Less Driving, More Living
Let’s face it: Sitting in traffic is no one’s idea of a good time. These neighborhoods, all within or close to major employment centers or along public-transit routes, make quick work of getting to work. And they’re just a fraction of the 61 vibrant neighborhoods from coast to coast where you’ll find one-of-a-kind period houses. Read on to learn more about places that are a commuter’s dream, or see all the neighborhoods and categories.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
House styles: Victorian-era houses, predominantly Queen Annes; there are also Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and vernacular early-20th-century houses
Expect to pay: About $100,000 to $150,000 for a fixer-upper; the largest and most lavishly restored houses can cost up to $650,000
For thousands of years, Native Americans visited this area for its abundant thermal springs, which came under federal protection in 1832. Following the Civil War, the once rough-and-tumble town blossomed into “America’s first resort,” with Bathhouse Row, a string of Victorian-era spa buildings that drew visitors who soaked in the supposedly healing mineral waters. (Later came the horse racing and illegal casinos that led gangsters like Al Capone to try their luck here.) Though you won’t find any gangster hideaways in Hot Springs today, you can still catch an afternoon of thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park, open since 1905, and sit-and-soak types will enjoy a visit to Buckstaff or Quapaw, the only two bathhouses still in operation on the Row. And events such as the Hot Springs Music Festival in June and a documentary film festival in October draw crowds that help keep the local economy going. Period homes are scattered throughout the city, but most are located in the Quapaw-Prospect Historic District, a tree-lined neighborhood of well-preserved, stately homes built between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Handyman specials are an especially good buy, so if you’re a history buff who’s good with a hammer, you’ll find a lot to love here.
Southside Park, Sacramento, California
Population: 2,572 in Southside Park; about 472,000 in the city of Sacramento
House styles: Classical and Colonial Revival, Craftsman
Expect to pay: In the vicinity of $250,000 for a house that hasn’t been updated; about $350,000 if the seller has ripped out the carpet and updated the kitchen
Due south of downtown Sacramento sits the neighborhood of Southside Park, a city-designated historic district and diverse neighborhood of immigrants, young singles, families, and the design-obsessed. This isn’t your usual old-house place. The elm-canopied enclave, named for the 15-acre city park at its south end, is a pedestrian-friendly one-square mile with about 1,000 houses, from Craftsman-era bungalows to eyesores built in the late 20th century. “It’s eclectic. Houses would get demolished at random and be replaced with apartments,” says William Burg, a historian and the author of Sacramento’s Southside Park. One of its best-known attractions is the five-acre Sunday Farmers Market, a year-round affair that offers local produce and other fare and attracts neighborhood folks as well as foodies from all over the city. Architecturally, the best properties here include a sprinkling of Queen Annes and Italianates (some were moved here to avoid demolition), covetable bungalows, and a variety of other early-20th-century styles. Those on the market tend to need work but can be scooped up at surprisingly nice prices for California’s capital city.
University District, Greeley, Colorado
Population: 11,000 in University District; 95,000 in the city of Greeley
House styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Craftsman bungalow, and ranch
Expect to pay: A modest ranch needing some work might go for $60,000, while a fixer-upper Queen Anne or Tudor Revival could cost $225,000. Restored properties top out at $450,000, but most cost a lot less
A decade ago, downtown Greeley had a lot of empty storefronts—so many that this city an hour north of Denver was on Colorado’s Endangered Places list. But thanks to a partnership between the City of Greeley and the local Downtown Development Authority—and an outpouring of pride (and paint) from residents young and old—Greeley got a shot in the arm and businesses returned to the area. This renewed vibrancy has extended to Greeley’s University District, about three blocks south of downtown. The area, which circles the University of Northern Colorado campus, has more than 3,800 residential structures on wide streets. Its six distinct neighborhoods feature a diverse range of house styles and sizes, from ornate, turreted Tudor Revivals to more modest bermed-earth homes, cottages, and Craftsman bungalows. Houses date back to 1870, though most were built between 1900 and 1940. Its quiet streets, abundance of local shops, and access to the resources of a major public university make this neighborhood, along with its gorgeous home stock, a true find.
