The Legends of Williamson County

Jun 24, 2024 at 12:17 pm by RMGadmin

Honoring the Men Who Shaped Our History

By Katie Shands

Williamson County is more than just a place on a map. It’s a rich landscape of culture and history, shaped by the many remarkable people who have called it home. Last month, we honored the women who impacted this area’s history; now, we pay homage to the men whose sacrifice, determination, and hard work left a lasting mark on this community.

Monroe Booker


If ever there was a story of triumph over circumstance, it would be that of Monroe Booker. This man refused to accept the racial barriers of the segregated South and created a legacy of excellence for him and his family.
Monroe was born in Hohenwald, Tennessee, but spent his formative years studying at Franklin Training School on Natchez Street. When he was twenty years old, the United States declared war on Japan, and Monroe was drafted into the Air Force. After about three years in the South Pacific, he was discharged and sent home. In 1946, he partnered with his brother to open Booker Brothers Service Station in Franklin.
Monroe and his wife, Mary, raised twelve children in a home near the service station on West Main Street. Although Monroe’s and Mary’s formal education had ended at high school, they were determined to open new doors for their kids. Education, work ethic and faith in God were always emphasized in the Booker household.
Despite his limited material resources, Monroe poured what he could into his children’s futures. His investments, both financial and parental, paid off in the end. All twelve of the Booker kids attended college – six at Fisk, two at Vanderbilt, and one each at Harvard, Spellman, Tennessee and Concordia. They established successful careers in law, social work, civil engineering, broadcasting, teaching, coaching and banking. 
The Booker children also excelled at athletics. Karen Booker played in the WNBA with the Detroit (now Tulsa) Shock, Utah Starzz and Houston Comets. Her brother Barry was a standout basketball player with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
In honor of their exemplary parenting, Monroe and Mary received a letter of recognition from former U.S. President George W. Bush, a feature in Jet magazine and countless other accolades. Monroe even published a book of poetry, and he penned this line, a fitting closing to his story: “Our success or failure lies in our ability to endure.”

Jimmy Gentry


If you drive down Fifth Avenue in downtown Franklin, you will pass a bronze statue of a man sitting on a bench. This striking memorial was erected in honor of “the lost heroes of Williamson County” and depicts James “Jimmy” Gentry, one of Franklin’s most beloved and legendary figures.
Though Jimmy would grow up to be a hero both on the battlefield and home front, he came from humble origins. Born in Franklin on November 28, 1925, he was the seventh of eight children. When Jimmy was only twelve, his father died, leaving the family with no income. Jimmy and his brothers spent much of their childhood roaming the local woods, trapping, fishing, and hunting to put food on the table.
During World War II, Jimmy left his hometown to fight as a private in the Army. A bus picked him up at the rock wall at Franklin’s Five Points where the commemorative statue now sits. In Europe, Jimmy served in the 42nd Infantry Division and helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. He was one of the first soldiers to enter the horrific death camp and would later become a speaker for the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. He was awarded two Bronze Stars for his actions during the invasion of Germany.
After the war, Jimmy returned to Franklin where he married Rebecca Channell. The couple had three sons together. After attending Peabody College, Jimmy began teaching and coaching at Franklin High School. In the early 1960s, he was hired as a biology teacher and football coach at Battle Ground Academy. He ended his career at Brentwood Academy, teaching Tennessee history and coaching football until 1998.
Jimmy spent his retirement as a volunteer coach and a public speaker, sharing his experiences from the war. He also ran a summer camp at his home, Gentry’s Farm. Jimmy passed away on April 21, 2022 at the age of ninety-six. After his funeral, people waved flags as the procession drove down a three-mile stretch of New Highway 96 that was named in his honor.

