C. State University in Raleigh. The college used scientific research and education to improve the way people farm. Across the country other state universities did the same thing.

Macon County was just one of many counties across the state to benefit from the state’s Department of Agriculture and their innovative preservation efforts. Today North Carolina is still considered an agricultural state, with Macon County reporting 329,964 acres of Farmland in the county spanning 340 farms.

From small family farms to people who make a living from the land, farming is a big part of the county’s history and economy. Some of Macon County’s most important crops are hay, hemp, and livestock such as cattle.

The February 12, 1953 meeting that first debated starting a county fair included Jaycees and agricultural workers who sought the input of A.Q. Ketner, a field representative of Coble Dairies out of Cherokee County. Mr. Ketner said that with his experience, which included 17 years operating the Cherokee County Fair, it would be impossible for Macon County to have a successful fair without a carnival. “The only way to build a fair is to ignore the criticism of the carnival almost sure to come from preachers and newspapers,” Mr. Ketner was quoted saying in 1953.

 With agriculture being such a large piece of Macon County, J.P. Brady, who served as the Chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Committee ignored Ketner’s advice an presented a plan for the Jaycees to get the ball rolling for the fair and then the local 4-H club would help to build it. He suggested the fair could feature beef and dairy cattle shows, an annual poultry show and an auction. For entertainment, he suggested square dancing and fiddling contests. To help fund the fair, Brady suggested renting booths to Macon County organizations such as PTAs, civic clubs, and church groups.  And that is exactly what happened – and that is exactly what has happened every year since.

Macon County’s first fair was held in September 1953. With the first fair being a success, despite the naysayers, it wasn’t until 1955 that official organization occurred to ensure the fair continue be an annual event. Officers of the early fair association included Robert C. Parker, C.C. Sutton, Mrs. Lawrence Patton, and Edwin T. Williams. Wayne Proffitt served as head of the Agricultural Workers Council, which cooperated with the sponsorship of the fair.

The 1960 Macon County Fair opened at the newly constructed Exhibit Hall and was “crammed to the rafters” with people. The exhibit hall was built through fundraising headed up by the Macon County Fair Association. Businesses and individuals donated and raised the couple of thousand dollars it took to construct.

The exhibit hall, now known as the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center has served as the home to the fair every year since 1960. There are four major buildings, A, B, C, and D, are used for all the displays and related events for the Fair. Buildings A and B were built in 1960 and 1961 followed by buildings C and D in 1980.

For as deep as the roots of agriculture run in Macon County, few would argue against the fact that Wayne Proffitt is responsible for their cultivation. For decades there wasn’t a farmer for 100 miles who didn’t know Wayne Proffitt – and you would be hard pressed to find a Franklin High School student who took an agriculture class in the last 70 years who didn’t know him by name. Mr. Proffitt began teaching agriculture at Franklin High School in 1949 and retired from teaching

Born in a rural section of Yancey County, North Carolina, known as Hardscrabble, Wayne Proffitt was one of the three children to Leslie and Vina Proffitt. He was raised on a farm and attended Bald Creek School for both his primary and high school education. Upon graduation from high school he attended Berea College in Berea, Kentucky and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Agriculture Education. While at Berea, he worked on the school farms to help finance his education.

After leaving Berea College, Mr. Proffitt married his long time sweetheart Kathleen King Proffitt. He taught for the Farmer Veterans Administration in Polk County, North Carolina for six months and then traveled to Macon County, North Carolina to begin his teaching career.

To honor his lifelong commitment to agriculture, Macon County, and raising the next generation of farmers, the exhibit hall was named in his honor in 2007, a little more than a year before his death. Mr. Proffitt, who was a founding member of the 1953 Fair, served on the Board of the Macon County Fair Association up until his death in 2008. Mr. Proffitt spent 55 years as the Fair’s director – always preserving its integrity and authenticity as a solely agricultural fair. Because of Mr. Proffitt’s leadership, the Macon County Fair remains as the last purely agricultural Fair in all of North Carolina.

Can a county fair be successfully held without a midway operated by an imported carnival?


That is what the front page of the September 2, 1953 issue of the Franklin Press read. No one could have predicted that 67 years later the fair would still be going strong.


In 1953, a group of Macon County residents set out to build a county fair around the county’s rich agriculture and deep farming roots.


Agriculture has been one of the largest industries in North Carolina since before the county was even officially recognized. By the 1820s, about one-third of North Carolina’s population had moved out of state. Many moved west to states like Tennessee or beyond or further south. And by this time farming crops like cotton had depleted soils, making them poor for farming in some areas.
The State Agricultural Society formed in 1818 to help improve farming practices. In 1877 this became the state's Department of Agriculture. The department oversaw farming all over the state to help improve how people farmed. And in 1887 the N.C. College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts began. Today this is N.C. State University in Raleigh. The college used scientific research and education to improve the way people farm. Across the country other state universities did the same thing.


