A welcoming small town south of Indianapolis, Franklin’s skyline is punctuated by the imposing Johnson County Courthouse from 1881.
The city is rightly proud of this landmark, and it sets the scene for public celebrations all year round, from a strawberry festival in May to a Christmas lighting ceremony.
Bordered by Franklin College, which was founded in 1834, the downtown area is full of fun surprises, like an Art Deco theatre still showing classic movies, and is bursting with locally-owned stores and restaurants.
You can also get around on foot or by bike via a greenway system that follows the course of the creeks that flow through the city.
1. Downtown Franklin
The old heart of the city is a treat to discover on foot, loaded with interesting old buildings and locally-owned stores that beckon you inside.
As well as the monuments that we’ll talk about in this list, there are a couple of grand buildings worth mentioning.
These are historic landmarks, The Willard (1860), and the Post Office building or RFD Franklin (1936), which have both found new purposes as restaurants.
On a shopping trip you’ll come across independent record shops, several antique shops, a book shop, a bicycle repair business, game shop, a toy store and much more.
Food-wise downtown Franklin runs the gamut from Mexican to brick oven pizza, BBQ, contemporary American, breakfast favorites, alongside a delectable choice of bakeries and cafes.
2. Johnson County Museum of History
On Main Street, the museum exploring the history of Johnson County has a magnificent setting, in a former Masonic temple, dating back to 1924.
As an institution, the museum was founded in 1931 and had a couple of different locations before moving here in 1991.
What you’ll find inside is a comprehensive account of life in the area across hundreds of years.
Permanent exhibits cover early Native American inhabitants, pioneer settlers, Victorian life, the Civil War, the military, life in Johnson County in the 1950s and art by historic and contemporary Johnson County artists.
The museum also features fascinating temporary exhibits, as well as a genealogy library and a gift shop.
3. Johnson County Superior Court Building
Franklin’s marvellous focal point is the functioning county courthouse where Main Street intersects with Jefferson Street.
Completed in 1881, this theatrical building is in the Eclectic style, blending elements of Neo-Jacobean, Romanesque Revival and French Second Empire architecture.
This was the first work of note by architect George Washington Bunting (1854-1918), who contributed no fewer than eight courthouses to the state of Indiana.
The unusual, identifying features are the central and corner towers with their slate-clad pyramidal roofs.
Court Street here is the main venue downtown for outdoor events, from Strawberries on the Square in early summer to the lighting ceremony in the buildup to Christmas.
4. Historic Artcraft Theatre
An essential feature of downtown Franklin since 1922 is the Artcraft Theatre, easily spotted for its curving marquee and vertical sign.
Despite being a movie theater for most of its life, this was initially a vaudeville stage, and the orchestra pit and stage are holdovers from that time.
The building’s current appearance is from an Art Deco makeover in 1948. The story of late 20th-century decline is familiar, but this fine building was rescued in 2004, and in 2015 was listed among “4 Favorite Restored Small-Town Cinemas” by Midwest Living.
The Historic Artcraft Theatre continues to screen classic movies, including seasonal favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), along with regular live music performances.
One quirk, in keeping with the vintage atmosphere, is that you’re asked to stand for the national anthem before each show.
5. Province Park
One of a couple of gorgeous parks on the picturesque banks of Youngs Creek, Province Park is an easy walk from downtown Franklin.
This is also connected to the Franklin Greenway Trail, which crosses the creek here. Awaiting you at Province Park is a beautifully maintained space for outdoor recreation, whether you’re walking, jogging or cycling the trails, or using the wealth of facilities.
The Franklin Family Aquatic Center is on the east side, while there are amenities for picnics, basketball, softball, horseshoes and fishing.
There are also playgrounds and a dog park, while the Franklin Action Skate Park is just next door to the west.
6. Franklin Farmers’ Market
There’s a summer farmers’ market in the heart of Franklin, in a parking lot just two blocks west of the courthouse.
Taking place on Saturday mornings from the end of May to the end of September, the Franklin Farmers’ Market has a big lineup of vendors based in the area.
For a snapshot, you can find fresh seasonal produce, flowers, cheeses, eggs, honey, spreads, all kinds of baked goods, confectionery, kettle corn, sauces, teas, kitchen accessories, art, yard decoration, organic soaps, handcrafted jewelry and much more.
7. Blue Heron Park and Wetland
Just southwest of downtown Franklin, this park and preserve can be reached from the center of the city via the Franklin Greenway Trail along Youngs Creek.
The wetland area is a treat, with a boardwalk over the water, and there’s also 12 acres of prairie, especially pretty when the wildflowers are in bloom in summer.
