Backstory and Context
The Wilkinson-Martin House is among the oldest houses in Pulaski. Built of timber frame construction, this Federal Style home was built 1830-1835 for early settler Francis H. Wilkinson (sometimes written Wilkerson). Francis (Frank) Wilkinson was born a Virginian in 1804. In November of 1809, the Wilkinson’s moved to what would become Giles County following the cession of Chickasaw land. They were among the first white settlers to arrive in the recently acquired territory.
Frank Wilkinson gained prosperity as a mechanic, building cotton gins to process the region’s biggest cash crop. In 1854, he was selected to oversee construction of the Giles County Courthouse, designed by Adolphus Heiman. By 1860, Frank Wilkinson had accumulated $36,000 in real estate and $25,000 in personal property, which included 21 enslaved people.
During the Civil War, Union troops occupied Giles County and the town of Pulaski due to its strategic location along the Nashville & Decatur Railroad. During the occupation, an African American "contraband camp" formed on Fort Hill, just west of the Wilkinson-Martin house. The residential neighborhood now occupying the site was originally settled by descendants of the camp. Enslaved people from around the area often followed the Union army, establishing contraband camps at sites of Federal occupation.
In 1875, the house passed to Wilkinson’s daughter Mary L. Martin and her husband David Martin, who served two terms as mayor of Pulaski. A succession of Martin family members owned the house until 1968, when Henry Sims, the Industrial Arts teacher at the Bridgeforth High School purchased the property. As a prominent member of the African American community, Sims had lived in a home adjacent to the property since 1945 and had a close personal relationship with the last generation of Martins in the house.
Little has changed to the houses exterior since its construction, giving the Wilkinson-Martin house the distinction as being one of the last remaining Federal style home in Pulaski. Not only is it possibly the oldest house in town, but an enormous Mulberry tree, possibly the largest in the state, grows in the back yard.
1860 U.S. Federal Census
1860 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedule