RVers on their way to or from FMCA’s “Southern Sensation” convention will find that great travel attractions come in all sizes.
By Peggy Jordan
In 1732 Britain’s King George II decided the threat of Spanish encroachment on the American colonies was too great to ignore. He signed a royal charter to establish a 13th colony to be located north of Florida. It would serve as a buffer zone between the Spanish and the South Carolina settlers and strengthen the colonies by increasing trade.
General James Edward Oglethorpe and 114 settlers sailed across the ocean at the king’s bidding, and established a settlement they called Savannah on February 12, 1733. They named the colony Georgia after King George.
Another form of colonization will take place this month at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, when thousands of FMCA members gather for the “Southern Sensation” convention. On March 19, 20, and 21 they’ll set up what amounts to a motorhome city and enjoy great fellowship, seminars, shopping opportunities, and entertainment.
Attending the convention certainly will be worth the voyage, but the journey through Georgia will be rewarding, too, for those who take the time to explore its cities and small towns. The Peach State offers so much to see and do that the following is merely an overview. It’s hoped that these few travel ideas will inspire everyone traveling to Perry to get out their atlases, travel planners, and campground directories and explore some of Georgia’s many beautiful, historical places. To obtain more information, contact the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade, and Tourism, P.O. Box 1776, Atlanta, GA 30301; (800) 847-4842; www.georgia.org. Or, contact the individual travel information centers provided in the text below.
From City To City
Georgia’s larger cities offer visitors a chance to explore so many things, yet a laid-back Southern atmosphere generally prevails. Not too much hustle here. Settle in at a campground, then take your towed car or use public transportation to conduct your explorations.
The following are not all of Georgia’s larger cities, of course, but they do offer quite a bit to see and do.
As you might imagine, Georgia’s first city is its most historical and perhaps its most picturesque. The past can be seen everywhere in Savannah, where a remarkable number of original buildings have survived the years. The city’s historic district is a designated National Historic Landmark and is one of the largest such landmarks in the United States — 2.2 square miles full of venerable homes, churches, and buildings. The historic architecture is set among wide streets with 21 public squares and numerous parks.
A part of the historic district called the City Market is a restored area that lures visitors with shops full of handmade artwork and cute cafes. Another historical part of town, a nine-block area along the Savannah River that was once the city’s shipping and cotton sales district, has been restored and dubbed Riverfront Plaza. The area is a great place to relax and watch ships, and offers nightlife, too.
You’ll be able to choose from several museums and attractions in town, including the Savannah History Museum, the Massie Heritage Interpretation Center (which boasts eight “house museums,” including the home of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low), and more. The Telfair Museum of Art is the oldest public art museum in the South; part of its collection is housed in the spectacular Owens-Thomas House, said to be the best example of English Regency architecture in America.
The past also is evident at the Bonaventure Cemetery, the final resting place for several of the South’s most famous residents, including lyricist Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken. The cemetery was mentioned in the popular book and subsequent film titled Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
To get an overview of the historic district, Victorian district, and more areas of the city, visitors can choose to take a trolley tour, a carriage ride, or simply enjoy a walk around the shady squares. Be sure to obtain information about Savannah’s many attractions before you visit by contacting the Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau, 101 E. Bay St., Savannah, GA 31401; (877) 728-2662; www.savannahvisit.com
By 1735, only two years after General Oglethorpe and his men founded Savannah, they traveled approximately 120 miles up the Savannah River to establish a fort and trading post they called Augusta. A road to connect Augusta with Savannah was begun in 1739.
Augusta, unfortunately, became renowned for the many times it was flooded, either by the Savannah River or simply by very heavy rain. A dam 20 miles upriver now keeps the town safe, but prior to 1944 when it was built, the city suffered more than 20 major floods.
Today the river is celebrated along Augusta’s Riverwalk, which features two levels of brick walking paths. Both entrances to the Riverwalk have granite markers that indicate the height and date of the city’s biggest floods. The top and lower levels of the Riverwalk are marked with plaques that commemorate important events from Augusta’s past. Many of Augusta’s museums are linked by the Riverwalk’s brick pathways. Throughout the year, a variety of arts and crafts festivals and events are celebrated on the Riverwalk.
In spite of the floods, quite a few historical structures remain in Augusta, and nine neighborhoods are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1797 Ezekiel Harris House, the 1801 Old Government House, the pre-1791 Meadow Garden House Museum, and the 1818 residence that now contains the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art are open to the public. President Woodrow Wilson spent 10 years of his boyhood at a home on Seventh Street in Augusta (from 1860 to 1870) while his father served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. Tours of the Wilson home are available by appointment, and the church on Telfair Street still stands.
