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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2013: The South

From the hometown of Martin Luther King Jr. to the birthplace of Tabasco sauce, these neighborhoods, with their rich histories, will charm you from the first moment you see them

Southern Comfort

Mild winters, laid-back summers, gracious tree-lined streets—there's so much to love about the American South, and its stock of old houses is nothing short of a national treasure. From the hometown of Martin Luther King Jr. to the birthplace of Tabasco sauce, these neighborhoods, with their rich histories, will charm you from the first moment you see them. And these are just a few of the 61 neighborhoods from coast to coast where you'll find one-of-a-kind period houses. Read on to see which ones are in the South, or see all the neighborhoods and categories.

Norwood, Birmingham, Alabama

Population: 3,510 in Norwood; 212,413 in the city of Birmingham

House styles: Craftsman, American Foursquare, Neoclassical, Prairie, and various Victorian-era styles

Expect to pay: From $20,000 and up for a fixer-upper; move-in-ready houses can cost $120,000 or more

Only a mile and a half north of downtown Birmingham, Norwood was built as a streetcar suburb in the early 1900s and flourished during the first half of the century. But by the end of the 1900s, many of its mansions and historic properties were in tough shape, thanks to decades of urban flight and the neglect of absentee landlords. Since then, lured by low prices and diverse house styles, young couples and professionals with families began buying homes and fixing them up. And their investment has paid off; the area received historic designation from the city of Birmingham in 2012. Locals are now building on the area's shiny new image, turning three vacant lots into community orchards and gardens, and hosting a weekly farmers' market along the serpentine Norwood Boulevard, which winds through the neighborhood. But the most popular outdoor space nearby is the award-winning Railroad Park, nicknamed Birmingham's Living Room. Built along a former rail viaduct, the park boasts nine acres of lush lawn, along with walls and seating areas made partly from bricks and other materials unearthed during its construction. Here, you can find the perfect spot to sit for a spell before wending your way home.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, First-Time Buyers, Gardening

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Population: 35,262

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.

Among the best for: The South, Victorians, Retirees, Family-Friendly, Walkability, Lots to Do, Gardening, Parks and Recreation, American Heritage

Springfield Neighborhood, Jacksonville, Florida

Population: 4,674 in Springfield; 827,908 in the city of Jacksonville

House styles: Early-20th-century types, such as Colonial Revival, Prairie, and Craftsman predominate here; also Queen Anne and various vernacular styles

Expect to pay: As little as $40,000 for a fixer-upper; up-to-date houses cost about $250,000 to $275,000

In 1901, nearly 150 city blocks in downtown Jacksonville were consumed by a factory fire, and many displaced residents fled to Springfield. The community thrived through around 1925, but a combination of urban flight and the area's rezoning as a business district caused many houses in the neighborhood to decline. Thankfully, locals turned the tide and snagged the area a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Today's buyers will find a charming mix of residences here from as early as the late 1800s, with some cafes and small businesses scattered within walking distance. "There's an incredible community spirit here," says resident Kathleen Carignan, who moved to Springfield in 2012. "I found out one of my neighbors had been mowing my lawn before I moved in just because he wanted it to look nice." City Kidz, a local ice-cream shop, holds after-school workshops to teach financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills, and a program at one of the neighborhood's two community gardens educates kids about sustainable-food and gardening practices. To us, it sounds like a great place to be a kid or a grown-up

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Easy Commute, Retirees, Walkability, Gardening

Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta

Population: 10,440 in Old Fourth Ward; 432,427 in the city of Atlanta

House styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Craftsman bungalow, and shotgun cottages

Expect to pay: About $150,000 for a house that needs TLC; refurbished houses cost from $250,000 to $400,000

Located just a 15-minute walk east of downtown, O4W, as locals sometimes refer to it, was settled after the Civil War by African-American factory workers and working-class whites. It later became a hub of the Civil Rights movement, due in part to its most famous resident: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised here, and his birthplace and gravesite are a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. The neighborhood suffered when businesses and homes were demolished in the 1970s for a highway that was never built. But its fortunes are reversing quickly, thanks in large part to the Historic District Development Corporation, a grassroots community organization co-founded by Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's widow, that has spearheaded the preservation of important homes and buildings in the area.

