Harlinsdale Farm Invites Families to Make the Pilgrimage

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Harlinsdale Farm

Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto/Tennessee Home & Farm

For nearly a century, magnificent equines have roamed the hills and paths of historic Harlinsdale Farm.

Located on the edge of downtown Franklin, the 200-acre property was a working farm for seven decades before being sold to the City of Franklin in 2005 and turned into a passive park a year later. Today, the scenic farmland looks much the same as when it was an active breeding operation, and horses continue to play a large role at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm.

Harlinsdale Farm historic

Harlinsdale Farm helped to shape the Tennessee Walking Horse industry in the 1930s and ’40s. Photo courtesy of the Rick Warwick Collection

Harlinsdale’s History as a Working Horse Farm

“W.W. Harlin established Harlinsdale Farm in 1935,” says Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick, noting the farm played a prominent role in shaping the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Warwick adds the breed’s most famous stallion hailed from Harlinsdale. “Midnight Sun was a champion in the ’40s. The vast majority of the grand champions in Shelbyville can trace their bloodline to this grand sire.”

A beautiful new barn and arena were added as Harlinsdale’s reputation as a top breeding operation grew throughout the region. Monty McInturff, DVM, spent a good part of his youth on the land before heading off to college and veterinary school. “I worked there as a farm laborer and as a veterinarian so I knew the farm very well, and I was excited when I heard the Harlin family had sold it to the city as a park,” McInturff recalls. “Part of the deal was that it be kept as a place where horses could play and be.”

Harlinsdale Farm

The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival is held in September at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm. Photo by Jeff Adkins/Tennessee Home & Farm

Farm Family, City of Franklin Hold Off Development

Harlinsdale’s prime location made it particularly attractive to developers, but both McInturff and Warwick say it was important to the Harlin family – and to the city – to keep the land intact.

“We were one of the leading agricultural counties – that is our heritage,” says Warwick. “Now we’re raising houses,” he added of the region’s rapid growth.

“Tennessee is known as an agricultural state, and our biggest ‘crop’ is animals, but as more and more land is being developed, there are fewer and fewer farms,” adds McInturff, who is the ownership partner in Tennessee Equine Hospital. “Harlinsdale Park is important to have a place for families to play, but it’s also the educational component where people can learn how farms and animal husbandry played such a large part in Tennessee history.”

Warwick says that significance earned Harlinsdale Farm a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

“In years to come, everyone is going to say, ‘Boy, wasn’t that a smart idea for the leadership of Franklin to have the foresight to save that land as a park and pass it on to the next generation.’ ”

Harlinsdale Farm

The City of Franklin purchased the Park at Harlinsdale in 2005 and opened it to the public the following year. Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto/Tennessee Home & Farm

The “Actively Passive” Park at Harlinsdale

McInturff, who also serves as the immediate past president of the Friends of Franklin Parks Board of Directors, explains a passive park is one that keeps its open spaces and doesn’t build new structures like baseball fields or tennis courts. However, he’s quick to add, passive parks are filled with activity.

The Park at Harlinsdale has miles of walking trails, plenty of area for picnicking and throwing Frisbees, a canoe launch on the bordering river, a popular dog park – and of course, plenty of space to ride horses.

Friends of Franklin Parks has also brought private dollars to the public park to upgrade existing facilities, including a $1.5 million update to the arena area. “We’re in the process of turning one of the buildings into a museum so we can tell the story more clearly,” McInturff says of sharing the farm’s history.

Another focus, Warwick adds, is the addition of a bridge across the river to connect the park area to downtown Franklin. “It’s going to be a great river walk for anyone in any season,” says Warwick, noting the path will add a scenic way to get exercise.

The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival draws thousands to The Park at Harlinsdale Farm. Photo by Jeff Adkins/Tennessee Home & Farm

Harlinsdale Makes the Pilgrimage

With plenty of open space and the equine structures already in place, the park is also the site of numerous horse shows, polo matches and community events including the Great Americana BBQ Festival and the popular Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. The Foo Fighters, The Killers and Keith Urban are headlining the 2019 Pilgrimage Festival.

“Harlinsdale is our Central Park,” McInturff concludes. “It’s our jewel.”

From Farm to Fun

With a booming agritourism business, Tennessee has numerous farms open to the public for fishing, tours, seasonal events, markets and festivals throughout the year. Whether berry-picking in the spring, finding the perfect pumpkin in the fall, or searching for just the right Christmas tree, there are options in every part of the state. For more information on farm offerings, download the Pick Tennessee mobile app or go online to tennesseeagritourism.org. While many operational farms welcome visitors, few have been preserved for the public once active farming ceases. In addition to The Park at Harlinsdale, there is Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, which maintains a thriving buffalo herd, as well as miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

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