You never know who you’ll run into in Franklin, Tennessee! A suburb just outside of Nashville, Franklin celebrates a rich music scene with a different, more subtle vibe than its big-city counterpart. Ellie Westman Chin, President & CEO Visit Franklin, gives us the scoop. Learn why people love Franklin’s Main Street on this episode of Main and Mulberry.
Anna: Hello, everyone. I’m Anna Bell, and welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. Today, I’m really excited to have with us, the president and CEO of Visit Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee, Ellie Westman Chin. Ellie, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show with us today.
Ellie: Well, I was just thrilled to be asked to be on. So, thank you!
Anna: Well, I’m really eager to learn about Franklin Tennessee and the area, but first, kind of tell us a little bit about Visit Franklin. Are you guys a CVB?
Ellie: Yes, we’re a Convention and Visitors Bureau. So, you know, we’re tasked with selling and marketing Franklin and all of Williamson County. So it’s our job, day in and day out, to bring visitors here and have them shop and go to our attractions and dine and have some fun
Anna: So many things I’m sure to experience and enjoy, and I’m really excited to dive right into things. And for those of us who have not had the opportunity to come and experience and visit Franklin, you know, can you bring this place to life in our minds? What is it, you think, that really encourages families and tourists to come and visit Franklin?
Ellie: By far, the number one reason that people come to Franklin is because they want to come to our Main Street. We have fantastic Main Street. It is full of independent shops and restaurants, and you know, a lot of visitors come in and they say, we’ve come here because it kind of hearkens back to maybe like their youth or, you know, what their grandparents used to tell them about what downtowns were like.
Anna: Yesteryear, right?
Ellie: Or maybe just pre-COVID, at this point. But, you know, I think what I like about Franklin is I see families or girlfriends or you know, different people coming in, and they’re kind of strolling down Main Street. They’re not walking fast, they’re not on their phones, but they’re really taking it in. And I think Franklin gives visitors an opportunity to reconnect with each other and maybe with themselves and just take a break from what we know is usually a very hustle and muscle kind of lifestyle. So, we have a lot of visitors that like to just come in. I actually met a couple of visitors this morning walking into the office, and they were just strolling along, having a lovely morning with cup of coffee, you know.
Anna: That’s so great. Oh, that’s wonderful. Now, the Main Street, now that goes into downtown Franklin. Is that right?
Ellie: It is downtown Franklin. Yes.
Anna: So kind of tell us about downtown. What can we expect to experience?
Ellie: Franklin is a little bit, when they laid out the city, I think they’ve done this brilliantly, because downtown there is 16 blocks, and it has a historic overlay. So when you come here, the buildings are dating back to the late eighteen hundreds. I mean, it’s just very authentic, but if you drive ten minutes down the road, you’re going to hit a neighborhood called Cool Springs, where our big mall is where a lot of our corporate is, like Nissan and Mars Petcare and Jackson, and it’s big shiny glass buildings. So, we have this great combination of really modern and then historic, and preserving that historic element was brilliantly done by the city leaders many, many years ago. And that’s why people come in. They love the architecture. Because some of these buildings, like we have this wonderful independent bookstore called Landmark Booksellers, it’s like my home away from home, they’ve got these big cushy couches in there, you can sit in there and talk to Joel and Carol, the owners, but the building dates back. They think it’s the second or first oldest building in Franklin. And Andrew Jackson paid his troops out of that building after the war of 1812. So there’s so much history built into this downtown, and coming to learn the stories is really fun way to do that.
Anna: You know, seeing those old buildings provides so much charm too. You know, it is, it gives you a reason to get off the phone and look around, you know, ‘cause you’re not gonna find that everywhere. Making an effort to preserve those things is a good reason to come by and see.
Ellie: It is, and, you know, we started a new scavenger hunt last year called Midnight Sun Scavenger Hunt. It’s a little horse. He’s about nine inches tall, and Midnight Sun was an actual horse that was at Harlinsdale Farm, which is now a city park, right in downtown Franklin. It’s 250 acres of park. It’s beautiful. And we put this horse ten places all over downtown Franklin. So you could walk through downtown, learn the history of the city, but it goes into the neighborhoods where you can see these beautiful, old Victorian homes. So you can learn, you can walk around. Most likely, somebody will probably invite you on their porch for a glass of lemonade, you know, it’s a very welcoming environment. And the residents here love visitors. They love talking to them and telling them what they can do while they’re here. So I think most people who will come here will have a very welcoming experience.
Anna: Oh, that’s so great. I love that we’re touching on the history of the area because history plays a particular role in the city of Franklin. Does it not? Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about some of the, you know, civil war tours and things that people can experience when they come.
