For the editor,
The town of Franklin is well known for its fascinating history. Established in 1799 and named after Benjamin Franklin, it has consistently received high marks as one of Money magazine’s “best places to live.” It ranked #6 in Time magazine’s “Best Places to Live”.
The heart of Franklin is known as “Great American Main Street”, a 15-block stretch of historic buildings dating from before the Civil War through the early 1900s. Franklin has four National Register of historic sites, which help to protect and preserve the historic and culturally significant resources of this historic city.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is located at 510 W. Main St. in Franklin. It was founded in 1827 and is the mother church of the Diocese of Tennessee. My family and I moved here in 1984 and immediately fell in love with St. Paul’s – its history, its architecture, its beautiful Tiffany windows in the shade of a century-old pecan tree adorn this sacred space to be shared. St. Paul’s doors are always open and provide a sanctuary for prayer, serenity and peace.
However, the serenity that reigns in this hallowed historic church could soon be shattered by the development plans the rector is pushing from his bullying pulpit.
Before the pandemic, he launched a fundraising campaign to put a second story on St. Paul’s historic footprint. Years ago, visionary church leaders purchased the First Tennessee Bank building and the land behind the church to expand it. They understood the intrinsic and cultural significance of Saint Paul’s historical imprint.
St. Paul’s was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 1982, St. Paul’s was included in the Hincheyville Historic District in Franklin. However, visibly, it was excluded from Franklin’s overlapping historic districts. This would allow no oversight or guidance by historical curators. St. Paul’s is part of the Franklin community, and what happens to St. Paul’s historic footprint is important to many who care about Franklin’s history.
Many of us also care about trees. The 150-year-old pecan tree in the courtyard gracefully shading St. Paul will see its roots crushed by the proposed construction and slowly die. I raised my hand at one of the meetings about these plans and asked what safeguards were in place for the tree. There were none. Trees sequester carbon, reduce energy use, remove air pollutants, filter stormwater, and cool hot city streets by providing shade and releasing water vapor. The construction crushes the roots of the trees and the trees slowly die. With current climate issues, the loss of this century-old tree would be devastating.
The Rehabilitation Standards and Guidelines for the Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings from the Secretary of the Interior state that “the process of restoring a property to usefulness, by repair or alteration, which renders possible effective contemporary use, while preserving those parts and features of the property which are significant to its historical, architectural and cultural values”. The intent of the standards is to assist in the long-term preservation of the property’s significance through the preservation of materials and historical features.There are 10 standards – here are a few.
Standard #1: A property should be used for its historic use or placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building, its location and its environment.
Standard #2: The historic character of the property must be maintained and preserved. The removal of historic materials is a modification of the features and spaces that characterize a property and should be avoided.
Standard #4: Most properties change over time; changes that have acquired historical significance in themselves must be kept and preserved.
It is clear that keeping St. Paul’s out of Franklin’s National Register of Historic Places districts removes any historic protections or guidelines to alter its historic footprint. The proposed plans will dramatically alter St. Paul’s historic footprint and will more than likely result in its removal from the National Register of Historic Places. The plans will also result in the death of a century-old tree.
In CM2, I had to recite from memory Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees”. “I don’t think I’ll ever see a poem as beautiful as a tree. A tree whose hungry mouth stands against the soft flowing chest of the earth; A tree that looks to God all day and raises its leafy arms to pray; A tree that can bear in summer, A nest of robins in its hair; On whose bosom the snow has rested, which lives intimately with the rain. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
I’m used to resisting mega-density developments, protecting and preserving rural landscapes, historic sites and defending animals. I never thought I would be called upon to defend the history of St. Paul’s and its magnificent pecan tree.
In 1995, I started the Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul, which is held in the yard, under this tree. Putting a second story on St. Paul’s will ruin its integrity and intrinsic value. It will slowly kill a much needed tree. The rector told me that he is called to this building campaign; I told him that I was responding to a higher power. Growth should go where it will not hurt. Years ago, the visionary leaders of St. Paul realized this when the church purchased the building from the First Tennessee Bank.
This is a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign conducted as we suffer from high inflation and an impending recession. I respectfully request that church leaders leave St. Paul’s historic footprint the sacred space it has been for centuries.