Historic Downtown Franklin

Our road trip to Franklin, KY (established in 1820) may very well be one of my favorite trips we have taken in a long time! We began our day at Octagon Hall just north of Downtown Franklin. From there, we drove into Historic Downtown to get a bite to eat. One of the many things we enjoy doing on our day trips is to find a local spot to eat, no chain restaurants allowed. We also prefer it to be in a historic building.

On this day, we stopped in at The Brickyard Cafe on the downtown strip. The cafe is housed in what used to be a carriage manufacturing and repair shop. An old horse-drawn buggy is suspended on the original manually-operated lift platform in the dining room.  According to kentuckytourism.com, “The lift transported buggies and carriages for repair in the second and third floor workshops.” While we enjoyed lunch, we flipped through our photos from Octagon Hall on the hunt for spirits. Click here to read about our time at Octagon Hall!

Historic Downtown Franklin

After lunch, we took some time to wander through the quaint, unique shops that line the streets of downtown. The layout of Franklin is that of the traditional town square; the courthouse, built in 1882 after a fire destroyed the first, is the center of town with roads on all 4 sides and strips of buildings on the opposite side of each street. Three sides of the town square houses shops, and the 4th side is taken by the First United Methodist Church.

The Franklin Courthouse

We found some wonderful shops, and Franklin stole my heart. Everyone in town was so very friendly, and each shop was so cute with its unique finds. I bought a pair of earrings in the shape of the state, and my daughter and mom found cute shirts. While we couldn’t buy everything we found, we wished that we could have. We love supporting small town shops like the ones we found in Franklin!

Once we were finished with our shopping, we were off to our next historic stops, only this time no car was needed! The next 2 stops on my itinerary for the day were in walking distance right within the town square.

Our first stop, the Old Jail and Jailer’s Quarters, was just around the corner and one block up from the center of town, a very quick and easy walk.

The Old Jail and Jailer’s Quarters

The Old Jail and Jailer's Quarters located in historic downtown Franklin, KY.
The Old Jail and Jailer’s Quarters

If you had to guess, which building do you believe to be the jail? Which was the quarters? If you guessed the building on the right to be the jail and the building on the left to be the quarters, you are mostly correct.

The building on the left was built around 1830 but not as you see it today. It is believed that it began as a one room brick building measuring 18 feet square with a door and three windows. Two flanking a fireplace and one at the front. The building is believed to have been the jailer’s residence while the jail was in the nearby courthouse.

By 1860, the building had received several additions and conversions, including a second floor. The jailer’s quarters became both the quarters and the jail for Simpson County. A back wing had been added creating an “L” shaped building. It is believed that prisoners were held in the back wing as well as the 2 rooms on the north end of the building with the south rooms being the jailer’s residence. The building continued in this function until 1879.

A Few Notable Prisoners

The jail saw its most activity during and after the Civil War with two notable stories.

The first included the “infamous Captain Ellis Harper and his gang of Confederate Guerrillas, among whom were listed several men with Simpson County ties.” (https://sites.rootsweb.com/~kyschs/pages/jail.htm) Harper and his gang had gone on a killing spree throughout Simpson County just before the end of the war. He and his gang where indicted on 11 different counts including murder, robbery, and malicious shooting. Only a few of Harper’s men were apprehended and housed in the jail. One of the prisoner’s was Seaton Moye of Simpson County. It was decided that he would be moved to the Warren County jail for safety. While being transported, Harper and his remaining men ambushed the group and freed Moye, who was later apprehended again and moved to Louisville.

The second set of notable prisoners were train robbers and murderers! On November 8, 1866, Captain William P. King, Abraham Owen, and a gang of many others, derailed the Louisville and Nashville train by placing “obstructions” on the tracks. The gang then proceeded to rob the passengers of their watches, jewelry, money, and clothing. Now during this time, it was really difficult for the law to apprehend and bring justice to train robbers, but the railroad company has offered a $10,000 reward for information! This reward persuaded Harvey King, a gang member AND the brother of Captain William P. King, to turn in evidence of the train robbery. King, Owen, and the gang received word of this. On November 19, Harvey was shot in the head and killed. It was on December 13th that a Grand Jury indicted 10 men, including King and Owen for the murder of Harvey King. A special session of the court was held in January 1867, and on January 8th both King and Owen were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. On June 28, 1867, both King and Owen were taken from the jail and hung at the gallows that had been erected at the Louisville and Nashville tracks. (The Sacramento Daily Union published a newspaper article about the hanging on July 28, 1867. Click here to read the article.)

