Set between Indianapolis and Lafayette, Frankfort is an endearing small town and the seat of Clinton County.
The city was founded in the 1830 by three brothers, and named after Germany’s Frankfurt am Main, in honor of the brothers’ great-grandparents’ home.
Two historic buildings command the old townscape in the center of Frankfort. The first is the Clinton County Courthouse, still serving its original purpose and fronted by a host of local small businesses with historic storefronts.
The other is Old Stoney, a brooding Richardsonian Romanesque landmark, constructed for a high school and now Frankfort’s City Building.
1. Downtown Frankfort
The historic center of Frankfort has received a lot of investment over the last decade or so, and continues to shine as a place to dine, shop, hang out and take part in community events.
This is home to the Frankfort Commercial Historic District with close to 50 contributing buildings.
Constructed between around 1870 and the immediate post-WWII era, these landmarks run the gamut from Italianate to Romanesque Revival and Classical Revival.
The functioning Clinton County Courthouse (1882-1884) is an impressive anchor for downtown, in the French Second Empire style.
A slew of community events take place at Veteran’s Park and Prairie Creek, and there’s a summer farmers’ market on Saturdays just off the courthouse square.
2. TPA Park
The largest public park in Frankfort is a mile or so to the north of downtown and has a wealth of amenities that you might not expect from a town of this size.
Late November through December, TPA Park is the venue for the Holiday Festival of Lights, with more than a million Christmas lights in spellbinding displays, and a warming hot chocolate or bowl of soup available at the concession stand.
Another wonderful feature, open in summer, is the petting zoo, keeping sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and donkeys, along with a newly renovated aviary.
If you want to be active you’ve got facilities for baseball, tennis, basketball, volleyball and horseshoes, while children will have a fine time at the playgrounds, with a newly installed zip line. When we wrote this article a brand new, multi million-dollar pool complex was also on the way.
3. Old Stoney
Another striking landmark in the center of Frankfort is the old Frankfort High School building, built in 1892 and restored in the last few years.
Composed of Ohio sandstone with Bedford limestone trim, Old Stoney is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with elements of Jacobethan architecture in the high chimneys and steep gables.
There was a high school here for 70 years, and then briefly a junior high, before the Clinton County Historical Society moved in on the second floor in 1980.
City Hall occupies much of the rest of the building, which remains an eye-catching piece of the Frankfort townscape.
4. Clinton County Historical Society & Museum
In what used to be the high school gymnasium on the second floor of Old Stoney is a museum charting the 200-year history of Clinton County.
Awaiting you here is a fun miscellany of interesting artifacts, each with a story to tell.
These items might be clothing, medical equipment, century-old school furniture, photos, farm tools, newspaper clippings, military memorabilia, home appliances, store signs or flags. The main gallery retains the old gym’s wooden flooring.
5. Prairie Creek Park
Central to the ongoing transformation of downtown Frankfort is this new park that opened in 2019 at a cost of $9 million. Straddling the creek, this space has been designed for outdoor performances and community events.
There’s a covered stage here in front of a large lawn and concrete terrace. Before or after performances, audiences can mingle in the service area, with benches, a shelter and pretty lighting.
On hot summer days families can bring little ones to the splash pad, which has funky sprays and fountains with a space theme.
6. Frankfort Commons Golf Course
At TPA Park you’ll find a well-regarded public golf course that used to belong to Frankfort Country Club, founded in 1926. In the last few years Frankfort Commons has come under new management, making some noticeable improvements to course play and customer service.
The course is on slightly hilly terrain, which really comes into play on the 9th hole, which is a par 4/5 almost completely uphill.
Also tough is the 14th, a par 4 with a narrow dogleg and dual traps in front of the green. You can close out your round at the new FoxDen Grill, which does wings, salads, sandwiches, burgers, breakfast options and hand-tossed pizza with a signature cheese blend.
7. Red Barn Summer Theatre
For some 50 years this beautiful old cow barn has been a venue for professional theatre performances.
Seating 200, the structure dates back to 1908 and has attracted audiences from across Central Indiana since 1973.
The namesake non-equity theatre company performing at the red barn was founded a few years earlier, in 1968, and many of its members have gone on to have successful stage careers, including on Broadway.
At the time of writing the most recent season had featured the jukebox comedy, The Marvelous Wonderettes, and Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
8. Prairie Grass Observatory
Out in remote countryside west of Frankfort, there’s an astronomical observatory on the grounds of Camp Cullom youth camp. Making the most of those dark rural skies, Prairie Grass Observatory has four telescopes:
An enormous 28″ aperture Dobsonian, a 16″ Newtonian telescope, a 16″ LX200R Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a 7″ apochromatic refractor.
