Franklin’s Historic Landmark Booksellers – The Inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s The Bridge

Step inside the oldest commercial building in downtown Franklin, Tennessee with the richest history. Landmark Booksellers, located at 114 Main Street, has been the home of some of the most important events and businesses in Franklin. From presidents to the inspiration for Karen Kingsbury’s book and movie The Bridge, you are going to fall in love with this building.

But more importantly, you are going to fall in love with the owners, Joel and Carol Tomlin, who opened Landmark Booksellers in 2005. In a world of online book-buying and impersonalization, Joel and Carol bring a warmth and Southern hospitality to the downtown business community. It is sincere, and you instantly realize why Franklin’s charm is so contagious.

We hope you sit for a spell as we step back in time when Franklin was first founded in 1799 and uncover all the fascinating and heart-warming details along the way. There is a lot of history to cover when you are talking about 200 plus years, so let’s begin with this modern-day love story.

Meet Southern Hospitality at its Finest – Joel and Carol Tomlin

Joel and Carol’s union blended two beautiful families. He had five children, and she had two. With seven children, they formed a perfect unit. Joel comes from a long line of Tennesseans who came to our fine state way back in 1802. After living in Nashville for many years, he moved to Franklin in 1975. He had a successful real estate career. Carol had been a school teacher for over thirty years. Education and reading were important to Carol because her beloved mother had been a librarian.

The beautiful Tomlin family

Both avid readers, Joel and Carol were looking for something they could do together after their children were grown. One day, Joel was visiting his favorite bookstore, Dad’s Old Book Store in the Green Hills area of Nashville. The owner, Mr. Ed Penny, told Joel he was ready to retire. So the Tomlins decided to purchase his 35,000+ collection of rare and antiquarian books with the idea of opening a bookstore in Franklin. The Old Factory Store on East Main was for sale, so they purchased the historic building. It was a natural fit for this next chapter in their lives as it combined their love of reading, history, and people.

Main Street Franklin’s Quintessential Bookstore

Joel & Carol Tomlin

Landmark Booksellers specializes in the classics, Southern Americana, local authors, along with rare and antique books. They have over 1,000 signed editions and books you will not find anywhere else. Landmark also has a precious collection of children’s books in the back room where you can sit in Carol’s favorite chair and read to your children.

The Children’s Reading Room at Landmark Booksellers

Enter New York Times Best-Selling Author Karen Kingsbury

Over a decade ago, #1 New York Times best-selling author Karen Kingsbury visited Landmark Booksellers with her editor. She spent some time with Joel and Carol and fell in love with them and their bookstore. A few months after her visit, her publisher Simon & Schuster called Joel and told him that Karen’s next fiction book would be about their bookstore, and he and Carol would be the main characters! 

The Bridge – New York Times best-selling book by Karen Kingsbury based on Landmark Booksellers.

The book became a best-seller, and then the Hallmark Channel turned it into a two-part movie starring Ted McGinley and Faith Ford as Joel and Carol. You can still see this wonderful movie on Hallmark. The only downside is that it was filmed in Canada, instead of in our charming downtown Franklin. However, the world premier was at the Franklin Theatre. 

Joel Tomlin, Faith Ford, Karen Kingsbury, Carol Tomlin, and Ted McGinley

“The reason I created The Bridge, inspired by Landmark Booksellers, is because a bookstore like Landmark is so rare,” says Karen Kingsbury. “What Joel and Carol Tomlin have created for the people of Franklin, Tenn., is an iconic gift that will remain part of the fabric of Franklin forever. Every day, people come from all over the nation and world looking to visit the store that caused me to write The Bridge. These people have read the book or watched the two-part Hallmark movie. Joel and Carol sign autographs every day for these fans. It is a beautiful example of life inspiring art and then imitating it.”

The Hallmark Movie that Became a True Story

The Bridge is about a town that rallies to save a small bookstore, where inventory is completely ruined in a flood. In a twist of fate or providence, the same thing happened to Landmark but it wasn’t a flood, even though the building is near the Harpeth River.

Cast of the Hallmark movie, The Bridge. Photo Credit: Crown Media Family Networks

During the pandemic in 2020, Landmark had to close its doors like small businesses everywhere, and were hurting financially. Karen stepped in and offered a signed copy of her next novel at the time, Someone Like You, through the Landmark Bookseller’s website. They sold around 10,000 books in 10 days. The response was overwhelming and helped save the bookstore from financial ruin. Joel and Carol refer to Karen as their “guardian angel.”