Ellie: Absolutely. So there was a battle here during the Civil War, called the battle of Franklin. And that was a little bit of an unexpected battle. The South was coming up. They were gonna try to, the Confederates, were going to try to regain Nashville. The Union knew they were coming up. They came down to try to block their path to getting to Nashville, ‘cause the union had already won Nashville. And one evening, from about 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM, in the darkness, there ended up being a battle. 10,000 men were hurt or killed. It was really just an ugly, ugly battle. Not that battles are pretty anywhere, but it was a very intense, ugly battle in five hours. Yeah. There are a couple houses that have been preserved from that battle. One is Carter House. Carter House has a huge garden right next to it. It’s right downtown Franklin, and you can walk there from Main Street. And the battle was really, the epicenter of the battle was in this garden, and that garden has been, it used to have houses on it, that’s been, those houses have been purchased. They’ve been torn down. The garden is being, it’s truly how it was during that battle. And you can tour Carter House and really learn that experience of that whole battle. Across the street is the Lotz House, which was a German woodworker, and him and his family ran across the street to Carter House into the Basement. This blows my mind, Anna Bell, I tell you. They ran into the basement. So this huge battle was going on in this yard, in this garden, and these people were in the basement of the house. Like, I just can’t imagine how terrifying. It just gives me goosebumps thinking about it.
Anna: They didn’t have protective earmuffs, you know, or anything. They were hearing the cannons go.
Ellie: And Eric Jacobson, who runs Battle of Franklin Trust. He oversees Carter House and Carton. When he gives the tour, he brings that to life, and the sounds that they were hearing, and it is just frightening. And then Carton is a little bit further outside of town, about probably a mile or two outside of downtown, but it was used as a field hospital. So you can go to Carton, and the eastern flank battlefield is now a park, but that was another part of the battle. And you can go to Carton and tour it and see the blood stains on the floor. And also at Carton are two really important tours. One is the slave, they’ve completely opened up and now you can tour the slave quarters and learn that story. And then there’s also the only privately-owned confederate cemetery. Because, after the battle, the woman of Carrie McGavock, who was the mistress of the house, was just heartbroken that these young men, these young Southern men were laying in the streets dead. She actually had them all moved out to Carton, and they created a confederate cemetery, so their mamas could find them, when they were looking for them. So it’s a really incredible story, but important to that story is, downtown Franklin on the square, we unveiled the fuller story, because we were telling kind of one part of the story, but there’s a whole other part of the story, which is the African American experience of that story. And we thought it was really important to tell all the story of the battle. And one of the markers on the square is important because it stands right in front of our historic courthouse. Well, that courthouse is where these enslaved men would go into the courthouse to get their papers, I guess, to go fight in the war. So we have 400 enslaved men fight in part of the Union, out of Williamson County, and we tell that story on our square. So we are knee-deep in history here, and sometimes it’s a good story, and sometimes it’s a really ugly story and we have chosen to tell that story. So if you want to learn it, come on in because you’re going to have some pretty interesting experiences.
Anna: How neat! Well, it sounds like there is a lot to do around Franklin, especially outside. Maybe we can start to kind of touch on the outdoor attractions that you guys have. I’ve heard that you could even go fly fishing and there’s even a few distilleries or vineyards around you. Is that right?
Ellie: Yes. We have a great trail called masters and makers, and what masters of makers does, is it chains together, I guess a little bit, our two distilleries. We have Leiper’s Fork Distillery and H. Clark Distillery, H. Clark Distillery has an interesting history. Heath Clark that owns H. Clark distillery is a lawyer by trade, and for years, I think it’s the only law firm that’s in a distillery in the state of Tennessee, I’m not real sure but I think, we weren’t allowed to distill whiskey because it was illegal. So, seven or eight years ago, he actually wrote the law, wrote the bill, to change the law so he could distill whiskey. He grew up, one of his uncles worked for Jack Daniels, so he grew up around Jack Daniels and that whole area in Lynchburg. And he’s like, I want to do that, but he couldn’t. But he actually changed the law, so he can now distill whiskey. And it’s a lot of fun. Both of those tours are incredible. They’re very different. So it’s kind of a different experience. And then we have Arrington Vineyards, which is our winery, which is called by Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn. Talk about relaxation. This is a great place to go for a tasting. But Arrington is up on this big hillside and there’s picnic tables all over, and you can get a bottle of wine and you can get a cheese tray and they have music and you can sit out there and sip wine and look at this beautiful countryside. And then we’ve got a really, a couple of really great breweries. So we’ve kind of tagged them all together and created a masters and makers trail. So, that’s a really fun thing to come and do. We partnered with Gray Line recently, and for our distilleries, we’re doing a tour called dinner and distilleries. So you can get a tour through Gray Line, in a black car service, and go out and go to both distilleries and end up at Circa, which is a really great restaurant right next to H. Clark Distillery and have some dinner afterwards.
