What Every History Lover Must See in Franklin

If you’re a history lover, you’re probably already familiar with Franklin, Tennessee. In November 1864, Confederate troops met Union soldiers and fought in the Battle of Franklin, a five-hour conflict and one of the Civil War’s bloodiest.

The Confederate General, John Bell Hood, lost nearly a third of his men to the battle and suffered a landmark defeat to General William T. Sherman and his Union troops.

Beyond Civil War history, however, Franklin is rich with stories of the past. From nationally recognized landmarks to a farm that revolutionized the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to an old stove factory-turned-shopping hub, you’ll find history around every corner in Franklin.

Join us for a weekend and explore the tales of years past with your very own self-guided history tour at some of these famous spots.

FRIDAY: Grab dinner at Gray’s on Main

The neon glow of the Gray’s on Main sign lights up Main Street as soon as the sunsets. Though it’s now garnered quite the reputation as one of Franklin’s favorite restaurants—a fusion of traditional Southern dishes with lightened modern flair—Gray’s was once the local downtown pharmacy. You’ll see it in the architecture, a late 1800s Victorian building nestled between Tin Cottage and O’ Be Joyful (its sister restaurant).

The three-story restaurant, opened to the public in 2013 by owners Michael and Joni Cole, invites guests to sample and honor Tennessee’s best ingredients. The bar pays homage to the old pharmacy’s elixirs in years past, serving up seasonal craft cocktails to ease every ailment.

While you’re admiring the building’s rich history and sipping on Gray’s famous Anthym Spirit, I recommend enjoying Bacon-Wrapped Figs or Fried Pimento Cheeseballs. You may even catch some live music!

After dinner, take a walk down our Great American Main Street. Just around the corner, you’ll find historic Hincheyville, a neighborhood filled with beautiful homes (you can do a self-guided walking tour here).

Or, try a Franklin on Foot walking tour, where a seasoned guide filled with secrets of the century will regale you with all kinds of stories (some spooky!) that you’ve never heard before.

SATURDAY: Have Breakfast in a Home Built in the 1890s

Though known to locals as the Corn House, you’ll find much more wheat than corn at this Queen Anne-style (Victorian) home.

After a fire destroyed this Third Avenue abode, the home was rebuilt in 1892 and purchased by the Corn family in the early 1920s. They had quite the family legacy in Franklin, owning Lillie Mills—makers of Franklin Lily flour.

It’s fitting that the house of flour moguls now plays host to Biscuit Love, a popular brunch spot where visitors can enjoy the beauty of the Corn House while munching on all kinds of out-of-this-world biscuit breakfast sandwiches. I recommend starting off with an order of Bonuts: deep-fried biscuit dough over blueberry compote topped with lemon mascarpone.

Experience the Fuller Story

Though Franklin’s history has long been dominated by white voices, the Fuller Story Project is dedicated to sharing the bigger picture—a history of African-Americans’ slavery and successes in Williamson County.

Around Courthouse Square where families were torn apart through the buying and selling of slaves, five Fuller Story markers tell the story of United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers, the 1867 race riot, the Battle of Franklin, Reconstruction, and the African-American experience before, during, and post-Civil War.

Spearheaded by a diverse group of local leaders, the Fuller Story Project was inspired from a prayer meeting after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The final marker, planned to be unveiled in 2021, is a bronze statue of a USCT soldier.

The soldier will stand in the spot where freed slaves visited the Courthouse to enlist in the Army, some even fighting in the Battle of Nashville in mid-December 1864.

Once you’ve had a chance to walk around the square and experience the Fuller Story markers, take a short trip over to the McLemore House in Franklin’s historic Hard Bargain neighborhood. This home, built by ex-slave Harvey McLemore in 1880, now houses the African-American Heritage Society and Museum.

The McLemore House was built on one of four lots that Harvey purchased, part of Franklin’s first “subdivision” of Black middle-class workers. He was the first to build, laying the literal groundwork for the rich history of Black families in Williamson County.

Now, visitors can learn more about Franklin’s African-American heritage, culture, and preservation with a tour of the museum, open Thursdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visit Local Landmarks

Carnton is one of Franklin’s most famous landmarks—a beautiful 19th century home depicting the classic Southern wealth of the McGavock family. During the Battle of Franklin, however, this home—known in social circles for its gracious host Carrie McGavock—became a field hospital for hundreds of dying soldiers.

There are still bloodstains on the floors, in fact, where Carrie herself tended to the wounded. She kept a meticulous log of the soldiers who came through, contacting soldiers’ families after the battle to make sure that mothers knew where their sons lay to rest.

Visitors can tour Carnton to experience first-hand Civil War history as well as the grounds, where the home’s ornamental vegetable garden has been closely restored to its former glory by master gardener Justin Stelter.

In addition to the classic guided tour of the house and grounds, history buffs can also opt for the extended tour, which focuses on Reconstruction and the aftermath of the war. This 90-minute tour is offered Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and is led by David Stumpfl, a long-time member of the Battle of Franklin Trust.

Just outside of Carnton by the parking lot, visitors will find Eastern Flank Battlefield Park. Formerly a golf course, this stretch of 110 acres has been ecologically restored to preserve its history: the location of the Eastern Flank of Confederate troops during the Battle of Franklin.

