J.T. Thompson swore that as soon as he got his driver’s license, he’d never visit an antique store again.
Growing up in a family with a deep-rooted appreciation for history, he was toted to flea markets and auctions all over the state, always on the hunt for a treasure with a story.
Nowadays, the executive director and vice president of the Lotz House Museum on Columbia Avenue sees those experiences a bit differently.
“We would visit antebellum houses throughout the South, and the Civil War battlefields were definitely not to be missed,” Thompson said. “It’s plain to see my love of history was engrained in me at an early age – although I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time. It’s worked to my advantage these days.”
Thirteen years ago, the former television news director was cruising down Columbia Avenue when he noticed the for-sale sign riding the Lotz House lawn. When he inquired about the listing, he discovered there were tentative plans to turn it into a Mexican restaurant.
Viewing this as an impending tragedy considering the home’s history, Thompson and his wife made an offer on the house. Though theirs was significantly lower than the restaurant’s, he told the seller his plans would include both the preservation of the Lotz history and Civil War education.
“I was intrigued that day driving by. But when I walked inside, I fell in love,” Thompson said. “We’re still new and many people haven’t been here, but it is such a special piece of Franklin’s story that needs to be told. I feel honored to be able to do that.”
Thompson said if his “younger self” could see his modern devotion to preserving the historical home, he’d laugh at the irony. The Texas native (and self-declared Tennessean) has made it his “life’s work” to spin the unique tale of the house that stood at the epicenter of the Civil War’s bloodiest hours.
“The Lotz House tells the story of a family that experienced success, tragedy, heartbreak and war. They immigrated here and made a nice life for themselves, only to be consumed by one of the most devastating battles of the American Civil War in 1864,“ he said. “The family not only endured these trials, but in fact thrived. And it all happened right here, right where I’m standing.”
Thompson and his team offer guided tours every day of the week. Behind the magnificent two-story façade, the Lotz House Museum holds antique furniture and paintings never before seen by the public – including a glimpse into original owner Johann Lotz’s fine craftsmanship as a woodworker, Matilda Lotz’s paintings and artifacts collected from the battlefield that is the home’s yard. The collection has been named “the finest privately owned collection of American antiques in the Southeast” by The Magazine Antiques, which is no small statement. The Lotz House was also recently determined by Trip Advisor to offer “The Highest Ranked Tour in Franklin.”
“Many of our pieces have twins on display in the Smithsonian,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of unique aspects packed into this place.”
One is the evidence of those five bloody hours that still haunt the home’s walls and floors. Though the Lotz family found shelter in the neighboring Carter House basement, their home didn’t fare as well.
“There are blood stains on every room’s floor, as well as scars from a cannonball that came through the front of the house and exited the back,” Thompson said. “This shows that houses are more than just nails, bricks and clapboards. They set, in time and place, the lives of everyday people like the Lotz family.”
The self-learned historian says he understands the significance of living in a community that is both proactive about and appreciative of preservation efforts.
“We give guests the opportunity to learn about a creative and resilient family that withstood the trials and tribulations of life to leave a legacy that will stand the test of time,” he said. “Franklin is committed to saving its heritage, and we’re proud to be part of that.”
The Lotz House Museum is open Monday though Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit its website at www.lotzhouse.com