Tina Fortenberry wasn’t expecting to find a home away from home when she stepped into the Fairview Inn in 2012. She had grown up five blocks away in the historic Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi, and had just moved back from Los Angeles when a friend took her to the inn’s Library Lounge for a drink. “I walked into the room and was spellbound,” she says.
She found herself in a cozy, dark-paneled hideaway lined with books about Mississippi. Photos of Magnolia State writers such as William Faulkner and John Grisham decorated the walls, as well as a shot of Eudora Welty, who once lived just around the corner. Fortenberry loved the way her conversations with the other lounge guests flowed, whether they were neighbors from down the block or visitors from New Zealand.
Soon she started dropping by nearly every evening, settling down on the patio with a chilled glass of vodka, club soda, and muddled cucumber. During the winter, you’ll find her inside by the fireplace. “I don’t want people to think I sit around and drink all the time, because I don’t,” she laughs. “But I’ve never had a relationship with a place like I do with the Library Lounge.”
She’s not alone. Unlike many lodges, the Fairview Inn doesn’t feel separated from its community. It’s not the type of place reserved for travelers, shut off from locals. Instead, it has developed a devoted following in the state capital, regularly winning “Best of Jackson” awards for its food and drink. Its elegant Sunday brunch is a post-church favorite.
“We’re kind of like the Cheers of Belhaven,” says Peter Sharp, who bought the eighteen-room Colonial Revival property with his wife, Tamar, in 2006. First built as a private home in 1908, it became a bed and breakfast in 1993.
Over the years, word about the inn has spread. Recent guests include celebrities Mick Jagger and Renée Zellweger. Fortenberry remembers one afternoon when she looked up and saw Matthew McConaughey checking in.
But even those without an Oscar feel right at home. During my visit, I settled into the spacious Leopard Rose Suite, which has a working fireplace and a separate sunroom overlooking the garden. I never made it to the spa, but I did treat myself to the guest pantry, with its freshly baked oatmeal-raisin cookies, bundt cakes, and honor bar with beer and wine.
Breakfasts range from fruit and yogurt to indulgences like a Mississippi Benedict—poached eggs served on fried grit cakes. Dinner may be ordered in the white-tablecloth 1908 Provisions restaurant or in the Library Lounge. The menu emphasizes locally sourced ingredients, with everything from Gulf Coast oysters to grass-fed beef raised twenty miles away.
But to Fortenberry, the best thing the inn serves is a feeling. “The atmosphere is calming, intelligent, and inspiring,” she says. “To me, it’s a wonderful reflection of Mississippi.”
Some of the most searing moments of the civil rights movement happened in Mississippi. Visitors can explore many of them in the stunning $90 million Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum complex. Exhibits include a film narrated by Mississippi-born Oprah Winfrey and interactive displays on topics like the murder of Emmett Till and the violent integration of Ole Miss. But all is not dark. At the museum’s center, a towering light sculpture pulsates to a chorus of gospel and freedom songs.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Southbound.
Home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville began its ascent as a vacation destination a half century ago on the heels of the moon landing. Visitors still come to experience the excitement of the space race; lucky ones (kids and adults alike!) even spend a few days at Space Camp. The city has a well-earned reputation as a science wonderland, a place where a Saturn V rocket lords over the skyline like Huntsville’s Eiffel Tower. But if you think this city of 195,000 is simply a place to marvel at spaceships, hold on. There’s quite a bit more to the story.
As a military and aerospace research hub, Huntsville likes to brag it has more engineers per capita than any other U.S. city. And it turns out that when you gather together so much brainpower, surprising things happen. The same skills required to build rockets are transferable to making beer, crafting coffee, even whipping up art—enterprises that flourish here.
“You can’t go to the moon without excellent engineering, but it also takes amazing creativity,” says Danny Davis, who left his NASA job to handmake guitars and host concerts at Tangled String Studios, his workshop/performance space located in a corner of a former cotton mill. “That creativity permeates this city.”
How else to explain Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment center, a sprawling 1901 factory, reborn as the South’s largest privately owned arts complex. Like most things in town, it has a connection to science. The 170,000-square-foot industrial site, located just over a mile southwest of downtown, was redeveloped by a local entrepreneur who made his fortune in genetic research.
The hulking brick building once processed the region’s cotton into cloth, and later manufactured boots for the U.S. Army. Now, walking the wide-planked wooden floors, you pass more than 150 studios occupied by abstract painters, bookbinders, hand-press printers, and musical-instrument makers like Davis. Public workshops teach everything from building medicine drums to painting flesh tones, and crowds come out spring through fall for concerts on the building’s loading dock.