“When I wrote The Bridge, I couldn’t imagine anything more devastating to a small bookstore than a flood, ” Kingsbury said. “I never dreamed an invisible virus would have the power to wipe out iconic stores like Landmark.” Karen was doing a Facebook LIVE with a thousand of her readers, when she put out this request, “Let’s do what we can to save Landmark Booksellers; it’s the least we can do.” ​

We can all thank Karen Kingsbury for helping save our beloved Landmark Booksellers. Karen moved to Williamson County from Washington state and has more than 25 million books in print. You can go to KarenKingsbury.com to see her collection of fiction and life-changing books. Landmark offers all of Karen’s books on their website. You can pre-order books and get signed editions at LandmarkBooksellers.com. Watch Joel and Carol’s story in Lovely Franklin’s exclusive video above.

It All Started Thanks to a Man Named Abram Maury

Now let’s journey back in time when Franklin was first founded in 1799 by a man named Abram Maury. He had purchased 640 acres of land here and set aside one corner for a town. Being a surveyor, he was able to lay out what is now Franklin.

Abram Murray – Founder of Franklin, Tenn.

A fun fact is that Maury wanted to name the town “Marthasville” after his wife Martha, but she wouldn’t have it. So, he honored our founding father, Benjamin Franklin, and named it after him instead.

Eventually, he got his own claim-to-fame with Tennessee’s “Maury County” being named after him. He is buried near his original log home on his farm Treelawn in the quaint family cemetery, which is located in Franklin’s Founder’s Pointe neighborhood today.  Read our backstory of Abram Maury here.

Landmark Booksellers specializes in local books and Southern Americana.

Abram Maury’s Franklin

The original 109 acres Maury designed into a town consisted of sixteen blocks divided into 188 lots around the two-acre public square that still exists today. Some of the names have been changed. We no longer have “Indigo” or “Cameron,” because they were replaced with numbered streets, “2nd” and “4th” Avenues. The perimeter streets of the sixteen blocks included North, South, East, and West Margin Streets. Later, “East” and West” were replaced with “1st” and “5th” Avenues.

Franklin Downtown Historic District marker located in Public Square.

After establishing Franklin, Maury sold three lots to Joseph McBride of Nashville. One of them was Lot 20, which you can see in Maury’s original plat of Franklin (pictured below). Landmark Booksellers building is located on that lot. Known as the “oldest commercial building still standing” in downtown Franklin, the date of construction is believed to have been between 1806 and 1808 and was the earliest example of Greek Revival style architecture in Williamson County. 

Abram Maury’s original plat on display on the reverve side of the marker in Public Square. Donated by Avalyn Berry Swain.

The Perfect Example of Greek Revival Architecture

One of the most fascinating facts about Landmark is that its magnificent white columns were made out of solid poplar tree trunks. Symmetry and columns such as these are the hallmarks of Greek Revival architecture, and they are reminiscent of the Parthenon.

Nashville is considered the “Athens of the South,” because of its commitment to higher education with the large number of universities in the city. The Nashville Parthenon was built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897 and was never intended to become a permanent structure.

We find it so fitting that Landmark Booksellers, which is filled with so much important literature and history, shares its ties to ancient Greece. But do you know how the Greek architectural style expanded outside of Greece?

We did some digging and discovered James “Athenian” Stuart is the man responsible for first introducing Greek Revival style to Great Britain. It later spread throughout Europe and eventually to the U.S. Stuart was a British architect who traveled to Greece in 1751. He was so enamored by the classical beauty of the architecture that he wrote and published a book in 1762 about his travels called Antiquities of Athens. In it, he had images like the one below which mimics Landmark’s four massive columns and pediment.

The Old Factory Store and History in the Making

Known as the “Old Factory Store,” this building has had many famous visitors from Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Karen Kingsbury, and Kathie Lee Gifford. It is believed the building was a bank in its early years because Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson’s troops were paid from this site after their journey on the Natchez Trace once they returned from the Battle of New Orleans in 1816.  

Andrew Jackson – Photo Credit: Rick Warwick

One of President Jackson’s closest friends was John Eaton. He was a Franklin lawyer, U.S. Senator, and served as Secretary of War under President Jackson. Eaton and his wife Margaret, who went by “Peggy,” lived across the street from the Old Factory Store on Main Street where the present-day St. Philip’s Catholic Church is located.

