Downtown Franklin: Where the Past Meets the Present
by Macey Baird
Fourteen miles and 100 years from Nashville, Downtown Franklin, Tennessee is an oasis of Southern hospitality housed in a 16-block National Register district of antique shops, gift and book stores, art galleries, boutiques, lovingly restored homes and more. It boasts an award-winning Main Street, brick sidewalks, a stunning collection of Victorian buildings and a host of “Best of“ accolades.
I was leaving JONDIE, a small but trendy boutique overflowing with leather peplum blouses, chunky knits and reclaimed vintage jewelry, when I bumped into Jim McReynolds breezing out of Yarrow Acres across Main Street. He was juggling a load of Christmas decorations and creamy candles from the home ‘n’ gardeners’ shop, smelling like pine needles and dusted with green glitter.
I love Jim. He’s an artist and the manager at Gallery 202, a ca. 1821 historical jewel tucked behind downtown Franklin’s Main Street that houses artists like Andy Warhol, Picasso and local painter Julie A. Harvey. He tells me he’s in the process of decorating his three-story town home in the mixed-use Jamison’s Station development just down the road, and that this is just his first stop of the day. Would I like to join him?
It was a Saturday morning, 60 degrees and sunny in late November. The Victorian buildings were skirted with red-topped trees, and it’s a magical season for Franklin. Yes, of course I wanted to stroll downtown for the perfect folk-art piece to place on his heirloom walnut sugar chest!
You have to understand: Jim has impeccable taste—as evidenced by the wool vest and suede Chukkas he’s sporting—and I viewed this more as a learning opportunity than anything, so I quickly tugged on my new leather jacket from JONDIE and ran to catch up with the trailing greenery in front of me.
We started in Franklin’s celebrated antique district, a several-block smorgasbord of all things old. Gallery 202 makes the segue from Main Street into the area, and it’s a smooth link of past to present: Clouston Hall (it’s formal name) acted as a hospital during The Battle of Franklin, and clues to the Civil War skirmish that raged around it are hidden throughout the house.
Owner Kelly Harwood gave me the home’s incredible pedigree over a glass of chardonnay one day— I mean, the place has entertained three American presidents!—as he does with nearly every first-time visitor who’s interested in the heritage.
My first stop on this adventure with Jim is Scarlett Scales Antiques, just a hop, skip and-a jump from the gallery. Born into a family of “junkers,” owner Scarlett Scales-Tingas has been selling antiques in Franklin since she was 11 years old, and has won the admiration of people like Mike Wolfe of the hit show American Pickers. Her store is overflowing with architectural salvage, restored lighting pieces, antique American maps, vintage furniture and (literally) thousands of unique trinkets.
We’re here to look at two things: The first is an industrial table that Scarlett’s father, Barry, has crafted from reclaimed iron pieces on one of his pickin’ days. You can still see etched-in character marks, like the alphabet letter imprints on the rusted top that Jim points out in an almost-reverence. The second is another Barry-created piece: massive, distressed window frames taken from an old Tennessee barn. The insides are interlocked with mirrors, and it has all the promise to become a focal point in Jim’s dining room. Barry agrees to drop the items off this afternoon, and we scurry out and down the road.
At the Barn Door Co., Jim’s on a particular mission. He has a handed-down collection of baskets from his grandmother, a woman with Cherokee Indian in her blood (Jim tells me that his great-great-great-grandfather was “Chief Red Head”). He’s looking to add to his bevy at the charming shop by the train tracks, and heard he had a pretty good chance here. Among the treasure trove of antique prints and reclaimed furniture we stumble upon one: a woven two-toned beauty with an intricate pattern, one that you can tell has a story behind it.
When we leave, I spot Honey’s Vintage Sweets down the street and insist that we make a pit stop at the delicious candy emporium. Housed in the cutest building you’ve ever seen—dusty blue, complete with a white picket fence—it’s literally brimming with confectionary creations, nostalgic candies and gifts of yester-year. We make a beeline for the baked goods in a big ole glass case; inside, homemade cupcakes and mini-cheesecakes wait. I grab a pumpkin gingerbread cookie and an old-fashioned soda, and Jim opts for chocolate Chaney’s Dairy Farm ice cream in a freshly baked waffle cone. Stomachs smiling, we make it out ten minutes later with only one Grape NeHi and two Sky Bars in tow.
We decide to run over to the Bagbey House on Fourth Avenue North before heading back to Jim’s place. Bagbey is another 19th-century restored home in Franklin whose history began with William James Bennett, a Confederate soldier during the Civil War—a patron who some say still graces the stately Queen Anne mansion from time to time. Owner Kris Bagbey is known as “Dr. Christmas” year-round for his beautiful silk-flower creations and love for all things holiday. Jim discovers an early-1800s drop-leaf table made of mahogany in this antique mall, one that he’ll first place in his second-story landing and then eventually move to the gallery to hold a $25,000 “Lewis and Clark” bronze sculpture.
When we finally make it to Jim’s town house that afternoon, I’m floored. The three-story space is decorated to near perfection, an elegant mix of family heirlooms, magnificent art from Gallery 202, and even more incredible finds from downtown Franklin stores. As Kelly describes it, it’s a “collectors’ paradise of casual elements with a touch of sophistication. There’s an element of surprise in each room.” I immediately race through the house to find such surprises, grinning each time I spot another exquisite touch.
Some of my favorite sights: a rusted, shabby-chic toolbox from City Farmhouse that rests under an old demilune table in the guest bedroom; an ancient orchard ladder (again from City Farmhouse) that acts as a bath towel rack in Jim’s master bathroom; a rare, early-1900s drafting table in Jim’s study from William Powell Co. with chip-y green paint, an iron base and an adjustable crank; a pair of antique iron sconces from J.J. Ashley’s that flank a Kelly Harwood original; a custom bathroom vanity crafted from ambrosia maple by Scott Moore of Saddlecreek Design, in the powder room; a collection of nude 1900s drawings from local “picker” Jeff Yates; and a vast assembly of carefully collected Wedgwood Jasper Ware (he has his eye on another beautiful one at Arbor Antique Mall).
When night finally falls and we’ve arranged Jim’s new purchases, we’re hungry and exhausted. We decide to walk over to Puckett’s Boat House, an eatery housed in an old boat locker downtown, for a steamin’ plate of Southern seafood and some toe-tapping Cajun tunes. We dig into shrimp-and-grits hushpuppies, half-shell doctored-up oysters and chicken fried chicken, and wash it all down with a glass of Collier and McKeel handcrafted Tennessee whiskey, produced in Nashville by master distiller and downtown Franklin resident Mike Williams.
We end the day with a toast to good whiskey and a high-five for our beautifully productive day in downtown Franklin, with promises to hit the many other antique stores next weekend. I couldn’t have planned any better.