Once you leave Lowe Mill and begin exploring the rest of town, you’re reminded that engineers can also be unabashedly nerdy. Huntsville sometimes gives visitors the impression they’re wandering around the set of The Big Bang Theory. This is a place where a charity run follows a double-helix path (inspired by the shape of DNA), and where the First Baptist Church has a rocket-shaped steeple and a 154-foot-long mural of Jesus rising through the heavens called Cosmic Christ.
Or consider Huntsville’s new Minor League Baseball team, the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The name, chosen by popular vote, references a line from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. And then there’s the fact that the city has not just one, but at least two restaurants—Toybox Bistro and Supper Heroes—inspired by sci-fi action figures.
It’s hard to say what city founder John Hunt would make of it all. In 1805, the former Colonial soldier and North Carolina sheriff sought to make his fortune in the wilds of northern Alabama, building a cabin not far from the Tennessee River. Six years later, his settlement became the state’s first incorporated city, and briefly its capital.
But because the city center was built over karst limestone riddled with springs and caves, it doesn’t allow for high-rises, and Huntsville never developed a dense business district. Its tallest building stands a mere eleven stories, not even rocket-size. Although surrounded by vibrant neighborhoods, the downtown itself feels quaint, on the scale of a middling county seat. But looks can be deceiving. Within the next five years, Huntsville’s expected to pass Birmingham to become the state’s most populous city.
The courthouse square area at downtown’s center is beginning to show signs of life, recently adding a smattering of restaurants and bars, and its coffee shops now buzz with conversation even on a weekend afternoon. Downtown’s also home to Cotton Row, one of the best restaurants in a state that has been winning dining honors for years. Run by James Beard Award–nominated chef James Boyce, the intimate white-tablecloth spot features surprising seasonal dishes like juniper-crusted rack of venison, as well as fresh takes on classics like pan-seared crispy catfish with cucumber kimchi and sriracha yogurt.
For a completely different evening out, though, head to Campus 805, a long-shuttered public middle school less than a dozen blocks from Lowe Mill that has been reborn as what might be best described as an adult-beverage theme park. It’s home to two breweries, a wine-tasting room, a distillery, several restaurants, and two bars. There’s also an ax-throwing studio, virtual golf course and pinball palace, and coffee shop.
Straight to Ale, one of the city’s first breweries and a Campus 805 anchor tenant, occupies the school’s former gymnasium, while wooden flooring from the basketball court now tops its bar. Co-founder Bruce Weddendorf pushes aside a row of school lockers to reveal a crowded speakeasy also run by Straight to Ale, where the specialty is 140-proof absinthe, distilled on site. Sipping it, you have to wonder if any daydreaming seventh grader (or assistant principal) could fathom such things could occur in a former classroom.
The campus is a key site on the city’s ten-stop Craft Brew Trail, and also on its Craft Coffee Trail, which links ten independent shops. Baristas and brewers say the two beverages are naturals for Huntsville: Both require tinkering with machinery and working with ratios and formulas. “There’s a lot of science behind it,” says Andrew Judge, who, along with his wife, Lee, transformed their Sugar Belle cupcake truck into a brick-and-mortar sweets and coffee shop on the west side of town near the University of Alabama-Huntsville campus. It’s equipped with home video game systems played on vintage console television sets.
The atmosphere’s just as playful at Stovehouse, about a mile west of downtown, another shuttered factory that once produced furnaces and cooking equipment. It reopened last year as an indoor/outdoor dining and entertainment garden. On summer nights, hundreds mingle around a fire pit slurping ramen or chowing down street tacos. They stick around for free concerts and yard games like foot pool, played with soccer balls on an oversized pool table.
City leaders hope these projects will give Huntsville an edge in the race to attract and keep Millennials and Gen-Z workers. While the region is booming—with a Mazda Toyota plant about to open and a new $1 billion FBI campus on the way—they realize the city not only needs to offer jobs, but places to play.
So far, it’s working, says Davis, the engineer turned guitar maker. “The place is exploding. It’s just becoming really great.”
Indeed, you could say that the city NASA built is itself blasting off.
More to Explore
Twickenham Historic District
Just a few blocks from downtown, visitors can wander the state’s largest collection of antebellum homes. Among the sixty-five structures is the Weeden House, which dates to 1819 and is the oldest house in Alabama open to visitors. It spotlights the work of artist and writer Maria Howard Weeden, known for her photo-like paintings of former slaves and servants.
Camp at Midcity
This fun collection of permanently based food trucks, a bar, and a shipping-container coffee shop offers a chance to sip, mingle, and take in music while dining at telephone wire–spool tables.
