Wilson County residents faced a challenging year thanks to the long-lasting impact from the March 3 tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although it was a year marked by tragedy, it also brought the community together as they worked to overcome the fallout and support each other.
Among the major events the county saw in 2020Jan. 8
The Mt. Juliet Police Department announced Guardian Shield, a law enforcement program that uses fixed-place automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to catch hot-listed vehicles associated with various crimes and suspects.
Those ALPRs cover approximately 24 areas throughout the city, and officials budgeted $100,000 for the program’s first year. Since it was implemented, Guardian Shield has alerted the MJPD to nearly 80 suspects, including wanted individuals and a sex offender.
Lebanon’s city government neared completion on renovations at the historic Mitchell House as multiple city departments prepared to move in during the spring.
The city purchased the property from Sigma Pi Fraternity for $1.15 million in May 2019, and put an additional $250,000 toward renovations. The Greater Nashville Regional Council (GNRC) later presented the city with a 2020 Excellence in Local Government award for repurposing the Mitchell House.
Wilson County became the latest area in Tennessee to declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary, which represents a commitment from the county government not to enforce any laws perceived as violations of the Second Amendment.
Grassroots movements advocating for Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions picked up in Tennessee during mid-2019, and more than half of the state’s counties have adopted them or similar measures in the months since.
Feb. 24 — 25
The Lebanon High School Devilettes’ basketball program claimed its first District 9-AAA championship title, narrowly defeating the Beech Lady Bucs 49-46 at Wilson Central.
The next day, the Mt. Juliet High School Golden Bears earned their third straight District 9-AAA title with a 57-47 win over the Station Camp Bison.
Three victims — James Eaton, 84, Donna Eaton, 81, and Brandy Barker, 38 — were killed after a deadly tornado cut through Mt. Juliet in the early morning hours. The storm also touched down at West Wilson Middle School and Stoner Creek Elementary School, leaving both buildings unusable.
Wilson County residents had gone to bed the night before expecting the election results to be the biggest news of the day, and voters did make a significant change: local sales tax rose from 9.25% to 9.75% to fund $5.2 million in teacher raises.
March 4 — 5
The Devilettes fought another narrow victory over Beech, this time for the Region 5-AAA championship. At 49-45, the score was almost identical to their faceoff in the district championship the week prior.
Mt. Juliet’s Golden Bears made history the next day when they defeated Northeast 53-44 for their program’s first Region 5-AAA title. An early barrage of 3-pointers from Mt. Juliet’s Gage Wells built an early lead, and Northeast was unable to contest it.
The Lebanon Devilettes and the Mt. Juliet Golden Bears’ historic basketball runs were left hanging by the TSSAA’s decision to suspend the state championships amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, the girls had qualified for the semifinals and the boys’ tournament was not yet underway. Both tournaments were cancelled just over a month later when the TSSAA opted not to host athletic events for the rest of the school year.
Wilson County recorded its first case of COVID-19 after a worker from local manufacturer Perma-Pipe tested positive. Local businesses began a wave of temporary shutdowns the following week as cities declared states of emergency, and Gov. Bill Lee issued a temporary stay-at-home order on March 30.
Tennessee has since been identified as the worst location in the U.S. for new COVID-19 cases by population. As of Sunday, there have been 11,965 cases and 121 deaths from the virus in Wilson County alone.
The Wilson County Health Department held its first round of drive-thru COVID-19 tests as part of a statewide push for more comprehensive testing. There were 275 people tested as a result of the event.
The health department has since started offering COVID-19 testing options at the Wilson County Fairgrounds on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
April 27 — May 6
Wilson County’s businesses began reopening in phases days before Gov. Bill Lee’s stay-at-home order expired, and most of them were fully operational by the time barber shops and salons could return to work on May 6.
Spring’s closures did not translate into sustained sales tax hits for the county and city governments, but many local store owners struggled, and some were forced to close their businesses.
The long-dormant Nashville Superspeedway announced plans to host its first NASCAR Cup Series race in 2021, plans that later evolved into a Father’s Day weekend tripleheader.
NASCAR fans last visited the track in 2011 before it was closed to the public, but it remained in private use for car testing and film projects over the next 10 years. A booming Nashville market encouraged Dover Motorsports to reinvest in the location.
The Wilson County Fair became the latest in a long line of events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this one left a deeper mark. The event is Tennessee’s largest county fair, draws hundreds of thousands of people from across the country each year and is a major part of Wilson County’s identity.
Students were still able to participate in the Wilson County Fair Livestock Shows, but the remaining attractions were all removed from the schedule. The next fair is set for Aug. 12 — 21, 2021.
Country music legend and longtime Wilson County resident Charlie Daniels died of a hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 83. The Country Music Hall of Famer was known for hits like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Long Haired Country Boy.”
