Visit Historic Downtown Franklin

Posted by: Jennifer McGowen on November 13, 2020

Enjoy dining, shopping, entertainment and lodging in a historic downtown setting in Franklin, which was founded in 1823.

Here is some of the history you’ll encounter when you walk its sidewalks and enter its buildings.

The Willard

Located at 99 N. Main St., The Willard offers delicious food in a historical building. The Willard’s core structure is a brick house that was built in 1860 by William and Cynthia King McCaslin. Mrs. McCaslin’s father received a land grant for 160 acres on Oct. 17, 1822. After Mrs. McCaslin died in 1878, William married Marguerite Mullen. When William died in 1883, Marguerite and her niece, Marguerite McCullough, stayed in the home until 1922. Eliza Patterson Willard and her niece and nephew, Mr. & Mrs. Will Judah, purchased the home for $11,000 and began constructing a hotel around the brick house while also remodeling the interior.

After sitting idle for some time, The Willard was purchased by John Limp and John Wright of Franklin who turned it into a pub and eatery. During the restoration of The Willard, the main theme was to restore the building without detracting from the antique fixtures and historical charm. The Willard still keeps the charm from the original McCaslin house with the curved staircase in the foyer and the marble fireplace mantle in the main dining area.

In 1990, former owner Bob Schofield and his partner, the late Don Henry, bought The Willard. Bob and his wife, Alexa, maintained the establishment until 2014. In 2015, Bob and Alexa’s son, Tony Priola, and his wife, Emily, bought The Willard. Just as his parents were, Tony and his wife are dedicated to preserving the historical establishment while also providing great food, great drinks, and a great place to make friends.

RFD Franklin

What does RFD stand for? For RFD Franklin, it has a few meanings. RFD can stand for “Real Fresh Dining” or “Reservations for Dinner.” The first attributed meaning matches the motto of the restaurant: Real Food, Fresh Dining. Another meaning of RFD, “Rural Free Delivery,” is a nod to the postal heritage of the building. The foundation of the historic Post Office building was laid in 1936 and the building opened in 1937, serving the community of Franklin until 1980. From 1981 to 2008, the building at 55 W. Madison St. served as the Franklin City Hall. After a 500-year flood in 2008, the City Hall was relocated, and the building sat empty for almost ten years. In October 2017, RFD began restoring the original 1930s style of the space while converting it into a restaurant. RFD Franklin officially opened as a restaurant in 2019.

RFD Franklin has worked diligently to maintain and restore the original aesthetics of the building. The restaurant contains the original tile, brass door hardware and entry way woodwork in the front lobby. When dining, customers may have a chance to dine in the main dining room, which was originally the mail sorting area, or in two other private dining rooms that were the postmaster’s office and the vault. In the mail sorting dining room, if they look closely, customers may see the marks of the original maple floor from decades of mail sorting. The restoration of RFD Franklin took time, but the outcome has given the community of Franklin an excellent restaurant in the historical 1930s-styled building. RFD Franklin is proud of their history and is passionate about providing farm fresh flavors to the city of Franklin.

Artcraft Theatre

The Artcraft Theatre is one of the most intact art deco movie houses in Central Indiana and is listed on the Indiana State Register of Historic Places. Located at 57 N. Main St., the Artcraft Theatre originally opened on Nov. 1, 1922 as a silent movie theater and vaudeville house. It was built complete with an orchestra pit, a full stage, and dressing rooms located below the stage. The building was purchased by Trueman Rembursch and renovated in 1936. In 1948, the classic Art Deco streamlining and neon lighting were added to the building. After over 75 years of playing movies, the Artcraft theatre closed in 2000.

However, Franklin Heritage, Inc. purchased the Artcraft Theatre in 2004 and began a $500,000 restoration project on the building. Franklin Heritage, Inc. was established in 1983 by a group of citizens who felt it was important to preserve the history of the City of Franklin. With over 11 restoration projects completed and two restoration projects in-process, Franklin Heritage, Inc. is proud to preserve the past for the future. The Artcraft Theatre re-opened later in the year of 2004 and began to play movies for the community and visitors. The theatre now operates as a nonprofit, bringing entertainment and historical value to the community of Franklin.

Johnson County Museum

Opened in 1931 by the Alexander Hamilton Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the Johnson County Museum of History provides an array of historical artifacts for visitors to view and events to attend. With exhibits focused on early inhabitants, Civil War, fabulous 50s, Victorian life, and transportation, the Johnson County Museum has artifacts from many eras. At the opening of the museum, under the leadership of Georgia Schlosser, the DAR was given a room in the southwest corner of the courthouse. Over the next 30 years, the collection was managed by the museum committee of the DAR. Miss Clara Suckow donated her house at 150 W. Madison St. in 1963, making it the new museum. In 1988, The Historical Society and the County purchased the former Masonic Temple at 135 N. Main St. for the new grounds of the museum. Since then, the Johnson County Museum has found its home in the Masonic Temple.

Not only does the Johnson County Museum of History provide artifacts for the public to view, but they also host annual events to get the community involved.

Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks, and Ice Cream and Train Museum

Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks, and Ice Cream initially opened in February 2015 at 100 E. Jefferson St. after the Smith family purchased a pre-owned candy store that had been in business for five years. In their sixth month as candy store owners, Kim and Craig Smith decided to put in an offer for the railroad depot building that had been put up for sale. When the railroad depot building became empty after the Franklin Chamber of Commerce moved out, the Smith family became the new owners.

The Big Four Railroad Depot was built in 1909 and was located at the intersection of Water Street and Martin Place until 1979. The Depot building was re-located to its current location at 370 E. Jefferson St. after the depot was no longer used at the railroad that ran from Fairland, IN to Martinsville, IN. For 30 years the Franklin Chamber of Commerce leased the building until they purchased their own building.

After purchasing the building, the Smith family spent nine months on restoration, including the repair of the original 106-year-old floors. Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks, and Ice Cream was able to open at its new location on April 8, 2016. Following another five months of restoration, the Railroad Depot Museum opened at Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks, and Ice Cream. The museum displays a wide variety of railroad history from across the United States. Featuring everything from passenger menus, keys, lanterns, timetables, pins, maps, photos to advertisements, the Railroad Museum has much to see! Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks, and Ice Cream is the perfect place to get a sweet treat while also viewing historical artifacts!

Ashley-Drake Historic Inn and Gardens

When Jefferson Rairdon purchased the property at 668 E. Jefferson St. in the 1880s, there was nothing but swamp land. After bringing in wagon load after wagon load of dirt, Rairdon filled the swamp with dirt until it was at street level. He then began to plot out the land for home sites. Although it is uncertain if he built the home that is now the Ashley-Drake Historic Inn and Gardens, all homes that he did plot out are from the 1880s.

After serving many families throughout the years, the Smith family bought the Queen Victorian style home in 2002 and began to restore it to its former 1930s style. For years, the houses walls and floors had been covered with paint, so the Smith family worked hard to uncover the original beautiful wood flooring, trim and doors. Unfortunately, the original wallpaper from the house could not be saved.

The Smith family named the Historic Inn after their two children, Linden Ashley and Cameron Drake, who helped with all of the restoration. On Labor Day in 2004, the Ashley-Drake Historic Inn and Gardens welcomed their first guests. Ashley-Drake Historic Inn and Gardens features four bedrooms (all with their own bathrooms), common areas, a four-season media room, and a full breakfast menu. To this day, the Smith family has proudly hosted people from 26 countries and 49 states.