Museum at Rutherford County Courthouse is a Small Gem of History

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rutherford county courthouse museum
photo by Jim Wood

While there is much controversy about Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest, to the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tennessee on July 13, 1862 he was a conquering hero as his men stormed into the captured courthouse and freed a number of prominent local citizens who were being held hostage there in retaliation against the Confederates for the killing of some foraging Union scouts. This is just one of the reasons part of the first floor of the Murfreesboro County Courthouse has been turned into a mini-museum.

Inhabiting a few rooms on the first floor of the building, the museum covers everything from Native American hunting grounds at Black Fox Springs to the beginnings of the immense growth and development of the county in the late 20th century.

In a few rooms, museum coordinator Dr. Carroll Van West from Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation with the assistance of County Archivist John Lodl, has created a pretty comprehensive story of the county with a strong emphasis on the experience of African Americans.

The museum uses explanatory panels, photographs and archival items to show and tell the story of the area’s settlement and growth through the hard work, loss, and sacrifice of many people to make Rutherford County what it is today.

Rutherford County has long had a strong reputation for its investment in business, education and medicine. Many innovative ideas, and both business and community leaders with regional and national reputations were born in Rutherford County, with displays in the museum highlighting these contributions.

Dr. Carl Adams of Murfreesboro was instrumental in creating both Murfreesboro Medical Center and NHC Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest senior healthcare companies in the country. “NHC is recognized nationwide as an innovator in the delivery of quality senior care,” says their website. “Our founder, Dr. Carl Adams had a vision in 1971 to provide higher quality healthcare services for seniors. His dream was to create a campus concept that offered in-house services for residents as they age with different needs much like the continuing care retirement community of today.”

Another nationally recognized personage highlighted in the museum is Marshall Keeble. An African American preacher in the Church of Christ, he was born to parents who were former slaves in 1878. He helped form a Black Church of Christ, a number of Christian Schools, and his sermons were legendary for bringing together blacks and whites during segregation. In his 80s he began sharing his message by sharing his sermons all over the world, converting thousands to his faith.

Displays of artifacts put the emphasis on the lives of everyday citizens. There are samples of handmade quilts and furniture from the late 19th century that were made for local families by local craftsmen. Beautiful examples of dressers and sugar chests made by local white craftsmen from Tennessee Cherry wood can be found, along with samples of chairs and other pieces that had been made by enslaved fine craftsmen and blacksmiths. Enslaved craftsmen often used their skills to be able to buy their freedom.

Other artifacts on display come from the World War II era and directly after. There are artillery shells, canteens, helmets and other items from the time when the Smyrna Airport was an active training base during the war.

For such a small space, West and Lodl have packed in a lot of information that will give visitors a strong sense of the county’s history, especially if they also look at the various memorials placed around the courthouse. This includes the one noting that at one time Murfreesboro was the capital of Tennessee.

Located in the center of the city square, the museum is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.; Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.; and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.