Anna: Wow. How cool! That sounds like, I just want to load the girls up right now and head out to Franklin.
Ellie: Yeah! Between shopping and tasting and amazing dinner opportunities here, and then, you know, depending on what, like you said, we have a lot of outdoor activities and things like that. You can canoe down the Harpeth River or you can learn to fly fish or just go for a great hike. Yeah!
Anna: Especially right now, in the current climate, with the COVID-19, you know, pandemic, the shutdown, and now with restrictions kind of phasing back into business and everything, the outdoor attractions are probably really important right now. I’d love to kind of touch on this with you. How is Franklin doing right now? Can you kind of tell us how you guys are operating in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ellie: Absolutely. We’re fully open. So everything is back open. All of our restaurants are open, all of our retail shops, our attractions. So that was a good day, when we got to reopen. Now, we’re all being very careful because we know when visitors come, we want them to feel safe. So you’re going to see a lot of hand sanitizer stations. We do have a mask mandate right now, so we have a visitor center, right in downtown Franklin. So if you come in and, “Oh my goodness, I forgot my mask,” you can come by the visitors’ center and get a free mask. Next week, we’ll have marks in that are Franklin-branded. So you could go home with a little souvenir that’ll, that we’re handing out.
Anna: That was a good idea.
Ellie: Thank you. So you know, like everybody, we’re responding as things change, and as you know, they’re changing quickly, and it feels like daily, if not by the hour sometimes. And so, I was at a conference, virtually of course, these past two days, and if one more person said the word “nimble,” I was going to be like, “We got it, we got it. We know we have to be nimble.” But we love our visitors and we want them to come back and we want them to feel safe if they’re going to do that. And so we’ve got a real team effort going on here, you know, the six feet in the stores and the hand sanitizer and things like that. You’re aware of the Tennessee Pledge that the governor did. So, we’ve encouraged all of our businesses to take the pledge and, you know, make sure they’re doing the right thing for our guests.
Anna: That’s great. I know. It’s like, we’re having to just adapt, and it’s like every day is something a little bit different, but just continue to adapt and work with it, you know? And, you know, I’d like to kind of talk to talk about your summer events. Have those changed at all? I’m sure that brings in a lot of tourists and people to Franklin, those summer events that you do. Have you had to cancel or postpone? What is the summer looking like for you guys?
Ellie: Yeah. Unfortunately, everything’s been canceled. And, you know, those are hard decisions, and I did not begrudge any of those event owners for having to make those decisions, and all of our events, except for one that’s still holding out that I haven’t heard if it’s going to be canceled. We have a wonderful barbecue festival every year, and that’s in the fall. So I think they’re just waiting to kind of see how this plays along, but our Pilgrimage Music Festival, which always happens in late September and we’ve got, you know, we’ve had wonderful artists there, everybody from Justin Timberlake to Willie Nelson, to, you know, I’m trying to think, and everything in between. So, unfortunately, they had to make the decision pretty early, just because of the way the festival season works. But what I’ll tell you is what we do here really well is the fall. I might be biased, but we just have a great fall. Travel and Leisure usually includes us on their list of best places to see fall leaves change colors.
Anna: And the weather! The weather has to be way more bearable. In the South, we have hot summers, so I bet fall’s a little bit better.
Ellie: Another thing, I think people are just ready to get outdoors because it’s been so warm, and as we know humid. So, you know, we’re gonna really celebrate our fall season and our Christmas season. Two years ago, Oprah Magazine named us one of the best places in the world for Christmas. So when we do Christmas, we do it really well, and it’s very magical. So even though, unfortunately, our festivals aren’t going to happen, we still want our visitors to come in because we’re still going to have a lot of fun here.
Anna: Planning for a lot more fun on the back half of 2020, right?
Ellie: Yes, we are, for a lot of different reasons. That’s right. But what we’ve done is, we’ve worked with about twelve of our hotels, and we have really great rate for Tennesseans. So, if somebody wants to come visit us, they can go on our website: visitfranklin.com, look for staycation, and they will see amazing rates at some of our hotels, if they were just like, “You know what? I got to get out from these four walls.” We’re really pushing our hotels with pools because it’s a great way to come and stay in the hotel yeah. So, yeah, we’re still trying to plan some fun things, even though, unfortunately, our festivals have been canceled.
Anna: Ellie, you started to talk about the music scene a little bit. I’d like to kind of deep dive into that for a minute, if we will. Talk about, you’re right outside of Nashville, aren’t you? That has to mean there’s some music in Franklin.
