Franklin is perhaps best known for its history. For more than 200 years, the town has preserved its historic homes and structures and uncovered the stories of its many fascinating citizens; today, visitors have many opportunities to learn about its past. Whether you have three hours to spend discovering Franklin’s history or three days, you’ve got plenty of options!
LEARN ABOUT FRANKLIN’S HISTORY IN THREE HOURS
Built in 1826, Carnton was once one of Tennessee’s finest farms. But on November 30, 1864, its grounds became the site of the bloody Battle of Franklin, and the McGavock family’s fine home was transformed into an impromptu hospital, as hundreds of wounded soldiers were brought to the home for treatment during the battle and afterward. The next morning, the bodies of the four Confederate generals killed in the battle were laid out on the porch.
Today, you can take a guided tour of the home, which takes about an hour, and then explore the grounds on your own. 90-minute specialty tours are also available on topics ranging from the enslaved people of Carnton to a behind-the-scenes tour, including parts of the home not open to the public. Be sure and get those tickets ahead of time on the Carnton website.
Take a guided walking tour of downtown Franklin.
It’s hard to beat a guided tour for an overview of a city’s history, and Franklin has two fantastic walking tour companies with entertaining and knowledgeable guides. Franklin on Foot and Franklin Walking Tours offers tours for all ages and interests, including Civil War tours, ghost tours, tours focusing on women in history, food tours, and more. Tours range from one to two hours, making them perfect for visitors with only a little time to spare.
Explore downtown on your own with a self-guided walking tour
If you’re short on time, one of the fastest ways to learn about Franklin’s history is by downloading a digital passport from the Visit Franklin website to your phone. Tours include Historic Homes of Hincheyville, Haunts and Headstones, Great American Main Street, and more, offering lots of historical details to make your stroll through downtown Franklin far more interesting and informative. Once you’ve completed the tour, head to the Visitor Center in downtown Franklin and you’ll receive a special prize!
You’ll also find a free, photo-rich, self-guided tour pamphlet at the Visitor Center, which I highly recommend if you prefer a non-digital guided tour. It’s filled with fascinating stories of Franklin’s history.
The Heritage Foundation also offers a free self-guided tour on its website, which includes many interesting and often little-known historical details about Franklin’s historic buildings and homes.
LEARN ABOUT FRANKLIN’S HISTORY IN THREE DAYS
Want to expand your trip to include more stories of Franklin’s rich history? Fantastic! We have so much more to explore!
Carnton isn’t the only historic house tour Franklin has to offer. The Lotz House is within walking distance of downtown. It offers guided tours that tell the fascinating story of the Lotz family’s terrifying experience on the day of the bloody Battle of Franklin. This tour is the top-rated thing to do in Franklin on Trip Advisor.
Number two on the Trip Advisor list is the Carter House, right across the street from the Lotz House. Here, you can take another guided tour and learn how the Carter family survived the Battle of Franklin – although one family member, sadly, did not.
A short drive from Franklin in Spring Hill, you’ll find Rippa Villa, where the Battle of Spring Hill occurred on November 29, 1864, the day before the Battle of Franklin. On this guided tour, you’ll learn about the wealthy, influential family who lived here, Franklin’s part in the Civil War, and how the war’s aftermath affected the region.
The McLemore House Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Located in the Hard Bargain neighborhood near downtown Franklin, this home was built by former enslaved person Harvey McLemore in the 1880s. The McLemore family lived in the home for the next 117 years before selling it to the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, which sold it to the newly formed African American Heritage Foundation of Williamson County in 2002 for 1 dollar.
At the McLemore House Museum, you’ll learn about how Franklin’s formerly enslaved people made new lives for themselves after the Civil War ended and worked hard to create a vibrant, flourishing community.
Tours of The Old, Old Jail at 112 Bridge Street in downtown Franklin are available weekdays from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. From 1941 to 1970, this jail housed several notorious prisoners, including Betty Burge, the first woman in Tennessee sentenced to the electric chair, and car thief Clayton ‘Rabbit’ Veach, whose graffiti remains on the walls today.
Parks and Battlefields
Franklin has several parks commemorating the Battle of Franklin and offering unique glimpses into the history of that fateful day.
The Eastern Flank Battlefield Park is a 110-acre park where the Eastern Flank of Confederate troops was located during the Battle of Franklin. A guided walking tour is offered of this battlefield Tuesdays through Saturdays at 2 p.m. You can buy tickets in advance at the Battle of Franklin Trust website.
You’ll find Fort Granger behind Pinkerton Park. Here, a walking trail leads to an overlook of the town. Around the perimeter of this park, you’ll see trenches dug by Civil War troops.
Today, The Park at Harlinsdale Farm is a popular spot for walks or a picnic, but it once was the most significant farm for Tennessee Walking Horses, including its prize stallion, Midnight Sun. This 200-acre park includes walking trails, a dog park, a catch-and-release fishing pond, and an equestrian trail.
Carter Hill Park is a one-acre historical park containing a monument to the Assault on the Cotton Gin during the battle.
Collins Farm is a three-acre historic park near Carnton where you can walk to the home of the manager of Carnton during the Civil War, William C. Collins. After the Battle of Franklin, the house served as a field hospital, and soldiers were temporarily buried in the garden before being re-interned in McGavock Cemetery. In 1911, the property was bought by Thomas F.P. Henderson, who, at the end of World War I, was part of a plot to kidnap the German Kaiser Wilhelm.
A ¾-mile public trail will take you to the top of Winstead Hill, where Confederate General John Bell Hood surveyed the 20,000 Union troops heading toward Nashville and determined to fight them, thus beginning the Battle of Franklin. The overlook includes a large military map and memorials to the Confederate generals who died in the battle.
A few minutes outside of Franklin, you’ll find the lovely Preservation Park, home to the Battle of Thompson’s Station on March 5, 1863, and a great place today for a walk in Williamson County’s pastoral countryside. A plaque tells the story of the 5-hour battle, which ended in defeat for the Union army.
At Ravenswood Park in Brentwood, you’ll find gorgeous wooded hiking trails and have the opportunity to explore the grounds of Ravenswood Mansion, a beautiful Antebellum home built in 1825. The home and cabins for enslaved people on the property have been preserved and restored, and the mansion is now available for private events.
Take a deeper dive on your own using Visit Franklin as your guide.
As soon as you arrive in Franklin, it becomes obvious that nearly every building in the historic district has a fascinating story, and Visit Franklin has a wealth of blog posts that will help you uncover these stories at your leisure. Use these detailed blog posts to explore and learn about some of Franklin’s lesser-known historic sites on your own.
9 Historic African American Sites to Visit in Franklin, Tennessee, includes historic sites that help tell about Franklin’s history from the African American perspective, offering what city leaders call The Fuller Story of Franklin’s history. Some sites celebrate African American achievements through the decades; others are stark reminders of the town’s struggles with integration and the civil rights movement.
The Unique Architecture of Historic Franklin You Must See tells downtown Franklin’s story from an architectural perspective. It is filled with information on homes and buildings you might not find anywhere else.
The American History You Didn’t Know was in the Heart of Franklin will give you an in-depth look at one of Franklin’s most fascinating historic buildings, the Historic Franklin Masonic Hall, which was constructed in 1826. You won’t believe the stories contained in these nearly 200-year-old walls!