Wartrace lands Tennessee Walking Horse Museum

Friday, July 1, 2011
Several members of the museum committee were able to make it to the formal signing of the contract between the Wartrace group and the Celebration. Standing from left are Ron Stacy, Wartrace mayor; Paul Cross, committee member at-large; Nancy Edwards; Tamara Gavin Kasser, vice president; Bonnie H. Delk, secretary; and Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration. Seated, from left, Phillip Gentry, president; and Henry Hulan, chairman of the Celebration. Not pictured is Lynn Hulan, treasurer for the museum committee. (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

You can't write the history of the Tennessee walking horse without mentioning Wartrace -- and soon, that's where you'll go to see that history firsthand. The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration announced Thursday afternoon that the "Cradle of the Tennessee Walking Horse" is now the home of the Tennessee Walking Horse Museum.

"We are honored that the Celebration has made this decision and look forward to making the museum a showcase for the Tennessee walking horse, the walking horse industry and the families and individuals that deserve their rightful place in the history of the Tennessee walking horse," said Phillip Gentry, president of Wartrace's Chamber of Commerce and now president of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum Committee.

Until recently, the museum has been located in Lynchburg, but the artifacts and papers had to be packed up and moved out when the building owners needed it for another purpose. Now, it will be on Main Street in Wartrace, next door to town hall.

Originally based in Shelbyville, the museum was moved to Lynchburg when a location was made available and because members of the museum board felt there would be more tourist traffic to the free venue. Wartrace Mayor Ron Stacy is now hoping that tourist traffic will find its way to his town via the museum.

"It's a great opportunity and a great honor," he said.

Bonnie H. Delk, secretary of the museum committee and office manager of Waterfall Farms near Wartrace, knows it will be an great opportunity.

"People are always asking me at Waterfall about the museum, where it is," she said. "Now I can say, 'It's just right down the road!'"

The museum features exhibits on the history of the breed, including the formation of the breed registry, foundation bloodlines, World Grand Champions, Celebration history, versatility, and the care and training of the Tennessee walking horse.

Additionally, there are regularly updated exhibits covering the current World Grand Champion, a selected breeder, and a selected trainer.

Specific artifacts of interest include the saddle used by Floyd Carothers on the very first world grand champion, Strolling Jim -- the horse buried within yards of the new museum site.

Tennessee Walking Horse Museum President Phillip Gentry and Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows go over the paperwork that turns the museum contents over to Wartrace for its new location. (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

After the museum got notice it had to move from Lynchburg, a search committee was formed to find a new home and several venues applied for the honor, including Lewisburg (home of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association headquarters) and The Fly Cultural Arts Museum in Shelbyville. The Marshall County Commission even drafted a resolution showing its support for bringing the museum there. Recently TWHBEA announced plans for a possible museum of its own.

For Wartrace resident Nancy Edwards, Wartrace was the logical choice.

"What better place?" she asked. "This is where it all began."

The committee has been working with the Celebration for a while, hammering out details and planning what to do with the future -- not just the past.

"We're working with the merchants," said Gentry. "For instance, the Walking Horse Hotel -- we're hoping to offer package deals with the hotel and the museum."

The museum organization will be a non-profit (its 501(c)(3) status paperwork is still in process) and admission to the museum will be free, so the committee is looking for fund-raising ideas and volunteers to help. The town of Wartrace has also made a commitment to bring the museum to life.

"We are happy that Wartrace wanted to preserve the history and heritage of the breed and the industry and open the museum in Bedford County," said Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration,. "These Wartrace individuals have worked extremely hard to promote the museum's move to Wartrace and we wish them tremendous success."

Gentry said he hopes to have the museum open to the public by the time the Wartrace Horse Show and the Celebration rolls around within the next two months.

"We've got a lot of work in front of us," he said.