The demolition of a historic home in Lebanon belonging to noted Judge Nathan Green Sr. is drawing criticism as well as shock and disappointment. Notably, the block of West Main Street where the Green house stood is under consideration for a historic overlay, providing protection from demolition, if approved in the next couple months.
Historic Lebanon Executive Director Kim Parks said her nonprofit felt “totally blindsided by the demolition.” She called the demolition an “absolute setback to the community’s historic preservation efforts.
“This house was in good structural shape, it was certainly not too far gone to save,” she said.
Parks said the explanation for his demolition was insufficient and struck her as an “attempted public relations spin to justify demolishing a 170-year-old house. Peeling wallpaper and a broken pane of glass do not make a house structurally unsound.”
Wilson Bank and Trust CEO John McDearman III disagrees with Parks assessment of the structural integrity of the home.
In a phone call Tuesday, McDearman said that the home was in disrepair.
“Costs and conditions prevented us from restoring the structure.”
McDearman said the bank bought the property in anticipation of future growth.
“As we grow, we may have needs for expansion,” said McDearman.
McDearman said the bank will provide space on the property for an acknowledgement of the historical significance of it and Judge Nathan Green.
He said the bank has had its eyes on the property for years.
The timing of the purchase and demolition raises some concerns for Parks.
“The city was trying to take action,” she said Wednesday. “This property, 607 W. Main St. and its neighbor to the east, 601 W. Main St., were to be included in the Greenlawn Drive Historic District. This vote is scheduled for the October meeting of the Lebanon Historic Preservation Commission.”
Parks said she plans to push through with the vote and to include the property despite the structure now being gone.
Historic Preservation Commission Chair John Foutch was also critical of the bank’s actions.
He said in an email Tuesday that on Sept. 14 the property was identified by the commission as one worth including in the upcoming historic overlay for the last remaining block of historic residential properties on West Main Street.
According to Foutch, because the property was purchased before the historic district was created, the house wasn’t flagged to be reviewed by the commission prior to demolition.
Foutch said he has had a meeting with Lebanon Planning Director Paul Corder and City Attorney Andy Wright to discuss how to prevent something like this from happening again. Such measures will likely result from joint efforts by multiple Lebanon agencies dedicated to historic preservation.
Parks hopes that plans for a historic overlay “will help guide future infill on the site and protect 601 W. Main St.”
She sees the corridor from Castle Heights Avenue to the public square as an important gateway for the city.
“There are many historic structures which need protection and improper infill needs to be stopped,” she said.
The demolition occurred despite there being a historical marker on the property. Corder said that state and national historic registries actually do very little to preserve and protect buildings and properties.
According to Corder, these preservation efforts need to be grassroots, initiated at the local level to be effective.
City officials react
Lebanon City Councilor Joey Carmack said on Tuesday, “I certainly value historic homes in our community, which was shown when I voted in support of the city purchasing the Mitchell House.”
Carmack said he remains committed to the previously mentioned historic overlay district and “hopes the city votes to expand it.”
Councilor Camille Burdine, who lives in the Greenlawn district, said, “As the city councilor for the majority of the historic districts and living in one, I received many calls this weekend regarding the demolition of the property. It is very disappointing to see something like this occur in our city.”
Similar to the Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Lebanon representatives, Burdine was only made aware of the demolition when it began Saturday morning.
She said this has hardened her steadfast commitment to continue pushing for and supporting historic zoning in the City. There are currently four historic districts — Spring Street, Greenlawn Drive, the Square and an area by Cumberland University — which are considered protected.
Acknowledging the disappointment, Carmack offered a semblance of solace. “I’ve always known Wilson Bank and Trust to honor the past as they did recently when the operations center was built on the Castle Heights football field.”
Councilor Chris Crowell said he was sad to see it go. “I’ve always supported preserving our historic sites and homes,” he said. “Makes me glad that our city has moved to preserve other sites like the Castle Heights main building to keep as much of the city’s history as possible.”
Mayor Rick Bell, who has also served as the local resident historian, said he was “deeply upset at the demolition of this house, the historic home of the Greens and the Hookers, two prominent families in the legal history of Tennessee. It’s disappointing that the sellers and buyers did not realize the significance of this home to our city’s history and to citizens throughout the community.”
A Historic Preservation Commission meeting to discuss implementing safeguards for the future will be held at City Hall on Oct. 4.