Finding mom and pop in the Wal-Martization of America is becoming increasingly difficult. However, these ten small town gems will quickly dispel you of any notion that the historic and charming streets of Americana have long been eradicated. Visit them for a refreshing — and friendly — blast from the past.
Bethlehem, Penn., has a can’t-be-beat mix of the past and present. Victorian lampposts dress the historic Main Street area. Add the Historic Hotel Bethlehem and buildings dating from the 1700’s and you have a Dickinson-like dreamscape, even more stunning at Christmas when twinkling lights abound. A horse-drawn carriage or walking tour is a must. Nearby Restaurant Row is another draw as is the new and funky South Side’s Steel Stacks, with live music and big blast furnaces.
Charleston’s Broad Street and its famous Historic District brims over with Southern ambiance and old time charm. Of interest: The Four Corners of Law (City Hall, County Courthouse, U.S. Courthouse, St. Michael’s Church), located at the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets. The church was completed in 1761, making it the city’s oldest church edifice. Palm tree-lined paths, parks, and sprawling Southern mansions are plentiful. Visit the North end of Broad for good food and shopping. The Oak Steakhouse is a local favorite for steaks, chops and seafood.
Fort Pierce, Fla.
Fort Pierce, a Treasure Coast “Old Florida” town, cooled by breezes off the Indian River, won the 2011 Best Main Street designation from the National Trust. Swaying palm trees line the sidewalks, and the atmosphere evokes the early 1900’s when the city came into its own. Period Spanish architecture punctuates the downtown area, the star of which is the historic Sunrise Theatre. The Saturday Farmer’s Market is a must.
Rich with Civil War and Antebellum history, Main St. in Franklin, Tenn., is home to the intimate and newly restored Franklin Theatre, where some of the hottest acts are often on the bill. There are antiques aplenty, a cozy little bookshop, art galleries and the Lotz House, a Civil War landmark. So rich is the history you’ll benefit by a walking tour led by a local. The dining here is equally as compelling. Visit local favorite Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, or take a food tour for a taste of area highlights.
Only three hours from Chicago, Galena, Ill., is still a world away. This small town overlooks the Galena River and its Main Street evokes a simpler time. Browse for antiques, visit art galleries, shop and dine — all within 19th-century storefronts with bay front windows. The DeSoto House Hotel is a great breakfast spot, but don’t get too full. There are some fun specialty food shops and an old time ice cream parlor here that are too good to pass up. Wine lovers can catch a trolley car on Main Street for a tour of local wineries.
Julian is a definitely a Mom and Pop town, only with a distinctive California style. The Julian Gold Rush Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California, anchors Main Street. Nearby is A Rose Path, a utopia for candles and vintage accessories and art work. Book lovers will lose themselves in the Old Julian Book House. And since this is apple country, don’t miss the Julian Pie Company, the Julian Cider Mill, or a tasty American-fare lunch in the Julian Grille cottage. A full tour in a horse-drawn surrey is available at the Main St. Carriage Co. Finish off your day with a treat at the Candied Apple Pastry Company.
Embraced by three winding rivers, Downtown Rome and bustling Broad Street have been the center of activity in this northwest Georgia hub for over 180 years. The mix of boutiques, Victorian architecture, Roman cuisine, rich heritage and green space has allowed Rome to live up to the reputation of the classic eternal city from which it derives its moniker. In addition to a variety of dining options, there’s a fascinating assortment of statues and plaques detailing the town’s development. Don’t miss the iconic City Clocktower & Museum, Capitoline Wolf, extensive Heritage Trail System, and beautiful older homes in the adjacent Between-the-Rivers Historic District.
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Broadway Avenue in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is as historic as it is bustling. Sidewalk cafes are a primary attraction here, although the independently owned shops such as the Lyrical Ballad Bookshop and Celtic Treasures are equally popular. The “big draw” is the art, which the area is known for. Don’t miss the Beresford Gallery and Gallery 100, as both offer a window into the local talent.
Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, Beverley Street in Staunton, Va., is like a study in turn-of-the-century (Staunton’s boom years) architecture. Since the town escaped the ravages of the Civil War, the 18th and 19th century buildings remain intact. There are over 100 quaint shops and galleries to peruse (all independently owned) and a vibrant dining scene (yes, there’s a dandy ice cream shop) with most food locally sourced from nearby farms. Buskers that entertain at night, historic sites, and cultural ops such as the American Shakespeare Center and the Staunton Music Festival heighten the enjoyment and enlightenment.
Downtown Wallace, nestled in an idyllic mountain setting, sports a spirited local community and historic buildings. Bank Street, the focal point, features Italianate-style brick structures reminiscent of the silver boom that put the area on the map. One-of-a- kind shops and cozy dining offer up erstwhile charm while one-off museums, the Northern Pacific Depot Museum and the Oasis Bordello Museum (ah-hem!), offer insight into the area’s history. The mid-summer Wallace Blues Festival captured the “Best Blues Event’ award two years running.
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