Macon County was just one of many counties across the state to benefit from the state’s Department of Agriculture and their innovative preservation efforts. Today North Carolina is still considered an agricultural state, with Macon County reporting 329,964 acres of Farmland in the county spanning 340 farms.
From small family farms to people who make a living from the land, farming is a big part of the county’s history and economy. Some of Macon County’s most important crops are hay, hemp, and livestock such as cattle.


The February 12, 1953 meeting that first debated starting a county fair included Jaycees and agricultural workers who sought the input of A.Q. Ketner, a field representative of Coble Dairies out of Cherokee County. Mr. Ketner said that with his experience, which included 17 years operating the Cherokee County Fair, it would be impossible for Macon County to have a successful fair without a carnival. “The only way to build a fair is to ignore the criticism of the carnival almost sure to come from preachers and newspapers,” Mr. Ketner was quoted saying in 1953.


With agriculture being such a large piece of Macon County, J.P. Brady, who served as the Chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Committee ignored Ketner’s advice an presented a plan for the Jaycees to get the ball rolling for the fair and then the local 4-H club would help to build it. He suggested the fair could feature beef and dairy cattle shows, an annual poultry show, and an auction. For entertainment, he suggested square dancing and fiddling contests. To help fund the fair, Brady suggested renting booths to Macon County organizations such as PTAs, civic clubs, and church groups. And that is exactly what happened – and that is exactly what has happened every year since.


Macon County’s first fair was held in September 1953. With the first fair being a success, despite the naysayers, it wasn’t until 1955 that official organization occurred to ensure the fair continues be an annual event. Officers of the early fair association included Robert C. Parker, C.C. Sutton, Mrs. Lawrence Patton, and Edwin T. Williams. Wayne Proffitt served as head of the Agricultural Workers Council, which cooperated with the sponsorship of the fair.


The 1960 Macon County Fair opened at the newly constructed Exhibit Hall and was “crammed to the rafters” with people. The exhibit hall was built through fundraising headed up by the Macon County Fair Association. Businesses and individuals donated and raised the couple of thousand dollars it took to construct.


The exhibit hall, now known as the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center has served as the home to the fair every year since 1960. There are four major buildings, A, B, C, and D, which are used for all the displays and related events for the Fair. Buildings A and B were built in 1960 and 1961 followed by buildings C and D in 1980.


For as deep as the roots of agriculture run in Macon County, few would argue against the fact that Wayne Proffitt is responsible for their cultivation. For decades there wasn’t a farmer for 100 miles who didn’t know Wayne Proffitt – and you would be hard-pressed to find a Franklin High School student who took an agriculture class in the last 70 years who didn’t know him by name. Mr. Proffitt began teaching agriculture at Franklin High School in 1949 and retired from teaching


Born in a rural section of Yancey County, North Carolina, known as Hardscrabble, Wayne Proffitt was one of the three children to Leslie and Vina Proffitt. He was raised on a farm and attended Bald Creek School for both his primary and high school education. Upon graduation from high school, he attended Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Agriculture Education. While at Berea, he worked on the school farms to help finance his education.
After leaving Berea College, Mr. Proffitt married his long time sweetheart Kathleen King Proffitt. He taught for the Farmer Veterans Administration in Polk County, North Carolina for six months and then traveled to Macon County, North Carolina to begin his teaching career.


To honor his lifelong commitment to agriculture, Macon County, and raising the next generation of farmers, the exhibit hall was named in his honor in 2007, a little more than a year before his death. Mr. Proffitt, who was a founding member of the 1953 Fair, served on the Board of the Macon County Fair Association up until his death in 2008. Mr. Proffitt spent 55 years as the Fair’s director – always preserving its integrity and authenticity as a solely agricultural fair. Because of Mr. Proffitt’s leadership, the Macon County Fair remains as the last purely agricultural Fair in all of North Carolina.


The Macon County Historical Museum has preserved decades of history surrounding Macon County’s farming culture. The museum features annual fair books dating back to the 60s. One of the most priceless collections related to the fair are hundreds of photographs from the Fair, all neatly preserved and featuring 4-H and FFA students during the livestock shows. The photos are part of the collection of items displayed from Mr. Proffitt. Included in the collection is the very camera Mr. Proffitt used for decades to document the annual event.

To see photos of the collection at the Macon County Historical Museum, visit Facebook by clicking here.


Monday, September 14, 2020, 13:10 | No Comments »

The Macon County Historical Society was first formed in 1946 out of the concern and desire to preserve the Nikwasi Indian Mound. The Society successfully helped to raise funds to purchase the Nikwasi Mound, which was deeded to the Town of Franklin.  Though inactive for a time after this initial objective was obtained, the Society was revived in 1976.  By 1989, the Historical Society was able to secure the Pendergrass Building as its new home and they have remained there ever since.

