Patsy B. Weiler, The Daily News Journal, July 30, 2018
Earlier this year, when Alanna and Phillip Vaught began thinking about a venue for their son Jess Michael’s third birthday in December, they never imagined a six-figure price tag for his party place.
The couple’s little boy’s special day is the first birthday celebration on the calendar at the currently-under- renovation performance and event venue called The Gathering at Milton.
Phillip Vaught bought the building, plus the lot and house next door, located just off state Highway 96 near the post office in the heart of Milton, at an auction on a rainy Saturday morning in February. By the time the gavel fell, the combined bids were just shy of $200,000.
The interior space will have a small prep kitchen for caterers, will hold up to 99 people and has room outside to expand for larger events. A grand opening is slated for Saturday, Oct. 13, with a Fall Market and Craft Fair.
“When the restoration is finished, we think this will offer a beautiful and affordable space” Alanna Vaught said. “Some people are disappointed we aren’t opening a restaurant, but that was never considered.”
A busy family with deep roots in the surrounding community and agriculture, Phillip, known for his mischievous sense of humor, calls himself “an agricultural entrepreneur.”
He owns a custom land clearing and bush- hogging business. Alanna teaches agricultural education at Middle Tennessee State University. Older son John Buyrl, 14, is involved in 4-H, showing their farm’s award-winning goats and other animals. Throw in an active toddler and a schedule that was once packed full is now overflowing since their spontaneous purchase in the heart of this tiny hamlet about 15 miles east of Murfreesboro.
Milton property has long history
“If I had just kept driving that morning and never made that turn to see how the auction was going,” Phillip said, laughing. “It wasn’t remotely in my plans that day to buy it. But I guess a part of me hated to see a piece of history slipping away.”
The property has a long history in Milton. Tax records indicate it dates back about a century. Older residents remember when it was a rural market and feed store called Cherry’s Grocery.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Manuel’s Cajun Country Store was opened by musician Abe Manuel Sr. and wife Dottie. The pair were known for serving up catfish, crawfish étouffée and lively Cajun music. Old photos capture when the famous country group, Alabama once made an appearance. Finally, it became the Milton Country Store until closing in 2009.
Sitting empty for nearly a decade, it suffered the ravages of time.
When the Vaughts took possession, the front porch was dangerously close to collapsing, parts of the ceiling sagged, the whole floor had to be torn out to the bare ground in the kitchen area and that was only the beginning of a myriad of other challenges ahead.
These days, while there are still many projects to be completed, much is finished and now more sawdust than cobwebs float through the air.
Along the way, the Vaughts and Tim Frazier, the son of a former owner and who has been key in the renovation process, have discovered vestiges of yesteryear. A ball of jute twine hangs overhead from the days when purchases were tied in paper, a wall alcove once held a desk-style phone and on one back wall, the hand-written words “sow chow” and “crimped corn” indicate where bags of animal feed sat.
Taking a break after a long day, the tired twosome sat together on the front steps and reflected on the journey of the last few months.
“Sometimes I’ve wondered what are we doing,” said Phillip. “But, I remember getting excited when we ripped off that old red exterior and found the original wood lap siding underneath. It was special. We are passionate about the potential of this area.”
For Alanna, her thoughts have turned to the generations of people who came through the doors.
“This is where family and friends gathered. Thinking about that is how I came up with our name,” she said. “It has been a process, but we are taking the time to do the work right so it can continue to be the gathering place at Milton, where people come and make memories for the next 100 years.”
Included in those happy future faces is one 3-year-old little boy who will always have a great place to throw his birthday parties.
To follow The Gathering At Milton’s progress or for more information, visit www.facebook.com/thegatheringatmilton or call 615-653-6018.