John Eaton – Photo Credit: Rick Warwick

Right across the street from Landmark Booksellers, you can read the historic marker about John Eaton. This was the location of his Franklin home on the corner of East Main and 2nd Avenue South.

In 1830, following the passage of the Indian Removal Act, which allowed for the transportation of the “Five Civilized Tribes” from their homes in the South to the new Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), Jackson, Eaton, and General John Coffee negotiated with the Chickasaw tribe at the historic Masonic Lodge (115 2nd Avenue South) around the corner from his home for the “Treaty of Franklin.”

“The Petticoat Affair”

Peggy was born in Washington, D.C. ironically in 1799, the same year Franklin was established. Another fascinating fact is Peggy’s father, William O’Neale, ran the “Franklin House,” a hotel in Washington that later became O’Neale’s Tavern, a boardinghouse and general store.

The “Franklin House” (ca. 1913) Photo credit: Historical Society of Washington, DC

Surrounded by scandal, the flirtatious Peggy was accused of being involved in what was termed the “Petticoat Affair” which almost brought down the entire Jackson administration. Peggy is said to have begun her relationship with John Eaton while she was still married to her first husband, John B. Timberlake, who was on a four-year voyage in the Navy on the USS Constitution and later died of pneumonia.

Peggy Eaton – Photo Credit: Rick Warwick

The Washington society women, led by Emily Donelson, niece of First Lady Rachel Donelson Jackson, and Floride Bonneau Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, basically shunned Peggy Eaton. They refused to accept her for failing to uphold “the moral standards of a Cabinet wife.” The impropriety eventually led to the resignation of Jackson’s entire cabinet.

Vintage cigar box lid depicting Peggy O’Neal Eaton’s “Petticoat Affair”

This old cigar box lid depicts Peggy O’Neal(e) Eaton. In the left picture, President Jackson is offering flowers to Peggy after the scandal with the Washington wives. In the right picture, you can see her husband John in a duel with the other man. 

Even though President Jackson empathized with Peggy, John Easton eventually resigned from the Cabinet because of his controversial wife. Eaton later served as governor of the Territory of Florida (1834-1836) and as Minister to Spain (1836-1840). After retirement, he sold his Franklin property in 1843 and lived in Washington, D.C., but would return to Franklin with his wife during the summers. John and Peggy Eaton are buried in historic Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

When Cotton was King at the Old Factory Store

So how did the “Old Factory Store” get its name? It was during the peak of the Industrial Revolution. Dyer Pearl, Thomas Parkes, and Joseph L. Campbell had opened and operated a steam-powered cotton and grist mill in 1825 along the Harpeth River on East Margin, which is now 1st Avenue. It was called the Franklin Cotton Factory and Foundry. Within three years, they produced cotton and woolen goods using the first steam-powered loom, in the state of Tennessee. U.S. inventor Eli Whitney had patented the cotton gin in 1794. This machine revolutionized the production of cotton by speeding up the process of removing seeds from cotton fiber. By the mid-19th century, cotton had become America’s leading export and the principal cash crop before the Civil War.

Ten years prior, British inventor Edmund Cartwright had invented the first power loom which transformed the textile industry by speeding up the process of weaving cloth. Cotton and wool was then put on looms of material. The textiles and goods from the factory were then sold at the Old Factory Store at 114 East Main, now Landmark Booksellers. 

Several owners have claimed this building including Anderson & Baldwin (1833), Plunkett & Parkes (1843), M.G.L Claiborne (1855), and Spencer & McCoy (1858).

The Battle of Franklin Changed the Old Factory Store Forever

U.S. Brigadier General David Stanley – Photo credit: Rick Warwick

During the Civil War, the Union army occupied Franklin on December 12, 1862. It was during that time that U.S. Brigadier General David Stanley ordered the machinery at the cotton factory and the stones of the grist mill destroyed. Thankfully, he spared the Factory Store after taking five wagon loads of flour and whiskey. But cotton would no longer be an important staple in Franklin. The rise of the flour industry and Lillie Mills across from the Old Factory Store would become the new staple as Joshua B. Lillie established the Franklin Flouring Mill on the site of the former cotton factory in 1869. Read our fascinating backstory on the LilliHouse.

