Rutherford County’s Historical Society has experienced extensive growth in the past few years, drawing financial security from the Lurlene Rushing Foundation and recently receiving its own permanent location as a gift from the family of C. B. Arnette.
Rutherford County Historical Society member Dr. E.C. Tolbert poses next to late historian C. B. Arnett’s grandfather clock. The Arnett family donated his former home, the Ransom Academy, to the historical society. (Photo by J. Fagan)
Post reporter Jonathon Fagan sat down with longtime member and past president Dr. E. C. Tolbert to learn more about the society’s mission, its past and what the organization is planning for the future.
When was the Rutherford County Historical Society founded?
I believe it was founded in 1974.
Who were the founding members of the society?
Homer Pittard was the county historian at the time, and he was the driving force that put the society’s charter membership together.
He was joined by charter members Murfreesboro Mayor W. H. Westbrooks, Lurlene Rushing, Alice Ray and Ernie Johns. I was not a founding member, so I hope I’m not leaving anyone out.
How long have you been involved with the society?
I was president from 2001 until 2005, and I had been a member prior to that since the late-1980s. I am currently a member of the board and a program co-chairman along with Charles Norris.
He and I try to find really good programs for our monthly meetings. Jerry Gaither recruited me, and I followed him as president.
From the time that you joined the society in the late-1980s, how has the organization grown and changed?
The early days after the charter membership had been reduced was challenging.
I thought the organization was just barely existing. I would go to meetings and sometimes we would have just five or 10 people at the meeting.
We would have some very good programs, and I was embarrassed at times because the speaker had prepared such a good presentation for a nearly empty room.
The purpose of our organization has never been to save structures, although we have always been interested in historic structures, but our purpose and our mission has always been to collect and validate the history of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County and to document that in our writings.
Even when we had meager attendance that was still our mission, and we never lost sight of that mission which was laid out thecharter.
As time went by, our membership has increased. Our support has certainly increased.
Our meetings have certainly been outstanding and have included very interesting programs.
President Greg Tucker has done a wonderful job, so much so that we convinced him to serve another year. We’ve had programs by state archeologists, a program on Middle Tennessee railroads by Tommy Johns, and a program on Camp Forrest in Tullahoma.
We have upcoming programs by Jeff Adcock on shape note singing, and Robert Bush on the founding of Bradyville.
The society has produced so many popular publications that are sold in various locations including City Café. Has publishing such historical works been a mission of the society as well?
One of the early publications that we did was trying to document the county’s cemeteries and that involved lots of people going around the county finding grave sites – even through briars and overgrowth – to record the information on headstones that were rapidly deteriorating. Steve Cates was one who did a lot of that work with me, along with around 15 or so members.
Another publication documented the early communities of the county that were quickly disappearing, for example, Lascassas, Milton and Florence, and we have publications for each. There was a community called Goochland that no longer exists, and the former community of Florence actually has its own society now.I would like to see other communities follow that lead and form their own societies.
One of our most recent publications is This Cruel War, by Shirley Farris Jones, detailing the hardships suffered by local citizens during the Union occupation.
Also, Don Detweiller is publishing a work composed of estate settlements in the county drug the Civil War years.
Their sale provides a small amount of income that sustains our organization.
To what would you attribute the society’s growth in membership and publications in recent years?
We got a huge boost when charter member Lurlene Rushing donated her Spring Street home to the society. Its eventual sale provided a tremendous opportunity to increase our frequency of publications and sustain the society’s growth.
Most recently, the family of C. B. Arnette made a wonderful gift of the old Ransom School on North Academy Street to the society. It will provide a great space to house the historical library of C. B. Arnette and will be a place for the board to meet.
My hope and dream is that it will serve as an impetus for a Rutherford County-Murfreesboro museum. We need a museum.
The school began operation in 1904, and we would like to maintain it in that historical setting.
We have also gained interest with good dynamic programs in recent years.
What does the future hold for the society in carrying out its mission?
I would very much like to see the oral histories of local citizens be properly documented.
We have a lot of older people here in the community, and we need to be seeking out their oral histories and record them. We are losing valuable assets, and we have an opportunity to partner with a great MTSU public history program in saving those oral histories for future generations.
How does one become a member?
You may simply come to a meeting and pay dues of $20 for the year. Your dues pay for a bi-monthly newsletter.
When does the society meet?
The third Monday of each month at the Rutherford County Archives. We have a banquet each November, and a show-and-tell dinner each year as well, which is always entertains.