The History of Downtown Franklin’s NOEL Sign

noel sign downtown franklin

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Downtown Franklin is well known for its long-standing traditions, including the White Building’s famous NOEL sign.

The historical White Building, built in 1923 at the Five Points intersection has been home to the NOEL sign since the late 1980s. But to look further into the sign’s history, Karen Cochran, owner of the White Building shared the story of the Noel family and how her sign became placed atop her establishment.

The NOEL sign was originally placed on top of the Noel Hotel in Nashville, at 200 Fourth Avenue North. The hotel was the tallest building in the city back in the 1930s when it was built. With its green neon lights, the sign could be seen from the Cumberland River. Business partners and brothers Oscar and John Noel opened their hotel on January 6, 1930.

Marr, Holman Architects, designed the hotel and it was host to celebrity residents including Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Roy Rogers.

The Noel Hotel closed its doors in September 1972 when bought out by Hamilton Bank.

Cochran’s ties to the NOEL sign come from her former husband John Noel III, the grandson of John Noel Sr. When she learned that the hotel business had run its course, Cochran and Noel decided to take the sign back to their home.

For years after, the couple would set up the massive sign at the corner of Franklin Road and Elysian Fields for passerby’s to see while driving each year for Christmastime.

Then one day, Cochran thought, “Why not put it on top of the White Building at Five Points?”

The family moved their sign once again, to a more permanent location and each year those driving from Lewisburg Pike or Columbia Avenue have the perfect view of the NOEL sign.

“It was wonderful to be able to share it and keep it in Downtown Franklin because my kids and I used to live in the area,” Cochran said. “Every Christmas they go back to look at the sign fondly and they think it’s a lot of fun to have it up there.”

While the sign stays up on top of the building year-round, it is tilted upwards every year on the week of Thanksgiving, in order to begin the celebration of the new holiday season.

Cochran says she’s glad that the community received the sign’s message well.

Cochran, a preservationist who was involved in the Heritage Foundation has restored several historic properties and buildings in the Williamson County area, including the White Building, the Cool Springs Farmhouse that now sits in Crockett Park and Jasmine Grove, the Antebellum on Julianna Circle off of Mack Hatcher Parkway.



  1. John is not Karen’s late husband. He’s her former husband. Last I checked, he was very much alive. He’s also a preservationist.

  2. Nineteen-eighties = 1980s. The years are plural. The sign does not belong to the decade. Be part of the solution.

  3. Thank you for insight into one of our favorite holiday traditions, the Noel sign’s arrival. Also, thank you to the grammarians who help us all be part of the solution!

  4. We traveled this past w/e and saw a sign at a service station. It was congratulating the employee of the month who just happened to be named NOEL. hmmmmm….

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