Franklin Then & Now: 15 Must-See Spots Full of History

It’s been said that the evolution of a community is not only essential but inevitable. Thanks to visionary leadership over the course of 225 years, Franklin’s identity is rooted in its history and the preservation of unique elements that make it special. These iconic sites span the decades—original structures that have been lovingly restored and new additions that add to our cultural fabric. Enjoy this trip through Franklin’s story, then see them for yourself!

The East side of Main Street was the industrial side of town in the early days, where everything from the dairy and blacksmith to the jail was located. In recent years, the block between First and Second Avenues had become blighted, with a fenced-in storage yard for the electric company occupying most of it.

Harpeth Square—anchored by The Harpeth Hotel, upscale apartment residences, and a curated selection of retail and restaurant options—transformed the district, spurring new energy and excitement in the bend of the Harpeth River.

On Bridge Street, behind Harpeth Square, sits the ca. 1905 red-brick building known as the Old, Old, Old Jail (the Old, Old Jail is the ca. 1941 white Art Deco building next door). Here, Franklin’s first hotel once resided. It was a simple frame structure known as White’s Tavern, built around 1800, that stood for a century before the jail was constructed. 

The Old, Old, Old Jail is now slated to become the History & Culture Center of Williamson County. The non-profit Heritage Foundation expects exhibits to open in the summer of 2023. 

Back on East Main, the simple brick building with soaring white columns stands as one of the oldest commercial structures in town. Built around 1825, it served as an outlet for the cotton plant, grist mill, and foundry on First Avenue South. It was also the popular Dotson’s Restaurant for many years, and today is the home of Landmark Booksellers

Down First Avenue South, the grain storage silos of the former Lillie Mills—a national producer of flour that drove Franklin’s economy in the early 20th century—are all that remain of a once-sprawling factory complex. That block also contained simple tenant houses for the factory workers, some of which remain today. In 2005, the Brownstones changed the dynamic of downtown Franklin’s real estate market with 26 luxury rowhouses that replaced overgrown, empty lots.

The Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7 on Second Avenue was the first three-story building in the region when it was completed in 1823 and the tallest building in Middle Tennessee. Today, it remains one of the oldest Mason Lodges still in use in the United States.

Just down the street, the ca. 1828 Clouston Hall was a grand residence for nearly two centuries before it became the local treasure Gallery 202 in 2010. Among the oldest residences remaining in Williamson County, it presents architectural features of popular Greek Revival and Federal styles of the time, such as the Palladian fanlight over the front doors and pedimented and columned windows flanking it. 

Cross the river, and East Main Street becomes Franklin Road, where new sidewalks make for a pleasant walk to the Factory at Franklin. Built in 1929 by the Allen Manufacturing Company and operating as a stove factory for three decades, preservationists saved it from the wrecking ball in 1996. Today, it is undergoing a new revitalization, with restaurants, artisans, and boutiques occupying the former manufacturing spaces. Be sure to visit the new Skylight Bar in the grand hall.

Across the street at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, world champion Tennessee Walking Horses were raised from the late 1930s until 2004, when the 200 acres became a city park. The Main Barn was completed just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, bringing the United States into World War II. The park has become a popular destination for equestrian events and other annual traditions, such as the City’s Fourth of July celebration and the September Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival

Back in the core of the historic district, the Town Square perhaps best represents the evolution through the chapters of our history. The four corners comprise a mix of old and new, with highlights such as the ca. 1859 Williamson County Courthouse, completed just two years before the Civil War tore the nation apart. In between the building and the 1899 Confederate monument on the Square sits the tribute to the United States Colored Troops soldiers titled “March to Freedom,” unveiled in 2021 as part of the Fuller Story initiative that includes additional historical markers that add historical context to a complicated past.

On the northeast corner, 231 Public Square sits where the Victorian Arlington Hotel once resided, later replaced by a 1970s office building. On the southwest side, the Maury Darby Building is the oldest on the Square, built in 1815. Today, it is the home of Twine Graphics and its line of custom screen-printed apparel.

Main Street itself is an evolution, too. Through the years, most of the earliest buildings have been replaced with the late 1800s Victorian structures currently lining the blocks. The middle half of the 20th century was none too kind, however; aluminum siding once covered the majority of the facades, littered with unattractive signage. The streetscape beautification project in the late 1980s restored Main Street to its former glory, sparking a renaissance.

Another key reclamation was the ca. 1937 Franklin Theatre, whose historic marquee had long since been removed when it was purchased for restoration in 2008 by the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County. Opened as a state-of-the-art venue for movies and live performances in 2011, the theater is once again the heart of Main Street.

At Five Points, landmarks include the historic Post Office building, built in 1924 and purchased by the City of Franklin to ensure its preservation in 2008; the ca. 1923 White Building that was first a doctor’s office and then a drugstore and soda fountain before becoming Starbucks; the ca. 1842 Historic Presbyterian Church; the more modern Williamson County Archives building that was the longtime site of Franklin Elementary School before it burned in 1962; and the ca. 1935 commercial buildings that replaced the largest home in Franklin when constructed on the west side of Five Points.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, completed in 1834 just past Five Points on West Main Street, is today the oldest Episcopal church in continual use west of the Appalachians and the Mother Church of the Diocese of Tennessee. During the Union occupation of Franklin during the Civil War, the sanctuary was used to house soldiers and even horses. While the damage can still be seen in the original columns, the church is known for the Tiffany stained glass windows that cast a glow over the stunningly beautiful nave.

Up Columbia Avenue, the Carter farm was ground zero for the Battle of Franklin. Captain Tod Carter had survived years of combat and escaped a POW camp, only to be mortally wounded in his own front yard as his family hid in the basement. The Battle of Franklin Trust operates the Carter House as a museum site that opens the historic home and grounds to visitors for tours.

Across the street, a Domino’s and a Pizza Hut stood on the battlefield until local and national preservationists raised funds to acquire and reclaim the land, which now stands as the Carter Hill Battlefield Park.

Walk the streets among these landmarks, and you’ll find incredible photo backdrops everywhere you look. Be sure to tag @visitfranklintn and let us know your favorites!

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