Days Gone By: Remembering John Garrott

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By Ryan Baker

Occasionally, someone comes along who makes such an impact on the area that they are from, that they are remembered for years to come, and sometimes even become a local legend. Last month we recalled the legend of Big Foot Spencer. This month we are going to remember the life of another local hero. His name was John Garrott.

Now, if you have lived in Sumner County all your life or even just a short time, there is a good chance that you have your own stories or special memories of John. If not, I am sure that you have seen one of those giant Garrott Bros. concrete mixer trucks pass by a time or two. John and his father started Garrott Bros. in 1950, just three years after he graduated from Gallatin High School.

Along with starting a business, John developed a passion for historic preservation at an early age. It has been said that Sumner County has preserved its history better than any other county in Tennessee. A large part of this is due to the tireless efforts put forth by Mr. Garrott. John was involved in numerous preservation projects across Middle Tennessee, but focused on Sumner County the most. 

John was an avid collector. I like to say that he and his friend John Ramsey each had such a collection that their only option was to open a museum so that they would have a place to keep everything, but the truth is that John wanted to preserve it for future generations to enjoy and learn about their heritage.

Originally, artifacts were housed in Trousdale Place while the museum was being built. The museum is a three-story, 9,500 square-foot building that is located behind Trousdale Place. Around the same time the museum was getting ready to open, John purchased Stonewall, an antebellum home located just a few blocks from Gallatin’s historic downtown square.

Fast forward to 2015. John had an idea for the future of the museum. Just next door to his residence sits the Carriage House, right next to East Main Street. You cannot miss it if you are coming through town there. The building is yellow with a bright red door on the front. This building has its own unique history, but let’s save that for another time. 

One of John’s biggest attributes was his generosity. In 2015, he raised the funds to purchase the Carriage House for the museum. He donated his home to the museum as well. With his home also came his workshop. John was a man of many talents, and one of those was hand crafted furniture.

John built hundreds of pieces of furniture in that workshop. Most of which he gave to local charities, civic clubs, and other nonprofit organizations for them to auction off to help raise funds. All John ever did was give back to his community, and he did that better than just about anyone.

During his lifetime John received more awards than one could count. I am just going to mention two of those here. In 2016, he received the Tennessee Historical Commission Preservation Leadership Award. Over the years, John was active in the preservation of Wynnewood, Cragfont and Rose Mont. He was involved with Bledsoe’s Lick Historical Association, the Sumner County Historical Society, the Gallatin Historic District Commission and the Douglas-Clark House Advisory Committee. All of this on top of his efforts with the museum. The next award which I am told was his favorite, was the Silver Beaver Award. This is a council-level distinguished service award of the Boy Scouts of America. Recipients of this award are registered Scouters who have made an impact on the lives of youth through service given to the council. 

I met John in 2016, shortly after I took a position with the museum. He wanted to know about my family history. He quickly linked our lineages and gave me some information on our ancestors. A few weeks later he invited me to his house after a Rotary luncheon. It was that day I realized how tough of a man John was. I was sure that I left the luncheon before John but when I arrived at his house, there he was, at eighty-seven years of age, mowing his grass, something he told me he loved to do. He took me into his workshop to show me a piece of furniture he was working on, even with parts of his fingers missing from previous accidents in the workshop. 

As John’s health declined he was in and out of the hospital quite frequently. I knew this because any time he was admitted Mary Stone would call and let me know. She would also call me when he was released, and it would almost never fail that when she did, she would also tell me that he was on his way to the museum to give a tour. Sure enough, a few hours later, there was John, coming through the museum door. It did not matter if his head was bandaged or he had just broken his jaw, he would give a ninety-minute tour like nothing had happened. Fortunately, I was able to follow on several of those tours and can tell some of the stories like he did, because on this particular day, Monday, June 19, John did not come through those doors. 

John Baker Garrott will be remembered as the concrete man, furniture craftsman and active preservationist. His generosity, enthusiasm and hard work enabled the creation of the Sumner County Museum.

To find out how you can help John’s vision become a reality, contact me at ryan.baker@sumnercountymuseum.org.

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