We asked our staff to tell us what they loved about their college towns. Come for the heartwarming memories; stay for the feathered hair photos.
Earlier this week, we released our annual list of the 10 Best College Towns in America, and all the talk of tailgates, dive bars and secret hangover cures got the Livability staff feeling nostalgic. Our offices are in Franklin, TN, but we went to college in small towns and big cities from Oregon to Upstate New York and everywhere in between. Our wide variety of experiences highlight the fact that there’s no right way to “do college,” and that where you choose to spend your college years plays a huge role in making that time unique and unforgettable.
So, without further ado, here is our staff answering the question of the day: “Why did you love your college town?”
Come for the heartwarming memories; stay for the pictures of feathered hair and dorm room posters!
“I loved going to the University of Florida in Gainesville, first of all, because it was warm most of the year (it barely snowed one year and they called off school!). Secondly, Gainesville is a true college town – everything was centered around the university, and there was so much to do! Beyond major sporting events, like football and basketball, the university owned a lake where you could take out little Sunfish sailboats (gators galore!) and also swim. Not to mention, it was near some other cool towns like St. Augustine and Cedar Key, which made for fun day trips.”
-Susan Chappell, Vice President & Travel Editor
“Why do I think Chattanooga is the best college town? Well, let me tell you. I went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and it was a great experience. Everyone is very friendly, there are many outdoor activities and also, it’s very artsy. The best part about Chattanooga is that everything is so convenient, about a 3 minute drive from campus to downtown’s shops, eateries and most importantly the bar scene. If you haven’t gone to ‘Sing It or Wing It,‘ just do it.
As an art student Chattanooga has a very relaxed and inspiring vibe – it’s all things. For example you need to check out the beautiful art district, whether you’re visiting the River Gallery, or meandering through the sculpture garden. Maybe you need a bite? Go to Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria! The art district is a fun place to explore. If you aren’t feeling downtown Chatt, walk across the pedestrian bridge to the North Shore area to shop and stop by for a nice relaxing day at Coolidge Park. Fun Fact: Outside Magazine has twice named Chattanooga The Best Town Ever. I believe it!”
-Lindsey Tallent, Senior Graphic Designer
“My love of Knoxville knows no bounds.
I’m the fourth-generation in my family to go to the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, including my great-grandmother who attended in the late 1920s when it was unprecedented for women to even attend college. My great uncle, Bobby Denton, was the in-stadium announcer at Neyland Stadium for nearly 50 years. So really, our love of the Vols runs deep.
My favorite memories from college centered around football games, calling dibs on the best study room at Hodges and late nights at Gus’ Good Times Deli (if you’re lucky, you might see Peyton Manning there during football season). There was a huge group of us who met every Thursday at Cool Beans for bingo, where prizes included free beer and spirits and I once won the grand prize of a $20 gift card to Cool Beans – which was probably my crowning achievement. I appreciated that the College of Communications, where I spent most of my time, was a tight-knit community and I got to know my classmates really well. It was great to have different communities, like ADPi and The Daily Beacon, the university’s student-run publication, that helped to make a large campus of nearly 30,000 students feel smaller.
The city of Knoxville itself is an absolute dream. Market Square is popular for students and residents alike and is filled with cute boutiques, restaurants and is home to many events throughout the year. It surprises many people when they visit Knoxville to see what a funky, artsy city it is. From Big Ears Music Festival to the super popular First Friday Art Crawl, there is something for everyone. The city is also really close to the mountains and you can be at the beach in roughly five hours. Now that my younger brother is a sophomore at UT, I love having an excuse to visit as often as possible.”
-Cara Sanders, Content Coordinator
“I loved my college town of Oxford, OH, home to my alma mater, Miami University, because it was a perfect, quirky ecosystem with great history. Located 45 minutes from Cincinnati in the middle of cornfields, we surprisingly lacked for nothing. “Uptown,” our town square, featured the University bookstore, two art supply stores, a record store, coffee shop, video store, bars and an amazing bagel shop, Bagel and Deli, that served up hundreds of different types of sandwiches. They were and still are very popular as they stay open into the early morning for night owl (read: procrastinating) students. The sole gas station Uptown was a United Dairy Farmers (UDF), known for their ice cream scoop shop inside (…a gas station, yes). The two gems of Oxford were the Princess movie theater where you could catch a cheap flick and the well-known alternative radio station, 97X, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in Rainman with his repetition of the still-used (when I was there) call sign: “97X – BAM! The Future of Rock ‘n Roll!”
