Great Town on the Rebound

Tired of sitting in traffic? Find out how these Atlanta residents traded their commute for a community.

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Living Through the Storm
On March 14 of this year, an EF2 tornado tore through Cabbagetown, demolishing houses, tearing off roofs, and uprooting many of the community’s mature trees. The Stacks at Fulton Cotton Mill was also hit hard, and some of its residents are still unable to return.

Tornado Relief for Cabbagetown
To get the full scope of the community’s storm damage, along with finding out how you can help, visit www.cabbage townrelief.com. Other organizations such as Hands on Atlanta, www.handson atlanta.org, and the Atlanta-area Team Depot, The Home Depot’s nonprofit, volunteer-supported community relations program, have also been very instrumental in getting Cabbagetown back on its feet.

Cabbagetown Initiative c/o Cabbagetown Community Center: 177 Estoria Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30316; www.cabbagetownrelief.com

Leave it to folks across the South to figure out how to combine necessity and convenience. With gas prices rising higher and commutes getting longer, once overlooked and underestimated urban areas are being rediscovered. For Atlanta, a six-block district known as Cabbagetown has become one such hot spot of renewed interest. With the Atlanta skyline well within sight, this unpretentious enclave of cottages, row houses, and converted lofts retains a down-home charm that’s unexpected in such a large city.

  

Once Down--But Certainly Not Out
Originally a classic mill community, Cabbagetown developed during the late 1800s when the local textile factory recruited workers from the North Georgia mountains. Generations who were subsequently employed by the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill lived in tightly spaced company houses that rested within the shadows of the factory’s giant smokestacks. Once its gates closed three decades ago, many of the townsfolk reluctantly moved elsewhere to make a living. A few stoic members hung on in hopes of seeing better days. Now with things on the upswing, they’re witnessing an influx of young families, artists, business owners, and others seeking the camaraderie of a well-established neighborhood. “The closeness of our homes plays a role in keeping Cabbagetown neighbors closely knit,” says Jason Snyder, homeowner and vice president of the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association (CNIA).

The Real Deal
Apart from its close proximity to all that Atlanta has to offer, the community’s tree-shaded streets and relatively relaxed pace only add to its growing appeal. Plus, while newer developments well outside of the city limits strive to establish pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and a sense of identity, they’re often modeled after places such as Cabbagetown. “Every home has a front porch here, and everyone uses them,” explains Nathan Bolster. He, along with wife Amanda and preschool daughter Livia, live in one of the original cottages (now fully renovated), facing Cabbagetown Park. Even the Fulton Mill has seen a complete reversal of fortune. Built in 1881, the Neo-Romanesque complex survived years of wear and tear, a fire in 1999, and most recently, a tornado that threatened its very existence. Touted upon its opening in 2000 as the largest loft conversion project in the country, The Stacks at Fulton Cotton Mill is home for young and old residents alike. “We looked for eight years after downsizing from a house in nearby Decatur before finding this great loft,” says Lyn Deardorff. “Because my husband, Tom, and I consider ourselves empty nesters, we love the ‘connectedness’ this place offers.” Better yet, both of them drive no more than 15 minutes to their jobs daily.

  

Southern to the Core
While visions of white picket fences and children frolicking in the park may lead you to think that Cabbagetown is some type of Pleasantville--think again. Besides all of its domestic normalcy, it possesses an eclectic nature that some would even call downright quirky. For one thing, there’s a fondness for yard ornaments here, which range from the usual concrete bird fountains and old road signs to colorful metal and ceramic sculptures (depicting everything from cherubs to giant roosters).

Before yards were devoted to such display, folks used them to keep goats and chickens; in fact, you can still hear a real rooster crow. The goats, however, have been replaced with dogs and cats. “It’s all a part of living here,” states realtor Lynne Splinter. Proud to be a Cabbagetown resident since 1997, Lynne has been responsible for bringing many of the new residents into the area. Even the community’s name came about by peculiar means. The stories range from outsiders noticing the huge amount of produce sacks made at the mill to the strong smell of cabbage simmering in pots while folks were at work. Another account even involves a derailed train car or, depending upon who’s telling it, an overturned truck that dumped--you guessed it--mounds of cabbages onto the street.

Whatever the origin, Cabbagetown has somehow held onto its hardworking past while remaining a part of an ever-growing, ever-changing city. And like any community, it’s the people who add the true flavor and vitality. “Despite the neighborhood’s small size, you never finish discovering the place,” adds John Cugasi, a loft owner. “There’s always something unique--and someone new to meet--around every corner.”

One of Our Own
Senior Designer Chris Hoke lived in Cabbagetown for a couple of years before moving to Birmingham. He shares what drew him to this spot within the city. “It really reminded me of the small Alabama towns I grew up in, where neighbor knows neighbor and where the faces on the street are always familiar.”



"Great Town on the Rebound" is from the August 2008 issue of Southern Living.