The Cats of Harlinsdale: Farm’s relocation includes cats, not just horses

(Editor's Note:  This story was reprinted with the permission of the Williamson Herald)

By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer

After the Harlin family sold Harlinsdale Farm on Franklin Road to the City of Franklin in 2004 to be used as a passive park, they began the massive job of moving personal items, farm equipment and animals to their new location in College Grove.

It took several years to move the numerous horses, farm and training equipment and personal items, but perhaps the most tedious and time consuming job was the relocation of the farm’s feline population.

Close to 100 cats prowled the property and various out buildings protecting them from rodents and performing any other jobs they deemed within their realm of responsibility. Since their genealogical lines date back to the 1940s when Wirt Harlin built that first barn for Midnight Sun, the equine foundation of the Harlin’s long line of world championship Tennessee walking horses, they also needed to be moved.

It was that historical correlation and utilitarian relationship between the family, equine and feline that inspired Camille Harlin and her daughter Mimi Hickerson to create the book The Cats of Harlinsdale.

“The horse history had been documented,” said Camille Harlin, Wirt Harlin’s granddaughter. “We thought the cats were important, as well.”

For years, Mimi enjoyed capturing pictures of cats, horses and life around the farm.

“I actually worked on the farm in the summers,” added Mimi, a 2008 University of Memphis Law School graduate. “It was great to capture real farm life in my pictures and cats are an important part of a working farm.”

Mimi’s collection and the move prompted a decision to document the felines for their own information. In the process both realized the animals had developed their own society. The variety of breeds dictated personalities and strengths. They lived within a natural hierarchy, each with their own responsibilities, their own territories and their own way of dealing with the day. Mother and daughter were convinced their stories had to be told and in the book the antics and personalities of the foundation cats and offspring become an integral part of the story of Harlinsdale Farm.

Their stories are separate from the horses, but they are intertwined. The cat’s primary job as mousers brought them to the farm, but they soon became companions to the horses, observers and greeters to visitors, Camille added.

“When we moved – it wasn’t complete until the cats were there,” she said. “They are a part of the whole existence. Moving them to the other barns (in College Grove) completed the setting.”

About 20 cats were relocated to the new Harlinsdale Farm in College Grove. Camille and Mimi were able to find new homes in barns around the county for 80 of the cats that couldn’t go to the new farm – there just aren’t enough barns and sheds – yet.
 “It was a big rescue operation to move them, but it was something Mom and I got to do together,” said Mimi.

It took Camille and Mimi, with the help of farm manager Rocky Jones and other farm employees, two years to catch and move the cats from their hiding places in the barns and sheds that dot the old farm and the tunnels and caverns beneath the old tractor barn that once held the steam powered generators from the old Franklin power plant, and on occasion they found more than just a cat. Opossums, raccoons and a woodchuck wandered into the traps after the tasty salmon and tuna treats used as lure for the cats.

“We just moved the last cats in February,” said Camille Harlin. “They really haven’t had a chance to adapt – they’re still finding their niche.”

One look around the new farm in College Grove however, and it is evident the feline population is doing a good job of discovering their niche. The Siamese are once again slinking through the tall pasture grass patrolling the fence lines, the gray fox faced are checking the cracks, crevices and holes for a misguided rodent, the tuxedos are still the welcoming committee as they peek carefully around fence posts and walk gingerly across the barnyard and the vested brindles can be seen hopping from the tractor to the hay bales looking for a perfect place to nap.

A sly old cat called Snaggle Tooth was among the last to be moved to College Grove. Soon after the move, during an early morning snooze in a gooseneck trailer, he found himself on the road again.

Bill Harlin, who was enroute to Burwood to pick up a bull, found the unhappy travel companion when he stopped at the Burwood farm. Snaggle Tooth escaped and it took weeks and plenty of salmon and tuna to recapture the unhappy cat, who still holds a grudge, Camille said.

Meet The Cats of Harlinsdale at a book signing at the June 10 Wednesday Night Wags event at The Factory in Franklin, sponsored by Happy Tales Humane.

The book is $15 and can also be purchased at or by emailing Camille Harlin at

Carole Robinson can be contacted at


Posted on: 5/28/2009