Plenty of us appreciate a quick day trip to check out neighboring towns. If you’re thinking about it but haven’t been to Athens, I can vouch for my hometown’s charm. Home to almost 22,000 people, there’s more than you might think happening in one of the oldest incorporated cities in Alabama. At one time, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers might have been the biggest name from Athens. Now, it’s inarguably the blockbuster-crossover-appealing East Limestone band Alabama Shakes. Home to its share of sports, music, and other history, Athens is worth an afternoon trip from the Rocket City for its quaint historic district and walkable downtown. Just a half hour’s drive from downtown Huntsville if traffic isn’t bad, Athens is home to Athens State University, the oldest continuously operated higher learning institute in the state. Its campus features beautiful Founders Hall. I have fond memories of playing Oregon Trail and taking art classes in a small building on the grounds, which host the annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention, a folk music and art competitive festival with roots a hundred years old. The Fiddlers, as it’s known for short, draws tens of thousands of performers and visitors every October.
Put that in your Google calendar, and in the meantime, take a weekend trip to Athens and check out the stately downtown square, support some iconic local small businesses, and grab a bite to eat. Take a stroll blocks from the square to the irresistibly quaint Big Spring Park, which shares a name with our bigger downtown park here in Huntsville. Athens has more than enough attractions to fill up a free weekend day. Bennett’s Clothing, at 215 W Washington Street on the south side of the square (bennettsclothing.com) has sold high end dress and outdoor wear for men and women for over forty years. Just down the street off the square is the Athens institution Kreme Delite. Grab a shake or cone and a chili dog at this walk-up ice cream stand that’s served generations of customers.
Back to the square and looking North on Jefferson Street past the beautiful First Presbyterian Church and its charming couryard, at the corner of Market Street, U.G. White Mercantile has done business for over a hundred years. U.G. White (ugwhite.com) is a name now known to many in the Rocket City, as they’ve now expanded to downtown Huntsville. A look around in the original Athens store was a highlight of my childhood. From Lodge cast iron cookware to dapper flannel shirts to old fashioned candy and handmade soaps, it’s a great place to gift shop.
To the east on Market, the north side of the square features Village Pizza and Lucia’s Cocina Mexicana, in addition to Garnet’s, a popular antique store. Just off the square on Market, Wildwood Deli (which I’ve reviewed for this site) serves fresh sandwiches and beer with patio seating. If you’re after a cup of coffee or a quick bite, Square Clock Coffee a pleasant spot around the corner on Marion Street, on the east side of the square. I hope to be bringing you more deep dive Athens content soon, stay tuned!
By; Stephen Locke
Stephen Locke grew up in north Alabama, and returned to find a beautiful wife and East Limestone mutt to call family, after years of toil and revelry afar, and having absorbed the lesson, "Don'tcha think, sometime's it's wise not to grow up?" His true loves include waterfalls, houseplants, architecture, photography, basketball, and whistling along to his favorite guitar solos.
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