The home of the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter welcomes motorhomers again this March for a “Great Georgia Getaway.”
By Lazelle Jones
Five times since 1996, FMCA members have set sail for Perry, Georgia, and the huge, state-of-the art fairgrounds there. The Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter is a terrific venue for hosting the thousands of motorhomes, vendors, and FMCA members who come for the convention. In March 2009 “” specifically, March 16 through 19 “” Perry once again will welcome FMCA members for a “Great Georgia Getaway,” the association’s 81st International Convention.
With this in mind, I went to check out this small Southern town and see what’s new, as well as what’s still as enjoyable as ever. Working with a helpful representative of the Perry Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (the CVB office is directly across from the fairgrounds), I poked around the nooks and crannies of this lovely Georgia community.
I discovered shops that offer a plethora of interesting things, eateries that serve up a variety of excellent fare, and a rich history that lies around every corner. Whether you take a stroll down the tree-lined streets; amble into an antiques shop or boutique; embark on a self-guided tour through neighborhoods where beautiful old homes (some of them survivors of the Civil War era) line the quiet boulevards; or play a round of golf, Perry has much to offer.
Cotton was once king here, but today peaches, pecans, and peanuts spring from this same fertile soil. Perry originally was called Wattsville, but it later was renamed in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a hero in a battle fought on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The town of Perry’s historical roots are anchored all the way back to the 1820s, when much of what is now Georgia was in a vast, unexplored landscape.
Today the streets of Perry are lined with dogwood trees, azaleas, and camellias, and every spring Perry celebrates the beauty of the dogwoods with a Dogwood Festival; in 2009, the event’s dates are April 18 and 19.
The fest that most closely coincides with FMCA’s March convention is Perry’s part in the huge “Peaches to the Beaches” annual yard sale. If you like to browse among whatnots, you’ll find them on March 13 and 14, the Friday and Saturday prior to the convention. The sale’s north end is Perry, and its southern end is nearly 200 miles away, down along the state’s “Golden Isles” region. Just take U.S. 341, the Golden Isles Parkway/Peach Blossom Trail, and you’ll encounter many bargains.
Another popular area event takes place immediately after the convention: the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, 25 miles from Perry. The official dates for the award-winning event in 2009 are March 20 through 29; visit http://www.cherryblossom.com/ or call (478) 751-7429 for details.
SIGHTS AROUND TOWN. Originally called the Cox Inn, the New Perry Hotel dates back to the 1800s. Today it continues to be a cornerstone in this laid-back central Georgia community. Many who visit Perry are compelled to once again touch base with the New Perry Hotel, for they remember as kids how this was often the midway stop on the annual family vacation trip to Florida. In 2009 the New Perry Hotel (478-987-1000) still offers some of the best cuisine in the Southeast.
Regardless of your politics, you likely won’t mind that folks in Perry are proud to be living in the childhood hometown of retired Senator Sam Nunn. To acknowledge the contributions Senator Nunn made to the American political scene, the historic building that houses the Board of Education also contains memorabilia from Nunn’s childhood in Perry. His grade-school classroom has been re-created inside, and visitors can browse displays regarding national politics. Nunn was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for many years and was nominated more than once for a Nobel Peace Prize.
For the golf fanatic who doesn’t go anywhere without his or her clubs and always will find local opportunities to use them, there is especially good news. Three public golf courses are in town “” the Perry Country Club (18 holes), the Houston Springs Resort and Golf Course (9 holes), and the Houston Lake Country Club (18 holes). Contact the Perry CVB for details.
The CVB folks also are your source for info about a self-guided tour of Perry’s historic sites and buildings, which can be accomplished on foot or in your vehicle. The charm, elegance, and historical importance of these structures continue to delight. For example, as so many Southern towns do, Perry has a fine reminder of the War Between the States outside the courthouse: in this case, a giant granite statue of a Confederate soldier.