One big recent boost was the 2011 opening of Historic Fourth Ward Park, a 17-acre oasis boasting fountains, picnic areas, and jogging paths that's a part of Atlanta's BeltLine project to connect its neighborhoods with parks and trails. Ponce City Market, another project in the works, will transform a former factory into a vibrant mix of retail, office, and residential spaces. Meanwhile, galleries, bars, and hot-spot restaurants—including local favorite P'cheen—have opened to serve the gentrified and multicultural mix of residents who are fixing up the area's mostly modest-size period homes. Get in on the action while you can.

Among the best for: Editors' Picks, The South, Victorians, City Living, Easy Commute, Lots to Do, American Heritage

Kenwick Neighborhood, Lexington, Kentucky

Population: 1,613 in Kenwick; 295,803 in the city of Lexington

House styles: Craftsman bungalows are predominant, with a few Cape Cod and Victorian-era houses mixed in

Expect to pay: $125,000 to $300,000, depending on the house's size and condition

Once a rural family estate and farm on the outskirts of Lexington proper, Kenwick was formally established in 1909, when its heirs divided the land into small residential lots, turning it into one of the city's first suburbs for middle- and working-class families. Now this neighborhood is gaining renown for some of the earliest houses built on those lots: handsome bungalows in the Craftsman style. Tight-knit residents have developed a tour that showcases a dozen or so well-kept examples, and both the tour and the area itself are gaining traction locally. "These are all unique homes, lovingly cared for by their owners," says Sara Constantine, a member of the Kenwick Neighborhood Association. Living here offers convenience as well as low-key charm; it's a quick trip by car or trolley to Lexington's many cultural highlights, from the numerous arts and music venues at the University of Kentucky to the venerable Keeneland, one of Lexington's oldest racetracks, which opened in 1936.

Among the best for: The South, Cottages and Bungalows, College Towns, Easy Commute, Retirees, Lots to Do

New Iberia, Louisiana

Population: 30,617

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.

Among the best for: The South, Victorians, Retirees, Family-Friendly, Walkability, Lots to Do, Gardening

Belhaven Neighborhood, Jackson, Mississippi

Population: About 8,000 in Belhaven; 173,514 in the city of Jackson

House styles: A wide variety from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, and others

Expect to pay: Houses that need work run about $150,000; a renovated beauty can cost up to $500,000

The origins of Belhaven, one of Jackson's oldest neighborhoods, lie in the founding of Belhaven College (now Belhaven University) in 1883. The campus was originally nestled in the countryside, but residences grew up around it when a trolley system connecting the area to other parts of Jackson was added in the early 20th century. The university is still the heart of this neighborhood, so it's no surprise that students, as well as academics and other professionals and their families, call it home. The walkable, tree-lined streets, chock-full of houses and buildings in many different styles that date from the late 1800s, are a testament to the area's steady popularity over the decades; local historic standards will keep it what locals call "a happy hodgepodge" for years to come. Serious old-house buffs can take a self-guided architectural tour, while literary enthusiasts can check out author Eudora Welty's Tudor Revival home and garden on Pinehurst Street. Or, if nightlife is your thing, take a two-mile car ride to downtown Jackson and enjoy some live music at one of its renowned blues clubs. That's what you get in Belhaven: all the charms of a small Southern town within a vibrant city.

Among the best for: The South, College Towns, City Living, Easy Commute, Walkability, Lots to Do, American Heritage

Hillsborough, North Carolina

Population: 6,105

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.

Among the best for: The South, Small Towns, Retirees, Family-Friendly, First-Time Buyers, American Heritage

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.

Among the best for: The South, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Retirees, Family-Friendly

York, South Carolina

Population: 7,888

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.

