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Celebrate Eclectic in Georgia’s Heartland

Smack in the middle of Georgia, centered between the northern mountains, the southern plantations, the bounteous coast and the historic highlands, Georgia’s Historic Heartland is also a center point for the state’s history and culture.

“We are really the heart of Georgia, the soul of Georgia, with iconic sites, antebellum homes, agricultural roots and the peach orchards that are synonymous with Georgia,” said Historic Heartland tourism project manager Rebekah Snider. “But we are also home to a newer, fresher version of Georgia culture, with great museums and icons like Otis Redding, REM and the Allman Brothers.”

The Historic Heartland packs in a high concentration of heritage, including antebellum history in Athens, a film hub in Covington, charming historic Madison and a music mecca in Macon.

Outdoors in the Heartland 

Though the region often makes it onto visitors’ bucket lists for its American history, one of the Historic Heartland’s top natural attractions hearkens back to the area’s pre-Columbian history.

Ocmulgee National Monument traces 17,000 years of continuous human habitation, making the site an incredible archaeological resource not only for America, but also for the entire world. Its earth lodge has been used as a convening place for local council governments since 1015, and seven temple mounds spread on walking paths throughout the site date to the Mississippian Native Americans’ peak in the region from 900 to 1250.

For the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Ocmulgee will host additional programming, including a celebration of the 1,000-year anniversary of the floor of the earth lodge. In the spring, during Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival, groups can take lantern tours that include interpretive talks.

History in the Heartland

The Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville is such a precious and well-preserved piece of our nation’s history that it was named Georgia’s first Smithsonian Institution affiliate. Among the fewer than 200 Smithsonian affiliates across the country, there are only a handful of historic homes, making the designation an even more significant honor.

The Old Governor’s Mansion served as the home of Georgia’s government for more than 30 years until General William T. Sherman captured the site and made it his headquarters during the March to the Sea and the capital shifted to Atlanta following the war. Due to the site’s age and internal dimensions, group tours are limited to 12 to 15 guests per docent, with the possibility of running up to four groups concurrently in the mansion.

Art in the Heartland

Macon has made its mark on many periods of American music, from Otis Redding’s soul to REM’s alternative rock, but the Allman Brothers have left the biggest mark on Macon.

Groups today can experience a personal glimpse into the lives of the group at the Big House museum, where the downstairs houses tour memorabilia from the musicians and their family and friends, and the bedrooms upstairs have been re-created to look exactly as they were when the band lived in the house, down to the dresses in Linda and Berry’s daughter’s closet.

Film in the Heartland

While the Historic Heartlands has hosted a variety of movies, from “Fried Green Tomatoes” to “Smokey and the Bandit,” many know it best as the home of the CW’s hit television show “Vampire Diaries.”

In Covington, just a half hour southeast of Atlanta, “the town really responded to the fact that the film industry was there,” Snider said. The facade of a historic building that had, in previous lives, been everything from a bank to a Sears and a saloon to a bakery was used by the show as a restaurant. Subsequently, the CW worked with the owners to re-create the interior to look exactly like the restaurant on the show. Now known as Mystic Grill, the restaurant is an ideal destination for groups, with its rooftop patio overlooking Covington’s historic town square.

New in the Heartland

The biggest news in the Historic Heartland this year is the grand opening of the Farmview Market and Café in historic Madison. Intended as an agritourism offering, the market includes an on-site butcher shop and gristmill, in addition to the fresh grocer and cafe. In April, it debuted its open-air farmers market. Just off the interstate, the market offers groups taking in the heritage of downtown Madison or passing through on their way south from Atlanta an ideal break for a tour, a meal or a shopping stop.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.