Some 20 asteroids have been discovered at the observatory, while many follow-up observations of newly discovered near-earth asteroids have also been made here.
You can marvel at the night sky during one of the observatory’s regular public viewing events, when you’ll also be able to borrow handheld equipment.
9. Eunice H. Bryan Woods State Nature Preserve
By Indiana 38 a few minutes out of town is an unfrequented preserve just shy of 30 acres in size. In a landscape dominated by open farmland, the Eunice H. Bryan Woods State Nature Preserve is a rare tract of old growth deciduous woodland.
Some of the oaks growing here are more than 250 years old, and were standing when this place was practically unknown to all but the Native Americans.
The preserve was donated in 1971 and is best visited in spring when wildflowers like bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty and Map apple are in bloom.
10. The Milky Way
This vintage drive-thru restaurant has been open since 1950, and has a special place in the hearts of Clinton County locals.
Despite the throwback stylings The Milky Way is unquestionably the best place to go for fast food in Frankfort, with great consistency across its menu.
As you’d guess from the name, the soft serve ice cream is front and center, together with an indulgent array of sundaes, shakes, floats and flurries.
But you shouldn’t neglect the savory side of things, especially the Coney dog, Reuben dog, meatloaf, gyro, tenderloin and tacos.
11. Dull’s Tree Farm and Pumpkin Patch
Ten minutes south of downtown Frankfort is a Christmas tree farm that has been in business for close to 40 years and has something going on in every season.
Growing in 40 acres are a variety of pines and firs. Up to mid-December you can visit to purchase your tree but also browse the Wreath Barn for festive decorations and pick up local jams, honey and maple syrup at the Trading Post, which is a platform for a number of small businesses from the area.
Late September through October is the Pumpkin Harvest, when you can pick your own pumpkin, enjoy apple cider donuts and bring the family for all kinds of entertainment.
January through October there’s a cute log cabin for a bed & breakfast experience, and in spring and summer you can test your problem-solving skills on the unique outdoor Escape Trail.
12. Frankfort Lagoons
Not actually a park or nature preserve, this peaceful natural area to the north of the city is in the care of the Frankfort Utility Service Board. What you’ll find here is a cluster of three lagoons for some of the best fishing in the area.
This is also a great spot if you just want to escape to nature for an hour or two. In the warmer months you’ll see turtles, plentiful birdlife including lots of ducks and geese, and there are shelters if you want to bring a picnic.
13. Skydive Indianapolis
If skydiving is one of those things you’ve always wanted to try, you’ll never have a better opportunity in Frankfort. Based at Frankfort Municipal Airport, three miles west of downtown, is Skydive Indianapolis, offering a choice of packages including tandem skydives.
This is the safest, not to mention simplest, way for a novice to experience the thrill of taking to the skies at 13,000 feet. Preparation involves a training video, a pre-jump briefing and then a run-through of the instructions on the plane.
After that you’ll leap from the plane attached to a certified instructor, falling 120mph for 8,000 feet before deploying the parachute.
Skydive Indianapolis offers tandem jumps seven days a week, and has an 11-jump program for those who want to work towards solo skydiving.
14. Frankfort Hot Dog Festival
On the last weekend in July downtown Frankfort becomes the stage for its signature Hot Dog Festival. This popular three-day event features three stages of live entertainment and more than 150 vendors.
Dogs, both the food and the animal, are the stars here, with a host of contests for four-legged friends, like a dock diving competition and a dachshund race.
There are also demonstrations with trained dogs, and a workshop where you can pick up tips about handling dogs and raising puppies.
One of the mainstays of the festival is a hot dog eating contest, along with a 5k “bun” run, a classic car show and open talent competitions.
15. Thursday Thunder
On the first and third Thursdays of the month, May through September, there’s a meeting of cars and motorcycles at Veterans’ Park. Running for more than a decade, Thursday Thunder has become an institution in Frankfort, and all vehicles are welcome.
So if you’re into cars you’ll get to see a formidable lineup of hot rods, rat rods, survivors, customs, muscle cars, classics, trucks, bikes and much more.
One event that often coincides with Thursday Thunder is Putter Around Frankfort, in which businesses all over downtown create miniature golf holes on their premises to encourage extra foot traffic.