Two local cultural heritage organizations recently received achievement awards from the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM) for 2019 projects. Each year TAM recognizes the projects and accomplishments achieved at museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions across the state. This year’s recipients include the Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County for their new permanent exhibit “Stories of the Road: Personal Accounts of Migrations Through Middle Tennessee” and Oaklands Mansion for their special event when AcTEENg Theatre Group got involved with “Flashlight Nights”.
Each of the organizations has created a very special project to make history come to life, with the result of increased visitors to their sites.
“Stories of the Road: Personal Accounts of Migrations Through Middle Tennessee” Exhibit at Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County
“From the brutal Trail of Tears, the ravages of the Civil War, and throughout the twentieth century, “Stories of the Road” features deeply compelling stories and personal accounts of the people who lived through life-changing events that followed the Dixie Highway’s evolution,” said Laura S. Holder, Federal Liaison Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County. “By emphasizing diverse, often lesser-known stories of our nation’s history, residents and visitors have flocked to the exhibit to gain a deeper connection and understanding of the county’s nationally significant stories. This connection has led to visitors spending increased time exploring local and regional sites including the Trail of Tears, the downtown courthouse, and Civil War locations.”
“The “Stories of the Road” project originated from a discussion about local and national histories related to Murfreesboro that needed greater exposure,” said Holder, “and Heritage Center and heritage area staff were motivated to tell the powerful stories of those whose forgotten and often suppressed voices needing an outlet.”
For the Heritage Center, the project was a way to continue to serve its mission to honor the historic downtown courthouse square and preserve the county’s heritage tourism industry. The location provides a central location where visitors and residents can learn about the county’s history and be encouraged to explore and spend money in the downtown area. The goal was to create an exhibit that was national and local, shared and personal, and known and lesser-known.
“The majority of the Heritage Center’s project research was conducted by the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area’s Masters and PhD candidates,” said Holder. “Four graduate students spent two semesters delving deeply into primary and secondary sources, locating historic images, writing text, and procuring unique and compelling artifacts to enhance the overall exhibit experience.”
The Heritage Center was established in the fall of 2006 with the support of local, state, federal, and private entities. It is part exhibit gallery and part visitor orientation center, housed in a central location just a short walk from the historic courthouse square.
Flashlight Nights at Oaklands Mansion
“We began offering Flashlight Nights over five years ago as a way to have fun with Halloween in Oaklands Mansion,” said Mary Beth Nevills, Educational Director Oaklands Mansion. “It is an opportunity to spook the mansion up with Halloween decorations. Being a big creepy old house anyway, it doesn’t take much. In 2019, we also added volunteers from the AcTEENg Theatre Group. We had many volunteers and staff in the house along with members of the AcTEENg Group who dressed like family members, and were in character.”
“There are not many times during the year that Oaklands Mansion is open at night,” said Nevills, “and exploring the house in the dark by flashlight is a really enjoyable experience. You see in all the dark corners of the rooms.”
Flashlight Nights is a way to share Oaklands with families, and also a fun way for youth groups and scout groups to be introduced to a historic site. It was so successful, that in 2020 they have two nights planned for October. It is also a fundraiser for their educational programs, and critical to allowing them to present programs for all ages, from school field trips to presentations at local senior facilities.
Oaklands Mansion was initially built by the Maney family as a two-room brick house in 1815, with many alterations and additions over the years until the Italianate façade was completed in 1858, giving it the appearance it has today. The house was in a state of disrepair when the city took it over in 1958, and a group of local women began working for its preservation. It opened to the public in the early 1960s.
These organizations provide opportunities for residents, visitors, businesses, and local government institutions to learn about history and how it impacts us today. Both have a great impact on economic development, allowing visitors to learn through hands-on activities, tours, and educational and community events. Both are non-profit educational museums with missions to educate and preserve local history.
Heritage Center of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County
225 West College Street
Oaklands Mansion and House Museum
901 North Maney Avenue