From Dirt Roads to Downtown

Natalie Wearstler

By Natalie Wearstler, contributing writer

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 

– from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”

When I was 10 years old, my mother told us we were moving to Florida. At the time, we lived in a small rural town in East Tennessee — so, of course, I assumed our new home would look like a hybrid of Nickelodeon studios and the pictures of Daytona Beach I’d seen on post cards my classmates brought back from summer vacations.

Boy, was I surprised when we pulled up to our modest rental home in Middleburg. There were no palm trees, no wave pools and no tanning salons, as I had been led to believe existed on every corner in the Sunshine State. Save for weekend trips to St. Augustine Beach, the only sand in my toes came from the dirt roads that formed our new neighborhood.

Middleburg was a great place to grow up. But like most teenagers, I decided college was my big chance to get ready for a life outside of my hometown. Bolstered by the thrill of a family trip to New York City when I was 16 years old, I felt I was destined to live somewhere bigger and better than my humble hometown. In fact, I haughtily told my mother I would be living in New York City within six months of my college graduation, thank-you-very-much.

(Spoiler alert — that didn’t happen.)

It’s funny to look back on those days, now that I have the benefit of a few years’ worth of life experience to round out my perspective. If I had known at 17 or 21 that I could have the urban young professional lifestyle I so craved, without having to move across the country to find it, I could have saved myself a lot of energy.

DT SkylineMy fiancé and I moved Downtown last September after a string of relocations and job changes afforded us the opportunity to move back to Jacksonville from our new home of Atlanta. With just two weeks to find a place to live, we started considering the pros and cons of living in the urban core. It wasn’t long before we realized all of the things we valued most in a neighborhood — walkability, a strong sense of community, access to cultural venues, and proximity to restaurants and bars — were part of the Downtown experience. Living in a converted historic building with a breathtaking view made the deal even sweeter.

It’s been a little more than six months since we made the decision to become Downtown residents, and I couldn’t be happier. I love my short commute to work, our evening walks by the river, and our ability to be part of the action for events like Art Walk and One Spark. We get to enjoy the constant buzz of activity that comes with living in an urban area as well as the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a community.

Best of all, I no longer feel the need to drive out to Middleburg to feel like I’m finally home.