Local law enforcement escorted Daniels’ body to Sellars Funeral Home in Mt. Juliet, where the community gathered on July 8 for a star-studded public memorial service.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto signed an executive order requiring county residents to wear face masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Local case counts numbered approximately 1,457 with 18 deaths at the time.
Daily case averages dropped from 40.4 to 22.1 during the time the mandate was in place, and Wilson County Schools later implemented its own mask mandate ahead of the 2020-21 school year.
Voters reshaped the Wilson County Board of Education in the county’s general election, with Carrie Hartzog Pfieffer (Zone 1), Jonathan A. White (Zone 3), Larry Tomlinson (Zone 5) and Jamie Diane Farough (Zone 7) winning the four seats up for grabs.
Other winners included Rusty Keith (Wilson County Commission District 17), Stephen Goodall (Assessor of Property), Ensley Hagan (General Sessions Judge Division III), Joel Thacker (LSSD board), Michael Collins (15th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Division II) and Shelley Thompson Gardner (15th Judicial District Public Defender).
Green Hill High School celebrated the start of its first year with a ribbon cutting as students prepared for class the following week. The project cost $107 million and is Wilson County Schools’ largest facility to date.
Because the tornado damage to its schools earlier in the year caused the district to have to restructure, GHHS also doubled as a temporary home for Mt. Juliet Middle School’s seventh and eighth grade students.
Aug. 13 — 20
The Wilson County Fair hosted its series of livestock shows as planned despite the fair’s cancellation announced earlier in the year. Organizers made the decision to benefit students who spent the year training for the competitions.
An estimated 3,400 animals and 1,050 exhibitors attended the series of shows. Beef cattle in particular saw a sharp growth, nearly doubling 2019’s entry numbers.
Mayor Hutto announced an end to the county’s mask mandate, citing a drop in 14-day case averages since its implementation. At the time, the county had seen approximately 3,519 cases and 45 deaths.
Schools, businesses and long-term care facilities were not impacted by the order and many continued to adhere to mask mandates on their premises.
N95 respirator manufacturer Moldex-Metric, Inc. announced plans for a facility at 400 Innovative Way in Lebanon, positioning the city on the front lines of mask production heading into 2021.
The company looks to create roughly 220 jobs in the community over the next three years through the $25 million investment, and also has plans for a $6 million site expansion.
A second wave of COVID-19 cases prompted Mayor Hutto to reinstate Wilson County’s mask mandate. The county had seen approximately 4,455 cases and 55 deaths as a result of the virus as the mandate took effect.
That same week, Mt. Juliet Elementary became the first of many local schools to move into remote learning for two weeks as a result of the case surge.
Lebanon High School senior Aiden Britt dominated the Region 5-Large cross country meet with a 36-second first-place finish at Sanders Ferry Park, securing a spot at the TSSAA State Meet.
Green Hill High School’s boys’ and girls’ programs, Wilson Central’s girls and Mt. Juliet’s Kasey Quezada also qualified for the state meet through the event.
Cold Chain Technologies opened a new facility in Lebanon to meet distribution demands as the FDA worked through the approval process for a pair of COVID-19 vaccines.
The plant is expected to employ 262 people at full capacity and play a major role in vaccine distribution into 2021.
Rick Bell became Lebanon’s 54th mayor after a four-way election against incumbent Bernie Ash, former city councilor Rob Cesternino and artist-actor John DeMoor.
Meanwhile, Mt. Juliet’s voters chose James Maness over Wilson County Commissioner Dan Walker in the city’s mayoral election. Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings was reelected without opposition.
Other local election winners included Lebanon City Council members Joey Carmack, Fred Burton and Tick Bryan, Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners members Ray Justice, Scott Hefner and Jennifer Milele and Watertown City Council members Laura Lea Cromer, Brandy Holcomb and Jim Mahoney.
Aiden Britt won the Class large boys’ state cross country championship, saving his energy to pull ahead of second-place-finisher Kevin Vanderkolk with 800 meters left in the race.
The senior posted a time of 15:29.69 for the 5K along the banks of Old Hickory Lake. He is LHS’ fourth TSSAA title holder, after the 1971 girls’ basketball team, 1984 wrestler Jeff Lester and 2016 bowler Tyler Moore.
With increasing numbers of schools affected by COVID-19 case surges, Wilson County Schools opted to close out the semester on a remote learning model. The Lebanon Special School District remained on a hybrid model.
WCS hopes to return to a traditional model for its K-5 students and a hybrid model for grades 6-12 in 2021.
Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital began distributing the first local COVID-19 vaccinations to frontline workers after receiving shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Health care workers have also been administering doses of the Moderna vaccine since Dec. 23. The general public is expected to be able to take the vaccine in the months ahead, after high-risk groups have been accounted for.