Small-Town Escapes: Franklin, TN

Nashville’s next-door neighbor looks to the future while preserving the past

Population: 68,886
Drive Time: Thirty minutes southwest of Nashville

Founded in 1799, Franklin was the seat of Tennessee’s wealthiest county until the Civil War. By the 1970s, it was hovering on life support. Yet, even in its decline, there was a beauty to the old place. Everywhere you turned there was evidence of a fading story.

Since then, Franklin’s narrative arc hit a major upswing. The community began retaining more locals and attracting transplants who recognized the town’s potential with its nearness to Nashville. These forward-thinking folks gave Franklin a future, beginning with the revitalization of Main Street and projects like the Franklin Theatre. In 2007, the space, now a premier music venue and movie house, was snatched from the literal brink of collapse and given an $8 million makeover.

The Franklin Theatre, restored to its 1930s glory.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Pride of the Place

The Franklin Theatre, restored to its 1930s glory.

Likewise, residents began to understand the significance of the Battle of Franklin—one of the Civil War’s bloodiest. Over the last decade, the town has gone from the single worst example of battlefield preservation in the nation to its poster child. “Not every battlefield still moves folks today,” says J. T. Thompson, executive director of the historic Lotz House. “Franklin does.”

The 24-Hour Agenda: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with its magnificent Tiffany windows, anchors the west end of Main Street. Clear on the east end is Landmark Booksellers, with more than 1,500 signed editions. In between are a host of stylish shops and galleries: the Registry and Avec Moi for home goods; the Rare Prints Gallery, specializing in delicately rendered antique botanicals and wildlife engravings; and Haven for high-end vintage clothing. Franklin Antique Mall, all 15,000 square feet, is well worth wading through, too.


Puckett’s Grocery does the traditional meat-and-three lunch better than most. Looking for something more daring? Try another Tennessee tradition at Big Shake’s Hot Chicken & Fish. Its fiery birds bring enough heat to sear a taste bud—or all 10,000.

Carnton Plantation, the elegant home that served as the main field hospital during the Battle of Franklin, should top your afternoon agenda. Carve out time for the garden and military cemetery. Go for the historic-home hat trick and also visit the Lotz House—it’s filled with one of the South’s finest assemblages of American antiques—and the Carter House, where Civil War bullet holes remain.

gardenandgun.com_files_Small-Town-Escapes-Franklin-Tennessee-Cork-and-CowChef Jason McConnell runs three restaurants in town. His latest, Cork and Cow, has a first-class bar and serves excellent hickory-and-oak-grilled steaks.

With this kind of proximity to Nashville, good live music is a given. Since the Franklin Theatre reopened, it regularly draws marquee performers—Americana icons like John Hiatt, country greats like Vince Gill, and the best of bluegrass. And Puckett’s Grocery and Gray’s on Main, among others, host live music weekly. You just might stumble on locals Keith Urban or Brad Paisley strumming their guitars.

Spend the night in pastoral serenity at the extraordinary Moonshine Hill, in nearby Leiper’s Fork, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village fifteen minutes west of downtown.

Meet the Locals: Mary Pearce, executive director of the Heritage Foundation, is part cheerleader, part in-your-face yelping puppy, and all heart. “I have found a great sense of community and fun in working to save the places that matter,” Pearce says. Under her leadership, the foundation has been at the forefront of Franklin’s preservation fight. Its victories—which are many—can be seen all over town.

Franklin native Philippe Vander Elst loves the land, and from creating wildlife habitats to laying out wildflower meadows, he expertly manages several of the larger estates and hunting preserves in the area. “I like knowing that when it’s all said and done, my work continues to help preserve the place I love so much,” he says.