Historical marker added for former Franklin High School site on Columbia Avenue

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Franklin High School historical marker

Dolly McGee Hardison, Jean Gentry Mangrum, Joyce Waddey Ryan, Betty Jo Reese Dickerson, Marilyn Lang Geasley, Mary Ann Short Warren and Eddie Hardison – all alumni of Franklin High School when it was located on Columbia Avenue and West Fowlkes Street – surround the historic marker they worked to make a reality in March of 2020. 

If the empty lot on the corner of Columbia Avenue and West Fowlkes Street could talk, it would have a lot to say. It would talk about the cotton it grew in the 1800s on the plantation of Fountain Branch Carter and the wounded and dead bodies strewn on it after the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.

The land could also tell stories of the fairs and rodeos held there until, through a partnership between the City of Franklin and Williamson County government, in 1926 a portion of the former Carter plantation became Franklin High School. The city funded the building at a cost of $125,000 and the county supplied the faculty – 10 teachers lead by Principal Guy Craddock.

The new, modern Franklin High School, which began 16 years earlier with two teachers and 20 students, became the focal point of the community and claimed a place in local history. The land provided turf on which young men’s characters were shaped by football coach W.C. Yates, who took the school to their first championship in 1930.

Just before school started on the morning of Dec. 12, 1949, the land held the murdered body of Rosa Mary Dean, who was found lying by the school’s incinerator. The land opened itself up for the addition of a brick gymnasium, which was added to the campus in 1953. On Jan. 29, 1956 it felt the heat as lightning struck the 30-year-old school destroying all but the gym.

Recently alumni of Franklin High School Classes of 1952-56 raised money to erect a historical marker for the location of their former school.

“Over the years we accumulated some money from our reunions,” said Ed Hardison, class of 1952 and one of the organizers of the marker. “At our age now there’s not the enthusiasm for [organizing] more reunions.”

The alumni, which included Dolly McGee Hardison, Jean Gentry Mangrum, Joyce Waddey Ryan, Betty Jo Reese Dickerson, Marilyn Lang Geasley, Mary Ann Short Warren and Ed Hardison met and decided what to do with the money.

“We wanted to do something to honor the school,” Hardison said. “It was so important to us at that time. We didn’t like seeing that vacant lot on Columbia Avenue and nothing to tell about the school.”

Committee members approached Williamson County historian Rick Warwick for help. He had been trying to get a marker for at least 20 years.

The group created a plan to raise the $3,000 needed for the marker.

“We really wanted [the marker] to let people know that Franklin High School stood there from 1926 to 1956,” Hardison said. “At the time [the school] was the focal point for young people in Williamson County. Daly Thompson was principal at the time I was in school. I met my wife Dolly there – she was in the class of 1953.”

Hardison compared high school in the 1950s to college today as “the end of education for most” of the graduates.

The committee set up a GoFundMe site and contacted members of other classes, including the last graduating class – the Class of 1956, who graduated in the gymnasium, which wasn’t damaged by the fire. The alumni raised the money, Warwick found a photograph, wrote the text of the two-sided marker and took care of getting the marker. On March 3, the historic marker was dedicated surrounded by former graduates of the school.

“We’re really proud to have the marker there,” Hardison said. “The school should be recognized and most people in the area living here today have no idea it was there.”

Carole Robinson may be contacted at crobinson@williamsonherald.com

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