A newer (post-1809) part of the campus, known as Western College, housed the more free-range majors (like myself) and had a history of liberalism and promoting equality. It was there in 1964, that 800 college students gathered to train together for Freedom Summer, a mission to register as many African-American citizens to vote in Mississippi. Following the training, three activists headed to Philadelphia, Mississippi to pursue this mission: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Shortly after their arrival, all three men were murdered by members of the KKK, launching an unprecedented FBI investigation, dramatized in the film, Mississippi Burning. Exactly 31 days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 54 years later, members of Freedom Summer still hold reunions at the Freedom Summer memorial on Western Campus in Oxford to remember their friends.”
-Allison Davis, VP Digital Operations
“I graduated from the University of Tennessee – Martin. At the time, student enrollment was about 6,000. Martin’s population (outside of students) was only 10,000 – a pretty small town, for sure, with mostly local businesses, mom-and-pop restaurants, and only one or two bars (not typical for a college town). Our Wal-Mart even closed at 11 p.m.every night. Ha! It’s since grown and has a 24-hour Wal-Mart with groceries (that was big news!), but the small-town feel is still there. My friends became family, because we spent time at each others’ apartments instead of bar-hopping. Local families and churches embraced us and helped the town feel like home. Professors even seemed more laid-back. It was the perfect transition from the safety of high school into the next phase of my life, without the shock of a big city or university. I loved every minute.”
-Kim Holmberg, Chief Operating Officer
“I went to Plattsburgh State in Upstate New York. Nestled in the Adirondack mountains on the banks of Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh offered outdoor adventures like skiing, hiking and sailing. When the call of a big city would catch my ear we would travel to Montreal to experience the most European city in North America.”
-Michael Betts, Livability Media Operations Director
“I liked Murfreesboro because I remember all of the streets leading up to the square being so beautiful in the fall. It had a feeling of a “small town.”
-Peggy Blake, Human Resources Manager
“I went to beautiful Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, TN. Since I have graduated they have been renamed Carson Newman University. Carson Newman is a small school about 45 minutes east of Knoxville. I was fortunate to go there and play soccer and the small school environment allowed me to excel. I could focus on why I was there and what I was trying to accomplish. With most small towns and schools you have to “find the good and praise itâ€ and that’s exactly what you do if you go to CN. We had a small Mexican restaurant “El Salzonsâ€ everyone went to and the best cheap take-out hibachi called Naritas that I would drive hours out of my way after I graduated to eat. Unfortunately Naritas has since closed and the city mourned.
Jefferson City was great, the campus was beautiful, there was a big lake close by, you could drive to Knoxville or the Smokies in the afternoons and also Asheville was only another hour and a half away. We could go snowboarding nearly every week in season to different mountains within driving distance. I believe CN and Jefferson City allowed me to mature with great teachers and mentors around me who were able to pay special attention since our study body was less than 3,000. A lot of students who go to CN are either very religious or there to play sports, so playing soccer allowed me to have a large community of friends immediately who were there for the same reasons.
Another really interesting thing about CN and athletics in general is the international influence they bring. I was one of only a few starters on the soccer team who was from America. My freshman roommate was from Ghana and when I picked him up from the Nashville airport to drive to Jefferson City it was the first time he had ever been to the states. My sophomore year I lived with four Norwegians and two Jamaicans. Our team had players from all over and I believe being exposed to those cultures helped me be curious about other people and the places they come from.”
-Jordan Moore, Executive Vice President
“Miami isn’t your traditional college town, but that’s exactly why I love it. If you want to watch some ‘Canes football at a bar stocked with University of Miami pendants, foosball and cheap beer, you can totally do that (shout out to The Tavern!). But on the flip side, you have the opportunity to soak up the world at large and really grow as an individual. From festivals like Art Basel and Calle Ocho to world-class museums and galleries, Miami’s a metropolitan city with a huge international influence. Being able to dive into these two different worlds was something I cherished during my college years.”
-Jackie Gutierrez-Jones, Editor
“I loved going to college in Chicago because the public transportation allowed me to explore the whole city. Also, I got to eat all kinds of ethnic foods in its diverse neighborhoods.”
-Lauren Kessinger, Creative Director
“My former roommate just posted a #tbt yesterday of old concert fliers that listed indie rock bands and Murfreesboro venues I forgot existed, which was such a trip down memory lane. Most college towns have local bands, but because Middle Tennessee State University (known affectionately as MTSU) has a huge recording industry program, you couldn’t walk across campus without hearing guitars and drums in dorm rooms, and seeing fliers and chalk art announcing shows featuring that guy in your philosophy class – or your philosophy professor (no joke).
Over four years, I spent a lot of time in tiny clubs, dive bars and all-night coffee shops (RIP, Red Rose) experiencing the amazing – at least, in my college-aged mind – Boro music scene. Though I wasn’t majoring in it and can’t play a lick, I absolutely loved living in a college town where music was so deeply rooted in the community.”