History lovers may also want to stop by Carter House, an 1830s brick farmhouse built by Fountain Branch Carter for his large family. With an increase in cotton production due to the invention of the cotton gin, the Carter family took on more slaves—owning 28 slaves housed in seven small cabins.

These slave quarters, outbuildings still on the property, are some of the most historically accurate and well-maintained in Middle Tennessee.

During the Civil War, Carter House was commandeered as a Federal Command Post for its proximity to the battle. The family took refuge in the basement as Confederate General Hood organized his attack. The home took brutal fire—about 1,000 bullets, in fact.

Visitors can see the bullet holes to this day, marking Carter House as the most bullet-damaged building still standing from the Civil War. Unfortunately, the Carters’ son, Tod, was one of the mortally wounded in battle.

Experience Walking Horse History

Harlinsdale Farm is a pocket of peace in the bustle of downtown Franklin. This 200-acre passive park is now a favorite picnic spot for many families in Franklin, with fields to play in, a picturesque pond to fish in, a dog park for furry friends, and walking trails.

Beyond being a beautiful space to spend a Saturday afternoon, however, Harlinsdale has a rich history with the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Purchased in the mid-1930s by W. Wirt Harlin, Sr. as a large land tract with an old house and barn, Harlinsdale turned into a booming breeding business, siring champion Tennessee Walking Horses from Midnight Sun, a World Champion himself.

Every horse owner in Tennessee wanted colts from Midnight Sun. He sired 2,000 colts in 22 years of breeding. To this day, over 90% of Tennessee Walking Horses can be traced back to Midnight Sun, and thus to Harlinsdale. The champion black stallion, called “The Horse of the Century,” is buried on the property and visitors can stop by his grave. His success gave Harlinsdale Farm the nickname of “Mother Church of the Walking Horse World.”

Check Out The Oldest Operating Lodge in Tennessee

Have you stepped foot into a 190-year-old building? Historic Masonic Hall on Second Avenue in Franklin was built back in 1809 as Hiram Lodge No. 7, one of the oldest buildings in town, in the Gothic Revival style. In fact, this hall was the first three-story building constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia.

The lodge took on several major roles in its many years, including hosting religious services when churches hadn’t yet been constructed. In 1827, the first Episcopal congregation was formed at the hall and now houses St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

In 1830, the hall played a major historical role as host to the Chickasaw delegation’s meeting with President Andrew Jackson for the first treaty council under the Indian Removal Act. When the relocation treaty was rejected by the Senate, the Chickasaw people were forced from their lands in the Trail of Tears.

Historic Masonic Hall became a barracks in 1862, then a field hospital, and was damaged by cannon fire, likely from Fort Granger, during the Civil War.

Shop Through An Old Stove Factory

End your day at The Factory at Franklin, a hub for local businesses housed in an old stove factory. The factory was built back in 1929 as the home of Dortch Stove Works by Oscar Dortch, a businessman from Maury County. He grew his fortune in phosphate and paid $80,000 for the property.

In its first years, the stove factory employed 125 residents making 23 cents an hour. By 1944, the factory employed over 500 Franklinites who made 35 cents an hour.

Dortch was purchased by another stove company, Magic Chef, in 1955. In the 80s, the factory was sold again, this time to Jameson Bedding Company. In the late 90s, developer Calvin Lehew had the vision for a creative space that championed the unique, the artistic, and the musical. Everything within The Factory, even restaurants, fit into that creative vision.

Grab dinner at one of the terrific local joints that The Factory houses. Munch on creative taco combinations at Mojo’s, pick up a lobster roll at Pinchy’s, dig into stone-oven-baked pizza at Mafiaoza’s, and polish off dinner with a big ol’ scoop of Jeni’s ice cream. There’s no shortage of things to try. Be sure to mosey around The Factory to get the full experience of years past.

SUNDAY: Eat at the original Puckett’s

A full Southern breakfast awaits in Leiper’s Fork, home to the very first Puckett’s restaurant, now called Fox & Locke. Opened back in the 1950s, Puckett’s has endeared guests with down-home cooking, a little market, and live music for generations, and has expanded into six restaurants across Tennessee.

Though the food is good—skillet cinnamon rolls, meat and three, and impeccable cobbler—the environment really brings the experience to life. You’ll see old gas station signs and glimpses of genial small-town life: your very own breakfast in Mayberry.

After a good meal, take a trip up the Natchez Trace. Though formally dubbed the Natchez Trace in the late 1700s, this 440-mile trade route from Tennessee to Mississippi was already a well-worn path from herds of animals and the Native Americans who hunted them for thousands of years prior.

It’s a stunning microcosm of Tennessee wildlife: lush green forest, unmatched fall foliage, and scenic vistas of farmland. Stop off and experience one of dozens of hiking trails (some suitable for both dogs and horses) and be sure to snap a photo at the Natchez Trace Bridge.

Abbi is an adopted Tennessean who has fallen in love with the South—especially its people, warmth, and incomparable food. When she’s not telling stories or experimenting with family recipes, Abbi loves to explore new places with her husband Zach and dog Groot.