Blue Heron Park also has plenty of recreation amenities, including 25 holes of disc golf, along with a basketball court, play fields, fitness trail and a new low ropes course with 22 different elements.
Added to all that are a picnic shelter and a great playground with all sorts of multisensory equipment.
8. Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks and Ice Cream
Family owned and operated, this endearing candy shop is like a blast from the past, with an almost overwhelming selection stacked on its shelves.
In fact there are more than 500 kinds of gummies, truffles, assorted chocolates, salt water taffy, fudge, candy sticks, nickel candy and chocolate-covered nuts, fruit and pretzels.
Hoosier Cupboard also offers sodas made with old-fashioned recipes, as well as 22 ice cream flavors to choose from.
Part of the charm of the place is its location, in a train depot dating back to 1909. At the back you can check out a little railroad museum, and there’s a beautiful old caboose across the tracks.
9. Franklin Family Aquatic Center
Right by the Franklin College campus and Province Park, this outdoor pool complex is an ideal summer outing for both bigger and littler kids.
For younger children, there’s the Family Fun Zone, with a zero-depth entry pool that has a large play structure offering more than 50 different activities.
For bigger kids you’ve got an Olympic-sized pool with areas specified for laps and free swim, along with a water basketball area, a 190-foot water slide and a diving well.
Check the calendar for specials and events, like free entry for dads on Father’s Day, as well as Grandparents’ Day at the end of July.
10. Franklin Greenway Trail
There’s a network of shared use paths in and around Franklin, dubbed the Historic Greenway Trails.
These add up to 20 miles, linking numerous parks and neighborhoods, and helping you access many of the city’s features like the Johnson County Courthouse, Franklin College and the Indiana Gymnastics Center.
The main path, the Franklin Greenway Trail, runs diagonally through the city, from Blue Heron Park in the southwest, past the south side of downtown via Youngs Creek, and then along Hurricane Creek next to Franklin College.
The trail is a fantastic way to navigate Franklin without a car, and you might be surprised just how friendly people are along the way, waving or nodding hello as you pass.
11. Hi-Way Lanes Bowling Center
A fixture in Franklin, this locally-owned bowling alley close to downtown has open bowling slots seven days a week.
Hi-Way Lanes is noted for its value, with all you can bowl on Wednesday evenings for just $8 per person.
Weekend nights mean Cosmic Bowling, bringing disco lighting and uptempo music for a new way to mix bowling with a night on the town.
There are 28 lanes here, with bumper gutters on all lanes, perfect for kids. And if you need any piece of bowling gear you’ve got a full-service pro shop, promising to beat any price in Indiana.
12. Rascal’s Fun Zone
Also on hand for families is a gigantic family fun park, less than ten minutes to the north in Whiteland.
A year round attraction, Rascal’s Fun Zone has indoor and outdoor attractions, among them go-karts, two mini-golf courses, bumper boats, bumper cars and mini-bowling.
There’s also a large arcade with more than 50 games, including lots of redemption machines. You’ll find four karting tracks in all, two inside and two outside.
These tracks have two-seater karts, while the indoor Rookie Track is a simple oval with slower karts for younger racers.
13. Strawberries on the Square
The arrival of strawberry season in Franklin is marked with a one-of-a-kind celebration on the courthouse square.
From the morning you can pick up a serving of strawberry shortcake, which is available until it sells out.
This is accompanied by a variety of food trucks, here until late into the evening. From late afternoon there’s a beverage tent with local craft beer and wine, and the live music begins around 7pm.
A number of activities and side events coincide with the event, including a classic car show and screenings of classic movies at the Artcraft Theatre.
14. Winter Market & Holiday Lighting
There aren’t many prettier sights than the Johnson County Courthouse in lights during the holiday season.
The lighting ceremony normally takes place on the first Saturday of December and is the culmination of a day-long schedule of activities.
These include a cozy winter market, with a big selection of personal, handmade goodies and gifts.
Another lovable feature that kids are sure to enjoy is the lighted parade along Jefferson Street, just after dark but before the lighting ceremony.
15. Johnson County Fair
The Johnson County Fairgrounds are right on the west side of downtown and host a variety of events throughout the year, from tractor pulling to the monthly antiques show.
The big date to mark in the diary is the Johnson County Fair, which has been held in some form since 1838. The event moved to the current fairgrounds at 133 and U.S. 31 in 1888.
A week-long celebration in late July, the fair has tons of 4-H exhibits, all kinds of contests, a parade, livestock auction, dozens of food and craft vendors and midway rides and games.
There’s also plenty of action at the grandstand, with drag racing, three nights of demolition derby and a classic car show.