Franklin fast became American’s favorite Main Street. Locals are proud to call this Tennessee town home, and visitors travel from all over to experience the town’s history and charm. Our most recent visit took place on a rainy Sunday afternoon, when many of the stores had yet to open and others took full advantage of the day of rest. Had it been the first time to experience downtown Franklin, one would have assumed it to be a slow-paced, sleepy town. In truth, the main thoroughfare is always bustling with folks quick to encounter what makes this area so desirable: friendly people and a colorful culture with deep roots of music and history.
With accolades such as “Best Main Street in America,” “Southern Dream Town” and “Best Southern Town,” Franklin is far from Tennessee’s best kept secret. This sizable town, with upwards of 70,000 residents, is located about 20 miles south of downtown Nashville. The picturesque drive down Hillsboro Pike introduces you to Franklin’s farmlands and rolling hills. Past the vast green spaces and Southern-style pasture fencing, you will find the 16-block area of downtown. At the center of this National Register district sits the main square, with the The Old Williamson County Courthouse on its southeast corner. This is only one of the structures that showcases the area’s rich history.
Most well known for the Battle of Franklin, this town that was founded in 1799 was the place of one of the bloodiest and last battles of the Civil War. History buffs visit the area to tour The Carter House, Carnton and Lotz House, three Civil War sites. Part of Franklin’s charm comes from the beauty of these sites as well as the area’s historic buildings and brick sidewalks that evoke visions of the past. But as is true with any well-loved community, it is the businesses — and the people who run them — that create the character folks enjoy most about Franklin.
“The reaction I have received since opening has been completely in the spirit of the town,” Habit‘s owner Meg Blackney tells us. “Other shop owners have stopped in to introduce themselves and give their well wishes. Locals have shown their excitement of having this store be on Main Street. This town is one of community and togetherness, and it has really shown since we opened.” Just last month, Habit joined the 50+ stores in Franklin’s downtown. Now in a community with the likes of Haven, Finnleys and Emmaline, Habit is a fashion boutique “hoping to bring stylish yet wearable clothing in a friendly and approachable environment,” according to Meg. “One of the reasons why I chose downtown Franklin for a second location is the quaint walkability of the neighborhood,” she shares.
Meander down the town’s Main Street to discover a crop of local stores, all offering something different. Savory Spice Shop offers a vast stock of high-quality herbs, spices, extracts and seasonings; The Iron Gate is a retail showroom with everything from salt shakers to sizable sofas; Walton’s Antique and Estate Jewelry is a family-owned shop that buys and sells antique and estate jewelry; Rare Prints Gallery focuses on fine antique prints; and The Registry has everything for gifts and entertaining. “You can find great wedding presents, hostess presents, anniversary presents, baby presents, birthday presents or just a present for yourself,” Registry owner Kathy Berry shares. “So many people live in downtown Franklin. This is a great street where they walk, run or are just out window shopping. It is the perfect spot for visitors to browse and feel a part of historic downtown Franklin,” she says of the neighborhood.
Holly William’s White’s Mercantile has a second location in Franklin. This general store — and personal favorite — offers a curated selection of home goods, gifts, specialty foods, art, books, jewelry and clothing.
The area’s antique stores celebrate this history and past by selling old treasures. With 12,000 square feet of space, The Franklin Antique Mall is the largest antique shop in downtown. It is in good company with Arbor Antique Mall, Scarlett Scales Antiques and Bagbey House. Landmark Booksellers has a collection of 60,000 new and hard-to-find books housed in The Old Factory Store, built in 1826. Owned by Carol and Joel Tomlin, the bookstore showcases a love of Tennessee and Southern literature, culture and history.
Landmark Booksellers’ current location is the oldest commercial building in Franklin. More than 100 years later, The Franklin Theatre was constructed on the other side of the square. “The Franklin Theatre came into existence in 1937 as a movie house, and the marquee continues to light up Main Street today and hosts more than 600 events each year,” the theater’s Executive Director Dan Hays tells us. “We have a vibrant array of unique shops, great restaurants, entertainment options, historical sites as well as good neighbors who make Franklin home. We love creating experiences for our patrons and visitors from around the world who come here for the unique charm and hospitality we’ve grown a reputation for.” The theater closed briefly in 2007 but thanks to $8 million and three years of work led by the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, the theater at the heart of Main Street was restored. Now, in addition to movies, the theater sells tickets to live music shows. This month alone the calendar is filled with performances by Melissa Manchester, Edwin McCain Trio and John Tesh as well as screenings of Spider Man, Casper and Sleepy Hollow.
There is no want of Southern cooking in Franklin as options are plentiful. Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant got their start in Leiper’s Fork and now serves Southern food and hospitality in five towns from here to Chattanooga. Stop in for a classic meat-and-three combo with an extra side of live music. Gray’s on Main serves Southern fare and cocktails in an 1876 Victorian building, formerly a landmark pharmacy.
Chef and restaurant owner Jason McConnell is responsible for the sophisticated Southern dishes at Red Pony, steaks at Cork & Cow, Southern foods from Memphis to New Orleans at 55 South and events with Southern elegance at McConnell House.
Frothy Monkey is a self-described coffeehouse concept and while that is true, they are also so much more. In addition to breakfast, which is served until 5 p.m. every day, you will find lunch items and dinner entrees that range from quesadillas to trout a la Heather. Merridee’s Breadbasket is another hotspot for lunch and something sweet, as is neighboring Franklin’s Mercantile Deli. At McCreary’s Irish Pub, you aren’t likely to find shrimp and grits or fried chicken, but you will find fish and chips, bangers and mash and Dublin pot pie. This is the only place in town for Irish fare and a tall glass of Guinness. If it’s the alcohol you’re after, try wine and small plates at JJ’s Wine Bar. For fudge and ice cream, head to Kilwins.
Downtown Franklin is home to a handful of events and festivals, including Pumpkin Fest, Historic Downtown Franklin Christmas Parade, Dickens of a Christmas, First Friday, Art Scene and Main Street Brewfest. While any day is perfect for a visit to Franklin, these festivals will give you a new view of the town! Find more information at visitfranklin.com.
Hop in the car and make your way to America’s favorite Main Street — you’ll never find a more charming place to spend a day!
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