Twenty-five years ago, Margie Thessin was a lawyer. She says the feeling that floods her at the end of each day was the motivation behind co-founding the guided tour company Franklin on Foot in 2003.
“I always remember that the worst day giving a tour is still better than the best day practicing law, at least for me,” Thessin laughs. “But there really are no bad days giving tours.”
Franklin On Foot provides a special blend of education and entertainment for Downtown Franklin, offering more than a dozen tours that cater to a wide range of ages and interests. Thessin leads many of the tours herself, and you’ve probably seen her around town: in front of the oldest Greek revival building in the state with a gang of Girl Scouts or standing over stones in Rest Haven Cemetery, telling the story of the unknown Civil War soldier. She’s become a familiar face outside of downtown buildings and an expert storyteller, putting her special stamp on Franklin’s history for each group.
“I’ve gotten to know just about everyone in Downtown Franklin, and I meet so many amazing people—locals and tourists—on these tours,” Thessin says. “People are drawn to this place for the history that lies behind its beauty.”
Franklin On Foot’s tours aren’t just for the Civil War buff or general history enthusiast—the company offers several options that reveal Franklin’s sometimes-seedy past. The most popular tour is the Haunted Franklin, a six-block ghost tour that uncovers 200 years of the unfinished business of soldiers, socialites and spies, among others. Murder and Mayhem is equally captivating, peeling back Franklin’s charming exterior and exploring the town’s gruesome past.
“Franklin seems picture perfect, so people find these tours fascinating,” Thessin says. “I like to say that a lot of the history is just 100-year-old gossip.”
Now, the small business owner is expanding: she recently launched Franklin Bike Tours & Rentals, another tour option that offers small, guide-led bicycle tours and short rentals in downtown. Thessin says she also plans to begin a Southern-style food tour in May, one that will explore restaurants in a five-block radius and the history behind each featured dish.
“I think Franklin is gaining a reputation as a hot destination spot. Everyone loves it here, and these new tours are expanding the ways people can experience it,” she says.
Thessin says her fascination for the past has stuck with her since college, and has carried over into both her personal and professional lives. She earned a history degree from the University of Florida before getting her juris doctorate from Catholic University in Washington D.C.
Since moving to Franklin 24 years ago, Thessin has held a number of positions that led her to Franklin On Foot: she spent three years as the director of group tours and special events at historic Carnton Plantation, and served as its interim executive director in 2008-2009. From 1998 to 2004, she helped introduce thousands of school children to Franklin’s story as a teacher for the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County’s Heritage Classroom program, and she recently returned to that position. She also serves on the City of Franklin’s Battlefield Preservation Commission.
“History has become my life. This is what I love to do,” she says. “There’s something special about how rich and wide-ranging Franklin’s heritage is.”
In 2008 Thessin also became a first-time author with “Ghosts of Franklin: Tennessee’s Most Haunted Town,” a book of ghost stories that expands on Franklin On Foot’s Haunted Franklin tour. In the fall, she’ll publish a new historical novel that focuses on children’s lives during the Battle of Franklin. Many of the names—the Carters, McGavocks, Lotzes, McEwens and Courtneys—in Lizzie’s War will be familiar to locals.
“I’ve prepared by reading documents written by Franklin children who lived during that time, and I was struck by the way they could give detailed accounts of that day, even years later,” she says. “For them, November 30, 1864, was their personal 9/11.”
Thessin says that beyond the town’s history, Franklin On Foot’s success is due in large part to the area’s atmosphere.
“Visitors want to come here because the local people treat them well and there is a certain energy,” she says. “This is what I love to do, and I know there isn’t another place I’d rather do it than in Franklin.”
To learn more about Franklin On Foot, visit its website at www.franklinonfoot.com or call 615-400-3808.