A Brief History of Cabbagetown, Atlanta
Cabbagetown, Georgia is an historic neighborhood (listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places) and one of Atlanta’s oldest industrial settlements. After the Atlanta Rolling Mill was destroyed in the Battle of Atlanta, Jacob Elsas, a German Jewish immigrant, began operations of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, in 1881. Cabbagetown was built for the workers of the South’s first textile processing mill. White laborers were recruited from the Appalachian region of north Georgia. The promise of wages, health care, and housing was an attractive alternative for many who were previously poor sharecroppers. From 1881 to 1922, Elsas built a small community of simple frame one and two-story shotgun and cottage-style houses flanking the Mill. In the fashion of similar paternalistic Mill owners, Elsas attempted to provide his workers with everything he believed they needed; security, medical, dental, a library, nursery services, even the occasional “picture show.” This grew a tightly knit, semi-isolated community whose lives were anchored to the Mill. Everyone in this community worked the Mill; men, women and even children, until the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, banning child labor. The Mill thrived until 1957, when it was sold to new owners. The homes were offered to their respective tenants. The homes not bought by the current residents were sold to investors.
The Cotton Mill
The Mill is a rare example of Atlanta’s earliest industrial architecture, and was added to the National Historic Register in 1976, along with the original houses surrounding the Mill. After the century old mill closed in 1977, Cabbagetown went into a brief decline. Some of the original workers left to find work, but many stayed.
Sparked by an influx of artists in the 1980’s, including a photographer, Raymond Herbert, known by many as Panorama Ray, Cabbagetown started to see tremendous growth. Many had high hopes for the Atlanta art scene and aspired to make Cabbagetown into an art gallery district as well as an overall artistic zone. Panorama Ray opened an art studio and photo gallery called, Cirkut Central, on the main drag of Carroll Street. In 1995, during a time of rapid renewal and gentrification within Atlanta’s neighborhoods, the Mill was sold for conversion into lofts. The project was one of the biggest loft conversions in the United States and required funding from several sources including the City of Atlanta, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal Empowerment Zone Program. Today the old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill is a gated community called the “Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts.” Since Panorama Ray’s death in 1997, Carroll Street has become the home of some of Atlanta’s most noteworthy restaurants and makes a great people-watching spot.
In April 1999 a 5-alarm fire severely damaged the east building of the Mill, which was still being renovated. Several nearby homes were also destroyed. The lofts nevertheless opened the following year.
A tornado in March 2008 damaged parts of the loft complex and many of the historic homes and businesses. In the true fashion of Cabbagetown, neighbors banded together and helped the community recover. Now, Cabbagetown throws an annual festival, Twisty Park, to commemorate the sense of community after the tragedy of the tornado.
Today, Cabbagetown is home to a unique mix of families, singles, young couples, artists and professionals. Home styles include farmhouse Victorians, bungalows and early 1900’s shotgun style homes. It is a rural-type neighborhood community within an urban setting. Here you will find people with a rich sense of community. You will find people gardening together in the Community Garden, picnicking in one of our lovely parks or sitting on their porches together; talking, laughing and helping each other out.
A great time to come see our Cabbagetown is in November when we have our annual Chomp and Stomp Bluegrass and Chili Cook-off Festival. The day starts with a 5k run and culminates with a tasting of over 100 different chilis, bluegrass music on 3 stages and artist booths throughout.
There are many tales and versions of how Cabbagetown, a little Cotton Mill Village, got its name. Here are a few:
According to Marion A. “Peanut” Brown, when she moved to the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill Village in 1919 she got her first job peddling produce on foot and carrying baskets of sweet potatoes from door to door. There she met and worked with Joe Newman from a mule-drawn wagon. They peddled around town through the week, but on Fridays and Saturdays many produce wagons would park at one of three different mill gates. They soon found that cabbages sold better than all the other produce and decided to take entire loads of nothing but cabbage, thus the beginning of the name Cabbagetown. She says the name slowly spread and by the mid 1930’s the place was well known as Cabbagetown.
Another explanation is the mostly transplanted poor Appalachian residents (largely of Scottish-Irish descent) who worked in the nearby Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, would grow cabbages in the front yards of their shotgun houses and one could distinctly smell the odor of cooking cabbage coming from the neighborhood. People outside the neighborhood said “Cabbagetown,” with derision, but it soon became a label of pride for the people who lived there. A variation of this explanation is that a local cab company operating off Memorial Drive gave nicknames to various neighborhoods they serviced and the specifically called the mill town Cabbagetown, because of the smell.
Yet another explanation is that a train carrying a load of cabbages derailed by the mill adjacent to the neighborhood and the poor residents quickly accumulated the cabbages and used them in just about every meal. A variation of this legend has a Ford Model T taking a sharp turn at one of the main intersections of Cabbagetown, and flipping over spilling its cargo of cabbages across the street. Someone yelled “Free Cabbages!” and they were soon carted away by the residents.