The Unique Architecture of Historic Franklin You Must See
History comes alive nearly everywhere you turn in Franklin, Tennessee. The town is home to more beautifully preserved historic structures than just about any other city in the country. “The fact that you can drive around and see all different styles from the late 1800s to the early 1900s is pretty unique,” says Franklin architect Mike Hathaway of 906 Studio Architects. “Tennessee Federal is very popular in this area. Classical Revival is very popular. There are a few Tudors, but not many. There are a lot of Folk Victorian. There are a lot of Craftsmen.”
After talking to Mike, I did a deep dive into Franklin’s architectural history. I discovered that many clues to this town’s fascinating past are plainly visible in the exteriors of its historic homes and buildings. Check out what I’ve discovered below – You’ll never look at these Franklin homes and businesses the same way again!
Downtown Franklin consists mostly of Victorian architecture from the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a sprinkling of 1920s Art Deco. Nearly every building within this 16-block historic district has a fascinating backstory. When you’re shopping and dining downtown, look around – You’ll notice many of these buildings still have their original hardwood floors and tin ceilings.
The White Building
The Heirloom Shop, 404 Main Street
This 1899 building’s wrought iron eave and belt course hint at its original owner’s Irish origins. In 1831, Michael Doyle of County Kildare, Ireland, settled in Franklin and bought the land upon which The White Building stands.
Williamson County Courthouse
1858 Public Square
Built in 1858, the Williamson County Courthouse was built in the Greek Revival style, with four Doric columns cast in a local foundry. It served as the county courthouse until 2004 and has a dark history. Punishments were carried out in the courtyard after conviction, including whippings, brandings, and stocks. Enslaved people were sold in the courtyard before the Civil War. And in 1888, a mob of locals hanged a black man from the balcony, right before his trial was set to begin on charges of assaulting a white woman.
Maury Darby Building
Twine Graphics, 304 Public Square
Believe it or not, the Maury Darby Building, built in 1815, is the oldest on the square. One clue? It was built in the Federal style, which had been replaced mainly by Gothic Revival and Classical Revival style structures when Franklin was founded.
The Franklin Theatre opened in 1937, and its decor is very much in keeping with that decade. One interesting feature is the decorative brickwork on either side of the window at the top of the building – It’s meant to resemble film reels! The theater was the first air-conditioned building in town.
Historic Franklin Masonic Hall
115 2nd Ave S
This gothic revival-style building was one of the first structures in Middle Tennessee, and it’s chock full of history. Both Andrew Jackson and James Robertson, founder of Nashville, frequently did business here. It was the first three-story building built west of the Allegheny Mountains, and under city code, no downtown building may be taller than the Masonic Hall.
114 E Main Street
Built between 1806 and 1808, the current home of Landmark Booksellers is the oldest intact commercial building in Williamson County and has been visited by Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett. It’s believed to be the earliest example of the Greek Revival style in Middle Tennessee. The structure has been used by many businesses over the years and served as a field hospital for Union and Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Franklin.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
510 W Main St
Constructed in 1834, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was known as a ‘three-decker building,’ including the nave, slave galleries, and undercroft. It has been called one of the finest Gothic Revival-style churches still standing in Tennessee. The church has been used as everything from a Civil War hospital after the Battle of Franklin to a stable to a carpenter’s shop. When Union troops occupied the building in 1862, they used the church’s original pipe organ and pews for firewood. The church was re-consecrated in 1871 and restored to its former glory. Donations from the wealthy families in attendance included eight stained-glass windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany which can still be seen inside the church today.
The Corn House
132 3rd Ave S
Now home to Biscuit Love, this beautiful Queen Anne home was rebuilt in 1892 after a fire. Charlie Corn, the owner of the mill that made Franklin Lily Flour, bought the home in the 1920s. His family lived in the Corn House for the next 60 years.
