Sustainable Harpeth Square Development Captures Downtown Franklin’s Historic Past

Project Info


Harpeth Square & Hotel


Franklin, Tn

Project Year


Project Team

Smith Gee Studio
R.C. Matthews Contractor
906 Studio Architects + Interiors

Project Overview

Just a couple blocks from Downtown Franklin’s public square, the 119 room Harpeth Hotel is part of Hilton’s Curio Collection hospitality brand. Curio Collection by Hilton includes a number of hotels across the country that combine modern luxury with references to local history. Though Curio Collection hotels like The Harpeth fall under the Hilton name, each is absolutely unique and reflective of the host town’s heritage and culture. Interestingly, Harpeth Hotel is just one feature of Downtown Franklin’s new $115 million development. Construction of the mixed-use real estate development project began in 2017 and was recently completed in early 2020. Developed by J. Roderick “Rod” Heller, the twelve acre lot now hosts the hotel, dozens of apartments, several commercial offices and a large parking garage.

Meeting the Team Behind Harpeth Square

The team behind the $115 million development in Harpeth Square includes R.C. Matthews Contractor, 906 Studio Architects and Smith Gee Studio. CEO of Harpeth Associates J. Roderick “Rod” Heller owns Franklin’s Harpeth Square. R.C. Matthews Contractor is a local general contractor company which has contributed to dozens of commercial real estate projects across Williamson County. These include the Janet Ayers Academic Center at Belmont University, the 21C Museum Hotel in Nashville and the Frist Art Museum. Founding principal of 906 Studio Architects + Interiors Mike Hathaway lent his experience designing mixed-use buildings to this project. Mike Hathaway and 906 Studio Architects recently produced an expansion for the Cheekwood Golf Club in Franklin as well.

Specializing in sustainable design, adaptive reuse, mixed-use town centers and hospitality, Smith Gee Studio was the perfect choice for the Harpeth Square architect of record. Since its founding, Smith Gee Studio has been recognized with dozens of local, regional and national awards. These include the 2020 Excellence in Development Award from ULI Nashville, the 2018 Excellence in Masonry Graphic Award from Masonry Institute of Tennessee and the 2015 Best Low-Rise Apartment Community of the Year from the NAHB. Euan McGlashan and Valor Hospitality signed on to manage the hotel. Celebrated architectural photographer Chad Chenier was chosen by Harpeth Associates to capture the Square’s unique architecture, interiors and grounds.

The Harpeth Hotel Blends Historic Charm with Modern Amenities

In her article “Newly opened Harpeth Hotel showcases rich history of Franklin for The Williamson Herald, Brooke Wanser describes the luxurious new development. Quoting The Harpeth’s director of sales Kimberly Elder, Wanser writes that “‘there’s a story behind everything.’” Each and every detail “from the subtle vanilla bourbon scent to repurposed

Tennessee barn wood sheathing the restaurant floors” has been carefully considered by the hotel’s design team. References to Franklin’s complex and storied past can be found throughout the hotel. Wanser notes a reading nook filled with “books from Middle Tennessee authors” and a “grand staircase” in the hotel’s courtyard inspired by the town’s architectural history. Harpeth Hotel’s restaurant, which serves local Southern cuisine crafted by chef Jay Swift, is warm and cozy yet elegant and sophisticated.

Inside The Harpeth’s Historic Interior

The Williamson Source article “The Harpeth Hotel Unveils Its Design Inspirations” notes that The Harpeth “tells the story of the state’s history…while creating an ambiance resembling a warm and welcoming Southern home.” The design team behind Downtown Franklin’s first luxury hotel ensured guests truly feel at home when visiting. When guests enter one of the hotel’s 119 rooms, they are met with a series of interior elements that recall the character of “a 19th century Tennessee house.” Harpeth Hotel’s 1799 Kitchen also references Franklin’s history, from its torch-finished table tops to its unusual layout.

