If you’ve seen a big blue trolley making its way through downtown Franklin, you’ve likely come across Franklin’s new hop-on, hop-off tour. The tour takes guests on a 90-minute loop of Franklin and Leiper’s Fork while sharing stories of the area’s past, present and future.
“The Franklin Hop Trolley Tour allows visitors to hear about the rich history of the city while they learn about all the things they can enjoy during their visit," said Gray Line Tennessee President and CEO Chuck Abbott. "For years, we have been bringing visitors to Franklin on our Franklin's Civil War Tour, and now we are pleased to offer a tour that is uniquely Franklin!"
The trolley makes five stops — The Visitor Center in Downtown Franklin, The Factory, Carnton, Carter & Lotz Houses, and the village of Leiper's Fork — in order to give guests the opportunity to explore. The Franklin Hop runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.
Each tour is unique thanks to the tour guides who bring variety and flavor to the basic story with their personality and perspective.
Our tour began on Main Street, dubbed by the town as “America’s Favorite” according to the tour guide, Doug, who is 75 and likes to tell people he’s got a photographic memory "but is sometimes running out of film."
“It's a lot like a documentary,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I mean, you're visually showing people with narration. It's the same as a documentary. This is nothing more than a documentary about Franklin.”
The trolley glided past Victorian architecture and historic buildings as Roger, the driver, maneuvered the massive mover with ease. While Doug talked a mile a minute about the music history of each street corner and the “mindless trivia” the city has to offer.
"Guests on the trolley tours have the opportunity to leave their car behind and enjoy many of the incredible stops around Franklin and Leiper's Fork,” said President and CEO of Visit Franklin Maureen Haley Thorton.
When we passed The Factory, of course, we waved hello to Rusty, the metal man standing 20 feet tall welcoming guests into the restored factory building.
As we turned down Eddie Lane, the colorful story of musicians turned to historical tales of soldiers, slavery, and self-determination. The fuller story of Franklin, according to Doug, includes the good and the bad.
When we rolled through the gates of Carnton House, Doug encouraged riders to imagine what the land might’ve looked like before it became central to the Battle of Franklin. The answer is rather evident, yet surprising, but of course, you’ll have to take the tour to find out for yourself.
During this portion of the tour, the guides explained the significance of reclaimed land and properties and the Heritage Foundation.
The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County is a historic preservation society working to care for and save cultural sites that are a part of Franklin’s diverse history. The organization’s mission is “to conserve the best of the past and to plan for the benefit of the future.”
“It’s kind of like a symbiotic relationship, so we bring folks to different tour spots and it's narrated all the way through. You learn some history about Franklin now, Franklin then, and Franklin future,” said Roger as he waved a ring-covered hand to point out the Rosenwald School behind the former campus of O’More College of Design.
They painted a picture of what it might've been like to be a resident in a time of war and segregation as we traveled from Carnton to the Carter and Lotz houses and turned a corner to enter the Natchez neighborhood.
Doug pointed out the Merrill-Williams House, the center of old Franklin’s Black community and one of the oldest properties in the Natchez neighborhood.
“Back in the day, you would have heard Ragtime coming out of there and I’m sure it was rockin’,” said Doug.
The scenery transitioned from vintage buildings to dryer country with only trees and a distillery off in the distance. Passing the small business, Doug transitioned briefly from talking about war to a beloved Tennessee topic, whiskey.
Whiskey was likely the best way to introduce Leiper’s Fork, a place that held many other names in the past. As we entered the town, Roger took the lead on storytelling historical adventures of bootlegging and backbone, while Doug pointed out the town’s hidden gems.
They shared tales of cowboys and notable names like Andrew Jackson and James “Jimmy” Gentry.
When the trolley made its way back to Franklin, the tour was nearing its end, but not before learning about a few more historical buildings central to the city’s culture.
Like the Franklin Theater, which Doug jokingly calls, “the home of first kisses for over 70 years.”
As you venture down Fair Street and circle around toward the Visitor Center, it can't help but feel like you took a journey through time and arrived back in the present
“The city is making a very concerted effort to say, 'we gotta tell the whole story,” Doug said as he explained the idea behind the trolley’s creation.
Based on his own experience, Doug believes a hop-on, hop-off tour is the best way to learn about the city around you whether you’re a longtime resident, a new arrival to the town, or a visitor.
“When I and my wife moved to Nashville we agreed the best thing we could do is take a hop-on, hop-off. That’s how we learned about all the different spots."