The Mill fills up building, makes plans for future

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Dec 2, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Long ago, the steam whistle at Lebanon Woolen Mills could be heard twice a day for miles around, and the community lived by it. 

Not only did it signal the morning and afternoon shift changes for the largest employer in Wilson County, it told children when they were getting out of school and let residents know a new day was beginning.  

The Mill at Lebanon now seeks to connect the community in a new way, with plans for a mixed-use development spurred on by the filling up of one of its many buildings.

Twenty buildings sit on the 15-acre lot between North Greenwood Street and North Maple Street in Lebanon. As of now, five of those buildings are in use.

In the past couple of years, the center building, building 4, has become home to 21 local businesses. With the coming coffee shop, more leases signed and plans to put in a restaurant, The Mill is starting to realize its new vision of becoming a mixed-use, transit-oriented development.

Years ago, in 1908, Dr. John Edgerton founded the Lebanon Woolen Mills to bring industry to Wilson County. His move from industrial Pennsylvania to rural Lebanon left him frustrated, as he was being paid for his medical services in chickens and vegetables. Seeing the large number of sheep farmers in the area, he thought a textile mill would be the right thing to bring jobs and industry to the community. 

Lebanon Woolen Mills remained in operation for 90 years, providing military blankets during World War II and jobs to the people of Wilson County.

Once the complex closed the doors on manufacturing operations in 1998, a transitional developer worked on clearing the space for new use. The machines were taken out, the floors and staircase refurbished, but the process was halted and The Mill remained vacant for many years. 

In 2006, Curtis Gibbs Jr. bought The Mill, and new plans were made to make the complex into a mixed-use residential and commercial development. 

Right now, Crossroads Church and Intrigue Athletics studio operate in building 2. Building 3, named Edgerton Hall after Edgerton, is a large event space used for weddings, business expos and other events since the complex reopened. Building 4, the center of the complex, houses local boutique shops, a salon, a visual media company, a yoga studio, a co-working space, offices and artist studios. A coffee shop is coming soon and leases were signed to fill up nearly all of the remaining spaces, including a wine bar for the upstairs portion. Building 1 holds the business offices for the complex, and building 9 is home to Big D’s Flea Market.  

Several buildings at The Mill remain untouched, but development plans are in the works. 

According to Diane Parness, general manager at The Mill, building 7, the only three-story building in the complex, is the next to be renovated, and it may become a boutique hotel with the possibility for loft apartments in an another building. 

The building next to the center, building 5, would ideally house a micro-brewery or similar business that could make use of the outside patio.

“Part of the plan is to build a community. Not to isolate in any way, but that people that work here and live here would be able to eat here and play here, as well,” Parness said.

With the location near the Music City Star Station and Don Fox Park, there are also hopes the complex would one day connect the train station to the Lebanon square. The city built a concrete pad by the entrance on North Greenwood Street, which could connect to the existing paths from the train station and Don Fox Park.

The railroad spur built to load textile products from Lebanon Woolen Mills onto trains is under consideration for a walkable retail strip.

“It definitely is a work in progress, and it goes in spurts,” Parness said. 

Lebanon Woolen Mills was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and as such will retain the original character of the exterior structure as renovations are made to the interior of the buildings. 

What will happen next for this piece of Wilson County history has yet to be woven in the fabric of time. 


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