Sitting in a comfortable chair in a sun-filled room surrounded by memories, it took just a little prompting to send retired Franklin businessman Henry Davis on a trip down Memory Lane.
His has been a life filled with twists, turns, opportunities taken and accomplishments enjoyed.
He laughed when he said he had four careers - soldier, rocket engine tester, sign installer and lumberman. Each one different. Each built on instincts that came natural and skills learned on the job.
Henry Davis was born in Smyrna on April 18, 1930. He grew up on a farm where he ran wild through open fields and caught catfish with his hands. One summer a friend invited him to go to 4-H Camp in Columbia. There he met young Nancy Crosslin from Eagleville.
“My friend said he had a girl I had to meet,” Henry said. “I met her, but I had other girlfriends at the time.”
After graduating high school, Davis went to Clemson University. The strict “military-like” environment landed him good grades, but it stifled his social life. Playing trombone in the marching band was all the social life he had.
After two years he transferred to the University of Tennessee Knoxville where he joined his high school friends, a fraternity and the marching band. His grades quickly suffered so he transferred to Middle Tennessee State University.
At the same time, he received his draft notice.
Davis used his band experience to join ROTC, became the drum major and delayed military service.
He also ran into that same young woman he had met as a girl at 4-H camp years before.
“She was looking at schools and had decided on U.T. when a friend - Jean Elmore - told her to look at MTSU,” Davis said.
The prospective student agreed on the stipulation that Jean would get her a date. That date was Henry.
“That was the night I fell in love with her,” he said.
Davis graduated in June 1954 and reported to Fort Sill in Oklahoma on Sept. 1, 1954 as a commissioned officer with the Distinguished Military Student award. He was assigned to the field artillery unit and later became a paratrooper.
He and Nancy were married on July 2, 1955 and their first child, Greg, was born in Germany the following June. The Davis family returned home from Germany in 1957 and a few months later, in 1958, daughter Diane was born. Their third child, Susan, was born in 1961.
After Davis was discharged from the military, he went to work with Nancy’s father at Crosslin Lumber in Eagleville, starting at the bottom of the ladder.
“But I wasn’t making any money,” he said. “I was drawing house plans, driving trucks and helping in the yard to make extra money.”
So he went to work for his own parents in Murfreesboro at Murfreesboro Battery and Electric. While there he noticed many of the people getting their cars tuned were from the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma.
“I filled out an application to work as an engineer [at AEDC],” said Davis who had earned an industrial engineering degree in college. He was hired as a rocket engine tester.
His primary project was the Saturn V three-stage liquid-fueled heavy lift launch vehicle used in the manned Apollo program, the first to go to the moon and back.
When the project was completed, Davis was promoted to quality control manager in the rocket test division. After 10-years at AEDC, he worked briefly with his friend John J. Hooker, installing fryers, other kitchen equipment and the signs for a chain of Minnie Pearl Chicken restaurants.
After that brief venture, he worked in Smyrna a short time with Johnny’s American Inn, a joint venture between Tonight Show host, the late Johnny Carson, and the Swanson Brothers until he was hired by Arco Oil Company. Arco had recently purchased the Richfield Oil Company. His job was to change the Murfreesboro produced signs from Richland to Arco’s products in seven western states.
“I knew nothing about the sign business, but someone’s going to do the job and I’m the man,” he told the Arco representative during his job interview.
By hiring and overseeing local sign installers from each area in which the signs were being replaced, Davis had all the installations completed within three months.
The vice president was impressed and when he was transferred to Chicago he took Davis with him to find a fix for JC Penney signs coast to coast. The signage suffered day and night hue changes and expanding plastic which allowed bugs to get inside the sign. If the issues weren’t fixed, the sign company would lose the account.
“We kept the account,” Davis said.
After three years traveling all over the country in the sign business, Mr. Crosslin, Nancy’s father, visited the Davis family in Chicago.
“He told us it was time to come home,” Davis said.
Mr. Crosslin had plans to build a store in Shelbyville and wanted his son-in-law to run it, but Davis had other ideas. He told his father-in-law he would only come back if the store were built in Franklin.
Even though Franklin already had four hardware stores, Davis was steadfast.
“Shelbyville is not going to change,” he told Mr. Crosslin. “The only place I’m going is Franklin."
He sensed something big was soon to happen in the sleepy town south of Nashville and he wanted to be there when it did. He came to Franklin in 1972 and built Crosslin Lumber Store on Eddy Lane. Using his good business sense, he became well known for quality lumber and hardware and fair prices. He remained with Crosslin Lumber until his retirement in 2005.
“We were leaders in the lumber business," he said.
He was also a leader in Franklin. He joined the Franklin-Williamson County Chamber of Commerce almost as soon as he set foot in town. As president in 1980, he moved the chamber from its City Hall location to new quarters on Columbia Avenue.
He also joined the Franklin Rotary at Noon, which was meeting at the old Log Cabin Restaurant on Murfreesboro Road. During his term as president the group moved its meetings across the street to the new Holiday Inn.
Davis served on the boards of Bank of College Grove, Bank of Franklin (located in the current Landmark Bank building) and Williamson County Bank. While on the Bank of Franklin board, the first ATM was brought to Franklin.
“They named it ‘Mr. Franklin’,” he said.
After 62-years of marriage, Henry Davis lost his beloved Nancy in 2017, but he continues to enjoy his three children, six grandchildren and four, soon to be six, great grandchildren.
“I love Franklin,” he said. “Franklin has really been good to me.”
Carole Robinson writes and takes photos for the Williamson Herald. She enjoys traveling, photography, long walks in the woods and working in the barn and the garden. She loves being a mom to Molly and Jesse and a Mimi to Will, Miles and Dean and being Bill’s wife.