But first, we must define “the South.” There’s a lot of heated debate about what constitutes the South. For this round-up, we’re using the US Census Bureau’s regional divisions. So this could include a few states that might surprise you.
From historic sites and houses of worship to new marvels of commerce and entertainment, riding around the South for some building spotting is a good way to pass some travel time during the pandemic.
Most of the buildings are still open to the public for inside tours, with Covid-19 safety precautions and limitations in place. But you can still take in the outside view if they are closed to inside tours. Check with the site before you go.
To that end, here’s a round-up of famous buildings in the South in alphabetical order by state:
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Veric Lang, 19, visits the National Memorial For Peace And Justice in 2018. “It’s powerful,” Lang said. Conceived by the Equal Justice Initiative, the physical environment is intended to foster reflection on America’s history of racial inequality.
Bob Miller/Getty Images
Opened: 2018 | Use: Educational | Location: Montgomery, Alabama
The first building on our list is also the newest, but it’s already made a significant mark on the South and beyond.
In the capital of Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice offers a sparse, contemporary space for reflection where Americans can confront the country’s often-hidden history of lynchings.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum has a decidedly modern look.
Opened: 2004 | Use: Museum and research | Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
The Nemours Mansion in Delaware is a splendid example of the South’s affinity for French elegance.
John Greim/LightRocket/Getty Images
Opened: 1909-10 | Use: Former private mansion open to public | Location: Wilmington, Delaware
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando got a makeover in 2020.
Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney
Opened: 1971 | Use: Theme park centerpiece | Location: Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
The castle is an homage to French castles of the Romanesque period (11th to 13th centuries). Disney says no bricks were used in the construction; it’s made of concrete, steel, plaster and fiberglass. It took about 18 months to build.
Mercer Williams House Museum
The Mercer Williams House is a lovely example of Italianate home architecture in Savannah.
RWI Fine Art Photography/Alamy
Opened: 1868 | Use: Former private home open to public | Location: Savannah, Georgia
The house was designed for the great-grandfather of songwriter and singer Johnny Mercer and last used as a private residence by uber-preservationist Jim Williams, a central figure in “Midnight.”
Even without the fascinating history, the Italianate villa-style house is a standout in Savannah, which is overflowing with magnificent specimens of 1800s architecture.
Its distinctive red brick exterior, double doors surrounded by four columns and large French windows with iron railings make for a memorable presentation.
The postmodern Humana Building inspired a generation of office buildings in the United States and Europe.
Opened: 1985 | Use: Offices | Location: Louisville, Kentucky
It’s hard to overstate Michael Graves’ influence on architecture as well as product design in the late 20th century.
Humana Building: 500 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is where the residents of New Orleans see their beloved Saints in action.
Aaron M. Sprecher/AP
Opened: 1975 | Use: Sports and entertainment venue | Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Yes, NOLA and Louisiana are overflowing with amazing historical buildings, but the home of the Saints is simply not to be denied. Besides, the South is all about its football.
— It’s 237 feet (72 meters) from floor to ceiling. That’s more than tall enough to hold another beloved New Orleans building, St. Louis Cathedral.
— The Superdome website says it’s “the world’s largest entirely steel-constructed arena unobstructed by posts or columns.”
This aerial view shows the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The architecture of the building is as fascinating as the aquatic creatures it holds.
Opened: 1981 | Use: Recreation and education | Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Elvis Presley Birthplace
It’s perhaps the South’s most humble buildings, such as Elvis Presley’s Birthplace, that tell its biggest stories.
Andrew Wooley/UIG/Getty Images
Opened: 1934 | Uses: Private home, museum | Location: Tupelo, Mississippi
Elvis’ father, Vernon, borrowed $180 for materials to build the two-room, shotgun shack home for his family. The Presleys lived there for a few years, but it was repossessed when Vernon couldn’t pay back the loan.
Despite its small size, it contained a Southern prerequisite of the era: a front porch with a swing. In many ways, this modest little structure is the most Southern building on this list.
Nestled in the mountains surrounding Asheville, Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in America.
George Rose/Getty Images
Opened: 1895 | Uses: Private chateau, public tours | Location: Asheville, North Carolina
What a contrast — we go from the impoverished simplicity of Elvis’ birthplace to one of the grandest domiciles in the South, if not the world.
The French Renaissance chateau — there’s definitely a French vibe going on in the South — has 250 rooms. That includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.
Price Tower is the only skyscraper designed by noted horizontalist Frank Lloyd Wright that was ever constructed.
Opened: 1956 | Use: Offices | Location: Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Frank Lloyd Wright’s works are not just found in Chicago and New York. One of his influential designs sits in the small city of Bartlesville, population 36,000.
Wright actually dusted off an old design for a New York City apartment building that was never built.
The design inspiration is a tree. The “trunk” is four elevator shafts and their structural walls. They support the “branches” of concrete slabs that extend outward. And the “leaves” consist of copper panels and sun louvers.
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
Even in a city glorified for its churches, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston is a standout. In the foreground is the Dock Street Theatre.
Opened: 1838 | Use: House of worship | Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is often called “The Holy City” because of its abundance of churches, whose steeples are some of the highest structures in this meticulously preserved port.
At ground level, the church has three impressive Tuscan porticoes that face Church Street, which gracefully curve around the front the building.
The Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry, was originally built as a church.
Opened: 1892 | Uses: Religious hall, entertainment venue | Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Inspired by a revival service, river boat Capt. Thomas Ryman helped spearhead the building of the Union Gospel Tabernacle, as it was then known. Besides hosting choirs and religious conventions, the likes of Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony and former President Theodore Roosevelt gave lectures there.
It wasn’t until 1943 that the producers of the Grand Ole Opry radio show moved in.
The show hosted country music legends including Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Charley Pride. The last broadcast was made in 1974 from the Ryman, when the Opry show moved to a new facility in Opryland USA, a Tennessee amusement park. While the park has since closed down, the show still goes on at the Grand Ole Opry House, even during the pandemic.
For Texans, the Alamo is their ultimate symbol of independence and perseverance.
Opened: 1755 | Uses: Catholic mission, military compound, tourist attraction | Location: San Antonio, Texas
By the 1790s, it was converted to secular and military use, first by Spain and then by Mexico. The Battle of the Alamo in 1836, which Texans lost by the way, became a rallying cry in their revolution to create their own country.
If you study it, you can see how the main building at the Alamo compound in downtown San Antonio looks more like a church than a traditional military fort.
Thomas Jefferson’s domed Monticello was built to be an architectural expression of his views on the Enlightenment and democracy.
Jose Fuste Raga/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Opened: 1770 | Uses: Private home, historical museum | Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Monticello contains 33 rooms on four floors, counting the cellar. The home has lots of clever Jefferson touches, including 13 skylights. Bricks were made on site and the structural lumber came from Jefferson’s lands.
The Greenbrier Hotel opened in 1913.
Opened: 1913 | Use: Luxury resort hotel | Location: White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
As far back as the 1770s, people would come to White Sulphur Springs to restore their health. Eventually, a resort grew up around it.
The brilliantly white facade — with its Neoclassical influence and memorable columned porticoes — earned it the moniker “The Old White.” It has hundreds of rooms and during World War II, the building was taken over by the federal government for use as a hospital.
But, perhaps what’s most interesting about this building lies beneath it. For 30 years, it hid a secret that was only revealed in 1992.