Featured Photo courtesy of Bill Wilson
Story by Breanna Sanders
Fresh coffee is brewing. The baristas at Starbucks on South Rutherford Boulevard in Murfreesboro are busy taking orders and making drinks. Patrons swing in and out, picking up their coffee and breakfast sandwiches, while soft rock hums against the clattering of cups and the whirring of blenders.
Years before Starbucks and coffee houses, the land beneath this bustling industry homed a large farm: the Rogers farm.
In walks Bill Wilson, Circle K coffee cup in hand, with an issue of Murfreesboro Pulse under his arm. Wilson is a realtor, a member of the Rutherford County Historical Society and a sixth-generation resident of Murfreesboro. Most know him not as Bill, but as Mr. Murfreesboro.
Wilson is a well-known face in the community with a combined following of over 40,000 across Facebook and Instagram. When he is not finding residents their dream homes or in the studio recording “The Mr. Murfreesboro Show” on WGNS, he can be found all over the ‘Boro; Common activities include supporting local business owners, watching local theatre productions or simply admiring the sights of downtown.
Long before Wilson took over the moniker he’s known as today, Tommy Martin held the title.
Martin traveled around the mid-state during World War ll selling war bonds and life insurance, making connections with businessmen along the way. With those connections and a small but mighty group of roughly six other members, they transformed Murfreesboro.
Murfreesboro wasn’t always the bumper-to-bumper bustling city it is today. Prior to the 1940s, Murfreesboro aligned with many other towns in rural Tennessee: population under 8,000, some farms here, a Baptist church there and Middle Tennessee State Teachers College— which had under 2,000 attendees and would later become Middle Tennessee State University. Wilson cointed it a “sleepy town”.
Martin and his collegues grew the agricultural community to a hub for big businesses including State Farm and General Electric. Though, Martin was more than just a savvy businessman; He is better known for his love of those around him.
Martin always told others, “If no one’s told you they love you: Jesus loves you and I do too.”
“He was old school. He’d mail a happy birthday card, or say it came out in the newspaper, he’d laminate it and mail it to you. He was about serving others,” Wilson said.
Martin was a good friend of Wilson’s grandfather. Young Wilson saw firsthand how much Martin loved Murfreesboro. To honor those same values, Wilson came up with the idea of making a Mr. Murfreesboro Facebook page. In 2015 he met his good friend and grandson of Martin, Hunter McFarlin, at Tasty Table to propose the idea. With the family stamp of approval, Wilson became Mr. Murfreesboro.
“Tommy Martin is the original Mr. Murfreesboro… I just took it off the mantle, trying to be more like him,” Wilson said. “Be nice, be courteous, help others. It’s not even about me. The more I help, I don’t have time to worry about all of my stuff. It’s really a good feeling to help others and not glorify me.”
But before 2015, Wilson only went by Bill Wilson.
He grew up on that same plot of land where Starbucks now resides on his mother’s side of the family’s farm. He remembers life before I-840, when only about 30,000 people called this city their home and when the square resembled that of a Norman Rockwell painting. His father’s side of the family never starved, but had to move around a lot, while his mother’s family was the opposite.
“I learned how to cuss from my dad and learned about Jesus from my mom,” Wilson said.
Wilson is not the only member of his family that has been active in the community. His grandfather, Bill Wilson, was the sheriff of Rutherford County in the 1950s and ’60s, who then became a road superintendent the following decade. Floyd Wilson, Mr. Murfreesboro’s father, was a State Farm Agent and a county commissioner.
“I grew up at the courthouse, the workhouse, and the jail just because of my relationship with my grandfather and my dad. I was always meeting people; I just have always had a passion about people,” Wilson said. “If there was a campaign going on, I was the kid going around knocking on doors.” He would say, “Hey could you vote for my grandaddy or vote for my dad?”
He bounced between public and private schools in the area: The Methodist Church school in kindergarten, to Campus School (where soon-to-be teachers graduating from MTSU would test run their teaching abilities), to Central Middle and to Riverdale where he graduated. He attended MTSU from 1984 to 1992 and graduated with a political science degree with double minors in history and physical education.
Like everyone, Bill is human and struggled in the past. In his college years, he had an alcohol addiction. A little over 31 years ago, Wilson woke up at his parents’ house from a blackout vomiting bile and blood.
“I’m 6’4. I got down to 122 pounds, so I looked like death,” Wilson said. “That compulsion to drink was removed. I think that was the good Lord saying, ‘Bill you’re dying’. I had a spiritual experience.”
As Bill came to his senses, he pulled two tickets from his pockets: an open container violation and a speeding ticket. “They didn’t take me to jail, I don’t know how I made it home,” Wilson said. “That reinforces my belief there’s a higher power.”
Since September 21, 1991, Wilson has been sober.
Fast forward to 2023. Today, Mr. Murfreesboro keeps the city’s residents up to date on the latest happenings in the city and keeps history alive his collection of photos of restaurants, shops and relics of the past.
His office is a museum of sorts. Behind the open door is a caricature of Wilson, his signature Mr. Murfreesboro logo. Pieces of personal and city history are scattered about his desk. A black and white photo of a group of men including his grandfather, Tommy Martin and Sam Ridley on the left. An old map of Murfreesboro (then called Murfreesborough) is tucked between more papers on the right. Above are old photographs, a Mr. Murfreesboro bobblehead and some of his snow globe collection scattered about.
Wilson is a well-versed traveler. He has crossed the northern and southern borders of the U.S. and has been to all but four states: Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Oregon. He even spent some time living in South Carolina. Yet, he always finds his way back home.
“Murfreesboro is home, it’s where I was born and raised… It’s been my life,” Wilson said. “The city has had a hold on me for such a long time because of history, because I love history and just to see how its grown has been amazing.”
Murfreesboro is one of a kind to Wilson.
“We are such a diverse community… The people is what drives a community. It’s kind of like a church— It’s not the building, it’s the people.”
The name Mr. Murfreesboro for Wilson is an outlet for showing his passion for the two things he loves most: history and people.
“I think I can talk for the people. I have the expertise, I have the experience of living here, knowing pretty much everybody,” Wilson said. “… I think I have it as well as anybody as far as knowing the ins and outs, the street names, where to go. I’m good at knowing the temperature of the people.”
A lot of his knowledge comes from “being old and living here,” as well as supporting the Rutherford County Historical Society.
“I have a lot of friends who live in California, New York, Florida and all over the world who grew up in Murfreesboro the way I did. They keep up with Murfreesboro through the eyes of Mr. Murfreesboro… I take them back to a time, bygone times, that a lot of us want to hold on to or wish we could go back to,” he said.
Wilson’s fascination for history and people has culminated into a face that people beyond the city have grown to love. His Facebook page features multiple five-star reviews.
One comment reads, “Mr. Murfreesboro is an icon in this town, but more importantly, he is a good friend and a wonderful person! Murfreesboro is a special place with such a special ambassador like himself. He is very involved and supportive of projects which benefit Murfreesboro. Thank you for being awesome Mr. Murfreesboro!”
Another simply says, “I ran into Mr. Murfreesboro today for the first time, SUPER nice and friendly!! Love the stuff he posts about Murfreesboro, the old pics are my fav!”
Wilson carries the Mr. Murfreesboro torch with him wherever he goes and will forever cherish his community.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.