Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Cabbagetown

May 19, 2011 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the market-driven revitalization of Atlanta's Cabbagetown to see what we can learn and apply towards the redevelopment of our own urban core residential neighborhoods.

About Cabbagetown

The Cabbagetown District, east of downtown Atlanta, originally consisted of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill and the housing built for the factory workers. The mill is a complex of buildings constructed primarily between 1881 and 1922. The main factory buildings are five-story brick buildings designed in a Neo-Romanesque style. Two of the three original mill buildings remain today. Founded by Jacob Elsas, the mill manufactured standard-sized cotton bags at a time when most of the cotton in the South was being shipped to the North to be processed.

Because this area of Atlanta was sparsely populated in the late 19th century, the owners of the mill company decided to erect housing for its employees. Housing along the streets was built at different times. The houses, situated on very small, narrow lots, vary in type from shotgun cottages to more sophisticated bungalows. Many of the houses have Victorian ornamentation that is mostly evident in their porches, doors, and windows. The first housing section, known as the "Factory Lot," was built around 1881 but is no longer extant. The oldest remaining houses were built between 1886 and 1892 along Reinhardt Street. Much of the housing was without plumbing and electricity until well into the 20th century. Hydrants located on back porches and the outhouses were replaced with indoor plumbing in the 1940s. Kerosene lamps and coal heaters were replaced in 1950 when the houses were wired for lights. A park known as "Noah's Ark" due to a nearby large, one-story apartment building provided recreational space for the community. There was also a baseball field in Cabbagetown, known as "Red Hill" because of the red clay of the field.

The mill maintained the entire neighborhood and its lawns. It also provided garbage, security, medical, dental, library and nursery services for its employees. Only when the Elsas family sold the mill in 1957 did most of these services end. At the time the mill was sold, the residences were offered to their respective tenants. Those buildings not bought were sold in groups to non-residents. The mill itself was closed in 1977 and remained vacant until the mid-1990s when the complex was converted into loft apartments. Occasional commercial enterprises are found through the village, most of which are long-established family-run stores that serve the immediate community and its needs.


The Atlanta Rolling Mill was destroyed after the Battle of Atlanta and on its site the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill began operations in 1881. Cabbagetown was built as the surrounding mill town and was one of the first textile processing mills built in the south. Its primary product was cotton bags for packaging agricultural products. Built during a period when many industries were relocating to the post-Reconstruction South in search of cheap labor, it opened shortly following the International Cotton Exposition, which was held in Atlanta in an effort to attract investment to the region. The mill was owned and operated by Jacob Elsas, a German Jewish immigrant. Its work force consisted of poor whites recruited from the Appalachian region of north Georgia. Elsas built a small community of one and two-story shotgun houses and cottage-style houses surrounding the mill. Like most mill towns, the streets are extremely narrow with short blocks and lots of intersections. At its height the mill employed 2,600 people. A protracted strike in 1914-15 failed to unionize the factory's workforce. For over half a century Cabbagetown remained home to a tight-knit, homogenous, and semi-isolated community of people whose lives were anchored by the mill, until it closed in 1977. Afterwards, the neighborhood went into a steep decline which didn't end until Atlanta's intown renaissance of the mid-1990s. The mill itself was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.


Lately, Cabbagetown is an area of tremendous growth sparked by an influx of artists in the 1980s, including Panorama Ray who operated a photo gallery on the main drag, Carroll Street. Since his death in 1997, Carroll Street has become the home of some nice restaurants and makes a great people-watching spot.

Beginning in 1996, the mill itself has been renovated into the nation’s largest residential loft community — the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts — which houses everyone from artists and musicians to business professionals. In April 1999 a 5-alarm fire severely damaged the east building which was still being renovated and several nearby homes were destroyed. The lofts nevertheless opened the following year. However, a tornado in March 2008 damaged parts of the loft complex and many of the historic homes and businesses in Cabbagetown.

The neighborhood's main festival is the Cabbagetown Reunion, known colloquially by long time residents and displaced residents as "the vegetable", which takes place in the summer. The Chomp and Stomp bluegrass and chili festival takes place in November.

After two decades of underutilization, the former Fulton Cotton Mill industrial complex was renovated into loft apartments and condominiums.

Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills is a formerly-operating mill complex located in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. Construction of the complex began in 1881 on the south side of the Georgia Railroad line, east of downtown Atlanta, on the site of the Atlanta Rolling Mill. The site now includes separate phases of multi-family dwellings including for-rent apartments (called The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts) and for-sale condominiums (The Stacks).

In 1997, Aderhold Properties began the renovation and redevelopment of the historic Fulton Cotton Mill in Atlanta into a community of 505 loft apartments named "The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts" (FCM for short).

In 1999, during the loft-conversion construction, a major fire broke-out in one of the under-construction buildings. The shell survived but the entire interior had to be rebuilt. The "Cabbagetown loft fire", as it came to be known, is still well-remembered because of the operator who was trapped at the top crane, unable to escape. Shown on live TV, an Atlanta Fire Department firefighter dangled by a cable from a helicopter in order to rescue him.

As the condominium craze swept through Atlanta in the early-2000s, Aderhold Properties seized the opportunity to renovate and convert three of the rental buildings into for-sale units naming the condos "The Stacks". This name, so given because of the mill's old still-standing smokestacks, was used as a marketing tool to distinguish the for-sale units from the rental units.

Carroll Street

Cabbagetown's Carroll Street is lined with a mix of residences, art galleries, specialty boutiques, restaurants, cafes and bars.

A Lesson For Jacksonville

Atlanta's Cabbagetown is the epitome of historic preservation. When its mill complex closed in 1977, the entire neighborhood entered a steep decline. However, the neighborhood began its transformation when an artist discovered the preserved rows of inexpensive shotgun houses. Given its density and clustering of complementing uses within a compact walkable setting, Cabbagetown has once again become the place to be.

Dominated by shotgun housing and narrow streets, Cabbagetown is no different in architectural and urban character than several Jacksonville neighborhoods, including the Eastside, Brooklyn and LaVilla. What we need to learn and embrace as a community is that the "greenest" building is an existing one. Even the preservation of modest residential building stock presents affordable opportunities for adaptive reuse, small businesses, and families to invest in our community.

Article by Ennis Davis