If you want to see the prettiest painted communities in America, you're going to need a lot of time, several tanks of gas, and a state-of-the-art GPS.
The Paint Quality Institute has identified the nation's 12 most beautifully painted neighborhoods and towns, and many are little known and far from the beaten path.
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Naming of the 12 "Prettiest Painted Places in America" comes after a rigorous four-month search by the Paint Quality Institute involving thousands of contacts with state tourism departments, convention and visitors' bureaus, chambers of commerce and Main Street groups, all of whom were invited to nominate communities.
The effort produced nearly 200 colorful nominees from 48 states and the District of Columbia that submitted images of beautifully painted homes, buildings and exterior murals. A panel of judges with expertise in paint and exterior color schemes reviewed the entries and named two winners from each of six different geographic areas:
• Winners in the North Central Region were Bay View Association in Michigan and Stillwater, Minn.
Bay View, originally an 1800s Methodist camp community of more than 400 small cottages, is now a charming and colorful Victorian resort designated a National Historic Landmark. Stillwater has colorful Victorian mansions built by lumber barons and a Main Street listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
• In the Northeast Region, the winners were Brookville, Penn., and Downtown Frederick, Md.
Brookville is a beautiful historic western Pennsylvania town with hundreds of artfully painted Victorian homes and buildings. Downtown Frederick's Main Street area, home to a vibrant arts community, has beautifully painted architecture dating to the 1700s.
• The Southeast Region winners were Historic Downtown Smithfield, Va., and Key West, Fla.
Smithfield is a quaint river town with many historic structures ranging in style from Colonial to Federal to Victorian. Key West, southernmost of the Florida Keys, has brightly painted "conch" homes and "shotgun-style" cottages constructed in the 1800s by shipbuilding carpenters.
• In the South Central Region, the winners were the Old Arabi Neighborhood, St. Bernard Parish, La., and Lafayette Square, St. Louis.
The former, located just five miles from New Orleans' French Quarter, has two historic districts full of beautifully painted structures. Lafayette Square is an elegant urban neighborhood comprised of stately Victorian-era homes with fine painted detailing.
• The Northwest Region winners were The Victorian Village of Ferndale, Calif., and Eureka, Calif.
Ferndale has a nationally recognized historic business district with beautifully detailed commercial buildings and Victorian homes. Eureka is a port city 100 miles south of the Oregon border with fantastic Victorian homes built by lumber magnates.
• Winners in the Southwest Region were Tubac, Ariz., and Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries and businesses lining its meandering streets. Manhattan Beach is a colorful coastal community near Los Angeles where the beautiful landscape is punctuated with artful, individualistic paint color.
In addition to the 12 winners, nine other places were cited as having "exceptional merit," meaning they were "just too pretty to go without recognition," said Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert for the Paint Quality Institute. They are: Cape May, N.J.; Crested Butte, Colo.; Old Louisville, Ken.; Ottawa and Franklin County, Kan.; Owego Historic District, New York; Paducah, Ken.; Historic Park City, Utah; Richmond, Ind.; and Original Townsite Historic District, Victoria, Texas.
"The truth is, we had so many worthy nominees that we could have presented many more awards," Zimmer said. "The field of entries in this year's competition was truly exceptional, and selecting just a dozen winners and only nine exceptional merit communities was daunting."
This is the third time the Paint Quality Institute has conducted a search for the prettiest painted places in America. It held the first competition in the 1990s, and another in year 2000.
The purpose of the competition is to give recognition to places that use paint to express pride in their communities, and highlight how an attractive exterior paint treatment can enhance the curb appeal of virtually any home, building or exterior structure.
"We hope that the exquisite exteriors from these 'Prettiest Painted Places' will inspire others to beautify their properties with exterior paint," Zimmer said. "Painting is one of the most effective -- and cost effective -- ways to add color and style to our surroundings."
For more on the 12 Prettiest Painted Places in America, visit the Paint Quality Institute website at blog.paintquality.com/ppp.