Residents and business owners in Frenchtown are on edge as they watch the transformation of their historic neighborhood happen day by day. The recent developments throughout Frenchtown have resulted in the closings of a local funeral home, salons, grocery stores and laundry mats. Gentrification in Frenchtown has created major conflict as residents hope to hold on to their roots while the city of Tallahassee strives to improve the area economically.
Frenchtown, a predominately black neighborhood, originated in 1825 when Marquis de Lafayette was granted $200,000 worth of land from the federal government. Lafayette was a military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary war.
The area became home to many French and newly freed African Americans who migrated there after the Civil War. These freed slaves developed a middle class community known as Frenchtown. Today the neighborhood’s borders consist of Seventh Avenue and Alabama Street to the north, Bronough Street to the east, Tennessee Street to the south and Woodward Avenue to the west.
“Growing up in this area made me the woman I am today. I wish there was a way to preserve the history of the neighborhood,” said Keia Smith, a 22-year old resident of Frenchtown.
Construction is underway at the corner of Brevard and Macomb streets as Casanas Village, a five story; 88-unit apartment building is being built. The $20 million housing project will include a clubhouse, a gym, a computer lab, a play area and much more. A total of 118 parking spots will be constructed in addition to this multi-family development.
"I want the neighborhood to improve, but I also want those who currently reside here to be able to continue to do so," said Hassan Muhammad, a second-year student at Tallahassee Community College who resides east of Bronough Street.
Although these changes can be a positive economic development for the community, current residents worry about future affordability of housing in the neighborhood, the inflow of new residents and unavoidable traffic.
“The families who grew up here can no longer afford it,” said Alexis Roberts-McMillian, a owner of Economy Drug on Macomb Street, a longstanding family-owned business in Frenchtown. The pharmacy, located at 319 N Macomb Street has been in Roberts’ family since before she was born. Her father and a cohort purchased the building in 1951 and it was moved next door in 1968. McMillian, who is also an alumna of Florida A&M University’s pharmacy program, said, “The community comfort we once knew doesn’t exist anymore."