Have you ever visited a city that felt like a small town? Franklin, Tennessee, is that kind of city. Small-town charm and friendliness are abundant and just the start of why you should visit Franklin and take a stroll down their quintessential Main Street.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Franklin one of five “Great American Main Street” honors for its outstanding downtown and main street revitalization. Franklin is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
I was impressed with the atmosphere, shops, restaurants, and friendly people in every place we stopped.
VisitFranklin.com hosted my visit, and the Harpeth Hotel provided complimentary lodging. All opinions are my own.
1. Main Street Is Walkable
The quintessential Main Street in downtown Franklin has been the center of the community since 1799. It is flat and walkable. Once your car is parked, you can enjoy the 16-block historic downtown area on foot.
2. Free Parking
There is street parking and two free parking garages on Second Avenue (across from the Catholic church) and another on Fourth Avenue (Across from Puckett’s restaurant). You can park and enjoy your time downtown without worrying about getting a ticket.
3. Town Square
In the middle of the quintessential Main Street is the town square. It is an area that includes a monument as a memorial for the confederate soldiers from Franklin during the Civil War. The memorial was erected on the 35th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin. The monument cost $2,700, and the money was raised over 17 years with bake sales and quilting bees from the women of the Daughters of the Confederacy, Franklin Chapter.
But the city and community use the area to share all the history of the town square.
The square also includes four 1847 cannons, lights, flowering plants, and other significant markers. The markers share the Battle of Franklin story, how the market house was used for purchasing and selling human beings in the early years, reconstruction, the deadly Riot of 1867, and local involvement of the U.S. Colored Troops.
In October 2021, a statue titled March to Freedom was officially unveiled in the town square, across from the confederate monument. It depicts an African American soldier in a Civil War uniform standing with one foot on a stump and a rifle across his knee. It honors the U.S. Colored Troop soldiers who marched in the fight against Confederate soldiers and their continued march for freedom after the war ended.
The March to Freedom statue is one of only a few in the U.S. portraying an African American Civil War soldier.
4. Victorian Architecture
The Great American Main Street of Franklin showcases stunning architecture and history in the buildings and churches. One to be sure to view is the Old Factory Store that now houses the Landmark Booksellers, which is one of the oldest buildings and an early example of Greek Revival architecture. It was used as a field hospital after the Battle of Franklin during the Civil War.
This bookstore was the inspiration for the New York Times bestselling novel by Karen Kingsbury, The Bridge. Hallmark also made a movie from the book with the same name.
The Sweethaven, an ice cream and sweet treats shop founded in Franklin, was once a Livery Stable. The Maury Darby building on the square is a federal-style building.
For more about Victorian culture in Tennessee, visit The Victorian Utopia Hidden In The Middle Of Tennessee.
5. Digital Passports
You can learn more about the quintessential Main Street in Franklin by downloading one of their digital passport self-guided tours. There are several for Franklin and Williamson County. All are free and cover history, murals, coffee, and more. If you complete all the visits for a passport or trail, you earn a prize from the visitor’s center.
The Great American Main Street digital passport helps you explore Franklin and learn local history as you stroll past buildings, historic homes, and more. The digital passport for Main Street covers 0.7 miles and is an easy walk with 33 stops.
You can also learn more about historic downtown Franklin with a guided walking tour. Franklin on Foot Tours has a variety of themed tours. A few examples are I Spy Downtown Franklin, Ghosts of the Battlefield at the Lotz House, Civil War in Franklin, and many more.
These tours are for a fee, and reservations are required.
New to Franklin this year is the “Hop on/Hop off” trolley tour offered by Gray Line Tennessee. This vintage tour allows guests to experience both Franklin and Leiper’s Fork at their own pace, without the hassle of driving a car. The Franklin Hop has five stops and is an entertaining 90-minute loop with guides pointing out over 50 points of interest.
