A part of downtown Franklin now home to a block of high-end condominiums, a community theater and several recognized historic properties once was known as the Bucket of Blood neighborhood.
The area was part of a larger black and ex-slave community that grew up along Church Street between First and Second Avenues after the Civil War.
In 1867, the Rev. Otis O. Knight of Nashville purchased Lot 60, selling the southern half to ex-slave A.N.C. Williams, and using the northern half for the construction of Wiley Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church (1868-1944), an African-American congregation. The church building today is used by the Pull-tight Players community theater group.
In 1906 William Munch and Docia Owen House purchased this house and lot for $500. The property remained in the family until 2002. Long the social center of the neighborhood, the House family became well known for the Patent Leather Kids, a jazz band which included J.D. and Arvila “Bybee” House, Fred Williams, Willie Wilson, and George Ball.
Years later, what became known as the green house was threatened with demolition until saved by local preservationists led by Pearl Bransford and Thelma Battle.
Franklin’s Methodist Church stood on the corner across the street, where the modern-day homes are located, from 1830 until 1873. Shorter Chapel A.M.E. Church used the same brick sanctuary until 1925, before moving to Natchez & Fowlkes Street.
Local African-American landowners included Civil War Union veteran Freeman Thomas, the Rev. William Perkins, Andrew Patton, Clifton Baugh, Robert German, Sam and Cal Hunter, Amanda Glass, Sister Kelley and W.H. West.
By 1910, laborers working at Lillie Mills — the flour milling company that built the silo still standing on the site near the Harpeth River — were living in factory-owned houses known as the “Bucket of Blood.”
According to local legend, this colorful name resulted from a knife fight in Pig Hodges’ poolroom, in which the victim bled a bucketful of blood.
However, the story may be apocryphal, as there was a livestock barn there where animal slaughters often took place.
The Bucket was one of four African-American neighborhoods that developed after the Civil War in Franklin. Ex-slave the Rev. William Perkins was the first freedman to build a house in the Bucket. From the 1870s until the 1960s, Lillie Mills was the main employer. When the mill closed in the ’60s, people began moving away.
Battle, a local African-American historian and somewhat of a living legend in the small world of local cultural anthropology, wrote about the Bucket for the Review-Appeal in the summer of 2003. With her permission, I am quoting what she wrote:
I would like to enlighten the public about the “Forgotten Settlement,” a phrase I personally coined for this particular neighborhood …
Long ago, African-Americans from all walks of life owned and rented homes in the area known as First Avenue, Second Avenue and Church Street in Franklin.
Some of those African-American residents were not only the sons and daughters of ex-slaves, but sons and daughters of their slave masters, as well.
The “Bucket” was a portion of the forgotten settlement that was made up of a wide, dead-end dirt alley, just off First Avenue.
Six dwellings comprised the bucket- three double-tenement homes stood facing one another on either side of the dead-end dirt alleyway. In this portion of the forgotten settlement, 12 families resided.
At the far end of the alley was a livestock loading dock. It was part of a livestock barn.
Certain times of the year, sales were held for horses and cattle at the auction company there. The dealers would unload their livestock at the entrance to the Bucket and drive them through the middle of the Bucket and then onto the loading dock that had a ramp.
Every evening during those certain times of the year, mothers and children would have to then go out and sweep up the excrement left in the middle of their alley. They would scoop it up with paste-board boxes and put them near the street (First Avenue) for the trash collectors to pick up.
This would sometimes go on for several weeks at a time.
“The white people didn’t care because we were just black people living,” said Dorothy Ratcliffe Cole, a former Bucket resident.
“The little boys that lived in the Bucket would offer to help out the livestock dealers. For a nickel or a dime or two they would haul water for the men’s horses. There would be a lot of commotion going on. One day, in the course of all this commotion a little boy named Robert “Hog Lard” Thomas disappeared.
Hog Lard was about 10 or 11, in 1940. He was big for his age, but no one missed him until dark.
Every day, when the men that lived in the Bucket got home from work, they would go looking for him.
It turned out, a white livestock dealer from Alabama had kidnapped him and kept him in bondage for nearly six years.
He only managed to escape after convincing a livestock driver helping his captor to help him leave.
Thomas, born in 1929, died in 2003.