Melba Walton: Main Street Franklin’s Female Trailblazer

Walton's Jewelry Shop, Franklin Tenn. | Lovely Franklin
Walton’s Antique & Estate Jewelry, Franklin, Tenn.

Accented by its now-iconic black awning with gold lettering, Walton’s Antique & Estate Jewelry has been a Main Street mainstay since the 1980s, dazzling all who have walked through its doors to purchase the perfect ring to pop the question or find a memorable gift for a loved one. 

Walton's Antique & Estate Jewelry | Lovely Franklin

While the store – and its owners – have helped shape Main Street history for nearly 50 years, its story begins with a female trailblazer at a time when women in business were scarcely heard of. 

Meet Melba Walton

Melba Walton

Melba Walton’s entrepreneurial spirit began in the 1960s and 1970s, where she sold restored furniture at flea markets across the South. When the furniture became too heavy for her to tote back and forth, she sought something lighter, soon setting her sights on antique jewelry. 

Melba and her husband Jack Walton

With her husband Jack’s big smile and support behind her, Melba’s business grew enough to allow her to open a storefront in the Carter’s Court shopping center. While still a retail center today, Carter’s Court was once the premier shopping destination for the town of Franklin, and Melba staked her claim with a pair of businesses early on: Melba Walton’s Antique & Estate Jewelry and the Sassy Shoppe, which sold beachwear and lingerie. 

Enter Businessman Calvin LeHew

Melba Watson  | Lovely Franklin
Melba Walton selling antique and estate jewelry

One pivotal day, Franklin real estate tycoon Calvin Lehew approached Melba about the development of Main Street, planting the seed that purchasing a building would be a good investment. 

Thank goodness she listened. 

With Jack’s help – because women couldn’t apply for loans at the time – Melba bought the building in 1983. 

Melba Walton displays a beautiful earring and necklace set

First built almost a century prior in 1888, the building changed hands multiple times, allowing a wide variety of businesses to operate within its walls. Among them: a grocery store, cobbler’s shop, a framing shop (Picture World), and even a livery stable for horses. 

Picture World occupied Walton’s Jewelry’s building; the Review-Appeal was next door to the left.

Melba on Main Street!

After Melba purchased the building, Walton’s Antique & Estate Jewelry officially opened its doors at 410 Main in 1985, coinciding with the revitalization of Main Street. It’s difficult to imagine while strolling the picturesque streets today, but Main Street was once vacant and virtually boarded up (cue the tumbleweed), home to a handful of pool halls and dive bars. 

Downtown Franklin in the 1970s (Rick Warwick)

Franklin became an Accredited Main Street Program in the 1980s, launching a revitalization that first focused on streetscape: widening sidewalks, removing power lines, adding landscaping and building the square’s center mound and statue. The restoration of the buildings followed suit, and soon the streets filled with eager shoppers. 

While the Walton’s building may have swapped livestock for luxury, the business today is a testament to the building’s adaptability and resilience, reflecting that of the family that has kept it a sparkling success. 

Son Mike Joins Main Street Too!

Mike Walton joins the family business

Melba’s son Mike pursued his degree from the Gemological Institute of America and joined the team in 1985, allowing Walton’s to start offering repairs and appraisals. His GIA credentials hang in the Walton’s back office, appropriately secured within a frame from Picture World. A few years later, Mike purchased a laser, making the store one of the first in the region to offer laser jewelry repairs. 

Granddaughter Julie Brings Walton’s to the Online and Social Media World

Julie joins Walton’s Jewelry

The business boomed through the 1990s and early 2000s, but saw another revitalization when Mike’s eldest daughter, Julie, joined the team in 2011. With a fresh college degree and big ideas, Julie took the store and its contents beyond its idyllic storefront and into the hands of anyone with a smartphone or web browser. 

Julie started by creating social media pages for Walton’s, and ultimately launched an online store in 2017. At the same time, Julie was selected for Facebook’s Small Business Council, a collection of only a few small businesses chosen by Facebook to provide feedback on business offerings on the platform. 

Thanks to Julie’s joining the council, Facebook’s team paid a visit to Downtown Franklin and produced a beautiful video – a win for not only Walton’s, but for the entire city. (Watch this video below)

Walton’s Building Restoration Success

With its digital presence captivating followers both near and far, Julie knew it was time for the actual storefront to match the reverie of online shoppers. In 2021, the Walton’s building underwent its most recent renovation… or, rather, restoration.

Removing flooring and drywall revealed the original red pine floors, a beadboard ceiling and a beautiful interior brick wall, all estimated to have been from 1913. Walton’s is known for its antiques, after all, so restoring as much of the original interiors while incorporating modern, elegant touches makes shopping in person a grand, unforgettable experience. 

Today, Mike’s youngest daughter Katie is the talent behind Walton’s product photography for every piece listed in its website, and the brand is truly a family owned and operated local business. 

With Julie now at the helm, the legacy of Melba’s trailblazing spirit continues to empower another generation of Walton’s women. And I know firsthand, because I am one. 

To me, Melba was Maw Maw, and her legacy lights my fire every day of my life. I hope her story inspires you the way it does me and all who had the honor of knowing her. 

Visit Walton’s Jewelry for the prettiest jewelry on Main Street!

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3 Comments

  1. Great article, Kellie! I learned a few things I didn’t know about Melba and the store! Such a wonderful testament to Melba the family and community! She would indeed be proud!

  2. I loved your mama. She was a classy lady. We sat under the hair dryer together on Temple Rd. She said to me one day “”you need to wear that ruby ring on your left hand with the two gold bands. Sweet memories.
    PS to Mike I still wear the Emerald/sapphires/diamonds 18k ring with the gold ring that was my moms. I gave the gold band with diamonds to my niece.
    Your dad Jack sold us boxes to ship Gasser Banner’s all over the world;) granddaughters are the best.

  3. I bought a beautiful gold chain from Melba when she was in Carter’s Court. I passed it down to my niece Dixie last year and now she follows you. My nephew Rob took his wife to Walton’s to buy her engagement ring in year 2000. So the traditions move on.

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