Franklin, North Carolina: a Southern sojourn into the Great Smoky Mountains
By Wynne Crombie
Driving south from Kentucky, my husband Kent and I found ourselves lost on Highway 28, a two-lane road sprinkled liberally with switchbacks. We were in the mountains alright.
Only two road signs were visible: Reduce speed to 10 mph and RTR, (runaway truck ramp). The latter looks like a huge off-road skateboard ramp. They are strategically placed for trucks going too fast to brake on the curves.
Franklin and the Great Outdoors
Our destination was Franklin, North Carolina, (pop.4,000) the hub of Western North Carolina. Besides its abundance of outdoor activities…fishing, rafting, hiking…Franklin is an easy access point to the Appalachian Trail.
It also gives the visitor a glimpse into the past when items were hand-made with pride and well, everyone knew each other.
This small mountain town is surrounded by streams and waterfalls. Rent a raft for five dollars a day and take on the Little Tennessee River.
The people are Southern charm friendly. Festivals, arts, and crafts are in abundance. Gwen at Stitch in Time told me, “It’s simply ingrained in our culture. We are self-sufficient and we take pride in that.”
As we neared the town we hugged the road as it paralleled the Little Tennessee River. Right on the banks the lean-to where Mr. Ken sells seasonal fresh produce, hot boiled peanuts, and live bait.
Every afternoon a small group of Franklin seniors camp by Mr. Ken’s riverbank and “catch up”. We stopped for a couple of apples, took their pictures, and chatted before continuing on into Franklin.
Within an hour of strolling down Main Street, we became friends with three others: (this is the American South, you know).
They were all wearing the prerequisite suspenders and sitting on benches outside local businesses, Ritchie was a volunteer at the town dump, (Franklin recycles everything) while Bruce and Robert were proprietors at the Franklin Museum. (listed on the National Register of Historic Places).
Bruce pointed out with pride that it was right smack in front of the museum that the last surrender of the Civil War took place about a month after Appomattox. The Museum building was constructed in 1904 as a commercial store.
During its commercial lifetime, the store offered grocery staples, dry goods, and other necessities of everyday life in the early 20th century.
The museum is supported by donations and covers history from the Civil War through the two World Wars. Admission is free, although there is a receptacle for donations.
Back on Main Street, we stopped at The Confederate War Memorial, the shining point of the town square.
Linda McKay, owner, and operator of NC Mountain Made has been a professional artisan for over 30 years. She was working on some of her art as we came in. NC Mountain Made, she told us proudly, features the work of over 200 mountain craft people and artisans.
By Mountain Hands is a locally owned craft consignment store filled with hand-crafted items. My favorites: are the alpaca scarves and a bench created out of an old headboard.
Mille, the owner, pointed out with pride that a picture of the donating alpaca is attached. By Mountain Hands offers classes in a wide variety of arts and crafts.
Anxious to see a part of the real Appalachian Trail, we took Highway 64 out of Franklin to the Winding Stair Gap, a distance of eleven miles. About a dozen cars were parked in the lot.
It was here that we met Scott and his Boy Scout troop as they were about to cross Highway 64. and continue their trek. Scott told us, they average about eleven miles a day.
They had already gone 55 miles. A winding stairway, part of the Appalachian Trail, curves down to the road. (You may stand on it and declare that you have actually been on the Appalachian Trail) The diamond-shaped sign signifies that you are on the actual Trail.
The twenty-five-minute drive out of Franklin to Dry Falls is certainly a highlight of the area. License plates signified visitors from all over, Kent, a biker from Florida, showed off his three-wheeled, forty-two mph, vehicle. His remote camera on the handlebar recorded everything.
The photographic opportunities are incredible. From the large parking lot, we walked down to the Falls. Hold on to the handrails between the numerous viewing stops! You can even walk under the Falls.
Down-home eating did not disappoint. Two sisters, Wanda and Cathy, have run Stameys Café for ten years. Its slogan: Down Home Cooking Just Like Mama Did. Café Rel is actually one-half of the Hot Spot gas station. We found the owner walking between tables, casually chatting with his customers.
Gem mining? It’s here in Franklin too. Franklin’s gem mining goes back to 1870 when companies started using corundum as an industrial adhesive.
Gem mining is a treat for all ages, There are field trips for adults and kids alike. Regan, an eight-year-old told me she went with her church group and had fun.
“The ground was mostly light dirt and we used a sifting pan. I found a few small jewels.” (polished stones) she said.
Rubies and sapphires have been found but they are rare. There is also a facility where you can have your stones set into jewelry.
Visiting Franklin NC
The nearest airport is Asheville, an hour’s drive from Franklin. Atlanta International is two hours away.
Driving distances: Franklin to Atlanta, Ga …130 miles: Knoxville, TN… 134 miles
Additional side trips:
Cherokee, NC is 31 miles away. This Indian Reservation is a gambling mecca.
Bryson City, NC is 34 miles away and the headquarters for the Great Smoky Mountain Railway. (Visitors are taken on a four-hour trip through mountain scenery)
Restaurants we have liked: (and their unique specialties)
Motor Company Grill…(Out of the ’50s diner) Milk Shakes and burgers
Café Rel at 459 E. Main Street (Half of the Hot Spot gas station). Snails and tails, lamb lollies
Stameys at 1111 E. Main (Down Home Cooking Just Like Mama Did). Shrimp and grits
Rockin’Roli Bollies (Southern Fusion) i.e. fresh beef bison or veggie burger (bison, like a buffalo)
Franklin North Carolina website