To truly enjoy a region and its culture means experiencing the epicurean side of what that venue has to offer. Nowhere is this more evident than with the eateries and excellent food opportunities Perry brings to the table. If you’re looking for really good seafood or steak, Leta’s On The Square (478-988-3337) is the place to go. Another downtown eatery that shares the streets with the dogwood trees is the Front Porch Tearoom (478-987-1866), where quiche, chicken and dumplings, and blackberry ice tea are served, among other specialties.
The Swanson (478-987-1938) offers excellent fare, a taste of Southern charm, and a true peek into the provincial side of central Georgia. Many of us have grown up or lived all of our lives in new urban settings typical of the past 50 years. Lucky are those who have been able to stay in touch and revel in the joys of small-town settings such as what you’ll find in Perry. To “new urban” folks, The Swanson is like taking a step back in time. What was once a livery stable (150 years ago) was converted into a house at the turn of the century, and with each subsequent generation rooms were added. Fine dining can be enjoyed on the wide, open porches that wrap across and around the front of the house, settings that beckon you back to a quieter, more genteel period. And just steps away are shops such as This and That and The Mosaic Turtle, places that offer antiques and other kinds of unusual stuff. Yes, life downtown is good!
Another eatery that rates high for Southern satisfaction is Mrs. Peggie’s Chicken, Seafood and Barbecue (478-988-9867). It’s not fancy, for it’s designed to get you back home or back to your motorhome as quickly as possible so the feast can begin. This is a drive-through that has a typical menu with goodies such as catfish, shrimp, oysters, baked chicken, ham, and turkey wings, and, of course, pulled or shaved barbecue, with sides of collard greens, cabbage, yams, and corn on the cob. What a great way to get lunch or dinner you can enjoy back at your castle on wheels. You can call ahead to place your order, so it will be waiting for you when you come by the drive-through. You won’t even have to get out of your towed car.
Those who have previously visited Perry already know about Priester’s Pecans (478-987-6080). It’s in the immediate vicinity of the fairgrounds, and is an excellent place to enjoy a Southern-style buffet lunch, with plenty of room for parking. Along with the buffet and an ice cream parlor, Priester’s offers homemade products such as jams, jellies, relishes (you name it), and a wide variety of pecan pies, candies, cakes, and other yummy stuff. An old country store setting makes the place more charming.
So, save those calories and that energy for when you get to Perry, and plan on taking in some of the town’s many sights. See you at the next convention!
Day trips from Perry
Following are just a few popular spots to visit while you’re based in Perry. For more ideas, visit the state travel Web site, http://www.georgia.org/, or contact the Georgia Department of Economic Development, 75 Fifth St. N.W., Suite 1200, Atlanta, GA 30308; (800) 847-4842, (404) 962-4000.
Massee Lane Gardens, a 10-acre camellia garden; visitors center; gift shop; and the world’s largest collection of Edward Marshall Boehm porcelains open to the public. Admission $5; free to children under 12. Located 12 miles west of Perry; http://www.camellias-acs.org/; (478) 967-2358.
Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base, with 93 aircraft and hundreds of exhibits. Free admission. Located in Warner Robins, 20 miles northeast of Perry; http://www.museumofaviation.org/; (478) 926-6870.
Andersonville National Historic Site, location of a Civil War prison camp and the National Prisoner of War Museum. Free admission (donation). Located 34 miles from Perry; www.nps.gov/ande; (229) 924-0343.
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which includes the boyhood farm, Plains High School (with a museum and visitors center), Plains historic district, and Plains train depot. Free admission. Located approximately 60 miles from Perry; ww.nps.gov/jica; (229) 824-4104.
Perry Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 1609
101 General Courtney Hodges Blvd.
Perry, GA 31069
Boland’s RV Park
800 Perimeter Road
Perry, GA 31069
Crossroads Travel Park
1513 Sam Nunn Blvd.
Perry, GA 31069
Fair Harbor RV Park
515 Marshallville Road
Perry, GA 31069
Southern Trails RV Resort
2690 Arena Road
Unadilla, GA 31091
Twin Oaks RV Park & Campground, C6864
305 State Route 26 E.
Elko, GA 31025