Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Franklin Battle Sites Merge Operations

Historic Franklin battle sites to merge operations

By Kevin Walters
August 23, 2009

FRANKLIN — Franklin's two best-known house museums share a common history in the Battle of Franklin.

Now, Carnton Plantation and the Carter House will share one group to oversee both their operations and their budgets.

Named the Battle of Franklin Trust, the new board is comprised of members from each nonprofit's separate boards who will have authority over both sites' operations and budgets. That totals about $800,000.

Marianne Schroer, president of Carnton's board, said the new arrangement should improve visits for tourists, streamline operations and add muscle to both groups' future fund-raising, including an interpretive center planned near the Carter House.

"We would like to work together so that when a tourist comes to Franklin they see both sites and they have a total experience," Schroer said. "They'll spend five days here, instead of one afternoon."

During the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, the Carter House was the scene of some of the day's most horrific fighting as Union and Confederate forces fought on Columbia Avenue.

After the fighting, Carnton Plantation was used as a field hospital for the wounded. A Confederate cemetery is adjacent to the plantation.

Transitions continue
The creation of the new board continues transitions begun at each site last year.

Last summer, Williamson County tourism officials asked Asheville, N.C.-based consulting firm Magellan Strategy Group to meet with both sites' boards. From that work, the idea to start a new, separate board sprang.

The Battle of Franklin Trust is an 11-member board comprised of five members from each group, with an 11th member selected by the board.

Meantime, both sites' longtime executive directors resigned separately; no new permanent executive directors have been chosen to lead them.

The new trust will next conduct a national search to pick one new executive director to oversee both museums' operations.

"It will take as long as it needs to take," said J.T. Thompson, a trust board member who also owns the Lotz House Museum across Columbia Avenue from Carter House. "In a perfect world, I would like to see someone in place by Jan. 1."

For the time being, historian and Carnton staffer Eric Jacobson will serve as the plantation's new interim director after former Carnton interim executive director Margie Thessin stepped down last week to pursue other interests.

"I think she's done a fabulous job," Jacobson said. "The board asked me to do it through this transition."

David Fraley has been the Carter House's interim executive director since last summer after Thomas Cartwright resigned as executive director.

Early opinions about the changes have been positive so far.

"I think it is a wonderful thing for both sites," Jacobson said. "I think it's a wonderful thing for the story. I think it offers much more consistency."

Jim Vaillancourt, senior consultant for the Center for Nonprofit Management, said consolidating the operations gives more traction for long-term projects such as the Carter House's proposed $4.5 million interpretative center.

Vaillancourt worked with the museums' boards to finalize the new arrangement.

"It's more likely that the two boards working together will raise the capital rather than on their own," Vaillancourt said.

The center has a $1.2 million state grant for the project.