"So, what's keeping us from coming home?" Stephen Chirico asked his wife, Anne, as they drove the backroads of Springfield, Ohio, about five years ago. After living in suburban Atlanta for 17 years, their visit to this charm-filled city of around 63,000 for Stephen's high-school reunion reminded them of all the things they loved about it: the college-town vibe provided by Wittenberg University, the strong sense of community its front-porch-lined neighborhoods provided, the better-than-you'd-think art museum, and the ubiquitous Victorian-era houses. Not long after, the Chiricos purchased an enormous 1925 Prairie Box home in the South Fountain neighborhood, a National Historic District adjacent to the revitalized downtown, where tons of Queen Annes, Italianates, Stick and Shingle Style, and Second Empire homes were built long ago for Springfield's wealthy industrialists and higher-income families. While their new place needed a gut renovation, the Chiricos were won over by its original hardwood floors, oak millwork, and French doors. The fact that the place cost only $40,000—did we mention this place is great for bargains?—sealed the deal.
Most were built by wealthy industrialists or their more modest-incomed employees, who either ran or worked at the farm equipment and automotive companies that once thrived here. Victorian-era homes are the mainstay, though there are also a few later Prairie-style houses. Every home in the district has a front porch, a feature that's celebrated the first Saturday of each October during South Fountain's Front Porch Festival. Prices range from $15,000 for a fixer-upper Folk Victorian, to $80,000 for a restored Queen Anne.
Why Buy Here?
Houses, once carved up into apartments, are being bought up for peanuts and restored by young professionals, many of them engineers or academics who work at either Wittenberg or nearby Wright State University. Some commute to Dayton, which is about 25 miles away, or make the longer drive to Columbus, about an hour's drive from here. Once industrial, Springfield is now a thriving college town and an affordable place to raise kids in an idyllic, village-style environment.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Family Friendly, Victorians