Feast on bratwurst, schnitzel, and Black Forest cake, and raise a stein to the émigré scientists who created Huntsville’s space industry at this authentic German restaurant.
This stylish Marriott brand has a slick, European feel. Recently opened on the edge of downtown, it’s within walking distance of the Huntsville Museum of Art as well as the Von Braun Center civic center—which hosts concerts, plays, festivals, and sporting events—and its brand-new Mars Music Hall.
This article appears in our Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Southbound.
In high school, Alicia Philipp dreamed of becoming a politician. She never ran for office, but she’s done more to change the Atlanta region than most elected officials ever could. Philipp is president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, which she joined more than 40 years ago. Under her leadership, the group has become one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the Southeast—donating an estimated $100 million a year to nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Those charities touch people across the metro area, helping the less fortunate through programs like Learn4Life, a cradle-to-career education partnership with area school districts.
Philipp, 64, demonstrated an innovative approach to philanthropy early in her career. In 1981, the foundation was the city’s first private charity to address the looming HIV/AIDS crisis, awarding a grant when the disease was still known as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency). While there has been much progress since then, many challenges remain. Atlanta, Philipp notes, still has one of the country’s highest infection rates, largely concentrated among the poor.
The foundation takes a sophisticated approach to solving problems. “There’s definitely still a need for a soup kitchen, but we need to figure out why people are homeless,” Philipp says. “There’s so much more attention now to peeling the onion to get to the core issue.”
Philipp grew up in Maryland and came to Atlanta for college. She lives in Decatur and has two adult children living in Europe. While she had several chances to take other jobs over the years, she could never bring herself to leave the foundation, where she sees the impact its projects have on the community. She says the city is lucky. “People who come to Atlanta, and put their roots down, care deeply about the community and really want to give back,” Philipp says. “We have a lot of people who care.”
For three decades, Debra Gray King has been helping Atlanta smile a little brighter. The founder of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry not only plans makeovers, which she calls smile designs, but also directs an active philanthropy program. Over the last decade, her practice has donated more than a quarter-million dollars to more than 60 charities. She and a colleague even traveled to the Dominican Republic to offer free dental services to the needy. “We’ve really made it a priority to do good for others and our community,” King says. For example, this year she’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of her dental practice by donating a smile design, which can cost as much as a new car, to someone who has had a positive influence in the Atlanta area.
King, 56, lives and works in Buckhead. She has three children, including two sons who played football for Auburn University. King plays in the big leagues, too. Her patients include musicians Usher, Zac Brown, and Big Boi from OutKast. (Along with treating them, she has supported the stars’ charity projects.) Several years ago, King brought her dental skills to the television show Extreme Makeover, helping brighten the smiles of two participants.
King says her biggest priority is her patients. From the beginning of her career, she pursued what might have seemed an impossible goal: “I wanted to hear my patients say, ‘I just love going to the dentist.’” She transformed her office into a dental spa, offering everything from massages and aromatherapy to relaxing chairs that vibrate with sound. She says the aim is to make every visit pleasant and pampering. “We wanted to create an experience like going to the Ritz-Carlton,” says King.
Michelle Wells’s world changed on her ninth birthday when her father had a heart attack. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the next year and for the rest of her childhood, her parents were in and out of hospitals. Wells, 47, who grew up in rural South Carolina, says those health challenges shaped her future. “I’m very resilient, and that comes from parents who love you to pieces but were sick a lot. I learned: If you fall down, you get back up.”
Now, as lead physicist for Piedmont Cancer, she helps others do the same, both in hospitals and in the community. When she’s on the job, she works with doctors and patients to treat diseases like the cancer that struck her mother. Her many responsibilities include working on computer modeling of treatments and supervising a staff that maintains and calibrates sophisticated radiation machinery.
Outside the office, the former president of the Junior League of Atlanta encourages young women to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She knows the need firsthand. Although she works in a relatively new profession, it’s dominated by men. Research shows that girls have a strong interest in STEM until they enter middle school, Wells says: “It’s a confidence factor.” Wells is trying to address that gap by working with groups that encourage female leadership, serving on the boards of the Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta and the Georgia Tech Women’s Affinity Network. She also volunteers with organizations that promote literacy and address the challenges of intergenerational poverty. “I try to give back,” says Wells, who credits teachers and mentors with helping her get to where she is today. “That’s my North Star—to help people.”
After deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, Brig. Gen. Diana Holland had seen plenty of combat zones. Then came the hurricane. As the Atlanta-based commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division, she found herself literally in the eye of the storm last fall, overseeing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Holland, who had taken the post only 45 days before Hurricane Maria hit, ended up spending 90 days on the Caribbean island. “It was much like going to Afghanistan—in a good way. It’s what you train for your entire career,” she says. “There’s a shared sense of purpose. It’s an incredible story of how Americans came together to help the people of Puerto Rico.”
