Although there were persons interested in Maury County’s history from its earliest days, most of them were more occupied with making history than in preserving it. Not until 1905 was the first organization formed whose purpose was to preserve historic sites, conserve valued source materials, publish historic works, and stimulate research related to Maury County.
On September 28 of that year, a group of citizens obtained a charter establishing the Maury County Historical Society. It is interesting to note that all of the original charter members were of the male gender, their names being: P. C. Chandler, E. E. Erwin, H. P. Figuers, William S. Fleming, John W. Frierson, Joseph H. Fussell, E. H. Hatcher, George T. Hughes, Otey J. Porter, William A. Provine, Frank H. Smith, S. Q. Weatherly, James H. Wilkes, W. C. Whitthorne, William J. Whitthorne and John T. Williamson. Judge William S. Fleming was chosen to be the first president of the Society.
It is unfortunate that minutes of their meetings were not preserved, but from time to time articles appeared in local newspapers that told of interesting programs and projects. In one of its first meetings, held on Tuesday, 14 November 1905, the Society heard a paper prepared by “the late Senator W. C. Whitthorne” on “When and How the State of Tennessee Became a Member of the Confederacy.” It was stated that none was in a better position to relate this case since Senator Whitthorne had been the Speaker of the Tennessee House and Adjutant General at the time and “had the esteem and confidence of the leaders of both great political parties.”
From this early beginning, steps were taken by the Society to preserve artifacts that could be used to form a museum. Donations of many items became part of the Society’s earliest efforts to preserve histocial artifacts: “From Mr. John A. Edwards: an illustrated historical chart of the Great West, published 1847, containing valuable statistical and historical information; from George T. Nevills: a Confederate bullet from the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the highwater mark of the Confederacy, in which is mounted microscopal views of Gen. Meade’s headquarters and the scene of Pickett’s immortal charge; from Mrs. Martha Connor, of Hampshire, (a granddaughter of Maj. Gen. Richard Winn, of revolutionary fame) a handsome volume of Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee, comprising the histories of Maury county and other counties; from Flem Thomas: the original order book of his grandfather, Colonel Jonas E. Thomas of Maury County, commanding the regiment of Tennessee Cavalry in the Mexican War; from Rev. W. A. Provine, Phelan’s History of Tennessee, from the library of the late N. B. Cheairs.”
The following new members were listed at that meeting: John Brown, A. J. Nichols, Will P. Boyd, Lynch Perry, Dr. E. A. Timmons, John Trotwood Moore, Raymond Adkisson, John W. Fry, Horace Rainey, Hon. Lem. P. Padgett, Albert S. Hames, Prof. A. J. Hibbett, J. Shelby Coffey, Wm. B. Greenlaw, F. Cooper Frierson, A. N. Akin, Dr. H. P. Robbins, Atwell Thompson and H. Allison Webster. (Still no ladies!!)
Another item of interest was the report of a committee named “to take steps to prevent the removal of the remains of Governor Meriweather Lewis to Oregon.” The commitee reported that “resolutions protesting against such removal had been secured from the County courts, and a letter was read from Governor John I. Cox saying he would not permit the remains to be removed.” (The above quotes are from THE DAILY HERALD, Wednesday, 15 November 1905, but might have been taken from a current news article since the same attempt has been made since then.)
The collection of items for the museum continued to be one of the objectives of the Society, especially of Professor Frank H. Smith. Later, he published the list of items in the collection, and it took two or three long articles in the newspaper to mention them all. There were dozens of coins of various nations and denominations, relics of most of the wars in which former citizens of Maury County had fought, books and newspapers that contained much historic material, personal articles related to former citizens, letters, items of clothing, household items, etc. Unfortunately, no record has been found relating what happened to this material. With the death of Professor Smith and the demise of the original Maury County Historical Society, was this very valuable material given to the State Museum, to the State Archives, or some other agency, or did it simply disappear? If anyone has ANY information regarding these items and their disposition, please contact the Society. What a treasure trove of irreplacable Maury County history may have been lost forever!!
The Society remained active until about 1915 when, for whatever reason, it was dissolved. No further organized activities seem to have been carried out in its name for half a century. Then, in 1964, a committee was formed to promote the reactivation of the Maury County Historical Society. A committee, composed of Virginia Alexander, Alice Algood, Dr. C. Y. Clarke, Jill K. Garrett, Franklin Fulton, Marise P. Lightfoot, Evelyn Shackleford and Judge W. B. Turner was appointed to prepare for reorganization, and reactivation occurred in 1965. When the list of “Charter Members” was closed a few months later, 66 people were enrolled as members. Marise P. Lightfoot was elected President and Jill K. Garrett was chosen to be Editor of the new quarterly, HISTORIC MAURY. Since then, the Maury County Historic Society has met regularly, and has carried out a variety of projects within the scope of its chartered atributes.
In 1971, the Society received a donation of the historic Vine Hill estate from Mrs. Charles Deere Wiman. Vine HillIt was Mrs. Wiman’s ancestral home located between Cross Bridges and Williamsport. She had restored the home, furnished it with antiques from all over the world, and had lived in the home for some years. When she passed away, the home, its furnishings, and surrounding acreage was willed to the Maury County Historical Society. This large and imposing structure is one of Maury County’s famous antebellum homes, and is often opened for tours at special times during the year.
In 1992, it became increasingly difficult for the Society to care for Vine Hill, and the Society decided to sell the property, invest the funds, and use the income from the principle to carry out projects within the Society’s sphere of interest. Although the Society lost a permanent “home of its own,” it gained the means by which it could assist many worthwhile projects. Today’s membership far exceeds the number of 1964 charter members of the Society, many living outside of Maury County.
The Maury County Historical Society has administrative space on the third floor of the Memorial Building on West Seventh Street in Columbia, Tennessee. The space provides a place to hold officers’ and Board of Directors’ meetings, store materials, and have a place the Society can call “home” for business activities. It is, unfortunately, manned only for scheduled Society business meetings and activities.
If you are a member in good standing, the Society appreciates and thanks you for your continued support and participation. If you are a member who has not been an active participant, the Society encourages you to reactivate your membership and join in our programs and the preservation of Maury County’s history. And, if you are not a member, the officers, directors, and members of the Society extend to you a warm welcome and invite you to join the Maury County Historical Society. Just click on Membership to start your membership process.