College Grove Artsitorium
8601 Horton Hwy.,
College Grove, TN
Auditorium, Stage, Dressing Rooms, Reception Area
After nearly four decades of devoted use, the old College Grove High School was downright dilapidated by the 1990s. The building was closed in 1992 and in 1994 when a resident of the College Grove Community by the name of Gerald Howerton put in a bid for his business to demolish the high school. After surveying the site, the run down appearance of the auditorium was softened in his eyes by the memories of past graduations, recitals and school plays causing Mr. Howerton to balk at tearing down the historic, free standing facility which had become a community fixture. And so, Mr. Howerton began a personal quest to convince the county commissioners that the little town of College Grove had a landmark worth saving.
One man’s difficult quest, quickly became a passionate crusade for the townspeople of College Grove. When told by the county commission that the old auditorium was dysfunctional, Mr. Howerton set out to prove them wrong. He contacted area musicians and the local Bluegrass Association was born. The first meeting of the bluegrass musicians, held at the local elementary school, only drew a crowd of 26 people on a cold winter night. Within two years, performances were attracting over two hundred people and raising funds for the “Save the Auditorium” project. After several years of spending time and money on the project, Mr. Howerton made the decision to hand the heart-felt project over to the community.
Many people came to realize the dream of redesigning the neglected and battered building into a new haven for performing and visual arts and lovingly re-titled the facility as the “Artsitorium.” In 1997, leadership for the project came together through the creation of the “Citizens Committee to Benefit the Williamson County Artsitorium in College Grove.” The interest and concern in preservation, as well as the creation of a community asset for the project coordinators, along with hundreds of community supporters, did not go unnoticed. Their determination to raise funds, the vigor with which they began and a vision of a community center for the arts convinced county commissioners Clyde Lunch and Judy Hayes that their goals were worthy. The county commission responded to the community with a proposal that the commission would disperse $300,000.00 in funding for the project if the community could raise the additional $100,000.00 needed to restore the auditorium to it’s past glory.
The committee went to work to raise the additional money through fund-raising projects such as Fish Frys, Ice Cream Suppers, Yard Sales and eventually moved onto bigger projects such as Golf Tournaments, Historical Homes Tours and Musical Festivals. The committee eventually initiated the “Adopt-A-Seat” fund-raiser in which people and organizations throughout the county could have an engraved brass plaque placed on the back of an original auditorium seat for the donation of $100.00. This was a huge success, with donations coming in from over 180 area residents and companies. Several local and county organizations gave major sponsorships to fund the remaining amount needed.
The County Executive’s office also went to work diligently pushing forward with renovation plans. It was decided that a local architect’s refurbishing ideas would be used and local contractor Rock City Construction Company eagerly began the renovations. In the meantime, Commissioners Hayes and Lynch worked out a relationship between the Artsitorium and the Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department that secured the building’s long-term care and maintenance. It was also known that the Parks and Recreation Department would have the means of establishing new and innovative art programs as well as handle rental reservations for outside groups eager to utilize such an exquisite performance venue.
Refurbishment began in April of 1999 and was completed in November of the same year. During the remodeling the old asbestos floor tiles lining the seating area in the auditorium were removed and replaced with carpet, with the exception of a new tiled area laid in front of the stage to allow for dancing. A new handicapped-accessible entrance with a lobby and restrooms was added to the side exterior as well as new landscaping. The auditorium’s original heavy blue velvet stage and window curtains were repaired, cleaned and re-hung. The concrete walls were painted a warm and inviting color and the original old wooden seats were removed, restored and put back in the auditorium. The original layout of the seats called for two middle aisles and 500 seats. During the restoration process only 302 seats were replaced allowing for the creation of a larger center aisle, seating for wheelchair patrons, and the means for which to meet present day fire code standards. Stunning craftsmanship shone through the muck as dirt and years of aging were removed from the ceiling to unveil beautiful wood. The 20 foot high ceiling is now glorious, and looks as it did when the building first opened in 1957. The original lighting is still in place and is operational and the spacious stage with it’s original wood floor provides an old style charm.
Finishing touches were provided by local high school senior, Melanie Hines. She had no idea when she first picked up her pencils and brushes to create her senior art project, her piece would turn into a work of art, commemorating her hometown of College Grove. With the blessings of the Artsitorium Committee and the Parks and Recreation Department, Melanie began painting a mural on the side wall of the newly refinished Artsitorium depicting images that are familiar landmarks and prominent places in College Grove. It is a perfect tribute to the new life housed in the Artsitorium, an old, beat-up building restored to it’s past grander to cultivate a renewed sense of appreciation of the arts.
The accomplishment of an entire community that united together to save a dejected landmark destined for destruction, that diligently fought to restore this now ethereal showcase of an auditorium to greatness, could only deserve the honor of a ceremonial Grand Opening. Together, the Artsitorium Committee and personnel from the Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department organized such a note-worthy event. On December 11, 1999 the new Artsitorium was unveiled to the public. Many people who had attended or worked at the old College Grove School between 1957 and 1992 were acknowledged and honors were bestowed upon members of the community and members of the Artsitorium Committee whom proved vital in the auditorium’s salvation. Festivities began with a presentation of the colors by Cub Scout Pack 8 followed by the ribbon cutting ceremony, eloquent speeches by area dignitaries and concluded with exciting entertainment.
“This day is indeed a glorious day” stated Commissioner Judy Hayes and without a doubt the sentiment was shared by all involved. Everyone kicked up their heels to the tunes provided by Bluegrass bands, stomped along with the clogging dance troupes, enjoyed a delicious barbecue dinner and reveled in the promise of what the newly restored landmark could once again offer the community.
Up and running since December 1999, the Artsitorium now serves as a multipurpose performing and visual arts facility operational not only for the people of College Grove, but for all Williamson County residents. It has already been used for school performances, concerts, recitals, and drama and dance performances. Serving the needs of various community events and public meetings, it can also be rented for private use through the Parks and Recreation Department.
The Williamson County Parks and Recreation Department has been thrilled to be a part of the renovation process, and remains ecstatic at the opportunity to establish enriching community programs year round at this remarkable facility.
- Free Standing Auditorium located in the quaint town of College Grove, just 20 minutes southeast of Franklin, Tennessee.
- Stage (wood floor) with Proscenium Arch
- Original Front Stage Curtain
- New Stage Curtains
- 2 Dressing Rooms
- 306 Seats Available
- Reception Area and Restrooms
- Extra Floor Stage Platforms Available
- Original & Beautiful Wood Ceiling
- Equipped with Basic Stage Lighting
The College Grove Artsitorium is a local treasure waiting to be shared. It is an ideal place for gatherings such as:
- Dance Recitals
- Music Recitals, Showcases or Performances
- Theatrical Productions
- Art Exhibits
- Weddings and Receptions
- Poetry Readings or Book Club Get-Togethers