-Jessy Yancey, VP, Content & Marketing
“Columbus, OH was a great place to live and go to college because of its classic Midwestern charm. I especially loved the beautiful autumns at Ohio State when the leaves on the trees started changing, outlining the OSU Oval in a sea of fall colors.”
-Alicia Johnson, Associate Editor
“Geneseo, NY is a great college town for so many reasons. I fell in love with Geneseo because I fell in love with the Geneseo community. So many college towns take on the identity of its student body but SUNY Geneseo’s location in the middle of a long-thriving farming region allows the town to flourish even when class isn’t in session. All of the restaurants and bars are family-owned and exist as more than just stress-relievers for angsty students. There were countless times my friends and I walked into a local bar expecting to find rowdy frat bros eager to prove who could drink the most or dance the worst. We were pleasantly surprised to stumble into a community benefit for a local family whose house burned down or a beer pong tournament with proceeds donated to the Red Cross.
This sense of community that enveloped the college life led a number of my friends to stay in Geneseo post-graduation and caused me to visit what I consider to be a second home as often as I can.”
-Dustin Hobson, Digital Ad Sales Executive
“Two things I loved about my college town…the food and the tailgates.
It’s no secret that college students like to eat, and I was no exception. So you can imagine why that was (embarrassingly) one of my favorite things about Bowling Green.
I was once told during my time at Western Kentucky University, that Bowling Green was a hub for restaurants to “test” out their consumers. With the cost of land being so low, companies would try out their dining establishments in BG to get a better idea of how they could expand their franchise in other cities. Looking back, I have yet to find any factual evidence of this, but it stands true that the number of restaurants in Bowling Green was (and is still) staggering in comparison to most college towns.
The other thing I loved about my college town of Bowling Green was basically the fact that it was a college town. Everyone in BG loved WKU and come game day, win or lose, our tailgates never disappointed. WKU did a great job of utilizing those tailgates for multiple things. Along with all the fun parts that come with tailgating, it was also something many of the professors and administrators would partake in. It was a good time for students to connect and network in a much more relaxed setting. Parents would come, there would be fundraisers going on, and many other events that helped students progress as adults. Overall, those tailgate days are just a happy memory I will carry with me. “
-Courtney Cook, Sales Project Coordinator
“Kid me loved Auburn, AL because I could visit half of my family there although I lived full time with my mom, stepdad and other siblings four hours north. My dad owned and operated a roller skating rink in Auburn, where he and four of my other siblings lived. Needless to say, growing up even part-time in a skate center was way cooler than what most kids experienced.
College student me loved and chose Auburn and Auburn University because of the familiarity with and welcoming atmosphere of the town and school. It was a last-minute decision that cost me the opportunity to qualify for freshman scholarships, but I would not trade anything for the supportive network of easily made friends and a much more laid-back, encouraging-to-creatives vibe that set it apart from “that other” in-state school I was seriously considering at the time. Auburn had its cliques, but it wasn’t “stuck up,” and that was the dealmaker for me.
Adult me loves Auburn for its steady evolution while maintaining its charm. I recently visited for the official “closing skate” for my dad’s former rink and was blown away by how much it has changed in terms of new development. It also has more sophisticated options for restaurants and cocktail bars – try The Depot downtown for delicious food and excellent service in a historic setting then try Avondale Bar & Tap Room for nightcaps and excellent music selections. Even with the changes and more on the horizon, it still felt as comfortable as my sister’s old 1984 Auburn football jersey I stole from her years ago.”
-Lisa Battles, Vice President & Community Editor
“I moved to Knoxville in August 1999 from Cincinnati to attend the University of Tennessee. It was somewhat of a culture shock, but once I established my group of friends I really enjoyed Knoxville. The robust history, the love of orange and yes, even Rocky Top. Aside from the small town southern feel, I really enjoyed being so close to the Smoky Mountains. There was always something fun to do in Knoxville, no matter what the season!”
-Katie Middendorf, Advertising/Sales Operations Director
“I went to grad school at Ohio State. Lots of years ago. Back in the day it was a treat to make a trip to cobble-stoned German Village in Columbus for the purpose of consuming large quantities of beer and bratwurst (or its spicy cousin the Bahama Mama) at Schmidt’s Sausage House. Even today, on visits back to Columbus we make time for lunch or dinner there and a savory, unhealthy indulgence. And it remains our pre-game tradition at Buckeye football games to squeeze and shuffle through masses of crazed fans to grab a beer and a brat from the busy Schmidt’s concession outside Ohio Stadium.”
-Bob Schwartzman, President & Publisher
“Suffolk University in Boston was a great fit for me personally. We virtually had no campus, the city was our campus. College was the time to explore and create my own adventures. Boston was the best place for me to make lasting memories.”