It was only the latest challenge for the 50-year-old soldier whose boundary-breaking career has included serving as the first female commandant of cadets at West Point. She also worked as a commanding officer in the Middle East, where she led engineering brigades responsible for clearing explosives and rebuilding roads and buildings. Such roles may have seemed impossible when Holland, at age six, first declared she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and grandfather and enlist. But instead of dissuading her, Holland’s father put a pull-up bar in her bedroom.
In her current position, Holland’s responsibilities include maintaining major harbors, helping restore the Florida Everglades, and managing flood-control and recreational reservoirs such as Lake Lanier. Aside from the lake, few people in Atlanta give much thought to the Corps of Engineers, Holland acknowledges. But she wears her uniform to work every day and when she rides MARTA, Holland feels welcome. “People come up and salute me. I’ve had young people thank me for my service,” she says. “I’ve had the best exchanges.”
Savvy Birmingham shoppers in search of the perfect gift head “over the mountain” to the cozy suburb of Homewood. Their destination? Eighteenth Street South, a wide, old-fashioned boulevard with an abundance of locally owned boutiques and restaurants. It’s a place where shopkeepers greet customers by name and sell hard-to-find gems, such as vintage barware and wood-pulp sheets. The avenue, which stretches less than a mile, has been attracting customers since the late 1920s, when leaders of the newly formed Homewood decided their town needed its own shopping district. Eighteenth Street South soon emerged as its main street—a role it continues to play nearly a century later. Finding the boulevard is easy: It’s just down the hill from Vulcan, the towering iron statue and symbol of Birmingham commanding the crest of Red Mountain. In other words, one local treasure helps guide the way to another.
Second homes are first priority at this camp and cottage outfitter, which keeps lake and beach retreats in tip-top, rustic-chic shape. Local woodshops build most of the furniture, including the popular swinging beds. Staff designers can help spruce up a home anywhere in the Southeast. seibelscottage.com
Salute the Yellowhammer State at this shop that sells everything from cheese straws to oil paintings—all of it cooked, crafted, or created in Alabama. Pick up a state-shaped coaster cut from carpeting or a T-shirt emblazoned with “Est. 1819,” celebrating the year Alabama joined the union. And don’t miss the Earthborn Pottery dinnerware, which graces the tables at Hot and Hot Fish Club, a popular Birmingham restaurant. alabamagoods.com
Johnny’s Restaurant With farm-raised vegetables, fresh Gulf seafood, and a James Beard–nominated chef, this lunch spot is not your typical meat-and-three. You’ll find classics such as fried catfish, chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, and fried green tomatoes, along with new twists like Parmesan grit cakes. For dessert, tuck into the Girl Scout Tagalongs chocolate peanut butter torte. johnnyshomewood.com
a.k.a. Girl Stuff
This sassy store offers moderately priced, but decidedly fun, apparel and gifts. Owner Dee Tipps usually keeps a pitcher of cranberry margaritas at the ready for customers and delights in sharing recent finds, from plush pajama pants with a cellphone pocket to faux fur bags. facebook.com/akagirlstuff
White Flowers Gallery
Step inside this enchanting shop and enter a dream world of blossoms, candles, and clothing, almost all of it white (hence the store’s name). You won’t even find a scuff on the floor; it’s repainted every Saturday night. Leave your coffee outside before perusing the merchandise, which includes christening gowns, silk blouses, and botanical-themed shirts. whiteflowers.com
Travel back in time at this mid-century modern gallery featuring vintage and replica furniture from the forties, fifties, and sixties. A knowledgeable staff can aid customers in navigating Lucite tables, Bentwood dressers, and Mad Men–style barware. Complete the throwback look with abstract art and wall-to-wall shag carpeting, available to order. shopsohoretro.com
Savage’s Bakery & Deli
This Birmingham institution has been indulging the city’s sweet tooth since 1939, with cinnamon roll meltaways, custom cakes, petits fours, and more. Stop in and pick up a smiley-face cookie—or a dozen. Covered in orange icing and featuring a chocolate mouth and eyes, the butter cookie is so popular, the bakery created round business cards in its image. shopsavagesbakery.com
Make bedtime a dream at this upscale home boutique selling everything from headboards to slippers. Shoppers swear by the Italian Legna sheets made from wood pulp (they feel like silk but breathe like cotton). And kids love the selection of stuffed animals, because few things say “sweet dreams” better than a plush Fuddlewuddle Elephant. threesheetslinen.com
This article appears in our Spring/Summer 2018 issue ofSouthbound.