After the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, the building served as a hospital for the wounded soldiers during the Civil War just like so many others including Carnton, Clouston Hall, and the Harris-McEwen House, a home owned by Cary Harris who married Abram Maury’s daughter, Martha Fontaine Maury.

Because of the tremendous Confederate defeat in Franklin, the Union was able to easily go on and win the Battle of Nashville. This basically ended the Civil War within the next four months, which ended the horrors of slavery in America. Read our interview with Widow of the South best-selling author Robert Hicks. He believed the Battle of Franklin was in many ways Franklin’s gift to the nation because it both ended slavery, and we had a united country again. You can see Robert’s photo on the Southern author’s wall at Landmark Booksellers.

Reconstruction in the Old South

In 1866, Tennessee became the first Confederate state to rejoin the United States. M.G.L (Micajah Green Lewis) Claiborne owned the Old Factory Store building after the war. He was married to Lavinia Cannon Claiborne, daughter of Governor Newton Cannon. Claiborne had been a Midshipman on the USS Hudson and USS Potomac.

Lavinia Cannon Claiborne – Photo credit: Rick Warwick

Claiborne also served as a U.S. Naval Lieutenant in the Mexican-American War. He wrote a letter to Mr. and Mrs. E.T. Maury of Franklin, Tennessee, dated May 13, 1846. On that date, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of President James K. Polk’s request to declare war on Mexico in a dispute over Texas. In Claiborne’s letter, he describes the two actions fought between “our little army comprising 2,000 men, and the Mexicans – 8,000 strong,” and mentions the losses of officers Major Brown, Captain Ringgold, Captain Page and several other lieutenants.

Enoch Brown – Photo credit: Rick Warwick

In 1869, Enoch Brown purchased the building from Claiborne for $1,300. He separated its economic connection with the mill on East Margin. In Virginia McDaniel Bowman’s book, Historic Williamson County, she notes, “Mr. Brown was one of the ten men who contributed $5,000 to the capital stock of $50,000 to help William S. Campbell establish the first National Bank to open for business in Middle Tennessee after the chaos of Reconstruction.”

National Bank of Franklin (circa 1898) – Tom Johnson, unknown, S.P. Maury, and J. L. Parkes. Photo credit: Rick Warwick

The ten men included William S. Campbell (who lived at Magnolia Hall), Andrew Campbell, Fielding Glass, Enoch Brown, John B. McEwen, Dr. Daniel B. Cliffe, Mordecai Puryear, Dr. Samuel Henderson, Franklin Hardeman, and J. L. Parkes.

Irish Catholic Immigrants and the Shea Family

Jeremiah “Jerry” Cornelius Shea, Sr. – Photo credit: Rick Warwick

In 1884, Jeremiah “Jerry” Cornelius Shea, Sr. purchased the Factory Store, and it remained in the family until 1940. Shea was born in Kerry County, Ireland in 1823. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1851. At the January 1854 term of the Davidson County Tennessee Circuit Court, he made his Declaration of Intention for citizenship. Shea was granted citizenship on April 14, 1857. He met and married Mary Ann Sullivan in Nashville. She was also a native of Kerry County, Ireland.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church – Nashville, TN

Their marriage bond was dated September 8, 1854, in Nashville and the marriage took place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on September 10, 1854. St. Mary’s is the oldest Catholic church in Nashville and was built around 1845. Interestingly, the style is Greek Revival just like Landmark. 

The Old Factory Store

Shea ran his grocery at 114 Main Street, home of the present-day Landmark Booksellers. It remained in the family into the 20th century. He and his family lived in a log house on 2nd Avenue in Franklin and later moved into a brick house on Main Street near the store across from St. Philip’s Catholic Church. Shea helped found this Franklin Catholic church. You can see the Shea family name on the marker on the corner of Main Street and 2nd Avenue.

The Shea and Mulloy families were some of the first Irish Catholics in Franklin.

The Martin Mulloy family was another prominent Irish Catholic family who settled in Franklin after the Civil War. The Mulloy house was on East Main Street next to St. Philip Catholic Church just across from the Old Factory Store. It was moved in the mid-1970s to a lot on Highway 96 West near Linton (a small community west of Franklin) by John Bragg, headmaster of Battle Ground Academy.

Jerry Shea’s family home was dismantled in 1950 by Bill Bethurum, Sr. to make way for Franklin Motor Court adjacent to the Old Factory Store.

