Small-Town Escapes: Davidson, NC

Lakeside living where Mayberry charm meets academia

Photo: Peter Taylor

Davison's shaded downtown sidewalks.

Population: 11,750
Drive Time: Thirty minutes north of Charlotte

With all of the red brick, white columns, and picturesque historic homes, Davidson can seem like some bucolic dream of Southern small-town life. But the home of Davidson College, and nearly 12,000 residents, is worldly beyond the town’s modest size. The downtown brims with local businesses, and because of its geographic footprint—with campus to the east and Lake Norman to the west—Davidson is effectively boxed in, keeping downtown tiny and sprawl to a minimum. Though it’s only twenty miles north of Charlotte, residents here are confident in their civic identity. As Jan Blodgett, a Davidson College archivist, puts it, “On any given day, sixty to eighty percent of people in Davidson don’t even know that Charlotte exists.”

The 24-Hour Agenda: Davidson’s Carnegie Guest House was built in 1910 as the college library but has since become a small but stately inn with a decadent lounge and eight immaculate rooms. Through the front doors, you’ll find yourself just blocks from Main Street, the center of Davidson gravity.

Fresh veggies at the town's Saturday farmers' market.

Photo: Peter Taylor

Fresh veggies at the town’s Saturday farmers’ market.

Walk over to Summit Coffee, where on Saturdays, the open lot behind the shop hosts a popular farmers’ market.

The well-worn floorboards of Main Street Books are a testament to Davidson bibliophiles. Grab a copy of the New York Times from the sidewalk rack, but don’t bother paying inside. A note on the door politely requests that patrons just slip the money through the mail slot.

For lunch, grab a sandwich at the Pickled Peach, named after house-canned peaches that the folks at this gourmet sandwich shop serve with ham and melted Brie on grilled challah.

A family favorite and Davidson icon since 1951, the Soda Shop keeps its legend alive with fresh-squeezed orangeade, floats, and malts.

Several downtown stores offer antiques and other curios, but put Rumor Mill Market on your must-hit list. Housed in an old cotton mill, it stocks one-of-a-kind home decor, including rehabbed vintage furniture. There’s an in-house coffee bar and monthly live music, too.

Finish the day at Kindred with a drink at the marble bar before digging in to dinner—try the duck soup and the baked egg, and cap off the meal with a cheese plate. After a meal here it might seem impossible that you’re still on Main Street in Davidson and not Second Avenue in Manhattan.

Meet the Locals: In the fifty-three years since Ron Raeford—owner of Raeford’s Barbershop—was born here, he’s seen the population balloon from 2,500 people to almost 12,000. “It still has that Southern love to it, though,” he says. The transplants certainly aren’t hurting his bottom line. Raeford runs a bustling business tending Davidson noggins. Take a look through the windows on any given day, and you’ll find a long row of men waiting patiently for their turn in the chrome-and-maroon-leather chair. Haircuts are $13, hot shaves $10.

Chef Joe Kindred, a Davidson native, has cooked in Chicago—he met his wife, Katy, there—and logged time in San Francisco. “We wanted to raise our children in Davidson, not California,” Joe says. So the couple moved home and it quickly became apparent that Davidson was the perfect spot for a restaurant. Located in a 101-year-old pharmacy at the heart of Main Street, Kindred, which opened in February, is at once elegant and relaxed. And packed most nights. “Davidson is fiercely loyal to all things Davidson,” Katy says.