Franklin, Tennessee at a Glance
Location: Middle Tennessee
Access: Nashville International Airport, Interstate 65
Hotel Rooms: 6,000+
Off-Site Venues: The Factory At Franklin, Graystone Quarry, Franklin Theatre
Established in 1784, Franklin, Tennessee, is one of Tennessee oldest communities. It’s also one of the state’s hottest destinations for meetings. It has big doses of history and local color to complement modern meeting facilities.
Franklin, only 20 miles south of Nashville, is a complete package that comes with several unexpected twists that can make meetings here quite memorable, according to Brendan Johansen, director of sales for Visit Franklin.
In one sense, Franklin offers a tale of two cities. One is the flashy and modern area along Interstate 65 that features the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Conference Center and the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs.
The other is barely three miles off of Interstate 65. It is the original Franklin, a small Southern town where Main Street is alive and vibrant — pleasantly lacking much intrusion from national brands — with local restaurants, shops, art galleries, historic homes and some unexpected venues for meeting planners to consider. Travel + Leisure named it among the “10 Best Main Streets in the USA.”
Main Street is where Visit Franklin and local businesses are developing what Johansen calls “a meetings campus,” where groups of meeting attendees can disperse into a variety of venues for breakout sessions. Locations include the Franklin Theatre (a 300-seat movie palace from 1937, grandly restored in 2021), Gray’s on Main (a restaurant), the History and Culture Center of Williamson County and CJ’s Off the Square (a garden venue with indoor and outdoor spaces).
“You could put our meetings campus inside one of the nation’s gigantic convention and exposition centers, but our breakout rooms and venues would have blue skies overhead and pleasant sidewalk strolls between them — plus plenty of diversionary shopping and dining options,” Johansen said.
On any walkabout, you’ll see Civil War history is an important piece of Franklin’s history. The town square, which actually is a circular patch of real estate, showcases deeply detailed historical plaques telling what the locals call “the Fuller Story,” the harsh realities of a slave economy, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Of note here is a statue installed in 2021 of a U.S. Colored Troop that honors the 300 formerly enslaved men who enlisted in the Union army on this spot.
Where To Meet
Franklin, population 78,000, has 6,000 hotel rooms. Most notable for larger meetings are the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Conference Center (300 guest rooms and 31,000 square feet of meeting space) and the Hilton Franklin Cool Springs (244 rooms and 6,200 square feet of meeting space). Both are immediately adjacent to Interstate 65. A third significant property is the boutique Harpeth Hotel (119 rooms and 7,700 square feet of meeting space), which is in the historic district and within walking distance of downtown’s meetings campus venues.
Two large-scale venues stand out. One was where stoves and mattresses were manufactured, and the other was a hole in the ground — really. The manufacturing plant, which opened in 1929 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is now called the Factory at Franklin. It contains multiple restaurants, stores, entertainment venues and big spaces for meeting planners to execute their dreams. The hole in the ground is Graystone Quarry, proof of what imagination and money can create. The quarry name lives on, even though extraction of limestone to build interstate highway lanes ended decades ago. Now its 138 acres feature event spaces (great for meetings and even celebrity weddings) and an amphitheater for concerts.
Because Franklin is relatively small, one person can know all of the important players important to a meeting’s success. At Visit Franklin, that person is Jenna Townsend, who handles questions and challenges large and small. Director of public relations Matthew Maxey describes Townsend as “the contact whom every meeting planner is looking for.”
After the Meeting
Franklin is the seat of Williamson County, a county long known for its picturesque horse farms and more recently for very upscale residences. One route through the countryside leads to the village of Leiper’s Fork, a tiny community that has guaranteed it will retain its bucolic appeal. Leiper’s Fork is popular for its art galleries, boutique shopping and restaurants ranging from down-home to chef-fancy. A Leiper’s Fork bonus is access to the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of America’s most popular scenic drives. A drive through the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee on the parkway is a great way to relax after a meeting ends.