His daughter Nell Shea was a beloved Franklin English and history teacher. During WWI, she served as principal of Franklin High School. Nell lived in the family’s Main Street house on the left side of Landmark (shown above) until she died in 1949. It was demolished in 1950 and replaced by Franklin Motor Court, an early motel that is now home to Landmark Community Bank. Shea and his family are buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Franklin. 

The 1950s and Franklin Motor Court Moves Next Door

Jerry Shea’s family home was dismantled in 1950 by Bill Bethurum, Sr. to make way for Franklin Motor Court adjacent to the Old Factory Store.

Franklin Motor Court – Franklin, TN

The photo above is a postcard from the Franklin Motor Court. Notice Mr. & Mrs. W. J. Bethurum’s name got crossed out when Mr. & Mrs. G.R. Smithson took ownership. We’re pretty sure there was no reason to reprint a perfectly fine postcard, and always good to save a few cents.

Polly Huff McCampbell, Mabel Ballard, Ethel Simmons – Old Factory Store, Franklin, TN. Photo credit: Rick Warwick

Dotson’s Restaurant Serving Fried Chicken to Franklin Locals and Country Music Stars

During the 20th century, the Old Factory Store was home to A.J. Edwards Antiques & Furniture Repair, Elva Givens Antiques, and then the famous Dotson’s Restaurant (1954-1978), which later moved across the street at 99 Main Street. Dotson’s Restaurant was named after Clara Dotson, and she was famous for her fried chicken and chocolate pie. Everyone from Dolly Parton to Wynonna Judd to Franklin locals like Loy Hardcastle enjoyed her cooking over the years.

Dotson’s Restaurant

Mrs. Dotson always had a kind word of encouragement for her customers. It didn’t matter if you were a country music star or a regular Franklin local, she treated them all the same.

The Restoration of this Franklin Landmark

After Dotson’s Restaurant, the building fell into severe disrepair. Kline Swinney Associates of Nashville, Tennessee worked closely with the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County and the new owner to restore the building as the main office for First Citizens Bank.

Both the interior and exterior of the building were completely restored while preserving its historical features. The building envelope work included tuck-pointing, restorative carpentry, and KSA assisted the owner in having the structure placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Preservation of the Old Factory Store

The preservation work on the building has allowed it to continue to serve the people of Franklin. After years of being First Citizens Bank, the building was up for sale again.

Now to circle back where we started, along come Joel and Carol Tomlin looking for a “landmark” location for their new bookstore adventure. In 2005, the Old Factory Store became one of the most cherished downtown Franklin shops, Landmark Booksellers.

Landmark Booksellers – A Bookstore for the Ages

Over the years, Landmark has hosted dozens of book signings, and author and poetry groups. Franklin’s Civil War Round Table has met at the bookstore and hosted speakers and occasional tours related to the Battle of Franklin and other Civil War history.

Franklin local Kathie Lee Gifford at a Landmark Booksellers book signing.

We encourage you to make a special visit to downtown Franklin and relish in the treasure of a genuine, independently owned bookstore, and admire its Greek Revival façade. Once inside, see the incredible variety of books and the friendly faces. Try to name the 22 Southern authors on the left wall for a chance to win a free book! If you’re lucky, you will see Joel and Carol. Also, talk to their highly educated staff.

Then discover a new favorite book, and sit a spell in one of their comfy leather sofas and ponder all the fascinating people who found their way inside this landmark. Just to think about all the history that’s taken place within its four walls is more than one can comprehend. 

Local award-winning author Katie Shands

Then stroll to the back of the building, and visit Carol’s favorite spot, the children’s book room. Before you leave, pick up a copy of The Bridge, and Lovely Franklin’s award-winning writer, Katie Shands’ book Finding Franklin.

Franklin Walking Tours begins at Landmark Booksellers with owner and tour guide Alicia King Marshall.

While you visit Franklin or even if you are a local, we highly recommend taking a “Franklin Charm” walking tour with Alicia King Marshall. Her Franklin Walking Tours meets at Landmark Booksellers to begin its two-hour tour of historic Franklin. It’s a must-do for everyone – adults and children!

As we close, may we all cherish Joel and Carol and what they have done to preserve the Old Factory Store, and how they have fostered a love of reading, appreciating history, and collecting important books for an entire generation. Franklin thanks you!

Special thanks to Trenton Lee Photography for being Lovely Franklin’s official photographer, and Todd Hibbs for being our videographer for our Lovely Franklin YouTube channel.

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