Atlantans have access to hundreds of apps that let them check the weather, keep up with friends, or simply order dinner. Kiran Ebrahim wondered why local abuse victims didn’t have an app to connect them with the help they needed.
So the eighteen-year-old graduate of The Lovett School helped create Inconspicuous, a start-up app she hopes will do just that. It introduces rape and domestic abuse victims to local shelters and advisers, and it also provides a forum in which people can share their stories.
Ebrahim developed the idea with other high school girls while enrolled in a entrepreneurial program at Georgia Tech two years ago. During class discussions, they realized they all knew people who had been victimized and needed help. “We thought creating this app could create change,” she says. She’s now working to find coders to bring the app to life.
This isn’t the first time Ebrahim has tried to bring about change. She spent a month last summer in Kenya, volunteering with Global Encounters. She worked long hours reopening a library and computer center at a boys primary school.
As the youngest daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Ebrahim draws inspiration from her parents. Although her mother never attended college, she now runs several convenience stores, while her dad is an IT director for Kaiser Permanente. “Even if people start from the bottom, they can succeed,” she says.
Ebrahim, who speaks five languages and has a longstanding interest in women’s issues, says her biggest honor this year was giving a TED-Ed talk in Spanish about the gender pay gap in Latin America. In the fall, she plans to attend the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business; she eventually hopes to become a social entrepreneur focused on solving global issues.
But she’s still a normal teenager, she insists. “A lot of my friends are into fashion. I play flag football. And I love Beyoncé, of course.”
In Barbara Rothbaum’s office, military veterans relive the worst moments of their lives. They strap on virtual reality headsets and watch fellow soldiers die from roadside bombs in Iraq or get gunned down in Afghanistan. They feel explosions from speakers under their raised seat and even smell the sweat of combatants and the acrid smoke of gunpowder.
“It’s a multi-sensory experience. We want them to feel these memories over and over and wear it out,” says Rothbaum, fifty-six, an Emory University clinical psychologist who has pioneered the use of virtual reality to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Many veterans initially resist treatment, thinking they can get over painful combat memories on their own. But according to Rothbaum—as well as numerous outside studies—using exposure therapy to revisit traumatic wartime episodes eventually allows them to move on with their lives. “The haunting nature of PTSD comes out in these treatments,” she says. “We’re able to treat the invisible wounds of war for post-9/11 veterans.”
Emory is one of just four sites in the nation to use this technique, thanks to a $15 million grant from the Wounded Warrior Foundation. The three-year grant, which Rothbaum helped secure in 2015, offers treatment free of charge and will likely be extended another five years.
Rothbaum began working in the PTSD field in 1986, just six years after the condition was first officially identified. She helped develop protocols and treatments, and later worked with colleagues at Georgia Tech to design a patented PTSD virtual reality device.
Treating such an intense disorder can drain both therapist and subject. Rothbaum relaxes with yoga and cycling, but acknowledges she works long hours. Still, she says the payoff is worth it: “I’ve seen it help so many people. I think to myself, ‘How can someone ever get over this?’ But they do.”
As a young girl, Ayanna Howard loved The Bionic Woman, the 1970s television show about an athlete who gains superhuman powers with the help of artificial limbs. Sure, it was science fiction—but to her, it seemed real. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do: I want to build a bionic woman,’” says the forty-five-year-old multihyphenate, who holds an endowed chair in bioengineering at Georgia Tech and serves as Chief Technology Officer of her startup, Zyrobotics.
Howard spent the first part of her career working on the Mars rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. But when she moved to Atlanta in 2006, she began tapping into her Bionic Woman roots. One of her biggest projects is creating programming for a small robot called Darwin, which offers home therapy for children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. “It has a voice and emotions. It’s a fully functional humanoid,” she says. “Most kids don’t have access to consistent therapy in the home, and I want to try to fix that.”
To program the robot, she’s spent time with special needs childcare workers, watching how they interact with and encourage children. “It’s an amazing skill set they have, how they adapt to different kids,” she says.
But Howard, a mother of three, knows children pretty well herself. At NASA, she started a program for at-risk middle school girls that encourages them to explore science, technology, and math, and in Atlanta, she has led similar programs for girls and children with disabilities.
Looking ahead, Howard says she hopes her work can make a meaningful difference. She might not be bionic, but she doesn’t let that deter her from seeking superhuman results.
Since 1961, Atlanta magazine, the city’s premier general interest publication, has served as the authority on Atlanta, providing its readers with a mix of long-form nonfiction, lively lifestyle coverage, in-depth service journalism, and literary essays, columns, and profiles.