Franklin was laid out in 1795 by Andrew Ellicott, who four years earlier had been chosen by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to work on the town plan of Washington, D.C. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Franklin had four forts within its boundaries. The earliest, the French Fort Machault, was built in 1753 and destroyed in 1760. The British immediately built Fort Venango (1760), which was destroyed in 1763 during Pontiac's Rebellion. In 1787, American soldiers built Fort Franklin as a defense against Indian attacks, and named it for Benjamin Franklin. This fort was abandoned in 1796. A fourth fort garrisoned troops in 1796 and became the first jail of Venango County; it stood until 1824. The town was incorporated as a borough in 1828 and made a city in 1868.
After 1866, the Jamestown and Franklin Railroad serviced Franklin, and later became known as the New York Central Railroad. Its station, built in 1901, remains at Railroad and 13th streets. Franklin, the oldest city in Venango County, is impressive for its intelligent planning and the integrity of its historic architecture. Several two- and three-story buildings in the commercial district are particularly noteworthy. Among them are the Bleakley Block of 1878 (1233–1239 Liberty Street) with stone veneer and incised pointed-arched window surrounds; a handsome red brick building of fourteen bays with peaked cornice dated c. 1880 (1234–1242 Liberty Street); and the Masonic Building built between 1886 and 1891 (1255 Liberty Street). Several buildings have second-story oriel and round-arched windows that are distinctive to Franklin. The Barrow-Civic Theatre, formerly Kayton Theater (1223 Liberty Street), is a Moderne rectilinear buff brick building with glazed tile inserts and a recessed ticket booth built in 1946. In 1979, the area from Miller Park to 8th Street and from Buffalo to French Creek and the Allegheny River was declared a historic district. Conscious historic preservation has enhanced tourism in the city of 7,400 residents.
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