House styles: Queen Anne, Second Empire, Carpenter Gothic, and other Victorian-era styles
Expect to pay: About $300,000 for an outdated house that needs revamping; the most spiffed-up properties can cost up to $500,000
Named for its central location on an old oxcart road between two rivers, Middletown began exporting peaches, its major crop, soon after railroad tracks were laid here in 1855. Though the town’s agricultural days have long since passed, locals still salute the area’s heritage during the annual Peach Festival each August, which welcomed 30,000 people last year. And by any measure, Middletown is still thriving. Strong job growth within its borders (Amazon.com opened a fulfillment center here in 2012) and in the region (Wilmington is less than 30 miles away and Philadelphia, 53 miles) are credited for a 300 percent population surge in the first decade of the 21st century; many of the newcomers were young families. But jobs aren’t the only reason people move here. Residents enjoy the laid-back pace, and on any given day you might find some of them strolling in one of Middletown’s two parks or along the historic district, where most period houses are located, including grand mansions built by the town’s first peach magnates. Demand for housing is strong, so if you fall in love with a fixer-upper, don’t wait too long to make an offer.
Kaimuki Neighborhood, Honolulu
Population: 20,548 in the city of Honolulu
House styles: Bungalows prevail here; some are Craftsman-style while others are known locally as “Hawaiian plantation-style”
Expect to pay: A fixer-upper on a small lot will run you about $500,000, with finished houses costing more
Located between Diamond Head crater and the Koolau mountain range, this Honolulu neighborhood was a watch station during the 19th century for spotting enemies arriving by sea. It had a brief stint as an ostrich farm before being sold to developers for $20,000 in 1898. They brought in plumbing and infrastructure to transform the area into a residential enclave, which it has remained ever since. Today, many residents are bohemians and artist types who want to preserve Kaimuki’s low-key charm and prevent builders from replacing old structures with soulless McMansions and duplexes. Dining out is a notable pastime here; mom-and-pop restaurants that have been around for 70 years or longer line Waialae Avenue, the town’s first road; it was paved in 1905 and connects the area with downtown Honolulu. Many of the historic houses were built with lava-rock foundations and with single-wall construction without insulation, a technique commonly used in older Hawaiian homes because of the mild climate and hard-to-come-by building materials. Some houses are modest on detail, while others have more elaborate Craftsman-inspired touches. “There are several blocks here built in the 1930s and 1940s that look untouched today,” says resident Lori Yamada, who adds that neighbors look after one other and share fruit from the trees on their property. Add in Hawaii’s beaches and opportunities for outdoor adventures, and you’ve got the makings of a tropical paradise.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
House styles: Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival
Expect to pay: At least $100,000 for a fixer-upper; the very fanciest houses top out at seven figures
Originally home to the Fort Sherman military base from 1878 to 1900, Coeur d’Alene—or CDA, as the locals say—wasn’t seeing much action. So the encampment was dissolved, and many homes were built near the original base between 1905 and 1940. Sparkling Lake Coeur d’Alene is the main attraction here, and the popular resort town has retained a relatively healthy housing market even over the past few years, says local Realtor Brad Jordan. The lake offers everything from sailing, paddleboats, and canoeing to over 100 miles of sandy beachfront. Other outdoor amenities include the 23-mile Centennial Trail, which parallels an old railroad track, for walking or biking; a popular golf course at the Coeur d’Alene Resort; and two major ski resorts within driving distance. Most of the city’s period homes were built in the Craftsman style, and while they range in condition from handyman’s specials to fully restored beauties, they tend to sell fast no matter what shape they’re in. So if you fall for a fixer-upper here, be prepared to act quickly to make it your own.
House styles: Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, American Foursquare, and Craftsman bungalow
Expect to pay: $55,000 for a fixer-upper; $285,000 for a fully restored home
This quaint bedroom community an hour and a half north of Louisville, Kentucky, was founded in 1823 as a log-cabin settlement and took off in the 1840s when railroad travel linked it to Indianapolis some 20 miles away. Franklin College emerged a decade later, eventually becoming the first coeducational college in the state. Just 10 years ago, though, the town center was littered with empty storefronts and vacant period homes. So several nonprofits and local merchants banded together to lure residents and businesses back to downtown. Their efforts have paid off: Renovations by committed homeowners are underway throughout the historic residential areas, and the revived downtown area, primarily along Main Street and Jefferson Street, boasts new restaurants and shops. In true Americana form, Franklin holds a strawberry festival in May, a barbecue competition in June, and a beer-and-bluegrass festival each August, offering foodies a bevy of events to feast on. And at the 90-plus-year-old Historic Artcraft Theatre, which began its life as a silent-movie theater and vaudeville house, you can watch classic films while having snacks—including popcorn made from local corn—delivered seatside.
