This small city in Norfolk County has a history going back to 1660, but took an important step after incorporation in 1778 by becoming the first place in the country to be named after Benjamin Franklin.
Not long after, the Founding Father sent the town a collection of books, which is the origin of the first and oldest lending library in continuous operation in the United States. His donation is kept on display at the Franklin Public Library building.
Downtown Franklin knows how to throw a party, staging well-attended festivals all through the summer, celebrating everything from strawberry shortcake to the 4th of July and the harvest in fall.
1. Franklin Public Library
Shortly after Franklin’s incorporation, a bell was needed for the church steeple, and it was hoped that Benjamin Franklin would provide it.
Instead he supplied the town with 116 books, which formed the kernel of the first lending library in the country, opening on November 20, 1790.
The current building, facing the Dean College campus, dates to 1904 and became the first permanent home for the collection.
The books donated by Franklin more than 230 years ago are on display on the second floor, and these are thought to have had a profound impact on Franklin’s most famous son, Horace Mann, held as the “father of American public education”.
2. Downtown Franklin
At the junction of Main St and Central St, Franklin has a pedestrian-friendly downtown area, tightly packed with local shops and services, and with an action-packed calendar of community events.
After a long-term campaign, in 2019 downtown Franklin became the state’s 46th Cultural District, and this status is reflected in a host of initiatives like the Ladybug Trail, which we’ll talk about a little later.
At the time of writing there was an inviting cluster of local shops, for games, specialty foods, collectibles, skateboards, books, jewelry and shoes, as well as live entertainment courtesy of the Black Box venue.
For a bite, you can pick from sushi, Indian, Italian, Chinese, Mexican and pizza, while there’s a small roster of bars, a cafe and a bakery here.
3. Franklin Common Historic District
As the original heart of Franklin the Town Common is also the anchor for an historic district, encompassing the green’s frontages, as well as a stretch of Main St north to the fork with Lincoln St and Maple St.
Franklin Common is still a mainstay of community life in the city, hosting a farmers’ market in summer, as well as the Concerts on the Common series on Friday evenings throughout the season.
The common took on its current dimensions around the mid-1700s, and there’s a fine assortment of Federal and Greek Revival residential architecture on the green’s southern and western margins.
At the fork in the north stands The Red Brick School (1833), one of the oldest active single-room schoolhouses in the United States.
4. Franklin Historical Museum
A linchpin for the newly created Franklin Cultural District, this museum downtown offers a clear summary of the city’s long history.
The Franklin Historical Museum was founded in 1972, and in 2010 moved into the handsome former Town Hall (1842). Spanning more than three centuries, the museum’s deep collections comprise textiles, farming tools, furniture, fine art, militaria, musical instruments, photographs and volumes of important documents.
Key exhibits when we made this list included a comprehensive timeline of Franklin’s history, a preserved 19th-century parlor from Franklin’s oldest home and a profile of the Franklin-born abolitionist, politician and educational reformer, Horace Mann (1796-1859).
5. Franklin Farmers’ Market
Franklin Town Common sets the stage for a weekly farmer’s market, on Friday afternoons, June through October. Most weeks there are upwards of 25 vendors here, all of which are small businesses rooted in the area.
So if you want to continue to shop local you can get hold of seasonal fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meats, free range poultry, eggs, honey, homemade chocolate, artisanal candy, breads, muffins, cookies, pickles, wine, plants, flowers, seafood and exotic meal kits.
For crafts, think alpaca wool accessories, custom designed t-shirts, furniture, quilts and natural soaps and lotions.
6. Franklin State Forest
For a long walk or bike ride in the woods you don’t have to stray far from downtown Franklin, as there’s more than 840 acres of forest in the west of the city, all laced with miles of trails.
One of these is the 22-mile Southern New England Trunkline Trail, which has its eastern trailhead here and cuts through the south end of the forest on the route of the old Norfolk County Railroad, which operated in the second half of the 19th century.
If you’re here for some mountain biking, Franklin State Forest has some technical trails, including a snaking 8.6-mile singletrack with long downhill sections. In winter you could not choose a better place for a cross-country skiing adventure.
7. Fairmount Fruit Farm
A fixture in Franklin for more than a century now, Franklin Fruit Farm runs a stand at 885 Lincoln St in the north of the city.
Here you can pick up super-fresh seasonal produce grown on the farm, as well as eggs laid by the farm’s ducks and chickens, homemade pickles, baked goods and locally sourced meats, honey and cheese.