Augusta’s modern claim to fame, as far as celebrities go, is that it’s the hometown of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Mr. Brown is an active member of the community and owns local radio station WAAW. Augusta also is home to the U.S. Professional Golf Association’s most hallowed tournament: The Masters. This year’s tournament will take place at the Augusta National Golf Club April 8 through 14.
Stop by the Cotton Exchange Welcome Center and Museum when you visit Augusta to pick up travel materials, or contact the Augusta Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau prior to your arrival for more information: P.O. Box 1331, Augusta, GA 30903-1331; (800) 726-0243; (706) 823-6600; www.augustaga.org
Travel approximately 150 miles west of Augusta and you’ll be in Atlanta, a town that’s younger than Augusta by 100 years. Georgia’s state capital owes its start to the railroad; its name was coined by a railroad engineer.
Atlanta’s importance as a railway hub, supply base, and munitions depot made it a prime target for destruction by Union forces during the Civil War. After a month-long siege, the town fell in September 1864. Retreating Confederate forces, not Federal General William Sherman, are credited with destroying 81 cars of explosives and thus starting the first huge fire in town. (But Sherman did order more burning before departing the city.) Be sure to visit the Atlanta Cyclorama to get an in-the-round perspective of the Battle of Atlanta. Completed in 1885, the Cyclorama is the largest diorama painting in the world.
Margaret Mitchell, whose epic novel Gone With The Wind chronicled the burning of Atlanta (as well as a tragic love story), is celebrated at her birthplace on Peachtree Street, part of a two-block historic site that includes a museum in her honor. Writer Joel Chandler Harris, famous for the Uncle Remus tales, is remembered at his Victorian-era home, Wren’s Nest House Museum, which also is open for guided tours and boasts a museum shop.
The life and mission of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are celebrated at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. These facilities are next door to each other on Auburn Avenue and encompass King’s birth home as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached.
Visitors can step back into the past at two area plantation homes that are open to the public. Stately Oaks Plantation, built in 1839, is in Jonesboro, approximately 12 miles south of town. The Smith Plantation Home, built in 1845, is in Roswell, approximately 10 miles north of the Atlanta metro area.
These are only a few of the many attractions in Atlanta. The city is also home to Six Flags Over Georgia, a family theme park; Underground Atlanta, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex; the Atlanta Motor Speedway (which offers tours); and the Thunder Road USA/Georgia Racing Hall of Fame. To learn more, contact the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, 233 Peachtree Street N.E., Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30303; (800) 285-2682; www.atlanta.com
Small Towns, Too
As are their larger counterparts, Georgia’s small towns are full of history, plantations, and old-fashioned family fun. Following are just a few.
If you enter Georgia from Florida via Interstate 75, you’ll pass by two historic and charming towns that beg for attention — Valdosta and Thomasville.
But before you even reach the exit for Valdosta, you’ll encounter the Lake Park exit off I-75, and three huge factory outlet centers — the largest concentration of outlet stores in Georgia. Folks in search of a bargain will want to choose a parking space immediately and begin their hunt. Then they can proceed to Valdosta for yet more shopping at the Valdosta Mall, Remerton Mill Village, and downtown on Main Street.
Moody Air Force Base, with its modern aviation equipment, is currently one of the Valdosta area’s largest employers. Valdosta may have entered the new millennium, but it’s also known for quite a bit of history. Drive past the Lowndes County Courthouse downtown and the Converse-Dalton-Ferrell House on North Patterson Street. While you’re on North Patterson, be sure to stop and see The Crescent. This home got its name from its circular veranda, which has 13 columns. The public can tour this 1898 landmark Monday through Friday afternoons. For more information about Valdosta area attractions, contact the Valdosta-Lowndes County Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1964, 1 Meeting Place, Valdosta, GA 31603-1964; (800) 569-8687; www.valdostaga.com or www.valdostatourism.com
Approximately 45 miles west of Valdosta via U.S. 84 is Thomasville, another amazing small town.
In the 1880s a railroad track terminated at Thomasville, and figuratively turned the town into a rainbow’s end. Wealthy Northerners traveled as far south as they could to avoid winter weather, tarried there, and liked what they found. They built fabulous “winter cottages,” many of which are now restored. The Lapham-Patterson House, built in 1885 and now a museum, is one of the state’s most prized historic Victorian structures. The grand era of winter visitors ended when the railroad was extended into southern Florida.
