Davidson, North Carolina is a town of educated people. And it should be — the town wouldn’t exist without the little liberal arts college at its heart. One of the most prestigious schools in the state, Davidson College is known to be highly selective. It only admits the best of the best into its fold, and the town prospers as a result.
It’s always been a rather revolutionary place. Around the time Charlotte earned its nickname “The Hornet’s Nest,” another major clash of ideals was occurring just to the north: American Brigadier General William Lee Davidson and many of his men gave their lives at Cowan’s Ford, in a battle that laid the foundations for the British surrender at Yorktown. A generation later, the children of General Davidson provided 469 acres for a college on Lake Norman. In 1837 Davidson College was born, and the makings of a town quickly sprang up around it.
Today, the college is consistently ranked as one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, and the town is easily one of the most likeable places in the state — not least of all because of its so pretty. The sway of the college extends to the entire town, influencing the character of the town’s architecture and landscaping and distinguishing Davidson’s aesthetic from that of other small railroad-grown towns throughout the Piedmont. Locals and students frequent the canopied brick paths and sidewalks because they choose to do so. Driving isn’t frowned upon; it’s just not necessary. Situated on the flat land surrounding the lake, the town is abundantly bikeable and pedestrian oriented. Davidson is quaint, to say the least, and it’s taken a concentrated effort by Davidsonians to keep it that way.
Despite Davidson’s growth (it’s currently home to 10,000 people), it’s maintained its small-town atmosphere by embracing small business and local farming. Main Street is full of little shops echoing the general store charms of the past, and there are no fast food restaurants disfiguring the streetsides. The intermingling eateries are both more affordable and more approachable than many in Charlotte, and one of them has had the honor of putting Charlotte’s food scene on the map. Kindred should need little introduction at this point. Joe Kindred and his crew are redefining southern cuisine, but his groundbreaking restaurant isn’t the only one in town. For the most important meal of the day, Toast Cafe, with its friendliest of all serving staffs, remains a staple. The newer Millstone Bakehouse and Provisions has amassed its own loyal following, though, with lighter, European-inspired breakfast fare. Above Millstone is Upper Crust Bar and Social Club, where folks may want to conclude evenings overlooking downtown. The Pickled Peach offers up lunch-sized sandwiches and a patio that shields guests from summertime pests, while FORK! in Cornelius welcomes guests into an endearingly creaky old home. Summit Coffee is the one stop for coffee in this little village, but it’s the only one anyone needs. The third wave of coffee has thankfully hit Charlotte in recent years, but Summit’s been doing it right since ‘98.
The college and the town are inextricably linked, but Davidson’s culture isn’t that of your typical, noisy college town. It’s a peaceful place, made so by the liberal arts curriculum it champions. Classical architecture greets you around every corner, and the college’s radio station is dedicated to classical music. Seemingly every building in town or on campus is full of art — courtesy of the school’s extensive permanent art collection, maybe — and the area doesn’t want for local artists of its own. There’s something calming about this town, when just over 200 years ago, it was a warzone. The humanities, it seems, beget humanity. “Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen,” reads the Davidson College seal, in Latin. This school and its town stand as emblems of what a learned population can can build.