From late August you can come to the orchard to pick your own apples, and there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained, with barnyard animals, hayrides, a hay bale maze and delicious cider and apple cider donuts.
8. Ladybug Trail
In 1974, the second-grade students at John F. Kennedy School in Franklin, together with their teacher Palma Johnson, successfully petitioned the State of Massachusetts to designate the ladybug as the state insect, and were on hand to see this signed into law.
Franklin’s place in history has not been forgotten, and when we wrote this article, a Ladybug Trail was taking shape downtown.
Highlighting 25 important local businesses and historical sites, the Ladybug Trail will feature fiberglass ladybugs, mounted on walls and hand-painted by members of the Franklin Art Association.
The ladybugs can be located with the help of a digital map, and will be accompanied by signs recounting a snippet of Franklin history and detailing the artist who painted it.
9. Chilson Beach
On the downtown side of the I-495 is Beaver Pond, which becomes an attraction in the summer months thanks to the public beach curling around the northern shore.
Lifeguards are on duty at Chilson Beach during the school summer break, and you can visit for a swim outside of this period at your own risk.
The water is tested once a week throughout the season, and there’s a small platform a little way out, as well as a bathhouse, a small playground for wee ones and picnic tables.
10. Dacey Community Field
A space for active recreation, Dacey Community Field is in the north of Franklin and has amenities for soccer, baseball (little league) and walking.
A real standout here for families is the playground, which has ADA-approved equipment for children aged 2 to 12. If you’re visiting with your pup there’s a dog park on the west side, with agility equipment, plenty of seating and bowls for water.
Something that attracts people from miles around is the 18-hole disc golf course, set in 100 acres of woods, with 13 holes over 280 feet in length.
11. Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey
Southeast of Franklin in Wrentham there’s a Cistercian monastic community of around 50 trappist nuns, established in 1949. Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey was the first community of Cistercian nuns in the country, belonging to an order that was founded in 1098.
Self-sufficiency is crucial to Cistercian life, and in that spirit the abbey has three sources of renewable energy, with wind turbines, a geothermal system and two solar panel farms, one of which provides up to 80% of the town of Franklin’s power.
The monastery also maintains a gift shop, selling religious gifts, books and an enticing range of monastic products.
These include woolen items from the abbey’s flock, preserves, organic honey, coffee and a range of artisan candy made on site, from chocolate fudge to almond brittle.
12. Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park, Bellingham
If you have kids who need to burn off some energy there’s a lot going on at this nearby indoor trampoline park, which has a big choice of attractions.
The main space at Urban Air is The Apex, where every surface except the ceiling is covered with trampolines, for wall-to-wall action.
This is complemented by a tumble track, performance trampolines for stunts, a ropes course, giant inflatable airbag, dodgeball court, climbing walls, a battle beam, basketball hoop for slam dunks, a Ninja Warrior-style course and an indoor playground for younger children.
This is all a handy option for a children’s birthday party, and there’s a cafe on hand for pizza and icees.
13. Strawberry Stroll
A modern tradition in Franklin, the Strawberry Stroll heralds the summer in the city, with a mouth-watering day of culinary delights, activities and entertainment downtown.
There are close to 90 vendors in Franklin for the Strawberry Stroll, turning Main Street into a giant marketplace and extending the farmers’ market’s hours into the evening.
Food-wise the delicacy to look out for is the strawberry shortcake, sales of which help fund the event. This is all matched with a big helping of live music, plenty of things to keep children entertained, local wine and beer and multiple booths from local stores and services.
14. Harvest Festival
Later in the year, the community comes together for another colorful celebration, to mark the harvest season on the first Saturday in October.
Transforming downtown Franklin, the Harvest Festival involves art and crafts, live music, special discounts from downtown businesses, children’s activities and a slew of activities for children.
Growing by the year, the Harvest Festival draws thousands of people to the city, and food and drinks are at the core of the event.
There’s a food court with everything from Italian sausage to ice cream, as well as local wine and craft beer from a number of breweries in the area.
15. 4th of July Celebration
Sparks fly in Franklin as the city celebrates the nation’s independence with five whole days of events and entertainment on Franklin Common.
Usually culminating with the 4th of July, the celebration features musicians from New England, great local food and a fun assortment of carnival rides and games.
In recent years the whole event has coincided with the New England Blues Festival, which is part of the fun and has a bill packed with high profile talent from the region’s blues scene.
The annual fireworks show normally takes place on the Saturday night to bring the blues festival to a close.