There’s no better way to learn about downtown Franklin’s rich history than on a walking tour with Franklin on Foot’s Margie Thessin. She’s been showing off the city to visitors since 1997, and her tours are chock-full of fascinating details you won’t hear anywhere else.
Here are just a few tidbits she shared with us on a recent downtown stroll — Whether you’re a visitor to Franklin or a longtime local, we’re sure at least some of these stories will be new to you.
Gray’s on Main
Downtown Franklin’s popular Gray’s on Main restaurant pays homage to its former inhabitants in a number of ways. The building was constructed in 1876 and renovated in 2013. While the original floors sustained water damage and couldn’t be saved, the building’s owners turned what wood they could salvage into the tables you’ll find on the restaurant’s second floor.
While you’re upstairs, take the back hallway down a short flight of steps to see one of this building’s most interesting secrets — On the wall, you’ll find a detailed timeline marking all the important events of a former pharmacy employee’s life, from the births and marriages of his children and grandchildren to the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
“It’s at this odd angle because the stairs didn’t stop where they do now,” Margie explains. “They went all the way to the ground. So he would come in and come upstairs- This was just storage at the time- and he wrote up here. It’s like his diary. Isn’t that wonderful?”
According to Margie, years later, when the elderly author of the timeline learned the building was being renovated, he sent word through one of his children just before he died, asking the new owners to leave the timeline on the wall. They agreed, and it remains there today.
Shuff’s Music on Third Avenue is located inside one of the most infamous houses in downtown Franklin. Built in 1829, it was once the home of Sallie Ewing Carter, a beautiful socialite, and spy who befriended Union officers and then shared their secrets with the Confederacy.
Sallie’s ghostly activities are well-documented, and she’s a favorite with those who take Franklin on Foot’s popular Ghost Tour. But you don’t have to go there at night to see evidence of Sallie’s paranormal presence — Just check out what some say is her ghostly handprint on the windowpane above the house’s front door.
You’ll need to go halfway up the front stairwell inside Shuff’s and look at the right-side windowpane to see it. Employees report that every time they try to wash it off, the handprint eventually returns.
They’re happy to share more Sallie stories with you and show you her picture — Just go inside and ask!
You’ll find a beautiful fine art showplace called Gallery 202 inside Franklin’s historic Clouston Hall, as well as a few other surprises. This is one of Margie’s favorite stops on her history tour, and when you visit, you’ll understand why.
Built in 1812 as a townhome for the wealthy Clouston family, legend has it that at least three U.S. Presidents have hung their hats here: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson.
During the Civil War’s Battle of Franklin, the house served as a hospital — and if you look behind the counter in one of the rooms, you can still see a very visible blood stain from that time.
In the foyer of the home, a burn mark from a cannonball fired into the home during the Battle of Franklin still marks the floor.
It’s impossible to miss downtown’s iconic Franklin Theatre. It opened in 1937 and closed in 2007 before being rehabilitated, restored, and reopened by a nonprofit preservation group.
Many historical details were left intact, including the decorative brickwork above the marquee. Give it a closer look and you’ll notice that the patterns on either side of the main design are intended to resemble filmstrips. You’ll never look at the Franklin Theatre the same way again!
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Built in 1849, the sanctuary of downtown Franklin’s oldest church is open to the public 24/7, and inside you’ll find a lovely surprise — Eight of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany, shipped from New York, and installed in the church back in 1902.
A wealthy family donated the windows. (Two more Tiffany-inspired stained glass windows were added in later years.) The original Tiffany glass includes the three windows over the altar, the three windows on the right side of the sanctuary, and the two front windows on the left-hand side.
While you’re inside the church, you may notice that part of the sanctuary floor has been replaced. According to Margie, it happened in the late 1800s. “The floors had to be replaced in the main sanctuary because of damage, we think from the Civil War era,” she says. “Soldiers had moved in, used the sanctuary as a barracks, and poked holes in the roof to let the smoke out from fires that they built.”
How can you tell which flooring is original? Margie says flooring created before the mid-1800s has wider planks of differing widths. By the late 1800s, floorboards were narrower and uniformly cut.
Today, Avec Moi is a downtown store filled with jewelry, gifts, and home goods. But over a century ago, the Main Street building housing the shop belonged to one of Franklin’s most prominent and respected African American citizens.
Allen Nevils Crutcher Williams was born a slave in Spring Hill, Tennessee in 1844. Once he was emancipated in 1863, he opened a shoe repair business on Franklin’s downtown square for Union soldiers occupying the city.
By 1870, Williams was doing well enough to pay for construction of the building at 418 Main Street, where he operated a combination general store/grocery store for the next 65 years that was frequented by both black and white customers.
“He had an amazingly successful life,” Margie says. When Smith died in 1930, his obituary was published on the front page of the Franklin Review-Appeal.
Franklin Road Apparel Company
“Many of the buildings you see on Main Street are not the original buildings that were once here,” Margie says, “but sometimes they have the history embedded in them.”
A prime example is the building housing the Franklin Road Apparel Company. Built in 1932, it has a secret history few know about today. “This building was built with materials from an earlier house that stood here,” Margie says.
“That house was built in the 1880s, and it was a fabulous Second Empire style house that cost $22,000 to build.” The stones you see now on the outside of the building were originally the home’s foundation stones.
Meanwhile, the paler line of rectangular stones just above the storefront windows and door were made by slaves and come from an earlier, pre-Civil War home that stood on the property.
There’s so much more to learn about this history-filled town. Franklin on Foot offers highly regarded tours that suit every age and interest, including ghost tours, children’s tours, food tours, cemetery tours, crime tours, and Civil War tours.
Visit the website to book a tour and learn even more fascinating facts about Franklin, Tennessee!