Beautiful Home Hank Williams – Historic Beechwood Hall sparks preservation activism in rural Williamson The antebellum home has sparked tension between the area’s notable growth and its history, with dispute involving prominent preservation leaders including Hank Williams Sr., Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Kid Rock.
Located south of Franklin in Williamson County, Beechwood Hall was built in 1856 and was the center of a land use dispute. (Photo: John Partipillo)
Beautiful Home Hank Williams
At the end of a long driveway in a wide pasture in Franklin, Tennessee, stands a two-story, columned longhouse dating back to the 1850s. Known as Beechwood Hall, the home has long served as a link to Williamson County’s storied past for those who drive the area’s rural roads.
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“This is the most beautiful house,” said Leonora Clifford, a descendant of the Mayberry family that built the house. “Her sheer beauty pervades the entire valley.”
The fate of Beechwood Hall in the hands of its new owner is uncertain, and its listing on the National Register of Historic Places does little to prevent its destruction. In recent months, the house has become the focal point of a dispute over property rights and preservation, as well as a catalyst for closer scrutiny of how historic homes are viewed in a county experiencing rapid development and growth.
Beechwood Hall owners Larry and Leighann Keel considered replacing the house with a new, larger home similar to the original version, among other options. No decision has been made.
“There are no immediate plans to demolish the house,” Larry Keel said. “Every option is on the table. It’s too early to say what we’re going to do with this.”
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The issue has all the right elements to create controversy — Hank Williams Sr. once owned the property, as did country music artists Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Prominent local preservationists, including Mike Wolfe of American Pickers, took to social media and Kid Rock brought up the issue on Tucker Carlson Tonight. “Save Beechwood Hall” signs and social media posts about the issue went viral, leaving many partiers feeling like they were being attacked.
They identify many historic sites and areas in the region that have been altered or demolished in recent years, and note that others are at risk. In a county known as a conservative stronghold, county officials are being asked to consider new regulations that give greater importance to historic sites in rural parts of the county.
There are no plans to demolish the house. Every option is on the table. It’s too early to tell what we’ll do with it.
“Beechwood Hall was kind of a call to arms, but it will impact a lot of other properties,” Williamson County resident and former commissioner Mary Brockman said at a recent commissioners meeting in support of new requirements for historic homes. “As a district, we reflect this situation in many ways.” He added: “Sometimes it takes something like a grassroots movement to say, ‘We can do something.’ “Our hands are not tied.”
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Brick and stucco Beechwood Hall was built in 1856 with Greek Revival and Italian influences, and a historical marker says the property once included a cotton and grist mill and slave quarters. H.G.W. Mayberry was a captain in the Civil War and one of the largest landowners in Williamson County in 1860, according to 1980 National Register records. He owned 24 enslaved people that year. The house, which was used as a stable in the mid-1900s, was destroyed and renovated and rebuilt in 1960, with the main staircase remaining intact.
“The cultural landscape of Beecwood Hall, or what was formerly known as the Mayberry Plantation, is quite significant,” said Rachel Finch, conservation director for the Williamson County Heritage Foundation. He conducted an extensive survey of the property in recent weeks for the nonprofit organization, which focuses on preserving local history. “One of the most important aspects of preserving Beecwood Hall is telling the African-American story.”
The front hall of Beechwood Hall in Franklin has had much of its 1970s-era wallpaper removed. The chandelier is not original to the house either. (Photo: John Partipillo)
The interior of a bedroom in Beechwood Hall shows the wear and tear of the house as the paint on the stucco walls is peeling. (Photo: John Partipillo)
Hank Williams, Jr.
The current master bathroom was built in the 1970s. The sink, which no one has lived in for a long time, is now full of feces from the birds living in the house. (Photo: John Partipillo)
Beechwood Hall’s floating staircase. The original railing was removed by owner Larry Keel and put into storage. (Photo: John Partipillo)
Property records show Hank Williams Sr. owned the property for about a year, shortly before his death in 1953. According to the Heritage Foundation, he never lived in the house. So did Hill and McGraw.
The Beechwood property was part of a 750-acre parcel; Hill and McGraw sold 130 acres in 2015, and Columbia-based buyers BKDM Partners purchased the remaining land for $15 million in June 2021, according to the Nashville Business Journal. Days later, they sold the 268-acre Beechwood Hall estate to the Keeles.
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Larry Keel said the Keel family toured the property in May, when hay and corn were growing. They appreciated its proximity to downtown Franklin, its large frontage, and the lake with cabins overlooking it. In addition to the lodge, they also examined the three-bedroom brick house and Beechwood Hall, which showed obvious signs of deterioration at the time. More than a dozen windows were broken and bird and rodent tracks were visible. He said they were drawn to the land itself more than anything else.
“Buying the property has nothing to do with the old house. It was really the beauty of the land that drew us here,” he said.
Keel, a Lewisburg, Tennessee native and graduate of Tennessee Tech University, returned to Tennessee from Los Angeles in 2018 after retiring from a lucrative investment career. He said he had family in Middle Tennessee and wanted to be closer to his mother in her final years. Keeles purchased several large properties in the area, including a home near Leiper’s Fork and 500 acres in Maury County. They support local land conservation efforts and have dedicated hundreds of acres to the Land Trust for Tennessee, which they said would limit future development.
“This is one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country,” Larry Keel said of the area. “It’s important to protect as much of Middle Tennessee as we can.”
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After purchasing the Beechwood Hall property, the Keeles boarded up the house to protect it from rain and removed ivy that had cut through the stucco on one side of the house. Larry Keel said they removed the middle railing of the bent walnut staircase, which was still in good condition, and put it in a separate area to better protect it. They also demolished a 1960s or 1970s addition to the house.
Months ago, Keeles drew up plans for a new, larger house to live in on the site of Beechwood Hall, attempting to replicate the house’s façade. They wanted to bring back their old porch that had been replaced, liven up the front entry, and add rocking chairs and swings to the south. Interior additions will include more bathrooms, closets and other amenities not found in most older homes, and a new, stronger foundation will be laid, Larry Keel said.
“Our idea was to build a new house very similar to the original Beechwood Hall,” he said. “We thought it was a smart and respectful move.”
By November, social media posts about the fate of the property gained momentum. An online petition titled “Save Beechwood” garnered support, and Kid Rock appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Carlson called the demolition of Hank Williams’ house “an attack on the soul of country music.” Kid Rock said residents felt “invaded by the state of California” and that these newcomers were told to leave “their politics at the state line.” He suggested doing things like “peasant” if the problem wasn’t solved well.
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For Clifford, the home’s more recent musical history is secondary to its early years when his family lived there and contributed to the area’s growing business community. He said that buying a property with a historical structure comes with an obligation to take good care of it, and those who cannot or do not want to fulfill this responsibility should not buy such properties.
‘Mr Keel certainly has the legal rights to demolish this house,’ he said. ‘I don’t think he has the moral right to demolish it,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s wrong to demolish a structure that means something like this. It adds so much to the history of this borough.’
Aubrey Preston, a Williamson County conservationist who revitalized Leiper’s Fork in the 1990s and helped found the Land Trust for Tennessee, advised BKDM on the deal. He said the group is trying to avoid developing a subdivision and
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