Cabbagetown: Atlanta's Appalachian families keep traditions alive

Atlanta's Cabbagetown, down to a handful of families from Appalachia, get together for quilting, bingo, and reminiscing each week.

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    Skateboarder rolls by Cabbagetown tornado damage, 2008.
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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Tornadoes, drought, floods, and gentrification – nothing, it seems, can wipe away Atlanta’s Cabbagetown, an Appalachian village set amid the 10th biggest urban economy in the United States.

Stubbornly close-knit, members of Cabbage­town’s original Appalachian families, now numbering only about 13 households, still meet four days a week at the Savannah Street Neighborhood House, known as “the mission,” to quilt, play bingo, and reminisce.

Increasingly boxed in by incoming hipsters, skate punks, and young professionals, Cab­bage­town’s original families sometimes feel marginalized. Resentment has flashed both ways, as newer residents complain about unkempt front yards.

But natural disasters have helped to forge an unusual alliance in a changing Cabbagetown and given new direction and spirit to one of America’s most unusual urban neighborhoods.

A 2008 tornado, a stubborn drought, and, last month, a 100-year flood shook residents out of their routines and into their neighbors’ lives. In the wake of the events, appreciation quickly built for the kind of self-reliance and communal spirit epitomized by the Appalachian descendants.

Cabbagetown was built in 1881, a mill village of small tightly spaced homes. The name comes from the once-ubiquitous cabbage peddlers who plied the streets. Mountain people looking for work settled it and worked at the mill. The entire 300-residence district is now on the National Register of Historic Places because of its concentration of Victorian frame homes and “shotgun” houses.

The concrete-block mission is the only organization original to the area still run by Appalachian descendants. The “Cabbagetown Ballad,” with its refrain, “We’re a mountain clan called Cabbage­town in the city of Atlanta, GA,” is still hummed amid quilting bees there.

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