Get Your Hands Dirty
Vibrant flower beds, sculpted shrubs, bountiful vegetable gardens—no matter what your favorite gardening project is, these neighborhoods offer plenty of ways for green thumbs to sharpen their skills. And they're just a few of the 61 vibrant neighborhoods from coast to coast where you'll find one-of-a-kind period houses. Read on to see which places boast the lushest surroundings, 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.
Garfield Neighborhood, Phoenix
Population: Approximately 2,100 in Garfield; nearly 1.5 million in the city of Phoenix
House styles: Revival styles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Craftsman, and vernacular bungalows and ranches
Expect to pay: As little as $50,000 for a short-sale fixer-upper; around $150,000 for a fully rehabbed house
This one-square-mile neighborhood comprises Garfield and North Garfield, two of the largest historic districts in Phoenix; both have been on the National Register since 2010. They date back to the 1880s (the beginning of time around these parts) and were early additions to the old Phoenix townsite. Today it's an easy stroll down their streets to downtown attractions, such as Symphony Hall or the Roosevelt Row Arts District, top-notch restaurants and taco trucks, the new city-center campuses of Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, and Phoenix's Valley Metro Light Rail. The locals, a mix of Hispanic families and artistic types, recently created Garfield Community Garden, where neighbors meet on Sundays to sow seeds, pull weeds, and swap all sorts of green-thumb expertise as they raise veggies to distribute to needy communities. The homes here aren't manses—you won't find many original houses over 1,200 square feet—but a wee bungalow or cottage needing care can be had cheaply, and the City of Phoenix has funds available for those who are restoring historic properties.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
Glenbrook Valley Neighborhood, Houston
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.
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.