The Lucas House: Reviving Belvidere’s Hidden Gem

by | May 2024

FOR NEARLY seven years, John and Janie Lovett watched with sadness as the old Lucas house, rumored to be one of the first homes in Franklin County to be electrified, slowly withered away behind overgrown hedges and a crumbling second-story porch. Since John is the president of the Franklin County Historical Society, and he and his wife are both active members, this grieved the Lovetts daily. 

At one time, the tracts surrounding the mill were under various ownership. These included a textile factory, mercantile store, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, post office, school, and several residences, but most of them disappeared one by one. The Lovetts knew that if bulldozers leveled the Victorian home, its historical significance to the entire county would also disappear, and one of the last remnants of the village would be snatched forever from future generations. 

“We were notified that the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville had been chosen to administer funds allocated to help the struggling small museums throughout the state,” said John Lovett. “This was designated a Capital Maintenance and Improvement Grant, so we applied and were successful in securing a grant. The house had been allowed to deteriorate markedly, as had the lot itself, so we debated whether to tear it down. The fact that it was the only remaining intact building – other than the mill – in the immediate vicinity and the former residence of several generations of factory owners encouraged us to pursue saving it. Local contractor and museum supporter John Bush provided an estimate for the work. The grant will pay for the exterior stabilization, including foundation and floor structure repair, roof replacement, front porch rebuilding, and mending of the siding. We hope to have the work completed by the end of June 2024, in accordance with the grant requirements.” 

The Lovetts believe a family with the surname of Rachielles who worked at Falls Mill may have been the original occupants of the home, but in 1884, the Lucas family took ownership. In 1928, owner John Lucas died, so in 1930, E.C. Wheeler Auction Company out of McMinnville tried unsuccessfully to auction the home, mill, and 110 acres into individual lots. The “J. H. Lucas home property” never sold due to the hardships of the Great Depression, and up until the Lovetts purchased it last year, it had been owned by descendants of the same family for the last 140 years. 

“After the lot was cleaned up, the house was assessed to determine a plan for restoration. This proposed project focuses on stabilization, weatherproofing, and first-phase – primarily exterior – restoration of the Lucas house, with the intent of utilizing it as a visitor center that will highlight the history of the village and its residents. We also plan to use it as a meeting facility and event venue,” said John Lovett. 

The Lovetts feel it is important to date the house accurately, so they’ve hired Dr. Maegen Rochner of the University of Louisville to conduct a tree ring study of the timbers used during the initial construction of the home to give them an approximate date of construction. Once the contractor completes the initial work to stabilize the home and the requirements for the grant are met, they plan to appeal to their museum members to help with renovations of the interior, possibly through an “Adopt a Room” campaign. 

Since 1984, the Lovetts have poured their lives into restoring the mill, with all its inner workings and intricate pulley systems that once powered textile machinery and ground corn and wheat by water power. They’ve collected and restored an extensive as sortment of textile-related artifacts, which are displayed on all three levels of the mill. They also moved a large log home to the property shortly after purchasing the mill and restored it as their private residence. 

Finding extra time on his hands in 2020, John lovingly crafted a complete replica of a one-room schoolhouse from logs he scavenged from a local farm and repurposed. Now, as they restore the Lucas home to its former glory, the Lovetts are interested in donations of period-appropriate furnishings and fixtures, especially those in and around Franklin County. The restoration of the Lucas house will provide another crown jewel to the Falls Mill community. 

For a nominal fee, you can tour the mill and museum and enjoy a piece of heaven right here in Belvidere this summer. The Lovetts also host down-home picnics, old-fashioned workdays, and seasonal festivals on the property. GN 

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