- a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Nostalgia evokes a wistful desire, a bittersweet longing. In Leiper’s Fork, a small community in Middle Tennessee, the spirit of nostalgia extends past rocking chair stories on calm summer nights; it has inspired strategic movements to protect the Americana roots of the rural village, and ensure its protection indefinitely. In a time of development, we have a tendency to look at open spaces and think of profit. Leiper’s Fork is a notable story about people who know this needn’t always be the case.
Leiper’s Fork is a rural village in Williamson County, Middle Tennessee. It lies 40 minutes outside of Nashville by way of a winding lane, the route decorated by quaint farmhouses, picket fences, and the intoxicating rolling hills of Tennessee. With one stop sign in town, the village center is a fanciful and authentic collection of stores that serve the very close knit community, and draw in tourists curious to experience some veritable southern charm . The key players in the story are Marty and Bruce Hunt (the locals, they ran the antique store in town), and their friend Aubrey Preston (an East Tennessee born real estate magnate), and kicks off when a 250 acre parcel of land right at the entrance to town goes up for sale.
Marty and Bruce were concerned about the potential development of their town (within commuter distance to both Nashville and Franklin), and convinced their friend Aubrey Preston that preserving its rural authenticity was of value. Not only did Preston buy the piece of land in question, but he relocated his family to Leiper’s Fork, and began to – as he referred to it – play “monopoly”. Overall he bought up 2,100 acres in strategic locations around the town, to deter any future development. The two commercially zoned farms that buffer the only two entrances to town become the first land trusted properties in Middle Tennessee. The Land Trust for Tennessee works with communities to protect open spaces, allowing owners to maintain ownership of the land while customizing restrictions to preserve its natural beauty. Williamson County now has the highest concentration of conservation properties in Tennessee, a total of 1,524 acres that will not change.
Preston, and some of his friends, bought several of the businesses, and went to work renovating the downtown- updating concrete block structures with materials from salvaged buildings and repainting them to look historic. Keeping the local community from relocating was key to this preservation push, and a constant string of events (mostly free) were offered through local businesses to keep locals from selling due to rising real estate prices in the area. Then drama was introduced. State Route 840 proposed a highway interstate exit to Leiper’s Fork, cutting through an area of fertile creeks and farmland. It became a ten year legal battle after residents sued the highway developer, and concluded with a massive win for Leiper’s Fork: there was to be no exit because the Tennessee Department of Transportation didn’t conduct a proper environmental impact study.
Today, Leiper’s Fork is a time capsule: to old school Americana, a different pace of life, roots music, and smiling locals who take notice when you’re from out of town. A few key people with an eye for small town values inspired a community to recognize where they were headed and alter their course. When you visit Leiper’s Fork you’ll peruse the art galleries, inspect the antique store, and eventually wander your way over to Puckett’s- drawn in by the smell of cherry smoked ribs, the sound of live roots country, and the milling of people by the picnic tables outside the door. Puckett’s is the unofficial capital of Leiper’s Fork, and comes with a long standing, delicious history.
The Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork is the original store in what is now a local chain. Founded by the Puckett family in the 1950’s, the store originally offered groceries, some cooked dishes, and gas. It soon became a local haven for homestyle southern food. The store has changed hands a number of times, but its standing as a community gathering place has never wavered. Breakfast includes options like fresh buttermilk biscuits, gravy, and farm eggs. You’ll find all sorts of southern classics at lunch, like fried okra, turnip greens, mac and cheese, and friend catfish sandwiches. After a heavy and satisfying dinner of cherry smoked ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, and orange glazed pork loin you may need to spend a few hours digesting before heading home. Happily, most weekday evenings and throughout the weekend there is live country music on the Puckett’s stage.
Sitting at one of the mismatched tables, hands sticky with a pulled pork sandwich, and listening to a lauded local performer, you will understand why this town inspired such a commitment to preservation and why it is on our list of our must-see spots in Tennessee.