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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Bell Town Neighborhood of Franklin, Tennessee

Have you ever heard of the Bell Town neighborhood of Franklin?  If so, it means you are probably one of the area's older residents.  The Bell Town neighborhood has all but disappeared, but at one time it was a thriving African American neighborhood with ties to a Presidential candidate.

Hon. John Bell, Tenn,
National Archives
During the important 1860 Presidential Election (in which President Abraham Lincoln was elected) one of the four Presidential Candidates was John Bell

Bell was an attorney who first began his practice of law in Franklin following his admission to the bar in 1816. 

In 1817, Bell got his start in politics when he was elected to the Tennessee Senate from Franklin. Two years later, in 1819, Bell expanded his professional interests into real estate. He subdivided the land south of Five Points between Columbia Avenue and Evans Street, as far as Fowlkes Street, and called it "Bell Town."

Following the Civil War, the Bell Town Neighborhood became a thriving African American neighborhood. ANC Williams pastored a church there, and black doctors and other community leaders lived in the area. 

Bell Town housed several black-owned businesses including a grocery store and hotel, churches, and a Lodge of black Freemasons. A historic marker in the Cummins Street Church of Christ parking lot stands as a testament to the neighborhood and church founder A.N.C Williams

  • You can learn more about Bell Town by reading the interpretive markers on the back of the Auto Zone (933 Columbia Ave) that was built on land in what was the center of the neighborhood. (Your Williamson article.) The panels outline the fascinating histories of several of Franklin’s most prominent African American residents including John Watt Reddick, a former railroad clerk and leader of the local Mosaic Templars of America chapter.
  • Driving Tour.  Bell Town is just one of the historically African American neighborhoods that used to exist - and in some cases still do exist - in Franklin.  Learn more about them in these driving tours.
Dr. J. W. Hudson was a resident of Bell Town. His brother-in-law, Russell Otey, is his passenger.
Photo courtesy: Williamson County Historical Society

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