Civil War Graffiti

A New Jail

In 1879, the new Stone Jail (the building on the right of the picture) was built and used until 1986. The jail was designed in a medieval fortress style by H.P. McDonald Brothers of Louisville. The design was to convey a psychological deterrence to crime, and the function was an escape-proof enclosure. The jail was built of huge limestone blocks that had been quarried from a site 3 miles east of Franklin. One of the largest blocks used measured eight feet by two feet square, weighing 2 to 3 tons. It blows my mind to think about how those stones were transported in 1879, not to mention stacked into 2 stories! There are many tales of the prisoners held in the Stone Jail also. Those stories and more can be read here.

The Jailer’s Quarters and Old Stone Jail also houses archives for Simpson County, surrounding KY counties, and a few TN counties, as Franklin is just 6 miles from the Tennessee state line. Some of those records can be found online at the Simpson County Archives site.

After our self-guided tour of the jail, we walked 2 blocks down the street to the church where Johnny Cash and June Carter were married.

The First United Methodist Church

The Franklin First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist Church of Franklin, KY

Truth be told, we did not visit this church because of the building’s history. (Although it has that too! Read about it here.) Instead, we visited for the history of who visited the church; Johnny Cash and June Carter. It is in this church that they were married on March 1, 1968.

As soon as I read that they were married in this church, I had to visit. I mean, I am a true Kentucky girl. I grew up listening to county music and fell in love with bluegrass music in my late 20’s. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve listened to Ring of Fire! I love Johnny Cash’s music. I have watched documentaries about the influence he and June had on country music. I’ve watched Walk the Line more times than I can count. How could I skip standing in a spot where they stood, right here in Kentucky!?!

Walk the Line historical marker across the street from the First United Methodist Church
“Walk the Line” Historical Marker

Why Franklin, Kentucky?

From the 1930’s through the ’70’s, Franklin and Simpson County had a reputation as a place for couples from northern middle Tennessee to get married because they could do it all in one day. During that time, Tennessee had a mandatory three day waiting period.

Johnny and June were trying to keep their wedding out of the spot light, a three day waiting period would allow the word to get out. In addition, they had to work around show schedules and being on the road between shows, so finding a date was difficult. Their window of opportunity came the day after Johnny and June won a Grammy for their duet Jackson. They had just a short drive to Franklin, and when they arrived their first stop was the county clerk. It seems someone at the county clerk’s office let the cat out of the bag, because by the time Johnny and June arrived at the church, the whole town knew they were there.

The Ceremony

The ceremony was only about 5 minutes long. It was very low-key and intimate with only the townspeople allowed to watch from the balcony. There were no guitars or country music. It was very quiet and emotional. Mark Stielper, a friend of Johnny Cash, stated that “Both John and June cried during the ceremony.”

Johnny and June were married for 35 years until they died within months of each other in 2003.

Our Visit

We were pleasantly surprised to find the church open on the afternoon of our visit. We were able to walk down the aisle and stand at the altar. We visited the balcony to see the sanctuary from above. The church was beautiful! The stained glass windows were stunning, the pipe organ was impressive, and the sanctuary was very quaint. I could envision Johnny and June’s ceremony at the altar. I am certain it was very moving.

It was extremely cool to stand in the room where Johnny and June were married, but what topped it off was when my daughter started singing right there in the middle of the church. She loves to sing and she does so beautifully, so I wasn’t surprised that she was singing. It was the whole experience. Here was my daughter singing in the church where two singing legends were married. It was a little surreal. It was such a moving experience that I had goosebumps.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to Mom-Brag and post her video here. You see, after she sang, I had her sing it again so that I could get it on video! The things we ask our kids to do, right? Here she is singing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Enjoy!

Wasn’t our day amazing? And we weren’t done yet! Yep, that’s right we were back in the car and headed down the road for another stop… or two. Join me next time for the last leg of our Franklin journey; a little bit of history and a hysterical personal story that might have you laughing until you cry like we were!

Until next time, get out and enjoy Kentucky!

Happy Travels!

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