MTSU professor, Frist family, work to preserve Old Town site along Old Natchez Trace

MTSU professor, Frist family, work to preserve Old Town site along Old Natchez Trace


The latest edition of MTSU Magazine profiles a significant partnership between former Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist, his wife, Tracy Frist, and MTSU anthropology professor Kevin Smith.

old town
Dr. Bill Frist and Tracy Smith pose in front of a home at the Old Town site in Williamson County. // MTSU

A Frist-owned property on the banks of the Harpeth River in Williamson County, Tennessee, points to our roots as a people: a continuum of culture that spans hundreds of generations and thousands of years.

But on one lot in particular — one that’s located where the ruddy waters of Brown Creek spill into the Harpeth River — there is literally more truth to that than an untrained eye could possibly see.

And protecting what most of us can’t see — clues that a great civilization that one anthropologist from MTSU knows thrived there long ago — is where the Frists come into this fascinating story.

Dr. Frist, a heart and lung transplant surgeon and former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and his wife, an educator, writer, and accomplished equestrian from Virginia who is one-quarter Native American, purchased the land in 2015 with the aim of preserving the site called “Old Town.”

The property contains the remains of a people whose nomadic forbearers arrived in the region some 12,000 years ago. These hunter/gatherers eventually settled down, culminating in a sophisticated civilization that flourished both economically and culturally from roughly the year 1000 to 1500.

And Professor Smith has documented the area, without excavation, using ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, and other technologies that allow him to plot settlement areas and other sites.

Printed copies of MTSU Magazine are distributed twice annually to more than 120,000 alumni readers. Additional copies publication are distributed to interested stakeholders, including state lawmakers. An electronic pdf version is available at and archived magazines are also available online at

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