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Sheep Hollow - Middle Tennessee

“People think they lose control of their property or its value, but it’s about honoring their wishes for their land in perpetuity. You’re not giving up anything; you’re ensuring your vision for the land continues." - Don Crichton

Sheep Hollow – Middle Tennessee

Part of the 25 Projects for 25 Years series.

In the heart of Middle Tennessee lies a unique piece of history: Sheep Hollow, which surrounds the historic Pillow-Bethel house. Though the house itself is not under a conservation easement, the 302-acre property around it is protected with The Land Trust for Tennessee, ensuring the preservation of its rich history and agricultural heritage. We sat down with Don Crichton to learn more about his journey with The Land Trust for Tennessee and his commitment to conservation.

Don Crichton with his cattle at Sheep Hollow.

The present-day family connection to the Bethel Place dates back to 1945 when Don’s wife’s father, Mr. Jewel, purchased the property. “The house was built by my wife’s great-great-grandfather, but it changed hands several times before Mr. Jewel bought it back and restored it,” Don shared. The property, rich with history, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Nathaniel Greene land grant, originally given to one of George Washington’s key assistants during the Revolutionary War.

Originally from Nashville, Don moved to Columbia in 1967 after marrying his wife, drawn by the allure of farm life. “I wanted to be part of the farm life and took a liking to agriculture, even though I didn’t grow up on a farm,” Don recalled. Over the years, he learned the ropes of farming from his wife’s family, who were involved in dairy farming, tobacco growing, and raising various crops and livestock. “I love being outdoors, and working with animals came naturally to me,” he added.

The decision to protect Sheep’s Hollow, the land surrounding the Pillow-Bethel House, with a conservation easement was driven by Don’s awareness of rapid development in Middle Tennessee. “I watched Middle Tennessee change so much in 60 years. Places we used to hunt and fish are now developed. It was time to do something, to take a stand,” he said. Don took the initiative to discuss the importance of conservation with his sons, Charley and Andy, who now technically own the property. “This was a good thing to do for us, for the community, and for future generations,” Don said.

Don’s journey with The Land Trust began through connections with board members and friends like Jeanie Nelson. “I learned about The Land Trust through friends and began to take an interest in their work,” he explained. Don also became involved with conservation efforts through his volunteer work with Cumberland Heights, where he facilitated the placement of river bottom land into a conservation easement with The Land Trust.

Don acknowledged that there are often misconceptions about conservation easements. “People think they lose control of their property or its value, but it’s about honoring their wishes for their land in perpetuity. You’re not giving up anything; you’re ensuring your vision for the land continues,” he emphasized. Legal guidance from knowledgeable friends and board members helped Don navigate the process and understand its benefits.

For Don, the conservation of Sheep Hollow is about more than preserving land; it’s about maintaining a sense of place and heritage. “If you live here, farm your garden, see your cattle, and watch the seasons change, you develop a sense of place. It’s a connection you can’t get living in a subdivision,” he said. This connection drives Don’s advocacy for more landowners to consider conservation. “If we could put together contiguous properties to form larger tracts of land in The Land Trust, it would be even more meaningful.”

Don believes that protecting land within city limits is particularly impactful. “We’re in the city limits. If this land is protected, it’s more meaningful than if it were 10 miles out in the county. This will be the only piece of green land in the neighborhood 100 years from now,” he noted. Don also sees the long-term value of conservation easements, predicting that “there will be a premium on privacy, increasing property value over time.”

Don’s grandchildren, aged 15 and 12, love to hunt on the property, continuing the family’s connection to the land. Reflecting on the process, Don shared, “I began thinking about this at least 15 or 20 years ago. It takes time to do something like this. My wife was hesitant at first, but it didn’t change what she was familiar with; it enhanced it.”

The partnership between Sheep Hollow and The Land Trust for Tennessee demonstrates how conservation efforts can conserve historical and agricultural landscapes and sites while ensuring a sustainable future. By protecting these open spaces, we honor the past and safeguard the unique character of historic sites for future generations.

The Land Trust for Tennessee sign at Sheep Hollow.

Find out how you can support The Land Trust for Tennessee’s conservation work.