Franklin, Tennessee often gets lumped into the neighboring Nashville area. But what I found was that it’s rooted in American history, it’s slaying the food and drink scene, and it’s exploding with musical talent. It makes sense to me now that Franklin is one of the most rapidly-growing places in the United States today. I got a chance to explore the city, and here are 10 images of what I discovered.
You can sip whiskey with someone who helped to legalize distilling in Tennessee
In 2014, the H Clark Distillery became Tennessee’s first legal distillery in over 100 years. Heath Clark, the distillery’s owner, had a lot to do with that, as he had a legal background. The operation is housed near a nineteenth-century railroad station, in a small building originally used as a storage house for grains. Now, the staff brings small-batch spirits to life from grain to bottle, and visitors can stop by to witness the process (there's a tour every hour). By the way, if you do stop, try H Clark’s Tennessee Dry Gin - it’ll woo even the most avid of gin haters.
The local music scene is diverse and thriving
There are countless musicians currently working their way to fame in Franklin. You’re sure to catch some of them at the weekly open mic night at Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork, which starts teeming with talent every Thursday evening around 6pm. And you can also catch live music every weekend at Arrington Vineyards. The San Rafael Band (pictured here) stops by often; their performance is one you won’t want to miss.
It has got the greatest 300-seat recording studio in the world
The historic Franklin Theatre, originally built as a movie house in 1937, has been totally reimagined into a state-of-the-art live music venue. Sheryl Crow and Kix Brooks have performed in this impressive space, which features a cabaret area and supreme acoustics. “We started with sound, and then built the architecture to suit that,” says Dan Hays, the theatre’s executive director. And it’s true - no two surfaces are parallel to each other in the theatre, and even the building’s outside walls are cambered in slightly, to diminish reverberation. The best part? It’s still used as a movie theatre, too.
In the Franklin area, you’ll find everything from the classically southern “meat and three” combo (meaning a meat and three sides) to modern fare, like these bacon-wrapped figs at Gray’s on Main. Meat is prominent, but you can also find good vegetarian fare in the area, at places like Gray’s as well as Tupelo Honey.
The drink culture is top shelf
Chris Going, a guitar teacher turned home brewer, opened Mill Creek Brewery specifically as a place that would only serve ‘approachable’ beer. All the brews have a low alcohol percentage, and even the IPA is smooth enough for those who don’t often like to get hoppy. There are distilleries and breweries, cask nights and tap houses, wine bars and vineyards, all in abundance.
There's even a scenic drinking trail
To kick it up a notch, check out Masters & Makers Trail, which connects craft distilleries, breweries, and wineries across Williamson County. The scenic trail is more than 70 miles long, providing visitors with the chance to experience the area’s natural beauty as they traverse from flavor to flavor.
It’s home to the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
Pilgrimage is worth its own bullet point. Since its inception three years ago, Pilgrimage has become one of the most star-studded boutique music festivals around, featuring everyone from Tennessee’s own Justin Timberlake to Weezer, Iron & Wine, Kasey Musgraves, Eddie Vedder and Walk the Moon (pictured here). In addition to these huge names, lots of local artists and groups play the festival, and vendors come from near and far to sell vintage jewelry, guitar straps, tapestries, and everything in between.
From Civil War battle sites to the Tennessee whiskey trail, there’s a lot to uncover in Franklin, much of it is complex and wrought with tension. The town square’s Confederate monument, pictured above, depicts an anonymous soldier - nicknamed Chip - surrounded by cannons, which was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1899. There are petitions to remove it, and petitions to keep it. Tensions aside, history is here.
It’s the site of the Civil War’s arguably bloodiest battle
As a Pennsylvanian, I grew up hearing all about Gettysburg as the site of the biggest American Civil War battle in 1863. But down here, there’s another side of the story. The Battle of Franklin in 1864, which was never actually ‘supposed’ to happen, killed far more people and lasted far longer than Pickett’s Charge in Gettysburg. If you have any doubts about that, check out the restored Carnton House, a former Nashville mayor’s property that transformed into a field hospital at the time of battle. Unmistakable bloodstains remain on some of the house’s wooden floors.
There’s a strong sense of community
From newcomers to residents of nearby Nashville, everyone I spoke with during my short time in Franklin spoke highly of the area’s community spirit. People are proud of their town. Franklin is growing quickly in population, and as it does so, it’s embracing change and development with open arms, from the restoration of its Civil War battlefield to the revamping of its classic movie theatre (pictured above). Franklin is a town that knows who it is and where it came from, but also isn’t afraid to adapt. Did I mention the great drinking culture?