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Franklin, Tennessee, Yesterday's Wine

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  • Published 10-11-2019

    I wonder if Willie Nelson was thinking of Franklin, Tennessee when he wrote "We're agin' with time like yesterday's wine." Just like a good aged wine, Franklin has a unique past and today is a city that beckons travelers of all types.

    Its Civil War history is tragic. Battle of Franklin Trust CEO and historian, Eric Jacobson, told me, "This battle (Second Battle of Franklin) was one of the most awful major battles of the war and the beginning of the end for the Confederacy."

    Carter house

    Today sites that figured in that "awful battle" draw visitors who want to study history. Other visitors come for a vibrant town with a historic downtown that offers fun shopping and dining with just a flavoring  of its past.

    Start your visit at Carter House built in 1830, home of Fountain Branch Carter, his wife, Polly, and their eight children. Carter House was the heart of the battle. On November 30, 1864, the family took refuge in the basement of the simple, red-brick, Federal Style home

    Gathered on one side of his land Confederate General John Bell Hood with over 20,000 men wanted to retake Nashville. On the opposite side, Union General John Schofield assembled about the same number to protect the Union's hold on Nashville. Hood needed to crush Schofield before he could reach Nashville. The battle began about 4PM.

    When Carter emerged from the basement, the home and outbuildings were riddled with bullet holes and one of his sons, Tod, along with thousands of other Americans on both sides of this conflict, lay dying nearby.

    bullet holes in off ice wall
    The home is restored but on the outside walls of the back porch you can still see bullet holes. The parlor is furnished simply. The back room, called the sick room, is furnished even more austerely; a bed, armoire, sturdy dresser, and a few wooden chairs and a table. This is where, 24 year-old Tod, was brought to die after being wounded just yards away.

    Behind the home are outbuildings; slave cabin, farm office, smokehouse, and kitchen. The most lasting impression is of the small-frame farm office. The walls are so riddled with bullets it was like a lace pattern rather than a solid wall. The Carter House has over a thousand bullet holes remaining from that memorable battle. Standing there, I fought the urge to duck in case one more bullet was coming through that wall.

    The Lotz House, which is open to the public as a museum, is directly across from the Carter House. The Lotz family spent the battle hours with the Carter family in the Carter House basement because the Lotz home was wood and they feared it would not survive the battle.

    Carnage of this magnitude required large hospital sites. Carnton, made famous in Widow of the South, was one. It was built in 1826 by Randal McGavock and passed on to his son, John, in 1843. The Confederate wounded were brought there until the rooms were filled then placed on the porch. John's wife, Carrie Winder McGavock, nursed and watched hundreds of soldiers die and recorded their burial places so loved ones might find closure. Even their children Hattie (age nine) and Winder (age seven) were pressed into service attending the wounded.

    carnton entrance hall
    Brad Kinnison, Carnton's Historical Interpreter, gave me a tour of this beautiful Greek revival home furnished as it was in 1864. The entrance, a typical southern hall, opens into rooms on both sides and a central staircase leads visitors upstairs. The guest parlor, the most formal, is wallpapered and furnished elaborately. There is a piano, a gilt framed mirror over the fireplace, and several delicately curved brocaded chairs and sofa.

    It's in the upstairs bedrooms that the war becomes real. In what is believed to be Winder's room, there is a makeshift operating table; a saw similar to today's hacksaw on it. Next to it is a table holding other tools the surgeon would've used, file, pliers, probes, picks, hammers. Where the surgeon would have stood, the floor is stained dark with blood and in one corner of the room there are excessive blood stains. Brad believes this is where amputated limbs were stacked.

    The home was a private residence for many years after the war. Brad said, "A guy who lived here in the mid-20th century told us he tried to get some of the blood stains out on the first floor but he couldn't carry the sander upstairs."

    In the hall under a glass protector, there is the record book of those buried in McGavock Confederate Cemetery which houses the remains of nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers. The McGavocks donated two-acres adjourning the family plot and the slave graveyard for the cemetery. Soldiers originally buried on the plantation grounds were reinterred here in 1866. The graves are divided into individual areas for each state that fought there. Some headstones are marked by initials; many just say "Unknown." About 780 of the soldiers have been identified.

    grave markers in cemetary
    John and citizens of Franklin paid George Cuppett $5 per body to move the dead here. With the assistance of his brother, Marcellus, and two other men, Cuppett finished the job, recorded the known names in the record book, and placed a wooden marker on each grave. Marcellus died as a result of illness probably contracted handling the bodies. Since he was from Texas, his grave is near the Texas section.

    McLemore House
    After the war's end the people of the South, both Black and white, had to learn a different way of life. Ex-slave Harvey McLemore bought four lots from his former owner, W. S. McLemore, a former Confederate officer who subdivided 15 acres to form a middle-class African American community known as "Hard Bargain."Alma McLemore, President of the African-American Heritage Society in Franklin, told me, "in spite of W. S. being Harvey's former owner, they were friends."  

    living room at McLemore House
    Harvey built the small white, clapboard McLemore House there in 1880. His family remained in the home until 1997. It's the oldest remaining Black owned home in Franklin and is now a museum that tells the former enslaved people's side of the story.

