April 19, 2013

Franklin’s a gem of a destination

Franklin, in Western North Carolina’s Macon County, bills itself as “Gem Capital of the World” and the “Ruby City” with good reason.

Franklin, in Western North Carolina’s Macon County, bills itself as “Gem Capital of the World” and the “Ruby City” with good reason – much gem mining in the N.C. mountains takes place around Franklin and the Cowee Valley north and west of town. No fewer than 10 gem mines in the area are open to the public, and the town is the site of two major gem shows every May and July. Several other points of interest help make Franklin a worthwhile destination.


Franklin is approximately 190 miles from Charlotte, about a 3 1/2-hour drive, one way.

To see and do

Something’s bound to catch your attention at the Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum, located in the former county jail. With thick brick walls and steel bars that once held prisoners, the museum is now the setting for a huge collection of gems and minerals on display. Though one room showcases only stones found in the Tar Heel State, specimens in the collection come from around the world. A few blocks away is the Ruby City Gem Museum, which showcases an equally impressive collection of stones, including a 385-pound sapphire and a 162-carat ruby, one of the largest gem-quality rubies found in the area.

The Macon County Historical Museum exhibits items of bygone days. Its largest artifact is the building itself: the 1904 J.R. Pendergrass building, formerly a mercantile store.

The last surrender of Confederate troops in North Carolina took place in Franklin on May 12, 1865, two weeks after Joseph Johnson’s capitulation at Durham Station. News of the surrenders at Appomattox, Va., and Durham were slow to reach the isolated mountain troops. When word finally did arrive, Confederate Maj. Stephen Whitaker surrendered to U.S. Col. George W. Kirk outside Dixie Hall (now the site of the Macon County courthouse). Re-enactments of the “last surrender” are staged each year during the Franklin Folk Festival, the third week in July.

Nature lovers can find three roadside waterfalls by heading a few miles east of Franklin on U.S. 64 toward Highlands. Cullasaja Falls, Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are sparkling gems in their own right. Also along this highway is Wilderness Taxidermy & Outfitters, which features a fine collection of mounted animals from around the globe, displayed in natural diorama settings.

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