Almost 200 years later, the city is making moves to make sure the historic character of the public square is preserved.
The Lebanon Historic Commission is currently mulling over plans for a historic zoning overlay on the square, an effort to establish guidelines for the exterior of buildings. The draft plan covers things like what materials may be used in exterior renovations, what designs to follow for decorative elements and proper signage.
“If you look at the zoning ordinance that creates the commission, we’re charged with identifying areas within the city that may need protection in terms of preservation,” said Tracey Parks, chairman of the commission. “We’ve done that with three separate residential areas, and we’re looking now at specifically at the historic register district for the square.”
The Lebanon Square was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 and is marked there as significant for commerce and agriculture. Andrew Jackson once owned a store on the square many years before he became president, four county courthouses have stood there and still today events that bring Lebanon together are held there.
Right now, the square is zoned as a commercial district and has its own downtown distinction. The commercial downtown zoning prohibits businesses like discount tobacco stores and bail bonding from setting up shop on the square, but does not provide guidelines or protection for buildings there.
“What this would be compared to what’s in the zoning code now is that it would actually be an overlay, and it will specifically look at preserving the historic character of the buildings on the square,” said Richard Donovan, a city planner and member of the historic commission.
As the process continues, Donovan said the commission will hold a public hearing and then send the finished draft overlay to the planning commission and finally to the Lebanon City Council for final approval.
Parks said the zoning overlay is not meant to “freeze” or “lock up” buildings on the square, but rather to retain the historic character so people want to be in them and use them.
“Lebanon is nearly 200 years old, and what we’re trying to do is to celebrate what Lebanon has that is unique and offer something for the future,” Parks said “We don’t want empty old buildings that look like a museum. We want buildings that are well kept and that people want to use.”
Several new businesses have opened on the square recently, and other buildings are seeing renovations. Boutiques Iddy & Oscars, Simple Southern Threads and Urban Mills Promotions have all opened within the last month on the same side of the square. Although these businesses are all boutiques, they are each unique in their individual concept. Tina Smith, owner of Simple Southern Threads, said they all work together, and she appreciates that collaboration.
With the help of the Main Street program, these businesses and others on the square may be eligible for funds that will help building owners improve the look of the exterior of the building and keep in line with the design guidelines coming from the city.
A facade grant was awarded recently from the Tennessee Main Street program and could provide up to $100,000 for upgrades through the local Main Street program, Historic Lebanon. Building owners who apply and are approved to use the grant money will be covered for 75 percent of the funds needed for their improvements.
In the coming months, the historic commission will work the state historic commission and other bodies within the local government to bring the historic zoning overlay to fruition.
The square is currently seeing some construction and renovation, with more on the way as some businesses move out and others move in.
“The square still gives Lebanon that small town feel that appeals to people. Through the Historic Preservation Commission and a set of guidelines, we can preserve that,” Donovan said.