Demystifying Tallahassee's Frenchtown

By Bridgette Balderson on July 27, 2012

If you ever ask anybody for advice about Tallahassee they will generally tell you that Tallahassee is pretty cool place, all except for one place: Frenchtown. Frenchtown is located northwest of downtown Tallahassee and is defined by a majority of people as Tallahassee’s ghetto. Advice for most people new to Frenchtown is “Don’t go to Frenchtown you’ll get stabbed, robbed, shot, or worse,” “Frenchtown is the ghetto,” or that “only bums live there.” I’ve actually heard all of these things and to be truthful, Frenchtown is pretty sketchy and does not really give off an aura of safety. However, I haven’t ventured deep into the heart of Frenchtown to see if the opposite is true, but nor do I want to. Obviously though, it’s not really safe for anyone to wander around in unknown territory, Frenchtown or anywhere else.

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr.com

Though there have been many revitalization efforts to make Frenchtown safer and re-stimulate the economy there, efforts seem to have stagnated and most people remain woefully ignorant of the history of Frenchtown. Frenchtown originated from 19th century settlers who moved to the area from France. Their relocation was prompted by the July 4, 1825 Lafayette Land Grant which gave Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington during the American Revolutionary War, a township in the U.S. of his choice for his help in the war. One such settler that moved from France was Prince Achille Murat who was the son of Caroline Bonaparte, sister of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte. Yeah, those Bonapartes. Who would have guessed French royalty lived in Tallahassee?

After the Civil War many freed slaves migrated to the area where it developed into a predominately middle-class African-American community. Frenchtown was also home to famous jazz musicians Ray Charles and the Adderley brothers, Nat and Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley during the early 1940s. During the latter half of the 20th century, Frenchtown underwent numerous revitalization projects ranging from flood relief programs, infrastructure improvements, and new housing developments. As one of the oldest and most historic areas of Tallahassee, it can only be hoped that Frenchtown is preserved and is continued to be improved upon.

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