Le Mars, Iowa
House styles: A wide mix, including American Foursquare and Craftsman
Expect to pay: About $40,000 to $60,000 for a house in need of work; up to $260,000 for a refurbished home
Formally established and named in 1869, this small midwestern outpost 25 miles from Sioux City was a magnet for pioneers of British, German, and Dutch descent, who ran its farms and businesses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These days, family-friendly Le Mars is best known for its top export: ice cream. Local producer Wells Enterprises, the century-old company that makes the famed Blue Bunny brand, churns out more than 100-million gallons of the sweet stuff each year; its two local production companies employ many of the area’s residents. The Plymouth County Fair draws thousands of attendees from around the state for livestock competitions and horticultural exhibits. Period homes here are concentrated in the Foster Park Historic District and range from relatively modest bungalows built for former industrial workers to larger, more ornate homes that industry magnates enjoyed. The local historic commission and Main Street program ensure that architectural treasures are kept shipshape. If you’re a DIY die-hard, the fixer-uppers here offer plenty of projects for honing your skills.
College Hill Neighborhood, Topeka, Kansas
Population: 1,558 in College Hill; 128,188 in the city of Topeka
House styles: The most common type is the so-called airplane bungalow, a vernacular style named for a feature that resembles a cockpit: a “pop-up” level above the main floor that contains a sleeping porch for hot summers
Expect to pay: About $70,000 for a fixer-upper; nicer houses clock in at about $150,000
For decades, Topeka suffered from an identity crisis, finding itself as the butt of many a “How boring is it?” joke from fellow Kansans. But locals have begun grass-roots redevelopment efforts to change the narrative, and College Hill is one of their success stories. This leafy, friendly enclave just north of Washburn University has about 600 bungalow-style homes dating from the early 1900s, and no two are exactly alike. “You see something unique at each address,” says Brendan Jensen, president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. Residents include young couples taking advantage of the area’s affordable housing, as well as law students and professors who can walk to campus. Small businesses are sprouting up in the ground-level retail spaces of the multifamily College Hill Lofts, and you’ll find kids playing soccer in Boswell Square Park, a community green space created after the demolition of a junior high school in the early 1980s. The neighborhood association sponsors community events year-round, such as a chili feed in January, a Fourth of July parade, and an annual Christmas light contest. For those who think Topeka is still a snore, the joke’s on them.
New Iberia, Louisiana
House styles: Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Queen Anne, most built between 1890 and 1930, plus a number of vernacular bungalows and cottages
Expect to pay: $350,000 and up, depending on a house’s size and condition; larger homes can cost close to seven figures
Often called “the land of sugar and spice” because of its thriving local industries—sugarcane and Tabasco sauce, which is produced here—New Iberia was once a center of commerce among the people from Spain, France, and England who chose to settle here in the early 19th century and constructed the houses that still grace its streets. Most older homes are in good condition, thanks in part to the local cypress trees used to build them; the wood is highly resistant to rot and termites. Some of the oldest streets are canopied by oak trees draped with Spanish moss, and many properties have backyards that extend to the Bayou Teche, which lets homeowners catch a glimpse of boats transporting sugarcane from the plantations. Residents of the historic district regularly open their houses to visitors, and there’s even an annual Christmas tour, says Jerre Borland, who owns an 1890s Greek Revival. For a glimpse of life as it once was down South, visit Shadows-on-the-Teche, an 1834 plantation-house-turned-museum that offers tours of the structure and its grounds.
House styles: Colonial Revivals from the early 20th century dominate the streets here
Expect to pay: Period houses sell from $125,000 to $250,000, depending on their size and condition
Mention the city of Pittsfield, the official “Hub of the Berkshires,” to some Massachusetts residents, and you might hear them snark, “They don’t call it the pits for nothing!” While it’s true that housing prices in the western portion of the state have taken a big hit over the past few years, Pittsfield’s abundant cultural resources and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation have been luring residents from larger cities.
The Berkshires’ picturesque mountain scenery and hiking and biking trails draw outdoorsy types, while the prestigious music programs and live performances at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s legendary summer home in neighboring Lenox, hit all the right notes for music lovers and arts-minded folks. Low housing prices mean that creative types can afford to buy here; they can also take advantage of programs offered by the Pittsfield Cultural Development Office, which provides scholarships and grants benefiting the arts and humanities. Add these and a number of other developments to the equation—including the world-class Colonial Theater and the award-winning Barrington Stage Company—and Pittsfield’s prospects are looking better every day.
House styles: Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate are the most common
Expect to pay: $60,000 and up for a sizable fixer-upper; up to $300,000 for a restored Queen Anne or Italianate
A stunning group of 850 houses in this mid-state city was named a National Historic Landmark District in 1991, and local pride is in full flower during the annual Marshall Historic Home Tour. The event, which turned 50 this year, brings in thousands to see the area’s stately Queen Anne, Italianate, Revival-style, and other period homes. Most were built starting in the early 19th century, when Marshall drew both industrial leaders and politicians; a state capital contender, it lost to Lansing by one vote in 1847. “People who take the tour fall in love with the town and move here,” says Bill Mabin, a trustee of the Marshall Historical Society.