Among the best for: The South, Small Towns, Easy Commute, Retirees, Family-Friendly, American Heritage

St. Elmo Historic District, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Population: 2,620 in St. Elmo; 170,136 in the city of Chattanooga

House styles: Large Folk Victorians and smaller Carpenter Gothic houses prevail, though there are also Queen Anne, Italianate, and other Victorian-era styles

Expect to pay: Houses that need work start at around $40,000; move-in ready houses top out at about $250,000

Founded during the urban exodus caused by the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, St. Elmo sits at the base of Lookout Mountain, just three and a half miles south of downtown Chattanooga. Its first residents built grand houses in various Victorian styles on large parcels of land up until about 1915; in the two decades that followed, smaller houses on smaller lots prevailed. Though its homes and buildings suffered from neglect when many residents left for the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, the neighborhood has been on an upswing. Today, owners of all ages and walks of life are restoring historic houses to their original splendor, and small businesses have been emerging in the commercial district built around the intersection of St. Elmo and Tennessee Avenues. Residents are eagerly anticipating the extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk to the area for the first time; this popular walking and biking trail runs through the city's center, following the same path as the Tennessee River. And for serious outdoor enthusiasts, the network of trails on Lookout Mountain lets you get a healthy dose of exercise while taking in the panoramic views. Period houses here vary in size and price quite a bit—meaning it offers something for everybody.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Victorians, City Living, Retirees, Parks and Recreation

Glenbrook Valley Neighborhood, Houston

Photo by TK Images

Population: About 3,140 in Glenbrook Valley; about 2.15 million in the city of Houston

House styles: American ranch, mid-century modern

Expect to pay: Less than $100,000 for a smaller ranch needing work; up to $300,000 for a mid-century-modern sparkler

The word swanky comes to mind when you survey the daring roof lines and sweeping lawns of Glenbrook Valley, a neighborhood that would have tempted Mad Men's Don Draper had he landed a Big Oil account. This planned community, which was rolled out after Houston's Gulf Freeway began funneling downtowners to greener subdivisions, contains more than 1,200 houses built between 1953 and 1962. Noted landscape architects Hare and Hare, who lent their genius to many of the city's public spaces, designed the development, which boasted big lots on which buyers custom-built their dream homes—no two are exactly alike. "Our homes are our hangouts. They were designed for entertaining," says resident, Realtor, and de facto area historian Robert Searcy, who adds that common features include party rooms and built-in martini bars. Many old-guarders live on here happily, serving the Civic Club. But since 2011, when Glenbrook Valley was anointed as the first post-war historic district by both the City of Houston and the State of Texas, the neighborhood has been discovered by design-savvy young Houstonians with a surprising appreciation for 1950s-era powder-pink bathroom tile. You'll have to fight them to get a piece of the action here.

Among the best for: Editors' Picks, The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, City Living, Easy Commute, Retirees, First-Time Buyers, Gardening

Danville, Virginia

Population: 42,852

House styles: A high-low mix of stately Victorian-era and Edwardian houses, Craftsman bungalows, and workers' cottages

Expect to pay: Houses needing work can be had for as little as $10,000; you'll pay about $150,000 for a move-in ready place

Danville, a city founded on tobacco in 1793 that later added textiles as a major industry, was once a wealthy trading hub on the North Carolina border. Its richest residents lived in the ornate Victorian-era mansions lining Main Street's Millionaires' Row; one of these houses even served briefly as the capitol for the Confederate States during the Civil War. But the area's fortunes dried up as the textile mills closed down, leaving behind beautiful old bones but little economic opportunity. Though some of its historic buildings have been demolished, community efforts to preserve the downtown River District have taken root in the past few years, and the city is widening sidewalks and spiffing up streetscapes to lure people and businesses back to the area. Most of the Millionaires' Row houses have been restored, but several other neighborhoods have properties up for grabs at rock-bottom prices, including the Holbrook-Ross Street Historic District, founded in the 1870s by black professionals, and Schoolfield Mill Village, a neighborhood of small workers' cottages. A case in point: A refurbished 6,000-square-foot Italianate mansion, with seven bedrooms and six baths, that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places recently sold for only $262,000.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Victorians, Waterfront, First-Time Buyers, American Heritage

Elkins, West Virginia

Population: 7,094

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.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Small Towns, Retirees, Family-Friendly, Parks and Recreation