Thomasville is now renowned as the City of Roses, for the city has planted and maintained more than 7,000 rosebushes throughout town. Many residents proudly tend and display their own roses, too. Enthusiasm for these flowers is celebrated each April at the Thomasville Rose Show and Festival; this year’s event will take place April 25 through 28.
Five miles south of Thomasville is yet another Georgia plantation, Pebble Hill, whose main house and grounds are open for tours. Four miles south of town is Melhana, The Grand Plantation, where tours are available by reservation and guests can stay overnight.
For more information about these attractions, and others, contact the Thomasville Tourism Authority, P.O. Box 1540, Thomasville, GA 31799; (800) 704-2350, (229) 227-7099, or visit www.thomasvillega.com
Heading north again on I-75, you’ll arrive in Tifton, where the Georgia Agrirama, the state’s official living history center, is worth a stop. This 95-acre complex is home to more than 35 historic structures organized into four areas: an 1870s farm community; an 1890s farmstead; an industrial sites complex; and a rural town. Costumed interpreters demonstrate the lifestyle and activities of each period. Children enjoy seeing the many farm animals and riding the logging train. A one-room school and gristmill are also on site. Agrirama is open year-round, Monday through Saturday, and an admission fee is charged. Phone (229) 386-3344 for more information.
If you’re traveling to or from Perry from the north via I-75, be sure to stop in Rome, a small town in the northwest part of the state. Rome is approximately 25 miles off the interstate via U.S. 411.
Built on seven hills just like its famous namesake, Rome’s original downtown district is located between three rivers — the Etowah, Ostanaula, and Coosa. If you enjoy beautiful old architecture, be sure to stop at the Rome Visitors Center, housed in an old train depot on Jackson Hill, off U.S. 27. There, you can pick up a free cassette tape to play in your vehicle and take a narrated driving tour around the “between the rivers” district. Nearly all of the buildings there today were built after the Civil War during the Victorian era.
The town’s unusual clock tower has stood at the same site since 1871 when it was constructed to hold the city’s water supply. The clock was added in 1872. Visitors can tour a history museum at the tower and climb the stairs to an observation deck for a view of town.
Rome also boasts an antebellum plantation that is open to the public. Oak Hill Plantation, built in 1847, was once home to Martha Berry, who founded nearby Berry College. The Martha Berry Museum is located next door to the plantation home. An even older home is the Chieftains, where Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee Nation, once lived. The house was built more than 200 years ago and features a museum that is open to the public.
The Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau can provide you with more information at P.O. Box 5823, Rome, GA 30162; (800) 444-1834, (706) 295-5576; www.romegeorgia.org
Mountainous northeast Georgia boasts the southern terminus of the Appalachain Trail. It’s also home to a little town called Helen, situated along the Chattahoochee River. Helen began as a gold mining settlement, but the precious metal was gone by the end of the 1800s. Next came lumber sellers, who built a mill and harvested the area’s abundant timber. A railroad line arrived, and the town was named in 1913 after a railroad surveyor’s daughter.
The trees, just like the gold, came in a limited quantity, and when they were gone, the town’s economy sank. Area business owners met in 1968 to talk about what could be done to improve their prospects, and they hit upon the idea of giving the city’s drab concrete block buildings pretty Bavarian-type facades. The change began to take shape in 1969.
Today Helen boasts cobblestone alleyways, street names such as Edelweiss, and buildings that reflect an alpine atmosphere. Specialty shops, restaurants, and attractions are geared toward the family. Charlemagne’s Kingdom consists of a model railroad layout depicting Germany from the North Sea to the Alps, using 400 feet of track and replicas of existing buildings. The Alpine Antique Auto & Buggy Museum showcases 100 cars and 100 buggies. The Nora Mill Granary, built in 1876, has been restored and is now open to the public.
The mountains around Helen are full of waterfalls. A few miles north of town is Anna Ruby Falls, twin waterfalls from two creeks that merge to form one creek. Horse Trough Falls is situated off a trail that begins at Upper Chattahoochee Campground 5 miles north of Helen. Raven Cliff Falls is a multiple waterfall wherein the water drops 100 feet through a split in the rock; drops another 60 feet; drops 20 feet into a pool; then falls 20 more feet into a creek. Lovely Unicoi State Park is only a few miles north of town and boasts a lake, a beach, hiking, RV camping, and more.
For more information about the Helen area, contact the Helen/White County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 726 Brucken Strasse, P.O. Box 730, Helen, GA 30545; (800) 858-8027; www.helenga.org