Among the city’s many picturesque streetscapes is Fountain Circle—at the west end of the business district—where people gather to relax on summer evenings. (It’s definitely the place to be on the Fourth of July, as residents plunk down lawn chairs to enjoy fireworks.) As in many American communities, the Great Recession softened the housing market, so if you’re good with tools, you’ll find plenty of affordable places here to put those skills to use.
Frogtown, St. Paul, Minnesota
Population: About 15,000 in Frogtown; 288,448 in the city of St. Paul
House styles: Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Prairie, Italianate, and Tudor Revival
Expect to pay: $40,000 or higher for a fixer-upper; about $140,000 for a restored home
Frogtown was built by German-Bohemians in 1860 on land just south of swampy Lake Lafond, where the croaking and chirping of its namesake amphibians was so loud at night that the locals called the area Froschburg (“Frog City”). Always a working-class immigrant community, many of its period houses were built in the 1880s and 1890s by early residents, the highly skilled masons and builders who also worked on mansions in St. Paul’s more affluent neighborhoods. It’s still populated by lower- and middle-income residents, albeit largely of Hmong, Cambodian, and Vietnamese descent, and the number of citizens who hail from Somali and Karen is growing. Not surprisingly, University Avenue, the main commercial strip, has a lively mix of ethnic restaurants and is the center point of the Green Line, a light commuter rail opening in 2014 that will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Right now, the area’s modest-size houses are reasonably priced, and chances are you’ll find neighbors willing to lend a hand with your renovation. “Our goal is to preserve the area’s historic character while maintaining affordability,” says Tait Danielson-Castillo, executive director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. As locals like to say, “Frogtown is a place to start, and a place to stay.”
House styles: Craftsman, along with vernacular bungalows and Sears houses; most were built between 1900 and 1930
Expect to pay: From $250,000 to $600,000 for a period house in good shape
A popular vacation destination, Whitefish began its life in 1904 as a railroad town, when Great Northern relocated its local headquarters here from Kalispell. It quickly earned the nickname “Stumptown” because of the many trees that were cut down to make way for new development, but fortunately, its days of clear-cutting are a thing of the past. Whitefish’s well-priced and mostly well-kept pre-1930s houses are a big draw for buyers, as are the first-rate outdoor recreation venues within driving distance, such as Glacier National Park, a popular ski resort, and numerous rivers and lakes for boating, swimming, and fishing. Full-time residents enjoy a quiet off-season in spring and fall; in February, a winter carnival attracts thousands of visitors with a parade and a wide variety of outdoor activities, including skijoring, a sport with Nordic roots in which a person on skis is pulled along by a teammate on horseback. It’s a place of DIYers’ and outdoor enthusiasts’ dreams.
House styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, and Tudor Revival, along with Craftsman and vernacular farmhouses and bungalows
Expect to pay: About $70,000 to $80,000 for a fixer-upper; up to $600,000 for a fully-restored larger house
Founded in 1856 and named after a general who once ran for President, Fremont was, and still is, an agricultural city. Its first settlers were farmers who planted its fertile fields and sold produce to the pioneers who passed through en route to Colorado and Utah. These days, in addition to its agricultural businesses, the city is home to Midland University, a liberal arts college, and to production facilities for Hormel Foods, makers of the sandwich staple Spam. Omaha is an easy commute, too, less than 30 miles to the southeast. “Fremont is a great place to raise a family,” says Marianne Simmons, a 55-year resident, who notes its large YMCA (second-largest in the country, in fact) and the swimming, boating, fishing, and other activities available at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. “We’ve always been very conscious of preservation here.” You’ll see evidence of that care along Nye Avenue, where many of Fremont’s founders built homes in the late 1800s, and in the Barnard Park area, where a few original, brick-paved streets still exist. The best bargains here are houses that offer DIYers a chance to hone their skills.
The John S. Park Historic District, Las Vegas
Population: 2,196 in John S. Park; 583,756 in the city of Las Vegas
House styles: Revival styles from the 1930s, ranches built during the post–World War II era, and mid-century modern
Expect to pay: From $80,000 to $250,000, depending on condition; most houses come on the market as fixer-uppers
In 1999, this neighborhood a mile southeast of the neon-lit streets of downtown Las Vegas made headlines when residents banded together to defeat a developer’s proposal to build a cruise-ship-shaped, Titanic-themed hotel just west of the area. The John S. Park Neighborhood Association has worked tirelessly since then to preserve the area’s low-rise, mid-century charm; among other victories, they successfully lobbied to create a 60-foot height cap on all new construction in the area. Most of the houses here were built between 1931 and 1956 and are far from cookie-cutter. “There’s a range of styles, and even those of the same style are not built exactly alike,” says Jack Levine, a local Realtor who has noticed a recent influx of artists, musicians, and young professionals. With its idyllic, tree-lined streets and namesake neighborhood pocket park, buyers won’t even know they’re practically in the middle of Sin City.