Ellie: There’s a lot of music in Franklin. Not only do we have great places to go see music, but we have a lot of celebrities that live in Franklin. So, you know, you’re coming in, you’re probably going to spot one on the street. Maybe not as much right now with everything going on, but you know, pre-COVID. Yeah, we have some great listening rooms. We have a wonderful listening room called Kimbro’s, and it’s this little house right in downtown Franklin. It’s got about three rooms in this great outdoor space, and you can go in there and listen to live music. You don’t know who’s going to be in there. One night, Jack White came in and picked up a guitar and started playing. And I think that’s the beauty of Franklin, because they just, you know, they can kind of get back to the roots, kind of how they started, in a small room, on a stage, just playing really great music. Grays on Main, on their second floor, it’s a wonderful restaurant here, they have a stage. They do a live jazz brunch every Sunday. They’ve got music pretty much every night, but you know, when we were moving here, after I took the job, my husband and I were just walking down, and we were just popping in different places, and he’s like, “Every restaurant has a stage,” and I’m like, “Yeah,” but what you’re going to hear down here is probably going to be a little bit different. It’s going to be a little bit more Americana music, a little bit more singer-songwriter(ish) as opposed to, like, big loud bands, except for the Pilgrimage Festival. There, you can come and hear big, loud bands, next year, in 2021. So Pilgrimage Festival started, this would have been their sixth year, and Kevin Griffin, who is the lead singer of the band, Better than Ezra, he lives in Franklin, right downtown, and six or seven years ago, he went out for a run and he ended up in Harlinsdale Park, and like I said, that used to be a horse farm. Now, it’s this entire 50-acre park, and he’s like, “What is this huge park? This would be a great place for a festival.” So, him and his buddies grew up outside New Orleans. They grew up going to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. So, it’s a little bit patterned after that, where it starts around 10:00 AM and it ends around 8:30 PM. So, it’s not this late, overnight type of activity, but it is about 36 bands in two days. It’s three stages. There’s this whole really great craft area where you can buy awesome art and different things like that. So, we’re really excited about that coming back in 2021. And then we’ve got people on the street playing music and it is everything from, we’ve got a violinist that stands outside our window, sometimes. We’ll have an accordion. We’ve got guitar players. I feel like it sometimes, because they are literally outside my window. It is awesome! It’s a really neat music scene, and then we’ve got a ton of celebrities that live down here. So, it’s fun that they have just decided, and I think, you know, I don’t know why they decided to move here and make this home, but they can have, you know, I don’t know what their version of a normal life that, you know, we’ve used, see Sheryl Crow and Starbucks, you know, we do see capital. So they do get out because they know they’re not gonna be bothered. And it sounds like Franklin has the small town charm, but you’re right outside of Nashville, the music hub. So that could be a good reason. It makes me want to come and, you know, we have a lot of visitors that do Nashville and they want to do Franklin, because we have a little bit different experiences. So, we kinda offer both. We’ll see people that will say, “We’re staying down here, we’re doing Nashville up for a day,” and so forth. So, we work really well at Nashville.
Anna: That’s great. Well, as we wrap things up, Ellie sounds like you’ve got the inside scoop when it comes to Franklin. Maybe you can share just one personal tip with those that are listening with us today off something they’ve just got to do when they come to Franklin.
Ellie: Oh, man. That’s a hard one. So, when my family comes to town, or when my friends come to town, we go to, and I don’t want to discount, because there’s a lot of great places here, so you’re going to get me in trouble if I say too many, you know, but I love Arrington Vineyards. I mean, it is just relaxing, especially if you’ve got family or friends visiting that you haven’t seen in a while, ‘cause you really can just sit out there and have a glass of wine and catch up. Nolensville, we have a great shopping trail over in Nolensville. It’s a little bit of a hidden gem and they, if you have kids, and I think you do, have an amazing toy shop over there. And then head out to Leiper’s Fork, ‘cause, not only can you do some hiking out there, which I’m an outdoors person, so I like to hike, but there’s really great art galleries in Leiper’s Fork, really world-renowned art galleries. So, that’s a really cool experience as well, ‘cause they’re all in little houses and things like that. So, it’s just this unique experience. So, we’re going to hit Main Street because that is the jewel of Williamson County, and then we’re going to go out of county a little bit and look at the rolling countryside and do some hiking and things like that.
Anna: Well, you’ve just mapped out our whole itinerary. We’re ready to go now.
Ellie: Anytime you wanna come, I’m so happy to help you map out your itinerary, but I will say that, on visitfranklin.com, we have a lot of great blogs and itineraries and things to do. So, feel free to visit there. You can email any of us at email@example.com. If you have any questions, we are so happy to help you plan your trip.
Anna: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time and your insight today and really helping us paint the picture of what we will experience when we come to Franklin, Tennessee. So, thank you.
Ellie: Thank you. Have a great day!
Anna: Yeah! You too, girl. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell sending you all well wishes.