Franklin

This charming town has been described as "15 miles and 100 years down the road from Nashville," a remark meant as a compliment. And it is. Franklin, unlike so many towns that let "progress" tear down their old buildings and replace them with unmitigated ugliness, took heed of the growth of Nashville and malls and interstates and then worked to protect itself. Williamson County, of which Franklin is the seat, is the wealthiest county in Tennessee and among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the country.

Franklin has done a wonderful job of preserving its 19th- and early 20th-century heritage. The entire 15-block original downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offering the visitor a great place to shop, walk, and soak up history.

For those who like to see antebellum homes, this is the place. Franklin lies along the Tennessee Antebellum Trail, a 90-mile loop which runs from Nashville to Mt. Pleasant. While some homes are open to the public, others remain in private hands. A detailed guide is the excellent Touring the Middle Tennessee Backroads, by Nashville judge Robert Brandt.

Williamson County Visitor Information Center (just off the square at 209 E. Main St., 800/356-3445 or 615/591-8541, website) offers various brochures, including a walking tour of the town.

For the best possible tour of the town, call up Franklin on Foot and take the "Classic Franklin Tour." This 90-minute stroll touches on architecture, Civil War tales, and other history. For reservations, which are required for all tours, call 615-400-3808. Franklin on Foot is one of the few walking tour places that offers excursions for children. "I Spy Downtown Franklin" is aimed at kids 5-11, lasts about one hour, and involves a hands-on approach that combines fun and learning. Kids are not recommended for the "Ghosts and Gore Tour," which features "the best of downtown Franklin's ghost stories and explores some of the crime from Franklin's past--from rape, murder and prostitution to abortion, bootlegging and murder for hire." Tours usually depart from Landmark Booksellers, 114 E. Main St.