Hillsborough, North Carolina
House styles: Federal, Georgian, Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, and Craftsman, along with some late-Victorian-era homes
Expect to pay: In the historic district, which has houses dating to 1754, prices range from $130,000 for a fixer-upper to $850,000 for a refurbished beauty
This close-knit river town is welcoming a growing community of young families and retired couples. Founded in 1754, it was a political hub for North Carolina during the colonial era and Revolutionary War period, and was home to William Hooper, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; his house still stands here. In the early 20th century, Hillsborough became a textile town, though its mills, like so many across the Northeast and the South, are now shuttered. Today, its proximity to larger employment and cultural hubs—thriving Raleigh and Research Triangle Park are a 45-minute drive—makes it a viable alternative to those larger cities; DIYers have been drawn to its well-priced fixer-uppers, which include early 20th-century mansions built by factory owners; more modest “mill houses,” where workers lived; and a smattering of older homes built in the city’s earliest days. The downtown area features a mix of local businesses, including the java joint Cup A Joe and Purple Crow Books, as well as eateries and boutiques. The combination of affordability, the small-town pace, and access to job centers makes it a tempting find for people from all walks of life.
Oak Grove Residential District, Fargo, North Dakota
Population: 105,549 in the city of Fargo
House styles: Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and vernacular bungalows
Expect to pay: About $75,000 for a fixer-upper; as much as $130,000 for a move-in ready house
Nestled in the east edge of Fargo, Oak Grove was founded by working-class residents around 1895 and experienced significant growth in 1904, when an electric streetcar system connected it to downtown Fargo. The streetcars have long been a thing of the past, but most of the area’s pre-1950s houses are still in decent shape, though some workman’s specials can be found. One signature local style is the “mechanic’s cottage,” which features gable fronts, porticos, and other details inspired by Greek Revival houses, says Steve Martens, an architectural historian and a professor at North Dakota State University. Known as a family-friendly neighborhood, Oak Grove is surrounded on three sides by fields and parks, where residents can picnic, bike, play horseshoes, and enjoy the local playgrounds. Added bonus: Small-business owners get a big boost from Fargo’s population of nearly 30,000 college students, who fill area restaurants, shops, and pubs throughout the school year.
Mesta Park, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Population: About 1,740 in Mesta Park; 579,999 in Oklahoma City
House styles: Prairie is the dominant style here; there are also Craftsmans, vernacular bungalows, and a few Tudor Revivals
Expect to pay: Bungalows cost $120,000 to $200,000; larger houses cost $225,000 to $425,000
Back in 1902, this area north of downtown was called University Addition; it had been created to build up the blocks around Epworth University, and a streetcar system once connected it to other parts of the city. Epworth has since changed names and relocated, and the streetcars run no longer, but the neighborhood now known as Mesta Park continues to thrive. This enclave of historic houses, most built during the first half of the 1900s, boasts an amenity—sidewalks—that is surprisingly absent from many residential areas of Oklahoma City. Perhaps that’s why on warmer days, you’ll find homeowners relaxing on their generous front porches, where they can enjoy the weather and take in the foot traffic. There are some eateries and shops along Northwest 23rd Street, but it’s also a quick commute from Mesta Park to downtown Oklahoma City, where you’ll find theaters, sports venues (including the arena for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the city’s popular NBA team), and the American Banjo Museum, which houses the largest public collection of these instruments in the world. Prices for older houses are a bit lower here compared with neighboring historic areas, so it’s a good spot for finding an early-20th-century gem that won’t break the bank.
St. Johns Neighborhood, Portland, Oregon
Population: About 12,207 in St. Johns; nearly 583,000 in the city of Portland
House styles: Craftsman bungalow, Cape Cod, mid-century ranch, and various vernacular styles
Expect to pay: About $185,000 for a wreck with potential; well-restored houses cost around $300,000
St. Johns feels more like a rough-and-tumble small town than a neighborhood of shiny, happy Portland. Perhaps that’s because in a former life, that’s exactly what it was. First settled in 1850 and located at the tip of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, St. Johns was an incorporated city before citizens voted to be annexed by Portland in 1915. This working-class enclave is seeing a wave of newcomers, as thirtysomething couples with or without kids flock here for affordable homes. Though many of the houses are truly handyman specials, the best finds are in Cathedral Park, a neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood that flanks a waterfront green space of the same name; its streets are lined with Craftsman bungalows and vernacular styles, punctuated by the occasional Queen Anne or Dutch Colonial. Recent transplants have been happily supporting local stalwart businesses, like Wayne’s Barber Shop and Tulip Bakery, even as they open shops and eateries of their own. An active neighborhood association; an easy commute to downtown via bike, bus, or (gasp!) car; and views of the waterfront and the spectacular St. Johns Bridge make this area feel downright promising.