Guests can get off and explore at any of the stops along the route including the visitor center, the Factory at Franklin, Carnton, the Carter & Lotz Houses, and the village of Leiper’s Fork. The trolley runs from 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday, and from noon–6 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets are good for the entire day and available at the downtown visitor center or online through FranklinHop.com.
7. Unique Shops
All along Main Street are unique shops and boutiques. You will find everything from clothes and old-fashioned stores, to housewares and stationery/card shops. T-shirts and other tourist treats are for sale in many stores. You will also find some art galleries, bookstores, and even a spice shop.
8. Patriotic Decor
In keeping with the small-town atmosphere, many of the stores have outdoor patriotic decorations.
9. Franklin Theatre
A highlight of Main Street is the iconic 1937 Franklin Theatre. The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County restored the theatre to its former glory 10 years ago. As you can see in the photo, The Franklin Theatre is illuminated with a primary focus on music and live performances right on Main Street.
When the theatre first opened, it seated 600 on the ground level, 130 on the balcony level, and was the first air-conditioned building in Franklin. Admission was only a quarter, and they showed movies for 70 years.
The theatre reopened as a multi-purpose venue for music, movies, and community events with a reproduced original marquee. The Franklin Theatre is often referred to as the “best 300-seat music venue in the world.” During renovations, the Franklin’s stage and audience area was constructed acoustically perfect and the sound system is the envy of many venues much larger.
It is running at full capacity every day of the week. When they don’t have concerts or performances scheduled, they show movies. During the month of December, they show classic holiday movies which normally sell out when they go on sale early in the year.
Most events at the Franklin are advanced-sales tickets. But even if you don’t have a ticket, it is a fun place to visit and take photos.
10. Great Restaurants
Who doesn’t love a delicious meal when they are traveling? When we visited, I was impressed with the abundant restaurants along Main Street and its side streets. We tried several restaurants and had a scrumptious meal at each.
What impressed me was the fact that they were not fast-food chain restaurants but locally-owned independent restaurants. A few on Main Street you might enjoy are McCreary’s Irish Pub and 55 South. Right off Main, check out Merridee’s Breadbasket and Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant.
In order to find the best beer, wine, and spirits in town, check out Drinking in Franklin, Tennessee.
11. Sweet Treats
Not only are there fantastic restaurants in Franklin, but there are also tasty sweet treats available.
There are several delicious ice cream stops along Main Street and restaurants that showcase some ice cream treats, like the one in the photo above from Puckett’s that was featured on the Food Network.
This Deep Fried Brownie Sundae featured a made-from-scratch fudge brownie, deep-fried and topped with vanilla ice cream, candied bacon, toasted pecans, chocolate, and caramel syrups. It was a great dessert.
The Sweethaven Shop has a variety of ice cream and sweet treats available. This local shop began in the residential neighborhood of Westhaven in 2020. It is now located on Main Street.
The Triple Crown Bakery is located on 4th Avenue, just off Main Street adjacent to the visitor center. They create incredible pastries, cakes, and treats, and they also offer tea service. The inside is set up like a pink paradise and they have been featured on multiple television shows. Most recently during the month of September, they were featured on The Try Guys.
Many sweet treat shops in and around Franklin are included in the Franklin Sweet Treats Trail.
Dogs are welcome in Franklin. Most businesses welcome pets within their establishments. You will know they are welcome when you see the white dog bowls outside each business.
Since 2017, Franklin has been a certified city in the PetCare Better Cities for Pets that aims to educate and inform about the possibilities of including pets to help build better, happier communities.
When I visited, those on the streets had their leashed pets with them. There were pets of all sizes, and the owners and pets alike seemed happy.
13. Live Entertainment
There are a variety of places throughout the town that provide live entertainment. Puckett’s has free live entertainment just a few feet from your dinner table. Kimbro’s Pickin Parlor also has live entertainment, and you will often find free live street entertainment near the town square.
One visit to Franklin, Tennessee, and you will understand why it is America’s favorite quintessential Main Street.
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