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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The City of Art and History in Franklin, Tennessee

Nashville’s neighbor preserves the past and creates for the future.

Franklin, Tennessee  |  173 Miles

Franklin, Tennessee, is not shy about its 225-year history, which includes slavery and a brutal Civil War battle. Its past resides on the battlefields and in iconic buildings. Just 10 miles away, Leiper’s Fork, a village of 650, gets creative in its drinks and arts scene.

From an 1864 population of 750, Franklin has grown to 87,000 residents in 2022, with a little less than two million visitors annually. It is about 20 miles south of Nashville and a three-hour drive from Evansville. According to Matt Maxey, Senior Director of Public Relations at Visit Franklin, the city’s laid-back nature encourages visitors to take their time.

His advice when visiting Franklin is, “Take it slow and just take it all in.”

A place to start is the Harpeth Hotel, a Curio Collection hotel by Hilton, with four floors and impressive views of Franklin’s historic Downtown. The hotel features 1799, an upscale restaurant serving next to the lobby, where talented musicians play for Downtown crowds.

Begin your tour 17 minutes away at Leiper’s Fork, a curious village on a creek where, Maxey says, there usually is a surprise waiting.

Photo of Leiper’s Fork Distillery provided by Visit Franklin

On the outskirts is Leiper’s Fork Distillery, which produced its first barrel of pre-Prohibition-style whiskey in 2016. The distillery makes white whiskey, rye whiskey, Tennessee whiskey (federally recognized as bourbon), and bourbon.

Three galleries on Old Hillsboro Road welcome visitors to Leiper’s Fork. The David Arms Gallery is the first to greet shoppers, with bird- and nature-themed artwork in a renovated old barn. The Copper Fox Gallery started in 2012 in a former Leiper’s Fork home and features work from 90 regional artists. Leiper’s Creek Gallery launched in 2001 and includes pieces from four master painters in a former gas station.

Steps away from Downtown, The Factory at Franklin, a former manufacturing plant built in 1929, houses eateries, shops, and performance spaces. Programming throughout the year includes comedy, music festivals, and trivia.

Many dogs join their owners Downtown for shopping, drinking, and eating at their leisure. Franklin is a pilot city for Better Cities for Pets, a Mars Petcare program, which you will notice from stickers in shop windows reading, “Pets Welcome.”

Photo of the Leiper’s Fork Favorite at Puckett’s Restaurant by Maggie Valenti

Downtown’s food scene includes Puckett’s Restaurant, with a history dating to the 1950s. The restaurant-music venue, with seven Tennessee locations, specializes in
Southern hospitality and comfort food, such as fried chicken and catfish alongside breakfast plates like The Leiper’s Fork Favorite.

55 South’s menu showcases Southern dishes from hot chicken to jambalaya, inspired by the stretch of 1-55 South from the Mississippi state line to New Orleans. At the Red Pony, entrees and drinks rotate every six to eight weeks, but a couple of items remain on the menu yearlong. The shrimp and grits is a staple, while the Midnight Sun cocktail is a longtime menu item crafted with blood orange vodka, elderflower liqueur, passionfruit, lime, and champagne.

On Downtown’s public square sits a pillar installed in 1899 by the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter to honor Confederate soldiers. The pillar became part of a tense debate in 2017, which inspired The Fuller Story project. In 2019, the project unveiled historic markers contextualizing the monument and paying tribute to the enslaved people sold on the square. In 2021, the installation of the “March to Freedom” statue honored the United States Colored Troops, the first of its kind in a U.S. public square.

Photo of Carnton provided by Visit Franklin

The Carter House and Carnton paint vivid pictures of Franklin’s community during the Civil War battle on Nov. 30, 1864. A circle of chairs in the house’s cellar approximates where the Carters, other Franklin residents, and enslaved people hunkered down. Fountain Bridge Carter’s bullet-riddled study is one of the various indications of intense fighting. A mile down the road, a footprint surrounded by blood-stained wood memorializes a surgeon’s attempt to save Confederate lives at Carnton. It is one somber memento throughout the Greek Revival home.

The Battle of Franklin Trust manages both sites, where guides emphasize the human toll of the four-year war, comparing the average death toll to a Sept. 11-style catastrophe occurring every day. As one tour guide states, the “symphony of history” also is important, how each bullet fired affects the future. If Arthur MacArthur had not survived the Battle of Franklin after three gunshot wounds, his son Gen. Douglas MacArthur would not have been born and later command U.S. Army troops in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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