Fruit Hill Neighborhood, North Providence, Rhode Island
Population: 32,078 in the city of North Providence
House styles: 19th- and early-20th-century Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and Italianate houses share the streets with smaller vernacular bungalows from the 1920s and 1930s
Expect to pay: Bungalows can cost as little as $130,000; most houses are from $115,000 to about $400,000
Tucked away a few miles northwest of downtown Providence, Fruit Hill—named for the trees that still dot its landscape—is an attractive choice for old-house lovers seeking a peaceful oasis in the shadow of big-city hustle and bustle. Perhaps that’s why several well-known artists, including painters Mabel Woodward and H. Cyrus Farnum, settled here in the early 1900s to hone their craft.
Its laid-back appeal remains, thanks in no small part to the Fruit Hill Neighborhood Association, whose members work tirelessly to promote and maintain this historic enclave’s many charms, planting cherry trees along the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, Fruit Hill Avenue, and volunteering at seasonal farmers’ markets sponsored by nearby Rhode Island College. But the area is no mere time capsule; thanks to nearby Providence’s diverse population, Fruit Hill is also home to ethnic restaurants and local food shops, particularly those featuring Central and South American cuisine. It might just be the perfect mix of modern-day amenities and old-town charm.
York, South Carolina
House styles: A diverse mix, including Greek Revival, Prairie, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, and Carpenter Gothic. Some houses in the historic district date back to the mid-1700s
Expect to pay: Homes that need TLC start around $90,000; you’ll spend $300,000 or more on a fixed-up beauty
This charming city is home to a welcoming blend of Old South natives, Yankee transplants, and, increasingly, a growing community of potters and painters. Founded in the early 1750s, York was established by settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia who sought out its temperate climate to escape cold mountain winters and low-country humidity; they tended the area’s cotton fields and in time turned it into a manufacturing hub for textiles. Though this industry no longer supports York, there are ample job prospects in banking, distribution, and other fields in Charlotte, North Carolina, 30 miles to the southwest. The city’s historic district is one of the largest in the state, second only to Charleston’s, and locals describe themselves as a fiercely proud and tight-knit bunch. “It’s like Mayberry,” says Karen Fritz, who moved here recently from Las Vegas. “Downtown has old shops and exciting new businesses, and everyone knows each other.” The main artery of the city center, North Congress Street, is home to the 100-year-old Sylvia Theater, a restaurant owned by a Cordon Bleu–trained chef, and an assortment of other eateries as well as antiques stores and cafes. And with an international airport less than a half hour away, residents have the benefit of being globally connected without sacrificing an enviable small-town lifestyle.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
House styles: A mix from the late 1800s and early 1900s, including Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Prairie
Expect to pay: As little as $80,000 for a small fixer-upper; a large, renovated house could cost upward of $600,000
Although an economic depression and, yes, a plague of grasshoppers threatened to ruin a booming Sioux Falls in the 1890s, South Dakota’s largest city eventually found its way back to prosperity. Today, its agricultural and quarry-based industries have given way to white-collar fields, such as health-care and financial services, and the city holds bragging rights to myriad awards for its thriving economy and low cost of living. The city has adapted to its growing population by adding amenities, such as a $115-million event center slated to open in 2014. But it has also maintained a strong sense of heritage; each summer, the outdoor SculptureWalk exhibit showcases new artwork focusing on historical events in South Dakota. And the Pettigrew Home & Museum, located in an 1889 Queen Anne that was once the home of the state’s first senator, hosts many events each year, including an open-house celebration featuring lawn games and rides in horse-drawn carriages. Period houses are concentrated in the heart of the city and range from small fixer-uppers to restored mansions from the late 1890s and early 1900s. And, surprisingly, many are still a bargain. Restore your dream home here and you might just win the mayor’s annual historic preservation award, given out each May.