According to the Williamson Source, the partitioned booths in 1799 Kitchen “speak to the 19th century belief that you were not consuming whiskey if you were not seen imbibing.” Materials used in the restaurant’s flooring and furniture nod to the whiskey distilling process, which Tennessee is famous for. Fabrics and finishings found throughout the rest of the hotel’s interior, from the ballroom to the boardroom, recall heritage designs. Light fixtures in the hotel’s foyer were reportedly inspired by 19th attire while chevron paneling and upholstery in both the ballroom and the bedrooms “nod to the uniforms” of Civil War soldiers. Other interior finishes pull tones and textures from Tennessee’s native plants. Exposed beams, layered lighting and highly textural finishings add to the hotel’s unique blend of opulence and rusticity.

Harpeth Square Apartments Offer Luxury Living

Commercial office spaces and apartments in the Harpeth Square development began accepting tenants in Spring 2020. The Harpeth Square apartment complex greatly resembles the hotel with similarly paved courtyards, accented interiors, native landscaping and stunning city views. Perhaps best of all, each Harpeth Square apartment is Gold LEED certified, making it one of Tennessee’s most sustainable apartment complexes. Like the hotel, Harpeth Square apartments feature a mixture of social and private spaces.
Balconies overlook the courtyard and Franklin’s Historic Commerce District while a Wellness Studio and Clubroom offer residents the chance to mingle with neighbors. Both the hotel and apartments are just steps away from high-end retailers, restaurants and other Downtown Franklin attractions.

A Brief History of Historic Franklin, Tennessee

Just a short drive from Nashville, the historic town of Franklin is one of Tennessee’s oldest. Franklin was originally home to a half dozen Native American tribes, with the Cherokee its most prominent. Franklin was settled by Scotsman Ewen Cameron in 1768, though it would not become incorporated until several decades later. Founded in 1799 — the same year during which both Jonesborough and Dandridge were also established — Franklin was named after American polymath Benjamin Franklin.

According to the City of Franklin in their post “History of Franklin, TN,” Franklin represented the economic hub of both Williamson County and the entire state of Tennessee. Because Franklin was “the center of Tennessee’s plantation economy,” however, the city was financially devastated during the Civil War. Franklin was also the site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. The Battle of Franklin cost the city “more than 8,000 casualties…turning every home and building in town into a hospital.” Franklin’s population fell precipitously in the beginning of the 20th century, but began to recover in the 1980s as industry rediscovered the area. 156 years after the Civil War, Franklin has emerged as a destination for young professionals across the country.

Franklin, Tennessee in 2021

Today, Franklin is one of the “wealthiest cities” in the United States, situated in one of “the wealthiest counties.” Though Franklin began as an agricultural town, it has since evolved into a bustling city filled with historic buildings, world-class restaurants and innovative companies. Its suburbs are comfortable and safe, while Franklin’s downtown is rich and engaging. According to the Downtown Franklin Association, which is a division of The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, downtown Franklin is “a vibrant blend of historic preservation and modern sophistication.”

Franklin’s historic district is home to both “award-winning antique shops” and “fashion-forward boutiques.” Visitors to Franklin can find “privately owned art galleries, lovingly restored homes and more.” Notable attractions in Downtown Franklin include historic homes like the Lotz House Museum, nature preserves like Timberland Park and luxury hotels like The Harpeth.

Recent Recognition for Franklin, Tennessee

The Franklin real estate market is booming, its commercial centers are thriving and its public schools are some of the best in the nation. Crime is relatively low, income is high and jobs across a variety of sectors are plentiful. Neighborhood rating site recently showered Franklin, Tennessee with flattering superlatives. Niche named Franklin the Best Suburb for Young Professionals in Tennessee and the Best Suburb for Young Professionals in Nashville Area. It also awarded Franklin third place on their list of “Places with the Best Public Schools in Tennessee,” “Best Suburbs to Live in Tennessee” and “Suburbs with the

Best Public Schools in Tennessee.” In 2020, The National Civic League named Franklin, Tennessee the winner of their All-America City Award. The NCL recognized Franklin in 2020 for its efforts to “preserve and confront its history while creating an inclusive and shared plan for the future.”

View photos of The Harpeth Hotel and surrounding Harpeth Square, all taken by acclaimed photographer Chad Chenier, above.

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