Franklin, Indiana, is small town of roughly 24,000, located just 20 minutes south of Indianapolis, in the heart of Johnson County. Downtown Franklin offers a nice mix of traditional main street shops, coffeehouses, restaurants, and other mom-and-pop establishments. The city is also home to Franklin College, a 4-year university that has been a part of the city’s cultural fabric since its founding in 1834.
The county in which Franklin is located, Johnson County, was recently listed in CNNMoney’s Top 8 Places “Where the Middle Class Thrives.” The city’s Jefferson Street corridor exudes a distinctly “small town” feel, and is home to The Historic Artcraft Theatre, which was built in 1922.
The city was featured in the December 2, 1940 Life magazine issue, as the quiet small town in America “Downtown Saturday Night” Chronicles. In fact, many of the downtown buildings that appeared in the article are still standing.
And while many Victorian-era mansions and other historic homes can be found in downtown Franklin, the city is home to a thriving real estate market that features many beautiful neighborhoods, including many newer developments.
Franklin may be small, but it is not short on attractions and things to do. From the historic Artcraft Theater to the Chamber of Commerce-Railroad Museum, there is plenty to see and do in Franklin. Here are a few examples…
The Artcraft Theater is located in the hear of downtown Franklin, at 57 N Main Street. This historic venue, built in 1922, dates all the way back to the silent movie era, when it served not only as a silent movie theater, but a Vaudeville house complete with an orchestra pit and full stage. It is one of the most recognizable Art Deco movie theaters in central Indiana and is listed on the Indiana State Register of Historic Places.
Canary Creek Drive In and Movie Theater
The drive-in theatre offers a fun movie-viewing experience that is increasingly rare in modern America. In fact, it is the only drive-in theater in all of Johnson County. If spending a nice summer evening, watching movies under the stars is your idea of fun, this theater is worth checking out.
Chamber of Commerce-Railroad Museum
The old rail car, complete with artistic silhouettes on windows, harkens back to a much earlier time in American history, when railroads were still very active and widely utilized, and cars had yet to catch-on as the dominant mode of transportation.
Flying Frog Bed and Breakfast
With its old-world charm, this place offers a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of Indianapolis life. One of the bedrooms, the “Giovanni Room,” offers an aged Tuscan vibe, with a draped king-size and distressed golden walls that resemble aged Tuscan plaster.
Franklin Cultural Arts and Recreation Center
The Franklin Branch of the Johnson County Public Library is located at 401 State Street. The very first library in Franklin was funded in 1911, and was situated on the second floor of the old Hulsman Block building. The library offers a great collection of books, DVDs, newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, in addition to various amenities, like community meeting rooms, computers, printers, etc. Various events and activities, such summer and winter reading programs, book discussions and used book sales are held at various times throughout the year. The library also offers literacy programs for children, which incorporate fun activities like singing, dancing and playing with friends, as well as arts and crafts.
Franklin Family Aquatic Center
The Franklin Family Aquatic Center is located next to the Cultural Arts & Recreation Center at the corner of South Street and Branigin Blvd. This Olympic-sized pool features a diving section, in addition to a 190-foot water slide, a new zero depth pool with a play area, including 16 interactive play features. Other amenities include a concession stand, sun decks and sun chairs.
Hi-Way Lanes (Bowling)
Hi-Way Lanes is a locally owned bowling center located at 400 N Morton Street in Franklin. It is a smoke-free facility that offers 28 lanes, and various fun bowling events, like “Cosmic Bowling,” which is a sensory experience or sorts, with disco lights, fog, and cool music. Other amenities include a pro shop, food and beverage, and restrooms.
Hillview Country Club
Hillview Country Club is an 18-hole golf club located at 1800 E King Street in Franklin. The pristinely manicured course offers 6,585 yards of golf from the longest tees. Plush bentgrass fairways and fast, smooth greens make for a fun and challenging day of golf. The Hillview Country Club has also hosted many top golf events on behalf of the Indiana Golf Association and the PGA Section.
Club amenities include a fully-stocked pro shop, a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a fitness center.
The venue offers plenty of space to host corporate golf outings, wedding ceremonies, receptions, business meetings, bridal showers, birthday parties, etc.
Other amenities include bent grass putting greens, a practice range, a short game area, an artificial turf strip for putting practice, and a “short game” facility.
The club also offers a very active tournament schedule, including a Tuesday Night Men’s Golf League, Wednesday Morning Senior’s League, Tuesday and Thursday Ladies’, and weekend games for everyone.
