There are several theories as to how the historic neighborhood of Cabbagetown in Southeast Atlanta got its unique name. The short and clean answer: It has to do with cabbage. But even that is not entirely certain, just a high-percentage guess.
History of Cabbagetown
First things first. Cabbagetown was created to supply housing for factory workers at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The mill maintained the housing costs for the entire neighborhood until it was sold in 1957.
The neighborhood is flanked by Boulevard, Memorial, Pearl, and the CSX tracks and MARTA line on the Southeast side of Atlanta, adjacent to the Reynoldstown, Grant Park, Old Fourth Ward, and Inman Park neighborhoods. It's a unique, tight-knit Atlanta neighborhood with a wide variety of homes, charming streets, restaurants, and bars. Its annual Chomp and Stomp festival in November packs the tight streets and the well-used Cabbagetown Park. And the neighborhood's graffiti-lined Krog Tunnel can't seem to go 12 minutes without hosting some sort of photo shoot.
A 2008 Atlanta tornado lasered in on the small neighborhood, taking a big chunk out of the Fulton Cotton Mill, now lofts. It wasn't the first disaster to hit the lofts; a 1999 fire severely damaged the building.
Where Did the Name Come From?
Back to the name. There are no confirmed sources, but there are plenty of stories. Creative Loafing had a thorough 2012 story examining Cabbagetown's origin but had equal difficulty finding a true source that could definitively cite an origin.
That's OK with Kyle Bidlack, who compiles and writes the neighborhood newsletter. He sort of likes the idea that the name is such a mystery and says that just goes with the nature of the neighborhood. Bidlack said he's heard two stories most frequently -- one about how the mill workers would cook cabbage in their yards, creating the overwhelming and distinct smell, and another about an overturned cabbage truck.
Dan Thompson, who moved to Cabbagetown with his wife seven years ago, has heard both the truck story and the more simple rumor about the smell of cabbage cooking.
"I tend to believe No. 2," said Thompson, "but the first one makes a better story. I've talked to a lot of people about it and have never heard anyone that can claim to have a definitive answer."
The best current source, it seems, occupies the beginning of a 1976 book, "Cabbagetown Families, Cabbagetown Food," by Pam Durban Porter. There's a copy at the Atlanta History Center, and four pages are devoted to the naming of the neighborhood.
The more romantic theories there explore the idea of a truck, wagon, or train carrying cabbage and overturning or wrecking in some fashion. Depending on who you talk to, the cabbage from those wrecks may have baked in the sun so the town smelled like cabbage for days. And all these stories were still based on stories they heard growing up, so keep in mind, this is still folklore.
"There was a trainload of cabbage derailed up on the railroad, and you know cabbage will slick up a railroad quicker than anything," said Nancy Roden in the book. "You'd come here for a month and smell cabbage."
Others suggest it was the Depression-era mill workers from the town raiding the cabbage from an overturned truck, one story placing the wreck at Estoria and Memorial. A story attributed to Dorothy Tatum said when the driver returned to his wrecked vehicle, he smelled the cabbage cooking. "Everybody had gone and helped themselves," Tatum said.
Another story attributed to Effie Gray said there was no truth to these. She said a veteran's group started the name -- they had similar names for other parts of town, Collard Town and Salad Patch being two examples. That, she said, led to a woman from the Savannah Street Mission spreading the word of Cabbagetown.
Emma Patterson said in the book that the name was based on a community garden provided to residents by the Salvation Army. "Kids would come back through there and get them a cabbage," she said. "That's where it started from."
The timing of the name varies. Azilee Edwards said in the book it was called Cabbagetown as early as 1919, while another, Levie Bratcher, said she didn't first hear the name until after 1940. In his Creative Loafing story, Wyatt Williams' research couldn't find a "Cabbagetown" reference in print prior to 1969.
Mike Benzie is an experienced editor and reporter who has worked for several major news organizations. He lives about 100 yards from Cabbagetown and helps organize the neighborhood's annual 5K road race.
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