The South is steeped in rich history like no other place in the nation. A stroll around any historic neighborhood will tell tales of days long gone, stories of growth and struggle, hard times and triumphs. Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the South’s most intriguing, quaint and just plain amazing historic neighborhoods. Take a brief tour here, then get out and explore them for yourself.
6 Historic Neighborhoods You Should Check Out
A former mill town that dates back to the 1800s, this east Atlanta neighborhood is characterized by a plethora of restaurants and street art and is an artists’ refuge. Since its revitalization in the 1990s, Cabbagetown has transformed into a bustling neighborhood. Although named for the cabbage the Irish mill workers would grow and cook in their homes, you won’t find much cabbage there these days. More common in Cabbagetown is the abundance of living street art, especially in and around the Krog Street Tunnel, connecting Cabbagetown and Inman Park. The art is managed by a neighborhood committee, and though some of the art has sprung up organically, several pieces were commissioned as well. The mill itself is no longer in operation, but it has been renovated into an expansive residential loft community, home to artists and young professionals alike. Surrounding the mill is a tightly knit network of narrow blocks with shotgun-style homes and cottages, cementing Cabbagetown on the National Register of Historic Places. Hot spots are diverse, but all have a real sense of identity simply being in the neighborhood. For a bar with attitude housed in an old mill grocery store, try 97 Estoria, or grab a burger at local favorite, Little’s Food Store. Those seeking Southwestern fare should check out Agave for a full tequila bar and an eclectic menu. Read more about Cabbagetown here and here.
A standout in the Charlotte area for its well-preserved architecture, Plaza Midwood has been a residential and business center since the 1890s. Much of the neighborhood has remained undeveloped, unlike much of Charlotte, which is undoubtedly much appreciated by visitors and residents alike. The walkable district is alive with refreshing watering holes and cafes and small shops aplenty, but what makes Plaza Midwood unique is the strong sense of neighborhood identity its residents share. A stroll through the area makes it obvious the options for lunch run the gamut. All appetites can easily be sated, with anything from authentic dim sum at Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant to neighborhood favorite, New York-style Fuel Pizza, housed in a 1930s gas station. Check out all that Plaza Midwood has to offer here.
St. Elmo Historic District
The St. Elmo Historic District in Chattanooga has a history that stretches back beyond the city itself. Formerly home to Chickamauga people as recently as the late 1700s, it was then settled by Scottish immigrants and finally incorporated into what would later become Chattanooga. The name St. Elmo originated in the late 1800s from the novel written by Augusta J. Evans Wilson, who was inspired by the view from Lookout Mountain and reminded of the view from St. Elmo’s Castle in Italy. The area became more thoroughly developed in the 1880s with the construction of a trolley line from Chattanooga all the way up Lookout Mountain. One of Chattanooga’s oldest neighborhoods, St. Elmo has had a resurgence in the past few decades, with historic buildings being renovated and small businesses opening in the commercial district. An afternoon in St. Elmo could be easily spent exploring the commercial district, riding the incline railway up and down Lookout and afterwards enjoying a farm-fresh burrito at Mojo Burrito and a locally made, handcrafted cone at Clumpies Ice Cream Co. For a full history of the neighborhood read here.
Unincorporated until the railroad boom, South Main was a part of the residential suburb of South Memphis. The opening of several railroad stations in the area transformed the neighborhood into a bustling area of commerce. Remnants of the boom, most of the buildings that line South Main were built in the early 1900s. Businesses were thriving, and with the success of the railroad, other industries, such as manufacturing and even film, excelled. Many of the major film production studios such as Paramount, Warner Brothers and MGM even relied on South Main as the epicenter of distribution, and Second Street was known as Film Row. Because of a period of decline in the ’50s and ’60s, punctuated by the nearby death of Martin Luther King, South Main lay untouched for many years. An influx of artists in the ’80s and a nod to the perfectly preserved architecture by the film industry has resulted in a new era for South Main, a renaissance that has brought about countless art galleries, boutiques and restaurants aplenty. Memphis’ oldest cafe and iconic retro-style diner, The Arcade Restaurant, or Earnestine & Hazel’s infamous soul burger are excellent options, but the list goes on. Learn more about the fascinating history of South Main here and here.
Lovers of Victorian architecture rejoice, and take a stroll through the Old Louisville neighborhood in Louisville, KY. The oft-overlooked area is actually the largest Victorian district in the United States, and a walking tour is the perfect way to experience the area. (There are several that focus specifically on the architecture and some that survey the haunted homes in the area!) Though once considered a neighborhood in disrepair, Old Louisville is much renewed and should not be overlooked. These days, the neighborhood is flanked by two universities and studded with restaurants and bars. Dining options range from trolley car-turned-burger-joint, Ollie’s Trolley, to a masterful culinary experience at 610 Magnolia, a restaurant worth the buzz. Locals also recommend the back patio at Amici for an Italian getaway. One final stop to include on your tour of Old Louisville should be Central Park, the green space that anchors the neighborhood. Even better, line up your visit with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in the Park or the Garvin Gate Blues Festival. To find out more about this historic spot, read up here.
The Norwood neighborhood of Birmingham, AL, has it all. After a period of decline in the late 20th century, Norwood is now becoming the neighborhood it once was during its days as a flourishing streetcar suburb. Low-priced historical homes of Victorian, Neoclassical and Craftsman styles have drawn in families and young professionals, and with them, a revival. Nearby Railroad Park offers ample green space, and empty lots are more likely to turn into a community garden than to remain abandoned. Norwood Market at the Trolley Stop also offers your freshest farmers market fare right in the center of winding Norwood Boulevard, the main drag through the neighborhood. Other attractions nearby include historic landmark Sloss Furnaces, which provides unique insight into the industrial days of Birmingham’s past and an afternoon’s worth of exploration through the intricate web of pipes and smokestacks leftover from the iron factory.
Enjoy your travels wherever they lead you!
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