Downtown Franklin Historic District: Franklin, Tennessee

Summary

Award-winning and emulated, downtown Franklin balances its rich historic character with a revitalized and prosperous mixed-use commercial district. Rapid change and development prompted by Interstate 65 construction in the 1960s threatened to destroy the neighborhood and town's heritage. Citizens responded by forming the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County. The entire 16-block neighborhood was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and creation of the Downtown Franklin Association helped revitalize the neighborhood's commercial area.

Designated Area

Franklin's historic downtown is bounded by North Margin Street and Bridge Street to the north, South Margin Street to the south, 1st Avenue to the east and 5th Avenue to the west.

Franklin was founded in 1799 and named after American inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin. The 16-block downtown neighborhood is in the oldest area of Franklin, which was laid out by Abram Maury using a grid street pattern. In the center of downtown is a public square from which radiate the city's two major thoroughfares: East and West Main Streets and 3rd Avenues North and South.

Planning Excellence

Mayor Jerry Sharber initiated the city's first long-range planning effort in the 1980s. It led to other planning-inspired measures for the neighborhood, including a central area plan and protective zoning ordinance.

Downtown Franklin's central square not only calms traffic, it provides the neighborhood with green space and historic context. Photo courtesy of Steve Valley.

Best Planning and Smart Growth Practices

  • Franklin Land Use Plan adopted by city in 2004 calls for mixed-use, traditional development in downtown Franklin; the Central Franklin Area Plan is adopted the same year, focusing on downtown Franklin improvements and historic building preservation
  • In 2008 the city adopts a new zoning ordinance creating a Character Overlay District for downtown Franklin, which focuses on traditional neighborhood development, diversity of land uses, historic preservation, and residential infill that includes a variety of residential housing types
  • City encourages higher-density development in downtown neighborhood, allowing  townhouses and apartments to be built above street-level retail shops

Historic Preservation

  • Federal tax credits and city conservation easements provide incentives to protect late 19th century architecture and today the neighborhood is part of a protected local historic district
  • Neighborhood has the oldest public building in Franklin — the  Gothic Revival Hiram Masonic Lodge No. 7 built in 1823; building listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Winstead House is an Italianate structure built in 1870
  • Neighborhood represents one of the finest concentrations of historic buildings in Tennessee; structures built mostly during 19th century and represent Federal, Middle Tennessee, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian architectural styles

Prosperous Main Street

  • Successful downtown revitalization receives award in 1995 from the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Neighborhood's public square in center of downtown helps calm traffic along Main Street and 3rd Avenue; 70 boutiques, antique shops and restaurants located in commercial area
  • Neighborhood investment in reaches $3 million in 2002
  • Family friendly festivals and events held downtown, including Main Street Festival that attracts more than 100,000 visitors to downtown annually and includes concerts, carnivals, and merchandise from 200 artisans and craft persons

Street trees, brick sidewalks, improved pedestrian crosswalks, and buried utility wires contribute to the success of Downtown Franklin's revitalized Main Street. Photo courtesy of Steve Valley.

Neighborhood Amenities

  • Major streetscape improvements along Main Street completed in 2001 including street tree plantings, brick sidewalks, improved pedestrian crosswalks, parking improvements, and burying utility wires underground
  • Office, retail and commercial uses allowed within neighborhood; drugstore, medium-sized grocery store, library, and elementary school within one-half mile walking distance; Bicentennial Park and central square provide green space
  • Sidewalks are wide and street rights-of-way narrow to better accommodate pedestrians; attractive landscaping helps beautify residential and commercial areas
  • Grid street pattern facilitates walking throughout neighborhood and connections to rest of central Franklin
  • Neighborhood is next to a spectacular vista of Harpeth River, a unique waterfront adjacent to downtown

Committed City Officials and Engaged Citizens

  • Initial planning effort started in 1988 by then-Mayor Jerry Sharber, Planning Commission Chairman Lynn Hallum, and Planning Director Bob Martin
  • Current Mayor Tom Miller leads public and city council support and adoption of  both 2004 Franklin Land Use and 2004 Central Franklin Area plans
  • Franklin joins National Park Service's Certified Local Government program in 1990; program recognizes communities where citizens are proactive for historic preservation efforts