In history classes students learn about the many eras of American history, such as the 50s, the Civil War, and the Revolution. Many of them may never know that members of their family were present at major historical events. “Those people at Valley Forge were people from my family. Some of them were there. This is what you find when you start going back and collecting your information history means a lot more when you realize your family participated in it,” says Don Winn, president of the Macon County Historical Society.
Assisting in finding this information is part of what the Historical Society does, but it isn’t everything. “The primary purpose is to find and preserve Macon County history. In all of it’s forms,” Winn says. One major piece of county history that the Society takes care of is the log cabin at Key Park in Lafayette. Though the cabin is owned by the city, it’s Society members that maintain the cabin and open it during events, such as the Christmas Parade and Hillbilly Days. “[We] open the cabin up so that people can come and see it and we’re over there to explain who the cabin was built by, who had lived there…”
And who, exactly, had lived there? Winn says the cabin was built sometime around 1840, though there are no documents giving the specific date or year of it’s construction. It was built by John Johnson, who sold twenty acres of land which became Lafayette. “[Johnson] was the first occupant [of the cabin]… The original location was about two or three blocks, not far, from where it is presently located. Sometime in the early 1960s, I think, Virginia Beasley, a descendant of John Johnson, lived where Key Park is located and she had the cabin moved to her property,” Winn adds. He clarifies that the cabin was originally located in the vicinity of where Fairlane Elementary is currently located. He also adds that, “the cabin is probably one of the oldest log cabins in this area, and could be the oldest.”
The Society is, of course, a great resource for genealogical research. It has books and documents about Macon County, Tennessee as a whole, and surrounding counties. “People can come in and find references to their family, things their family has done. They can do genealogy research and we’re trying to expand our records of family genealogies and maintain that…,” says Winn. He advises younger generations to begin researching their family histories early. Talk to your grandparents, or the oldest member of your family you can find and get all the information that you can gather. Just ask them, ‘Can you tell me about your grandmother? Do you have any information about your great grandfather?’ And write it down or record it. Put it in your records… I didn’t start collecting information until I was probably 62, 64 years old, and by that time, my grandparents had all passed away. I did not have the benefit of their knowledge.”
For anyone, of any age, who has data and information on a local family, Winn says the Historical Society would love to have a copy of that information to put into their records for research. “You have no idea who you might be related to, or how many people.”
The Society also has many books with cemetery records and is publishing an updated version. “For people to get out and walk through the cemeteries and find new graves that have been added since the last publication is quite a chore. Macon County has something close to 500 cemeteries. It’s taken a lot of man power to get out and just walk the cemeteries.”
The Historical Society is the first stop for many genealogical researchers coming through town trying to track their family, as the Society can help them locate where their family might be buried and show them how to get there. Many of these people end up becoming members of the Society. Of the nearly 125 members, most live out of this area Winn says, some as far away as California. “They’re primarily interested in receiving the newsletter,” he adds.
In addition to their research, the Historical Society publishes a newsletter four times a year. The letter is written by Shelta Shrum and contains family histories, genealogical research, and county history. “They usually contain information that you have to kinda dig to get some of the background… Some of the things in there are inquiries from other people seeking information about their family,” said Winn.
Another project the Historical Society will begin this year is called “History in the Park” and is planned for the third Saturday in September at Key Park. “We are going to try to collect different people from Macon County history and have actors to portray those people… Give a brief introduction to their lives… A lot of Historical Societies and museums and things do something similar,” Winn says. He adds that they plan for this to become an annual fundraiser.
To become involved with the Society or to subscribe to the newsletter, you have to join the Historical Society. Membership is $15 a year and meetings take place the first Saturday of every month at the Welcome Center at 9 A.M. Those interested in getting involved, submitting something for the newsletter, or bringing family records for donation can stop by their new office at 111 Locust Street in Lafayette.
The Society moved into this building last April and Winn says the move has made things much easier for visitors. “They don’t have to climb the stairs at the courthouse, that’s a big thing. And we have about three times as much space. Which means that what records we do have are more easily accessible. People can sit down at a table here… It’s made it much nicer, we can display things much better. Everything is easier to access. I think we’ve seen a pick up in the number of people coming here. And it will grow.”
The Historical Society is open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 8 A.M. until 1 P.M., and then from 2 P.M. until 4 P.M., or by appointment, which can be made by calling 615-688-6247.
Reach Kayla Fleming at 615-666-2440.