Courtesy Athens CVB
Published May 01, 2014
Many iconic towns in Georgia’s central region, like Macon and Athens, conjure images of Georgia’s glamorous, gracious antebellum period, and groups visiting the historic heartland will find the area doesn’t disappoint. But there is also much more history to uncover in lesser-known parts of the region.
This section of the state has been occupied continuously since prehistoric times, and just outside Macon’s historic center, you can travel back in time more than 11,000 years at the Ocmulgee National Monument. Nearby, at the Hawkinsville Pulaski Waterfront, you can connect to the land as those ancient cultures did on wildlife and river tours.
In Old Clinton, often referred to as the town that time forgot, the Colonial period is preserved to eerie perfection, and Barnesville brings alive the period of the 19th century “buggy barons,” who produced thousands of buggies per year.
Antebellum Georgia has left behind its fair share of mansions, but Barnesville, home of the buggy barons who fashioned horse-drawn buggies for presidents and preachers alike, was fortunate to receive an extra portion.
After being drained of men during the Civil War, Barnesville, like many Georgia towns, took some years to ramp back up to prosperity. In the late 1800s, the city made a name for itself as the biggest producer of buggies south of Cincinnati, and nearly every person and business in town was in some way connected to the industry.
During this heady period of new wealth, Barnesville became a focal point for shopping and recreation in the region. One of the best ways for groups to experience that heritage today is through walking tours of the historic center, which take in both the residential Victorian architecture of the buggy baron mansions and the extant salons and shops from the period.
Each September for the past 40 years, the Barnesville Buggy Days festival has celebrated the city’s heritage with “blast from the past”-themed events, from the antique car shows to buggy races, parades and old-fashioned field games.
Though in recent years Athens has cultivated a hip college town culture, it’s the effortless style of the city’s Victorian architecture paired with abundant natural beauty that has drawn students and settlers to the area for centuries.
Named for the ancient Greek center of higher learning, Athens is home to the University of Georgia. Founded in 1785, it is the first state university opened in the United States. A full tour of Athens can incorporate historic buildings in both the university and downtown.
If time is short, focus your group’s visit on Museum Mile. The area comprises four museum houses from different periods of Athens’ history, and groups can visit them all in about two hours. Built in 1934, the T.R.R. Cobb House, moved from Stone Mountain back to its original site in Athens, is one of the highlights. A later example of the city’s historic architecture is the Founders Memorial Garden, a 2.5-acre landscaped garden that honors the founders of America’s first garden club.
Just outside the city center, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia sprawls over 313 acres that intertwine modern Georgia with the Colonial and plantation-era past. In the Heritage Garden, visitors can experience the sights and sensations of working cotton, tobacco, indigo and rice plantations. The site’s eight themed gardens can be combined into a custom group tour before or after a luncheon in the meeting areas.
The Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a series of city tours that focus on Athens’ historic heritage; the tours depart from the welcome center, and step-on guides are available.