NorthEast Neighborhood, Olympia, Washington
Population: 3,654 in NorthEast; about 47,500 in the city of Olympia
House styles: Craftsman bungalow, Tudor Revival, vernacular farmhouse, World War II–era cottage, and ranch
Expect to pay: $150,000 to $250,000, depending on the house’s size, style, and condition
“We narrowly avoided a bidding war,” says Chrisanne Beckner, an architectural historian and preservation consultant, recalling the nail-biting she and her husband endured in 2011 when buying their 1950 house in this Olympia neighborhood. Despite NorthEast’s abundant selection of intact period houses, and the fact that it’s right next to the city’s treasured Bigelow Historic District, the area lacks its own formal historic district designation; Chrisanne calls it “truly unrecognized.” A pedestrian-friendly 2.4 square miles with views of the Budd Inlet’s East Bay, the neighborhood’s streets are lined mostly with small, simple houses that hail from the 1920s through the 1960s: bungalows, cottages, vernacular farmhouses, and early ranches, all built to last, and many with Craftsman touches and tree-filled yards. These, plus highly rated schools, stable house values, urban gardens, and the lush lawns and picnic areas in nearby Priest Point Park, have lured couples and families to the area in the past couple of years. The cherry on top: The Olympia Heritage Commission, a state-funded organization, offers local homeowners workshops on weatherizing and maintaining historic structures, and the city offers tax incentives for rehabbing period houses. With all it’s got going for it, we suspect this neighborhood won’t remain under the radar for much longer.
Elkins, West Virginia
House styles: Queen Anne, American Foursquare, and Colonial Revival are the most common
Expect to pay: About $60,000 for a fixer-upper; move-in-ready homes top out at around $170,000
Situated on the outskirts of the Monongahela National Forest, Elkins was founded in 1890 by two U.S. senators and flourished into the mid-20th century as a railroad, mining, and timber town. Though the passenger lines that brought visitors to this temperate riverside city are a thing of the past, locals keep the area’s history alive with the New Tygart Flyer, a vintage passenger train that departs from the city limits and offers scenic rides through the nearby Appalachian Mountains. Several of Elkins’s period houses were built as summer getaways for vacationing families; most were put up before 1930 and are concentrated in the Wees Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Residents here—mostly families, retirees, and employees of Davis &Elkins College—enjoy a thriving arts community, including the Augusta Heritage Center, which offers popular workshops celebrating West Virginia’s folk traditions and crafts. Outdoorsy types will find plenty of places to hike, bike, camp, and ski within an hour’s drive. Properties in Elkins are reasonably priced, so you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck here—especially if you’re tackling the renovations yourself.
House styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, American Foursquare, Cape Cod, and Craftsman
Expect to pay: $150,000 to $170,000 for a house that needs TLC; restored houses typically cost around $350,000
Just 15 miles south of Madison, this idyllic, thriving community defies the notion that small towns are on the decline. Founded in 1847, it blossomed two decades later when Norwegian immigrants flocked here to work in the fields and factories along the Yahara River, then known as the Catfish River. Today, Stoughton’s four residential historic districts and perfectly preserved downtown area give it an air of bygone times. “There is a lot going on here, and we found a beautiful 1904 Queen Anne that we could actually afford,” says homeowner Peggy Veregin, who moved here two years ago from the Chicago area. Main Street, lined with Norwegian flags to this day, is a bustling mix of antiques shops, boutiques, and eateries, as well as a live-stage theater and the 1901 Stoughton Opera House. At the annual Syttende Mai (Norwegian for “May 17th”) festival, locals still celebrate the signing of Norway’s constitution with a parade and by dressing in authentic costumes and gathering to folk-dance, listen to music, and compete in the Ugliest Troll Drawing contest. This small town knows how to live big.
House styles: Queen Anne, Craftsman, and American Foursquare are common; many houses have elements of several architectural styles
Expect to pay: Houses that need some work can cost about $100,000 and up; fully remodeled houses go for as much as $500,000
Thanks to Douglas’s thriving oil and gas industry, its unemployment rate stands at just 4.2 percent, well below the national average. “It’s booming right now,” says Arlene Ekland-Earnst, who chairs the Douglas Historic Preservation Commission. This wasn’t always the case; in 1888, the population had dwindled to a mere 300 people following a typhoid epidemic and a harsh winter. But around 1889, as sheep ranching became the area’s primary industry, things began to turn around. Many of the houses in the North Douglas Historic District were built in the two decades afterward, and today these homes are lovingly maintained by diligent owners. According to local real-estate agent Tione Willox, many houses on the market are move-in ready. If you relocate here, you can look forward to the Wyoming State Fair, which brings in 45,000 visitors each year for rodeos, concerts, contests, and carnival games. You may also want to get in line for a seat on the board of the Douglas Historic Preservation Commission; interest in preservation is so high that there’s a waiting list.
