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Volunteer spirit breathes new life into Granville

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The storyteller is also a writer, having penned the scripts for the tour as well as writing a book, Say What? How To Talk Like Youre From Around Here.

Bennett disguises herself as Ethel Sutton once more at the Granville Fall Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 6, as she presents Everyday Living: Quilting and Canning at the Sutton Homestead. At 2 p.m. she discusses Say What in the Dowell Storytelling Shed.{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=89|imageid=615|displayname=0|displaydescription=0|float=right}

Bennett is one of many volunteers, including 25 Wilson Countians, who have roots or connections to this community of 300 nestled beside Cordell Hull Lake between Carthage and Cookeville. Their labors and the restoration of several structures, notably the Sutton General Store, have resuscitated this peaceful village and made it a destination for urbanites seeking relief from the noise of the crowd. It also serves as a rest stop for cyclists and bikers, while the marina attracts boating enthusiasts and fishermen.

Granville is the kind of place where the citizens of Mayberry would come to get away from it all. However, native Bennett listened to the tales of when Granville was busy as a honeybee hive.

I heard my dad and grandparents talk about when it was a riverboat town. It had about seven stores and a hotel, and the riverboats would come in and unload all their wares in the warehouse docks right down on the river. The people would come in wagons with mules and take goods to the surrounding communities. So Granville got the latest and the best because they had the river, which was like the interstate is now, Bennett recalled.

{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=89|imageid=621|displayname=0|displaydescription=0|float=left}I was born in what we call across the river. When I was growing up, the Cumberland River was here. There was no Cordell Hull Lake. So I was born across the river. After a brief ferry ride and about a 20-minute drive, we were at our grandparents' home. Now, because of the lake, it takes about an hour to get over, either going through Gainesboro or Carthage, said Bennett, who was born a Huff, and whose father and grandfathers were tillers of the soil.

We were a very close-knit community. Everybody knew everybody. They knew your parents and grandparents. Everybody was gonna be watching out for you, said the Jackson County High School alumnus, who left home to earn an education degree at Middle Tennessee State University.

Bennett taught at the MTSU Campus School from 1969 until 1986 and then became Director of the Rutherford County Schools Teacher Center. In 1989, Bennett was named Coordinator of Elementary Education in Rutherford County and launched the EvenStart and Family Resource Centers. She also helped hundreds of teachers improve their skills through in-service programs in math, reading and science.

Bennett retired in 2000 and began volunteering in Granville about five years ago, centering her efforts on the Sutton Homestead.

We have Suttons General Store and we had the museum. We kind of thought we were landlocked with no place to go, she said. When the home that Ben Sutton and his wife Ethel had lived in for years came on the market, almost a block of property, we knew that if we didnt get that then maybe there would never be another opportunity. We raised about $187,000 in 30 days and purchased the house and property in June 2011.

Liz Bennett is an example of the dedicated people that make up our board and volunteer base," said Lebanons Randall Clemons, president of the Granville Museum board and a Granville native. "We have 135 volunteers that drive from as far away as Kentucky to volunteer each month.{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=89|imageid=623|displayname=0|displaydescription=0|float=right}

Everything you see here is a result of the volunteers. Otherwise, this would just be a town on the lake without much development, Clemons said.

In the past year the Sutton house has been restored and restocked with furniture and other items taking on the appearance it would have had in the late 1940s. The block of property also features a facsimile of a 1950 service station with a transportation museum, and a pioneer village includes an early 1800s log cabin, a smokehouse, chicken house, outhouse, gardens, blacksmith shop, grist mill, weave shop and agriculture museum.

Its been very gradual but since 1999 there has been a lot accomplished. The restoration of Suttons Store was the catalyst that started the revival of Granville, Bennett said, referring to the communitys main attraction.

The country store that dates to the late 1800s has been rejuvenated to a fastidious state and stocked with goods and candies from yesteryear, all due to the funding of Harold Sutton and his late wife Beverly, who made their home in Mt. Juliet.

{phocagallery view=category|categoryid=89|imageid=624|displayname=0|displaydescription=0|float=left}The lake was the reason people started coming back for fishing and boating, so people have vacation and second homes in Granville. This all happened about the same time Harold Sutton was remodeling the store. After he and Beverly gave the store to Granville, the store became the anchor to the community, Bennett said.

The results of that and other efforts by Granville residents and friends has been that the Heritage Day celebration in May drew about 9,000 people, while the fall celebration brings in about 3,000 visitors. Not bad for a town of 300.

With purchase and opening of the homestead, we have a lot of schools groups coming on field trips, and I coordinate those, Bennett said. We had 73 Jackson County High School juniors, who were studying American history, go through our Civil War exhibit yesterday.

The Sutton house, built in 1880, maintains its original wooden floors and windows and is one of the oldest homes standing in Granville. Ben and Ethel Sutton lived here from 1947 until Bens death in 1975. The house has a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, library/doctors office, sewing room, kitchen, back porch and cellar.

We dont just take a tour of the house, we do storytelling, said Bennett, who can gently ease into her role as Ethel Sutton.

What you see here is just the way we live every day, says the lifelong educator, who moves from the modern world to yesteryear in the blink of an eye.

And its that way the folks of Granville used to live every day that tempts visitors to step into the past, if only for a few hours at a time.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at

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