Robert Hicks


Today, Carnton is a thriving tourist destination in Franklin–100,000 visitors every year–but it wasn’t too long ago that the antebellum-mansion-turned-museum wasn’t getting enough guests to stay open. Thankfully, Robert Hicks made it his personal mission to share the incredible and nearly forgotten story of Carnton.
In 1864, after the bloody Battle of Franklin, Carnton was used as a field hospital for Confederate soldiers. The mistress of the home, Carrie McGavock, went to great efforts to care for the injured, even ripping up her own linens and clothes to dress the men’s wounds. Two years later, she and her husband donated two acres of their land for the reinterment of nearly 1,500 fallen soldiers. Carrie devoted the rest of her life to tending those graves and keeping records of the dead who were buried there.
Robert believed if the public heard Carrie’s story, they would come to Carnton in droves. In 2005, he published The Widow of the South, a novel about Carrie and her selfless acts. The book went on to become a New York Times bestseller, and tourists flocked to Carnton. Robert later penned two sequels: A Separate Country and The Orphan Mother. The rest is history as they say.
A passionate preservationist, Robert also spearheaded the efforts to reclaim Franklin’s battlefields. He founded Franklin’s Charge, a nonprofit that purchases at-risk Civil War battle sites in Williamson County. Another project led by Robert was the building of a memorial to honor the enslaved people who were buried in unmarked graves in Carnton’s family cemetery.
Robert died in 2022 of complications from bladder cancer. Although the McGavock family cemetery was considered closed, an exception was made for Robert, and he was interred just a few feet away from his muse, Carrie McGavock.

Rick Warwick

If there’s ever a question about the history of Williamson County, a likely response will be, “Ask Rick Warwick.” His mind holds onto dates and names like a sponge with water, and on the rare occasion Rick can’t pull it out of his brain, he knows exactly which book, record, or person to consult.
Rick moved to Williamson County in 1970 with his wife Elaine who is from the area. The following year, Rick began teaching civics and history at Hillsboro School in Leiper’s Fork. After working for two decades as a teacher and librarian, he retired to focus on documenting the county’s history.
By that point, Rick had been elected president of the Williamson County Historical Society. Soon after, he became editor of the WCHS annual journals. Rick spent years gathering photos of the area, eventually amassing a collection of almost 20,000 images. He also invested a great deal of time interviewing local families about their ancestry. In 2017, Rick was appointed Williamson County historian.
His decades of work have resulted in the publication of thirty-two historic journals and more than twenty-five books. Rick has also overseen the placement of more than 150 historic markers throughout the county. Additionally, he has served on the Tennessee Historical Commission and the boards of the Heritage Foundation, Carter House, Carnton Plantation, African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and Franklin’s Charge. Though not officially an employee of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, Rick keeps an office in their headquarters at the Old, Old Jail where he continues to volunteer untold hours toward preserving the stories of the past.

A.N.C. Williams


A.N.C. Williams on far right in front of his store, 1919
One of the opening lines of a 1926 article commemorating the birthday of Allen Nevils Crutcher Williams declares, “Hereby hangs a story of more than passing interest to all citizens of Franklin.” And what a story it is.
Born into the shackles of slavery in 1844, A.N.C. Williams was the property of Dr. Sterling Crutcher of Spring Hill. At the age of six, A.N.C. was sold to D.R. Crutcher who brought him to Franklin. Even as an enslaved teenager, A.N.C. was determined to better himself. He began to teach himself to read and write by tracing scraps of paper. However, he stopped because it was considered dangerous for an enslaved person to be literate.
In 1862, A.N.C. was again sold to Confederate Captain Andrew Jackson Williams. The captain taught A.N.C. to read and write formally. Also, during this time, A.N.C. married Malissa Doyle. They would go on to have sixteen children together. The following year, A.N.C. was emancipated and opened Franklin’s first Black-owned business, a shoe repair and manufacturing shop. It was located in the public square in the quadrant where City Hall now stands.
The shop was destroyed in 1864 during the Battle of Franklin, but A.N.C. didn’t let that deter him. For a brief period, he sold pies on the streets until he was able to reopen his shoe business in a shack on Fourth Avenue. He later obtained a bank loan (no small feat for a Black person during that time) and set up shop on Main Street where Avec Moi now operates. Despite segregation, A.N.C. welcomed both Black and White customers into his store. Eventually, the operation expanded into a general merchandise store, and in 1928, he retired after sixty-five years of continuous service.
Not only was A.N.C. a successful entrepreneur, he was a devoted minister. After learning to read, A.N.C. became a dedicated student of the Bible and somehow found time to pastor the Cummins Street Church of Christ. He served in that position for more than twenty-five years.
In 1930, at the age of eighty-six, A.N.C. died from liver cancer. In those days, it was rare for a Black man’s obituary to appear in the newspaper, but even in death, A.N.C. broke barriers. Franklin’s Review-Appeal remembered him as “honest and trustworthy in every phase of life.”