In search of Eden

Published 12:05 am Saturday, February 2, 2013



Andalusia is one of the best small cities in America, according to a retired high school geography and civics teacher who spent more than 50 years researching his list.

Charles Anderson, 73, used a number of factors to rate his small cities, each of which he personally visited. He was looking for progressive communities that were aesthetically pleasing, had a moderate climate, and their own identity. He also looked for accessibility to other cities; good local health care, schools, employment and the cost of living. Entertainment opportunities, the state in which the city is located, and personal safety factors also were used to whittle his list.

In Alabama, he found two small cities which made the In Search of Eden list: Andalusia, (No. 49), and Fairhope, (No. 60). Andalusia got the edge, he said, because the cost of living is much more reasonable. Full list.

Why Andalusia?

“Snowbirds looking for a pretty town with mild winters, nestled in a pleasing, gently rolling countryside, should consider Alabama’s best kept secret … Andalusia.

“Located a short distance north of the highest point in Florida (about 25 miles), the city is an easy day trip from some of Florida’s best beaches.

“Andalusia’s grand courthouse overlooks a spacious commons area in the city’s lovely downtown,” he wrote. “Housing (and living) costs are much lower here than in Southern Alabama’s other great small city, Fairhope.”

“For what you have to offer, you’re a much better value for the dollar,” Anderson said Friday. “There’s lots going on in your town, and it’s pretty around there.”

Anderson splits his time between Michigan and Winter Haven, Fla. He said he first learned about Andalusia when his son was a college student in Dothan. He said he has spent years taking his time and back roads when he traveled to research the cities on his list.

Thirty-seven years ago, he had an opportunity to sell his Top 60 list to The Saturday Evening Post.

“Ultimately, I decided that I wanted more time to travel and fine tune my selections,” he said. “It would have sold as presented, but I would have been left responsible for any reader who made a move based on research that was less than my best.”

Originally, he hoped to write a book, but he lost a nearly-complete manuscript in a propane explosion. At 73, he said, it is time to share the life’s work that has been his obsession.

So he’s contacting newspapers in each of the 60 small cities, and will develop a web site with his information. He also has a list of the 40 best cities. Athens and Florence are the only Alabama locations on that list, which also includes Carrollton, Ga., Port Saint Joe, Fla., and St. Augustine, Fla.

In early versions of his list, he said, he included many small cities in California. Now, there’s only one, Fortuna, on the list of cities, because housing is extremely expensive and most can’t afford to live in the state.

Through the years, he’s read similar “best of” lists created by entities like Money Magazine and other publications.

“Most of the time, I read them and thought, ‘They don’t really know what they’re talking about,’ ” he said, adding that it was obvious the authors hadn’t visited all of the places.

He has.

“Modesty aside, I sincerely believe that my list is the best ever compiled,” he said. “A degree in geography from a Big Ten University and countless hours of investigation has given me, I think, an advantage over the competition. Not every city will fit every family; but my hundred cities can be a really good place for seekers to begin their Eden search.”

As for Andalusia, he believes it’s an undiscovered treasure.

“You’re kind of hidden where you’re at,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in Michigan, if they knew what a great and affordable place you had. Well, it’d get a lot more crowded.”