Early fall is a great time to leave the big city behind, and take a day trip to one of our area’s lovely small towns. The town of Franklin is only about a half hour’s drive from downtown just off of I-65, and boasts a wealth of historic buildings.
The jewel of the well-preserved downtown area is the County Courthouse, built between 1879-1882. It was designed by George W. Bunting, known as one of the most prolific designers of county courthouses in Indiana.
The revival of the Artcraft Theatre is a shining example of historic preservation done right. This charming small theater opened in 1922, and was host for many years to movies, vaudeville shows, and traveling theatrical companies, as well as local performances and graduation ceremonies. It was brought back from the edge of ruin a few years ago by the non-profit Franklin Heritage organization, which is located at the Artcraft. Now, it’s not unusual for the theater to be filled to capacity for some of its more popular classic movie showings. They’re justifiably proud of their efforts, and staff members are known for giving spontaneous short tours of the premises for visitors, if time permits.
Even the Chamber of Commerce’s home is a symbol of Franklin’s dedication to historic preservation. As you can see in the composite photo above from the Indiana Then and Now project, the Franklin depot had fallen into serious disrepair after it was no longer needed for a train station. Now the building has been given a a second chance at life welcoming visitors to the area.
Fans of Deco-style terra cotta will hit the brake when they catch sight of the Wigwam Mineola building at 152-4 E. Jefferson. It was built in 1922 for use as a meeting place for the local chapter of the Independent Order of Red Men fraternal organization. The building is now home to M. W. Wadsworth’s candy store, a great place to stop for a sweet treat.
There are many lovely older homes to see on the main and back streets. The August Zeppenfeld home (above) at 300 W. Jefferson St. is an Italianate style building that was added to National Register in 1987. It was built around 1873 by a German immigrant who owned a local tannery.
The graceful Herriott House (above) at 696 N. Main St. was built in the 1860s. It is also listed on the National Register.
The Siebert House (above) at 250 E. Jefferson was built in 1853, using hand-molded and baked soft bricks to construct its three foot wide walls. A carriage house was added behind the home in 1883, and is also still standing. It was completely renovated in 1973 for use as a law office– compare with the image below of the home in 1918, and you can see they managed to keep the integrity of the original.
Franklin’s grand Masonic Temple (below) was built in 1923-4, and been the home to the Johnson County Museum of History and genealogy library since 1992. The interior remains essentially unchanged from the days during which secret Masonic rituals took place in the upstairs auditorium, so fans of historic architecture can enjoy the beauty of both the exterior and the interior .
If you’re ready to make the drive to Franklin to explore some of these wonderful buildings, I would recommend Saturday October 15th, when the Johnson County museum presents its annual Heritage Day event.
There will be tours of the Hendricks pioneer cabin, a part of Johnson County since the 1830s; demonstrations of traditional crafts by a blacksmith and spinners and weavers; and traditional hands-on crafts and activities for all ages. Special presentations include swing dance lessons, genealogy classes, and a one-character show with Freedom Village’s Samuel P. Strong telling of his escape from slavery and service in the Civil War. All the activities are free of charge. Find out more at johnsoncountymuseum.org/, and we hope to see you sometime soon enjoying the sights of Franklin’s exceptional historic buildings!
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