-Ashley Wright, Digital Content & Marketing Specialist
“Knoxville, TN always had a special place in my heart. I remember vividly my first trip to Knoxville in 1992 when I was five years old. The Vols were playing Arkansas and Bill Clinton was campaigning for his first term in office. The Vols ended up losing that day, but I told my father on that day that I would go to school at the University of Tennessee. Needless to say, my time in school at the University of Tennessee was a bit more difficult than I had in mind at the age of five, but I enjoyed every bit of it nonetheless. Some of my best, lifelong friendships were made during my time at UT and the memories that I have of Knoxville are equally as special. Now that I’m older and have the opportunity to go back to Knoxville and visit, I realize just how much I took that great city for granted.
Whether it is spending an evening watching a great country music act at Cotton Eyed Joe, grabbing a cold (and cheap) beer at one of my favorite college haunts, spending an evening grabbing dinner in Market Square, or watching the Vols run through the “T,” Knoxville truly has something for everyone.
-Derek Brady, Business Development Executive
“Auburn truly lives up to its nickname, ‘the loveliest village on the plains.’
I chose Auburn University because of its fantastic agriculture school and warm weather, but it ended up offering so much more.
The first time I visited Auburn, we were stopped at a red light and I accidentally made eye contact with the person next to us. Instead of averting their eyes, they waved jovially before pulling away. That moment sums up my experience at Auburn. Unabashed friendliness and hospitality welcomes any stranger into the ‘Auburn Family.’
Each generation of this family carries Auburn in their hearts, even after they’ve graduated. Current students know they have become a part of something bigger. Even as they sip Toomer’s Drugstore’s famous lemonade, stumble their way to Little Italy for a slice of late night ‘za, or roll Toomer’s oaks after a big win, they know they are creating cherished memories.
Someday my husband and I will take our kids back to Auburn to relive our glory days, propping our tiny tigers up on the giant Auburn University sign in front of Samford Hall for an obligatory Auburn family photo.”
-Hannah Hill, Associate Editor
“I went to school at Elon University in Elon, NC. Elon was a small town, but the amazing campus – a certified botanical garden – made the everyday aesthetic beautiful. Going to school in a small town was great, since everyone felt like family, but the school was still big enough that I got to meet lots of different people from all over the country. Elon was also conveniently situated near other bigger North Carolina cities, like Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro, so a trip to the downtown restaurants, bars and shopping was easy.”
-Rachel Bertone, Senior Editor
“I went to St. Bonaventure University, a small school in the Southern Tier of New York state lodged between a small city (Olean, population 14,000) and a small village (Allegany, population I dunno, but small) Recreation opportunities at the time were somewhat limited, especially when winter set in, so the campus population’s focus centered on a strip of bars in the village that catered to the college crowd.
My establishment of choice was not among them. Instead, my friends and I became among the core of regulars in a tavern that was heavily frequented by locals and operated by the husband-and-wife duo Lou and Maggie. Among its strong selling points, Hickey Tavern had a killer jukebox and offered three Bud splits or two shots of Old Crow for a buck. For $5, I could have a pretty good night.
Many years later, I was reading an airline magazine touting Old Crow as a craft bourbon. I had no idea I was such a sophisticate back then. To this day, Hickey Tavern is the only place I have ever had an open tab. I once said that I never endowed a chair at my school but I did endow a bar stool at Hickey Tavern. No reunion is complete without a trip to Hickey, where Lou can still be found behind the bar and the Old Crow is still on the shelf.”
-Bill McMeekin, Vice President & Business Editor
“I grew up in a small town, so I jumped at the chance to go to Portland State University, which is located in downtown Portland, in the center of everything. I loved that my classes were full of nontraditional students going back to get their degrees later in life. I loved the international community. I loved that my campus blended seamlessly into city streets where I could find great food or pop into funky boutiques between classes. Since it was Portland, there was a protest march or demonstration going on in the Park Blocks almost every day, so I also took full advantage of that, lugging protest signs to class and waiting for the professor to let us out early to go do our civic duty. It was a very cool place to go to college.”
-Winona Dimeo-Ediger, Managing Editor
“I went to Charleston Southern University, located about 20 minutes away (if you have a led foot) from downtown Charleston, SC. Being a Charlestonian is the first thing I like to brag about. I love where I am from and I love the people that live there. There is nothing like warmth of the south – Southern hospitality rooted in even better company. I love that I was no more than a 30 minute drive from almost all of my favorite places.
From grabbing a gamechanger at Home Team after a long day in the sun on Sullivan’s Island to grabbing my favorite cup of joe at Kudu to accompany me on Saturday mornings at the downtown market, only to end the weekend by wandering into galleries on Broad Street, inevitably ending up at Robert Lange Studios around the bend on Queen.
I will never admit this if you ask me in person, because I still have yet to travel the world, but I would love to end up living back in Charleston. It is where my heart always is.”
– Mahaley Keen, Junior Graphic Designer