Johnson County Fairgrounds
The Johnson County Indiana 4-H Fairgrounds are located at 250 Fairground Street in Franklin. The Fairgrounds facility is home to several fun events, including an annual baking contest, baby contest, talent contest, grandstand events, style show, open class exhibits, and a midway with fun rides.
Korn 100.3 Radio
While not an attraction in the normal sense of the word, the Korn 100.3 radio station is very much a part of the cultural fabric in Franklin. Located at 176 E Jefferson Street, the station plays songs from the country music genre, and also offers local news, information, sports and other fun radio segments.
Franklin is home to several fun and popular events, from Smoke on the Square to the seasonal Farmer’s Market.
Strawberries on the Square
Strawberries on the Square is an annual celebration that takes place in mid-May at the Johnson County Courthouse in Franklin Indiana. The festivities commence with fresh-cut strawberries, served on pound cake with ice cream and whipped cream. Later in the evening, typically from 7:00 9:00 pm, there is a street fest portion of the event, which features lots of cool cars from days gone by. A free concert on the courthouse lawn takes place at the end of the day.
Other Franklin Events
- Smoke on the Square: A barbecue competition with live music, held June 27 and 28.
- Cruisin the Courthouse: A classic car show held Aug. 8 outside Franklin’s downtown courthouse.
- Beer and Bluegrass Festival: I think the name explains all you need to know about this Aug. 22 event.
- Franklin is also home to a weekly Farmer’s Market, which is held every Saturday morning from mid-summer through early fall.
- Franklin Holiday Lighting Event: This annual event is jam-packed with activities including a Holiday Parade, Carriage and Fire Truck Rides, a Christmas Movie, a Jingle Jog, Choral Performances, a Luminary Vigil, and a visit from Santa Clause. For more information or to make donations for the Holiday Lighting Fund, call 317-736-6334
- Franklin Fall Festival & Octoberfest: These two events have joined together and showcase craftsmen, a talent show, entertainers, a Chocolate Baking Contest, a Polka Band, dancing, a parade, food, and a movie.
If there’s one thing the city of Franklin is not short on, it’s history. From the historic Franklin College and Franklin Historic Log Cabin to the iconic County Court House, these are just a few examples of the historic destinations that await visitors to Franklin.
Franklin College was established in 1834, and was the first college in Indiana and third college in the United States to admit women (1842). The “Old Main,” (above) is the iconic clock tower located at the campus entrance. This historic building was almost completely destroyed by a fire in the spring of 1985. Classes are now held within the building. Other features include a computer lab, and the Custer Theatre, where choir concerts.
Franklin-Johnson County Court House
The courthouse was built in n 1879, and is situated in two historic districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Johnson County Courthouse Square and the Franklin Commercial Historic District.
Johnson County Museum of History
The Johnson County Museum of History is located at 135 N Main Street in downtown Franklin. It is operated by the Johnson County Historical Society. It was originally known simply as the “Johnson County Museum” when it opened in 1931.
The museum offers a variety of exhibits, educational opportunities, and other events. The library contains a wealth of research materials, many of which are original documents, relating to Johnson County and surrounding regions.
“The Willard” restaurant is one of the most recognizable historic buildings in Franklin. Built in 1860 by William and Cynthia King McCaslin, it has transformed from a family residence to a hotel, and most recently, to a bar/restaurant.
After sitting empty for a long time, years, John Limp and John Wright of Franklin bought and refurbished The Willard, turning it into a pub and eatery specializing in pizza and wings. At the time, Limp and Wright explained the goal of the restoration was to restore the building without detracting from the antique fixtures and the historical charm. The present owners, Bob Schofield and his wife Alexa, bought The Willard in 1990.
The city of Franklin is home to a number of small, independently-owned establishments, many of which are located in downtown Franklin. Here are just a few examples of some local Franklin businesses.
Curly Willow Antiques and Treasures
This charming old house, which is located at 498 E Jefferson Street in downtown Franklin, is home to Curly Willow Antiques and Treasures, and antique store that sells a variety of antiques, heirlooms, Americana, candles, decor, Annie Sloan Paints, etc. They also offer the occasional workshops.
Franklin Coin Shop
Situated in the heart of Franklin’s historic Jefferson Street corridor is this quaint little coin shop, appropriately named Franklin Coin Shop. This coin and collectables dealer is located at 155 E Jefferson Street, and has become a part of the tapestry that is downtown Franklin.
