Now that SVV and I run a business together from home, we’ve vowed to utilize that flexibility to take more day trips to towns and state parks around Tennessee, the first of which was to one of my childhood favorites, Franklin.
As a kid, if we were leaving Tullahoma, it was likely to go to Franklin. Many of my big soccer and tennis tournaments were held there. At the time, it also boasted the best mall, Cool Springs Galleria, in the area, so all back-to-school and holiday shopping took place in Franklin. And many of our class field trips in elementary and middle school were, in fact, to Carnton Plantation and Carter House.
But we’ve spent surprisingly little time there since moving back to Tennessee five years ago, despite it being just 30 minutes (or 14 miles) from Nashville. I attribute this to the fact that if we’re traveling, it’s usually out of state by plane or car, but rarely locally. Which is why we’re changing that, starting now.
On the last gorgeous fall day we had—80 degrees and pure perfection—just before Thanksgiving, we took a Friday off to head to Williamson County and see what all is happening.
We started our morning the way I always begin any day in Franklin: with a lazy wander around Main Street and the Square.
The city itself was founded in 1799, but the Downtown Franklin Association didn’t come along until 1984, spearheading the revitalization of the city’s historic downtown core. And what a beauty it has become, too.
It’s really just been the last decade or so that Main Street has seen such a boom of activity; every time I drop by, a handful of new businesses have cropped up since my last visit, occupying the historic buildings flanking the square.
While Franklin is a great spot for a weekend getaway with plenty of fun food and drink offerings—and a few new distilleries in the works—it’s also an easy place to kill a day while visiting Nashville.
The shopping, for one, is booming with a number of indie shops like a second outpost of White’s Mercantile now inhabiting the downtown.
There are also a number of restaurants, bars and antique shops worth perusing.
The town visitor center on Fourth Street just off Main is a great place to start, to pick up maps, brochures, and locally-made merch and get your lay of the land before continuing on with your day.
Even the chains like Starbucks and Chico’s mimic the style of the old-fashioned Main Street. I love that every business stays in character!
For lunch, we stopped in at Gray’s on Main, which has been my favorite stop in Franklin since it opened in 2013.
Occupying an old drugstore in a 19th century building, this Southern-inspired restaurant has become a downtown mainstay and one of the best spots in town for a meal (or cocktail) no matter the hour of day.
I had the hot chicken and waffles with a whipped maple butter and bourbon syrup (oh, and a cocktail, too, natch), and while I was stuffed the rest of the day, I don’t regret that decision one bit.
The square is also home to a number of festivals that take place throughout the year, my favorite of which is (of course) Dickens of a Christmas, which takes place the second weekend in December each year and where locals don Victorian garb and the streets come alive with vendors of all kinds.
For those who are more inclined to learn by tour, Franklin On Foot offers a handful of different history-focused walking itineraries such as Civil War in Franklin, Ghosts of the Battlefield and Murder & Mayhem on Main Street, plus the Classic Franklin tours.
After we left downtown, we paid a little visit to the Factory at Franklin, an old 1929 manufacturing warehouse that once was the headquarters for stove and bedding companies and has, in recent years, morphed into a collective of shops, food companies and other small artisan businesses.
Since my last time at the Factory, even more new establishments had opened, such as Franklin Juice Company and a lovely little cafe, Honest Coffee Roasters.
The Factory is, without a doubt, one of my favorite spots in all of Franklin (and not because there’s a store named after me either!).
Then, it was onto the Civil War lesson part of our day. Many parts of Tennessee attract tourists from all over the world due to their Civil War battlefields, but few have quite the storied legacy of Franklin’s.
The Battle of Franklin in 1864 was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, with 30,000 Confederates arriving to the outskirts of Franklin on the morning of Nov. 30. This battle claimed the lives of 6,000 of those Confederate troops, including six generals, for a total of 10,000 fatalities.
Every November 30, there’s a special event to honor the brutal fall of so many soldiers. The illumination honors the 10,000 killed in the battle with a luminary for each, plus a reading of all the names. It’s normally held at Carnton Plantation, but took place at the Carter House this year in the newly expanded Battlefield Park.
photo courtesy of Visit Franklin
While we were there just two weeks prior to the illumination, we still paid a visit to the trio of sites that anchor Franklin’s Civil War history starting with the Lotz House.
This home, listed on the National Historic Register, was integral to the storyline of the Battle of Franklin as it’s located at what they refer to as “ground zero”—it was sobering to see how a family was in the direct line of fire, how they survived and how they rebuilt the home in the years after. The only way to visit the Lotz House is on an hour-long tour, and you can’t take photos inside the home.
Then, we wandered across the street to the Carter House, an eponymous memorial to the Carter family and the many heroes of the famed battle that’s just 100 feet from the Lotz House. During the war, the brick edifice was used as the federal command post while the Carter family took refuge in the cellar; visible evidence still lingers, including 1,000 bullet holes errantly scattered about, making it the most bullet-riddled building still standing from the Civil War.
We didn’t take the tour but read all the markers in the museum and wandered around Carter Hill and Battlefield Park. From there, we drove down to Carnton Plantation for our final stop of the day.
For those who want to visit the Lotz House, Carnton Plantation and Carter House, there’s a value ticket option that gets you admission to all three for just $30.
During the Civil War, this 1,400-acre plantation that was built on slave labor became the largest of the 44 local field hospitals due to its proximity to the battle. After the war ended, it was turned into a burial place for the many Confederate soldiers who had died there.
As the sun set, we took a stroll and paid our respects, then went on our way home. Our day in Franklin was the perfect way to say good-bye to this everlasting summer and also learn a bit—not to mention, eating some good food and enjoying some even better scenery—while we were at it.