Located at the head of the navigable portion of the Blackwater River, the City of Franklin lies in the highly agricultural Coastal Plain in southeastern (or Tidewater) Virginia. As with most communities, Franklin’s location has affected its history as a center of trade and transportation for the surrounding countryside. Being adjacent to the Blackwater River, water transportation has historically been an integral part in Franklin’s development. In addition, the city has also become an important rail point between the City of Norfolk and the Western Roanoke Basin.
First incorporated as a Town in March of 1876, the first official census of 1880 indicated a population of 447 inhabitants. In 1900, the population had increased to 1,143; in 1910, 2,271; in 1920, 2.363; in 1930, 2,930; in 1940, 3,466; and in 1950, 4,670. On January 1st, 1960, the boundaries increased from 1.02 square miles to 3.92 square miles due to annexation.
In December 1961, the Town of Franklin became a City. Subsequent annexations in 1986 & 1996 increased the population and land area of the City. The population today is approximately 8,400 and the land area is 8.75 square miles.
Franklin was first incorporated under a Mayor-Councilman form of government, consisting of a Mayor, six members of Council, a recorder, a sergeant and a street commissioner. In 1922, a charter change was requested of the General Assembly and was approved allowing Franklin to establish the Manager-Council form of government. Under this form, a Council composed of five members, elected from the City at large, formulate the policies of the city government and in a meeting select one of their members to serve as Mayor of the City.
The City Manager is selected by the Council and serves at its pleasure. The City Manager is charged with the administrative duties of the city, being responsible for carrying out the policies adopted by the City Council, the enforcement of its ordinances and the general management of the City’s affairs.
The City owns and operates its own electric and water utilities. Electric energy is purchased from Dominion Virginia Electric Company, and resold to City customers at a discounted retail rate. Water is supplied from 2 deep wells, which provide an abundant supply of unusually soft, pure, palatable water. Water storage capacity is 1.3 million gallons.
Agriculture is the chief industry of Franklin, with manufacturing a close second, and growing steadily. Although Franklin lies in two predominantly agricultural areas, manufacturing provides the largest employment for the City’s residents. Franklin began as a transportation 2nd trade center after construction of the Seaboard Railroad in 1837; however, the City’s growth was retarded until 1887 when the Camp lumber mill was established. At the present time, the City serves as a major retail, wholesale, service trades and marketing center for the surrounding area and as a manufacturing center for native forest products.
Major industries include Hercules Inc.; Birdsong Peanut Co.; Money Mailer, LLC, a direct-mail coupon distributor and Southampton Memorial Hospital -the City’s largest employer. Industrial sites are available in a City owned Industrial Park adjacent to 4-lane Rt. 58.
The people of Franklin welcome new industry. Cotton mills, furniture factories, lumber products, hosiery mills and firms engaged in food processing – to mention a few would find Franklin accessible to both raw materials and a ready market.