Franklin Skate Club
Located at 2680 N. Morton Street in Franklin is the Franklin Skate Club has been a part of the Franklin city scape for over 55 years. Established in 1959, this skating rink offers is a popular recreational destination for both kids and adults. The offer skate rentals, a snack bar, skating lessons, and a pro shop.
Grill, Bar, Tavern
Located at 138 E. Jefferson Street in Franklin, this appropriately-named Grill, Bar, Tavern is a favorite, local hang-out that offers a fully-stocked bar, live music and traditional bar food, like burgers and fries.
Jefferson St. Barber Shop
Marshmallow Monkey Flowers
Located in this charming old home, at 436 E. Jefferson Street, is an interesting business called Marshmallo Monkey. This mom-and-pop business has a family history that stretches back over 75 years. They offer a somewhat eclectic mix of flowers & garden designs, unique items and gifts, home decor and re-styled furniture.
Middle Davids Artisan Candles
Located at 152 E Jefferson Street is a small specialty/gift shop called Middle David’s Artisan Candles. This family-owned shop sells homemade candles, homemade scarves, jewelry, and other hand crafted goods.
The store began in 2002 from a discussion between David Catlin, a semi-retired pastor, and his son Dan, both avid outdoorsmen who decided the idea of making candle wax from a renewable agricultural resource instead of paraffin (which is a petrochemical that comes from oil), was appealing. The initially sold their candles on eBay, but eventually set up shop in downtown Franklin.
MW Wadsworth Candy Store
This small town candy shop sells many hard-to-find goodies, from salt water taffy, chocolates, and rock candy to delicous truffles. They also sell cold root beer and crème sodas. This independently-owned establishment is one of the many shops you’ll find while strolling in historic downtown Franklin.
Salvage Sisters Antique Market
Located at 398 E Jefferson Street, Salvage Sisters Antique Market is one of several cool antique stores in Franklin. This is not your traditional antique store, but rather, more of a mom-and-pop-store-meets-shabby-chic kind of place that features individual, curated booths, offering everything from vintage suitcases, metal cabinets, and locker room baskets, to vintage furniture, jewelry and collectibles.
Thanks For The Thyme Primitives and Treasures
Located at 396 E Jefferson Street in Franklin is another interesting, little antique shop called Thanks For The Thyme Primitives and Treasures. They offer a variety of antiques, collectibles, primitives, garden decorations, quilts, and one-of-a-kind items.
The Art of Kira Studio
The Art of Kira Studio is located at 169 E Jefferson Street. This small gallery is owned operated by Kira Brant, who received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the Herron School of Art in 2003. Kira says, “I love to share my passion for art while teaching students to have fun! Art should be fun, not stressful.” The Art of Kira Studio offers a variety of classes, including kids weekly classes, special needs art, kids private parties, adult private parties, art club for kids and art party fundraising.
This Vintage Whimsy is an adorable, little antiques store located in a charming old house, in which every room has been converted into a different section, each its own theme, like vintage furniture, home decor, garden relics, architecture pieces, re-purposed treasures, jewelry, glassware, etc.
A Little Franklin Indiana History
Franklin history dates back to the early 1800’s, when the city was founded due south of Indianapolis.
Historic buildings in Franklin, Indiana were built around this time period. Some of the more famous include Franklin College, founded by the Baptists in 1834; the August Zeppenfeld House, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places; the Masonic Temple, from 1924, now the site of the Johnson County Museum of History; and the Johnson County Courthouse on the square in downtown Franklin, a breathtaking example of the red brick buildings with white trim from the 1880’s.
This latter structure is the fifth county courthouse, constructed between 1879 and 1882 and renovated in 1984. It has a place in the National Register of Historic Places. The Johnson County Museum of History is the place to visit for a fulfilling and accurate portrayal of the history of Franklin and the history of the settlers of Central Indiana. Along with their many walk-through exhibits and window artifacts displays, the Johnson County Historical Society maintains perhaps the best genealogy libraries in the state.
Franklin’s Heritage, Inc. is a group dedicated to the preservation of the city’s intrinsic and distinctive heritage, especially active in downtown Franklin. The community holds firm to their respect for the past, while being committed to improvement in the future.
No discussion of the history of this city would be complete without mentioning the historic Greenway Trail, created by the ubiquitous Franklin Parks and Recreation Department. This is a walking trail that follows Young’s Creek and then branches off into the countryside before it meets up with Hurricane Creek. From the covered bridges along the trail to the sweeping wooded paths, to the historic structures along the way, those who travel this historic trail experience a true connection with historic Franklin, Indiana.
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