    Milatary memrobelia in McLemore House
    Placards in the house tell of Harvey's family, like his granddaughter, Maggie Mathews, who became a cosmetologist and operated a beauty parlor in the house. Maggie remained in the house until her death in 1989.  There are artifacts and photos of African Americans from Franklin. One room contains records of these citizens who fought for our country from Buffalo Soldiers to a Tuskegee Airman.  It's a small house with a big message.

    The Williamson County Museum moves you from past to present. Franklin and Williamson County were created by the Tennessee General Assembly on October 26, 1799. The museum offers you a glimpse of even earlier history--and prehistory--with exhibits of ancient fossils found in Williamson County.

    Emancipation and Reconstruction is represented here as is the move into the age of the automobile. You find Franklin's first taxi here.

    Dr. Get Well's office reminds us how far medicine had advanced. The old wooden wheel chair looks workable. The black bag he used for house calls sits on the table.  On the back wall there is a wooden telephone that predated the rotary phone.

    One area of the museum is a re-creation of downtown Franklin in the 1800s and into the 1900s. Bennett's Hardware Store is filled with saws, pulleys, hooks, drills, and other assorted tools. There's even an old typewriter. The calendar on the wall says it is June 1928. The hardware store stood at the corner of 4th and Main well into the 20th century.

    Other store exhibits in the museum tell of a way of life almost forgotten. Lou's Dress Shop is filled with ladies' fashions of the 1800s.  A seamstress sits behind one of the two antique treadle sewing machines. There's a general store that sold everything from eggs to Chinese checkers games.

    Moving into more modern times, the Wars Exhibit has an amazing collection of uniforms worn by the men and women who defended our country. The uniforms are pristine.

    Modern day shopping is fun here. The historic downtown, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, begins at the square. It's presided over by a monument to an unknown Confederate Infantryman surrounded by four original bronze Federal Model 1841 6-pounder field guns, cast for the Union Army in Massachusetts. The soldier who stands high atop the column is known as "Chip" due to an unfortunate accident. When he was originally being placed on the pedestal, he fell and his hat was chipped. Several days later he was placed there this time with no accident. Recently Franklin approved and placed markers to tell a more complete story. The new markers tell about African-American troops that served in the U.S. Army, the 1867 riot, Reconstruction, and  where slave markets were held at the market house.

    Wander down Main Street and you find unique shops like Yarrow Acres. When you step through the door and breathe in the scent, you feel the love. It is filled with herbs; some little known ones and all your favorites. They even hold classes related to herb uses and cultivation. Try Tin Cottage for a special Franklin gift or handmade item. Downtown is filled with boutique shops.

    Here you'll find other distinctive treasures like St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tennessee's oldest Episcopal church, completed in 1834. During the Civil War, Union forces used it as quarters for soldiers. They built fires on the floor using the pews, pulpit and, even the mahogany pipe organ for firewood and cut holes in the roof to vent the smoke out.  The troops later stabled mules in the church. After the battle of Franklin, St Paul's was used as a hospital. The church has several Louis Comfort Tiffany-designed stained glass memorial windows.

    Just a short distance away is another historic church, Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church.  It was built in 1888 to replace an earlier one dated 1842. The bell in the current tower is the original one from the 1842 church. It suffered a devastating fire in 1905and much of the interior was destroyed but later restored. The exterior is a beautiful example of Romanesque Revival Style.

    Looking for some entertainment? The Franklin Theater is a sure bet. Originally opened in 1937, it was forced into closure in 2007. Today, it is resurrected even better. It shows movies as well as music and live events.

    Gray's with waitress taking orders
    There are lots of choices for dining here. Gray's on Main Street is a mix of history, food and drink. It's housed in a three-story 1876 Victorian building, once home to Gray Drug Co that served Franklin for almost a century. Owners, Michael and Joni Cole, renovated it in 2013 and opened it as Gray's. It still retains a few drugstore mementos. The sign in front shows the pharmacy symbol. The restaurant is on the ground floor. The second floor is the bar and music hall.  Food, wine, and cocktails are fantastic.

    Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen is a good dessert choice. Step into their Victorian era building and have an ice cream or some of their specialty Mackinac Island Fudge.

    Veer out of the historic district and you find even more interesting places. Check out The Factory. Once a shut-down stove factory, today renovated to house lots of interesting shops, dining and on Saturdays, a farmer's market. What you won't find are a bunch of chain stores.

    One site you don't want to miss is Fort Granger. It's the Union fort, built in 1862 by soldiers and some refugee contraband slaves, that was the reason for the historic Second Battle of Franklin. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.

    You can take the trail from Pinkerton Park to a boardwalk offering a view of the Harpeth River.  The earthworks are well preserved and can be seen from the observation deck. All along the trail there are historical panels telling the fort's history.

    Historic homes abound in Franklin. Watson House is one of the most beautiful. It's a red-brick Second French Empire style home built in 1881. There are so many other things to see in Franklin but it would take a book to tell them all. Like a good aged wine, you have to sample it yourself.

    For more info: https://visitfranklin.com/





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