Franklin was the site of a Civil War battle and lies along the famed Natchez Trace. The 16-block downtown area is a historic district, preserving some gorgeous Victorian buildings. But even heading off Main Street and into the surrounding hills, you'll find many hidden gems that combine small-town Southern charm with modern sophistication. Discovering these diamonds in the rough is an experience all on its own.
Here's our guide to the best of Franklin and the surrounding Leiper's Fork area.
Settle in to the bucolic landscape of the Appalachian foothills at Fall Hollow Resort, just off the Trace. You’ll quickly learn what people mean by “Southern comfort” at this homey campground and bed-and-breakfast. The property is a perfect slice of Tennessee, with deep woods, sunny fields, and a bubbling creek complete with a waterfall; there’s a trail across the resort that lets you enjoy these features. Pick up some firewood and enjoy a relaxing evening around a campfire to make the most of the scenic setting. And as an added bonus, you can treat yourself to a country breakfast if there are boarders staying in the B&B; just ask when you check in.
Puffing on a tobacco pipe has historically been a sign of distinction. Mark Twain, Einstein, Hemingway, and countless other great minds were captured with pipes, and even today, the thought of a pipe lounge conjures up images of lively, colorful debates among peers. That's what makes BriarWorks so special. Not only is this a factory—one of the last in the world that handcrafts briarwood pipes—it's also a place where friends and strangers alike can gather over cigars, beer, or a pipe of quality tobacco and see where the afternoon or evening takes you. The casual atmosphere highlights the quality of the pipes, tobacco, craft beer, and company at the lounge.
Downtown Leiper’s Fork is the perfect setting for a store like Serenite Maison. It’s part antique shop, part boutique, all aesthetically perfect. A browse through the stunningly curated shop is bound to turn up treasure, whether it’s an antique piece of furniture or a beautifully crafted piece of jewelry. The fact that every nook and cranny is painstakingly arranged to shabby-chic perfection adds to the shopping experience. It’s no surprise that owner Alexandra Cirimelli is also a sought-after interior designer.
Located in a converted 1892-era farmhouse, 1892 Restaurant is one of the most acclaimed eateries in Leiper’s Fork. The menu is heavily influenced by the relationships the owners have cultivated with local farms and producers, with subtle Southern touches. There’s something special about enjoying farm-to-table cuisine in an atmosphere that evokes the days when everything was, by default, farm-to-table. The attention to detail is apparent in every aspect of the dining experience, from the plating of the food to the plates themselves. 1892 is open for lunch and dinner, but it's recommended to make a reservation; there are only about 30 seats, and word is getting out about this incredible hidden gem. It’s a perfect example of the rare authenticity that makes the Leiper’s Fork/Franklin area so special.
Franklin may be a small town, but it attracts world-class artists. David Arms was born not far away in east Tennessee, and grew up immersed in the magic. He chose Leiper’s Fork as the place to set up his studio and gallery because of the inspiration he felt in the idyllic pastoral landscape. The gallery is in an old barn, and Arms has filled it with all kinds of antiques and objects—think wooden tobacco pipes, razors made with deer horns, candles, and books—that seem to complement his artwork. Arms’ paintings reflect the rustic, warm, comfortable feeling of Leiper’s Fork. Expect to see lots of native birds, farm animals, and still lifes.
The Natchez Trace is a deeply historic scenic drive that winds through Franklin and Leiper’s Fork on the way to its end outside Nashville. The route begins in Natchez, Mississippi and cruises northeast, following a route originally forged by bison, then used by Native Americans and early settlers. Today it’s one of the South’s most iconic drives, and the Parkway is protected by the National Park Service for its history and scenery. While most of the route is two-lane road gently winding through ancient forests, the Natchez Parkway Bridge is a memorable moment along the drive. The concrete arch bridge opened in 1994, and passes above a beautiful wooded valley, offering incredible views.
Every town has at least one beloved coffee shop that is a subtle reflection of the local culture. Honest Coffee Roasters, located inside the historic Franklin Factory, is run by a Franklin local whose ancestors ran a general store that sold coffee, among other necessities. The shop’s name was inspired by “Honest” Abe Lincoln, and calls to mind the owners’ less-is-more, quality-over-quantity style. Their passion for coffee is evident in every step of the coffee-making process, from sourcing beans directly from farmers across the globe, to hand-roasting them to perfection in the Franklin Factory. Whether you order a special signature drink with more ingredients than a craft cocktail or an iced coffee for that mid-afternoon boost, you’ll taste the care put into it. Honest Coffee also sells beans, offers classes on brewing coffee, puts on art shows, and generally does an amazing job of fostering a positive community. The good vibe here makes it a great place to sit down and take a breather—and maybe enjoy a baked good, too.
Downtown Franklin looks like a postcard, but the lights of the Franklin Theatre stand out in particular. The marquee was first lit in the summer of 1937, and for decades, the theater was a haven where the people of Franklin could escape to the movies. It held on until 2007—but the theater wasn’t closed for long. The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County, a local nonprofit, stepped up to save the Franklin Theatre. After three years and millions of dollars, the theater’s restoration was complete. Now, in addition to screening movies, the venue can also accommodate concerts and performances with state-of-the-art sound and lighting. This is particularly cool, considering how vibrant and special the live music scene is in the Franklin/Nashville area. Catching a show in a venue as historic as the Franklin Theatre adds the perfect touch to what will likely be an already unforgettable experience.
Get a taste for the local music scene and some down-home grub at Puckett's Grocery in Franklin. This local empire started in Leiper's Fork and has grown to include several locations. The real trick is that Puckett's has pulled off remaining totally authentic while expanding; their live music, unique spaces, and menu of Southern staples keep each eatery feeling local. While a lot of their offerings are smoked or fried (this is the kind of place where you're likely to find a deep-fried skillet brownie on special, if that tells you anything) there are plenty of options to choose from for any meal. Expect a lively atmosphere whether you're here for brunch, lunch, dinner, or even just a drink at the bar.
In addition to amazing food, music, and art, Franklin also boasts beautiful antebellum architecture and fascinating Civil War history. Get a taste for both at the Lotz House. It was built in 1858 by a German immigrant and woodworker, Johann Lotz, who lived there with his wife, Margaretha. Johann, who was also skilled at crafting and repairing musical instruments like pianos and violins, used his talents to adorn the house with stunning and intricate detail; the fireplaces and solid black walnut handrail on the staircase are among his work. During the Civil War, the house was used by Union generals and suffered a lot of damage during the bloody Battle of Franklin; the Lotz family hid in the cellar of the nearby Carter House during the fight. Lotz quickly repaired his home, and it later served as a field hospital. Legend has it that visitors can still see bloodstains on the walls and floors from that time. Shortly after the Civil War, the family relocated to Memphis, and then eventually all the way to San Jose, California, where daughter Matilda found success as a painter. Even though Johann had to leave the home he poured his soul into, it lives on as a museum. Visit to take advantage of the in-depth guided tours that shed light on the family’s history as well as the stories behind the furnishings and fine art that adorn the home.