At the turn of the century, Jesse R. Pendergrass, a Baptist Minister, school superintendent and local businessman, set out to erect the finest building in Macon County to house his dry goods store. J.R.’s ancestors settled in Macon County in the 1800s and helped to shape the county as we know it today. J.R. wanted to create something of quality, something that his family could call home and a place that folks across the South could stop in and sit a spell. Even in the early 1900s J.R. had the foresight to preserve history by salvaging wooden posts and floorboards from his original dry goods store to reuse in the construction of his new three story brick masterpiece.

For the last 30+ years, the Macon County Historical Society has called the old Pendergrass home. With a mission of preserving and celebrating every unique historical aspect of Macon County, it seems only fitting that the museum showcasing generations of treasures be housed in one of the most historical, well-kept buildings in Macon County.

The Pendergrass Building was built in 1904 and sold everything from clothing and hardware to school books for children, many of which can still be viewed today as they are now part of the Historical Museum’s collection.

Newspaper archives from 1903 begin to tell the story have the new three-story brick building and described the building as being “immediately considered the finest commercial building in Macon County.”

As a new building right off the center of town, the Franklin Press chronicled the construction process regularly reporting updates on the project.

The May 25, 1904 edition of The Franklin Press featured the headline “A New Brick Building Under Way” and reported that J.R. broke dirt on the project that week to make excavation for building a new brick storehouse on the site of his old wooden storeroom.

The June 29, 1904 Franklin Press reported that Mr. Shancks fired a kiln of 84,000 bricks to be used in the new store building. The original receipt for the purchase of those bricks is on display today at the Museum. A few days prior to the bricks being completed, J.F Ray, a local attorney, moved his law office to a room over E.H. Frank’s store so the original storehouse could be taken down and the new brick building erected.

“The brick work on Mr. Pendergrass’ store building is about completed and the studding for the rooms on the upper floor has all been placed,” reads an expert from the October 12, 1904 Franklin Press. “There will be seven office rooms and a hall on the upper floor with fire-places in the rooms and two large windows to nearly all the rooms. It will be the best business building in town when completed.”

By December 7, 1904 The Franklin Press reported “The lower room of Mr. J.R. Pendergrass’ new store building is practically finished, and he moved his stock of goods into it last Wednesday.”

By 1905, J.R.’s store became a community gathering place. The gigantic Maple that still stands in front of the building today was there 100 years ago. The tree is the last Maple standing on Main Street, but at one time the town was lined with the trees all the way up to Harrison Avenue. The trees provided covering for the dirt roads to keep them accessible to horses and wagons. Shade wasn’t the only thing the Maples provided; legend has it that politicians would hide bottles of liquor in the trees to pay off voters. Portraits dating back for generations feature the Maple playing host and providing shade for checker tournaments that were always spotted out front.

A 1950s account of a day in Franklin by Walter Hall describes a typical day in front of the building. “Outside the store there is a checker game in process, and a small group has gathered to challenge the winner. The ones I know are Ras Penland, Verlon McCoy, and Tillery Love.”

Checker matches in front the Pendergrass Building were such a staple for generations, that the Historical Museum still places a table and a board out front for anyone walking by.

Many original artifacts from the Pendergrass store can be viewed in the museum today. From J.R.’s hat, to school books, to original checks from The Bank of Franklin and even a handwritten receipt log detailing purchases from travelers stopping through. Some of the original advertisements and signs from the store can also be seen hung on the walls of the museum, as much of the building remains unchanged from when it served as a retail store, gathering place, and even a wedding venue with J.R. himself officiating the weddings.

J.R.’s son Brodie and his wife Dess took over the store in the 50s, and continued operating it until the store was closed in the late 1970s. Charles Sill and his son John purchased the building and restored it in 1976 and opened it as an art gallery called The Gum Gallery.

The Historical Society purchased the Pendergrass building in 1988 and opened it as the museum a year later. The building has since been added to The National Register of Historic Places and museum volunteers are constantly working to preserve the authenticity and history of the original structure. Some of the most noticeable original features of the building include the original plank floor, the distinctive woodwork, large twin counters made from yellow heart pine, the cast iron front and the suspended mezzanine.

The treasures on display at the Pendergrass building begin with the earliest accounts of settlement in the area – even before the land was acquired from the Cherokee Nation in the Treaty of 1819. Even more fascinating then the age of generations preserved within the museum is the ability to follow the evolution of the county and life of its residents. The walls of the Pendergrass buildings tells a story of progress and transition in Macon County follow the first schools, World Wars, electricity and automobiles to modern day history of notorious criminals such as Eric Rudolph to bouts of Hollywood Fame and making appearances on the Big Screen.

Today, the Pendergrass building is home to the richest depths of Macon County history dating back to a time long before the borders of the county were ever imagined and following along with historical markers that lead to the Macon County we all know and love today.

To view photos from The Pendergrass Building Collection, visit the Macon County Historical Museum Facebook Page. 


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