Franklin Cumberland Presbyterian Church
615 Main St
Built in 1876, the Gothic Revival style Franklin Cumberland Presbyterian Church was designed by Hugh Cathcart Thompson, who would go on to design Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The church still boasts its original handmade pews, made with wooden pegs. The original steeple was replaced in the 1940s after being blown down in a windstorm.
Beyond Downtown Franklin
I was shocked to discover how many historic homes and structures still stand in Williamson County. Many are privately owned, but most can still be seen from the street. Here are just a few of our favorites.
1345 Eastern Flank Cir
Built in 1826 using slave labor, Carnton is Franklin’s most famous historic home and is open to the public. It was built in the Federal style; a central portico in the Greek Revival style was added in 1847. The interior of the home also received a Greek Revival makeover that year. Wallpaper, faux painting, and carpets were added in nearly every room of the house. The floors of the home are still stained with blood from when Carnton was used as a Confederate hospital after the Battle of Franklin.
1140 Columbia Ave
Also open to the public for tours, the Carter House is a Federal-style brick farmhouse built in 1830. The home and three other buildings original to the house are still standing. More than a thousand bullet holes from the Battle of Franklin can still be seen in the structures. The basement of this home plays a significant role in its history; it’s where the Carter and Lotz families hid throughout the battle.
446 11th Ave N
The McLemore House was built by former slave Harvey McLemore, who became a farmer. It is Colonial Revival in style and was owned by the McLemore family from 1880 until 1997. The home is now the McLemore House African-American Museum, and after undergoing renovations using a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission, the museum will reopen for tours this spring.
1111 Columbia Avenue
Constructed in 1858 by German immigrant and master craftsman Johann Albert Lotz, the Lotz House is was built in the Greek Revival style, complete with four columns. The home served as a showcase for Lotz’s woodworking abilities and included three carved fireplaces and a solid black walnut handrail on the curved staircase at the front of the home. Lotz was opposed to slavery and built the house himself.
Harris McEwen House
612 Fair Street
Originally a modest one-story home built in the 1830s, this Hincheyville home was later expanded into the glorious Italianate-style mansion it is today in the mid-1800s by John B. McEwen, who was the mayor of Franklin during the Civil War. Its slate mansard roof and wrought iron fencing are unique features you won’t find anywhere else in town. Inside, the Harris McEwen House has seven fireplaces – five marble downstairs and two slate upstairs – as well as ornate ceiling medallions crafted by Italian artists. Franklin blogger Buffie Baril wrote a wonderful post detailing the full history of this home, and it’s definitely worth a read.
Historic Homes of Hincheyville
The Harris McEwan House is one of many wonderfully preserved historic homes in the Hincheyville District. You can download a walking tour of the Historic Homes of Hincheyville on your phone and read all about the histories of 30 different homes in this neighborhood as you view them firsthand.
Gallery 202, 202 2nd Ave S
No visit to Franklin is complete without a stop at Gallery 202, both for the amazing art inside and to view the interior of one of Franklin’s loveliest historic homes. Known as Clouston Hall, this Federal-style home was designed by Joseph Reiff, who also designed Andrew Jackson’s nearby home, The Hermitage. It was built in 1821 and included 15-foot ceilings, an unusual mantel with books carved into the design, and four Waterford chandeliers. Evidence of the Battle of Franklin can be seen inside, including bloodstains on the hardwood floors and a deep scar on the floor created by a cannonball. Here, past guests include Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk.
The Watson-Pointer House
214 3rd Ave S
Built in 1881, The Watson-Pointer House was designed by Hugh Cathcart Thompson, who also designed the Ryman Auditorium and Franklin’s LeHew Mansion. The Second Empire style home was inspired by homes built in France during the time of Napoleon and had a slate mansard roof, central towers, and beautiful arched windows and balconies. The home’s interior still has many of its original features, including a Victorian clawfoot tub! Franklin blogger wrote extensively about this striking Franklin property here.