Victoria West, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Population: 4,095 in Victoria West; 80,017 in the city of Victoria
House styles: Victorian-era mansions, along with modest bungalows and workers houses
Expect to pay: Less than $400,000 for a house that needs TLC; the fanciest refurbished mansions can fetch seven figures
Surrounded by water on three sides, Victoria West—known locally as Vic West—was founded in the mid-1850s as a fur-trading post and later in the century became the chosen spot for vacation homes built by the city’s über-rich. Its streets feature both upscale and modest historic homes interspersed with new condo developments, and the diverse mix of residents here are an eco-conscious group. “All of my neighbors raise chickens for their eggs—Im the only holdout,” says Diane Carr, president of the Victoria West Community Association. They’re also committed to staving off development that doesn’t suit the neighborhoods character, such as the high-rise luxury condos on the water proposed by one builder. But when they’re not fighting these battles or restoring their period properties, you might find them at the Spiral Cafe, a local coffee joint known citywide for its live music.
Crescentwood Neighborhood , Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Population: About 2,735 of Winnipeg’s approximately 700,000 residents
House styles: Queen Anne, Georgian, Tudor Revival, and Dutch Colonial Revival are the most common
Expect to pay: At least $400,000; most houses here are move-in ready
Located in Winnipeg, just south of the Assiniboine River and west of the Red River, Crescentwood was first conceived by real-estate developer C.H. Enderton in 1902 as a place with “the most attractive residences in the city,” according to his newspaper ads of the time. Indeed, as these houses were built, owners eagerly snapped them up until a recession in 1913 halted construction. Today, Crescentwood’s century-old streets are lined with towering century-old oak trees, and residents have put great care into restoring their homes, says resident Barbara Parke, who has lived in the area since 1975. John Orlikow, her neighbor and a member of the Winnipeg City Council, agrees. “There’s a lot of respect for the history of the neighborhood. People are very proud to live here,” he says. That extends to public spaces as well. When the beloved Enderton Park (known colloquially as “Peanut Park”) needed a spruce-up seven years ago, volunteers secured over $250,000 in funding for landscaping, a new playground, and new benches that looked like the original ones seen in historical photographs. You won’t find many bargains or fixer-uppers here, but for what you’ll pay, you’ll get a large house that’s full of original details inside and out.
Townsite, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada
Population: 400 (estimated) in Townsite; 20,083 in the city of Corner Brook
House styles: Vernacular “mill houses” built during the early 20th century; some have Craftsman-inspired details
Expect to pay: From $130,000 for a fixer-upper; about $300,000 for a fully renovated home
In 1900, when the Reid Newfoundland Railway was extended to Corner Brook, this city on the shores of the Bay of Islands was a bustling community supported by the lumber and fishing industries. But with an eye on the region’s abundant forest resources, industry moguls saw the potential for something bigger: They built a pulp and paper mill between 1923 and 1925, along with enough housing for all its employees, and turned the city into the largest industrial center in western Newfoundland. Turns out it was a prudent investment; the mill still employs many people in the region, and most of the 180 original houses built on what’s known as the Townsite are still intact. They were designed by architect Andrew Randall Cobb, who drew inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement when he came up with four distinct house types, ranging from “Type 1” larger homes for the mill’s managers to “Type 4” smaller houses for the average worker. You’ll recognize them all by their steep, gabled roofs, covered porches, and full concrete basements, as well as flooring and stairs built from local birch. Earlier this year, the Townsite was designated as a Heritage Conservation District, which will help protect the integrity of these homes in future years. But in the meantime, residents are doing the upkeep necessary to keep them looking period-perfect—a boon to would-be owners looking for a place that’s already in good condition.
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada
House styles: Craftsman and Queen Anne are predominant; Shingle-style and Prairie houses and vernacular bungalows are scattered throughout
Expect to pay: $100,000 to $200,000 for a fixer-upper; a renovated house can cost up to $300,000
There are many theories as to how Moose Jaw got its colorful name; it may have come from a Cree or First Nations word that was transliterated. But no matter its origins, locals make the most of it, with the town’s mascot, Mac the Moose, standing 32 feet tall in his cement-and-steel glory just outside the visitors’ center. The city first flourished in the late 19th century, when it became a stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 for transporting goods, and it experienced a commercial and industrial boom in the decades that followed. Rail transit is still a major industry here, along with oil, agriculture, and salt mining. Lately, tourism has been making a mark. Local attractions include underground tunnels used for rum-running during Prohibition, geothermal springs that feed mineral water to area spas, and the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, which draws notable authors and visitors for workshops and lectures each summer. The history and heritage of this family-friendly town are reflected in a series of 40 colorful murals, painted on public buildings, that depict scenes from various moments of Moose Jaw’s past. Many of the houses built in the earliest years are still in good shape, especially along the Avenues, an 18-block area near Main Street. And house prices are fairly reasonable, especially for those that need work.