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A Delightful Paradox in Georgia’s Presidential Pathways Region

Bound by Atlanta to the north, Macon and the historic heartlands to the east, and the Alabama border to the west, Georgia’s Presidential Pathways region has long been a vacation destination for visitors looking to take in the area’s healing hot springs and gracious gardens.

Though the region takes its name from two presidents who have made their home in this part of Georgia — Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter — the Presidential Pathways area has been marked by cultural icons for centuries, from major musicians taking the stage at Georgia’s oldest theater in Columbus to the philanthropic Callaway family to the eclectic artist St. EOM.

Outdoors in the Pathways

Started by the Callaway family in the 1950s, the 6,500-acre Callaway Gardens resort outside Columbus has grown from a native azalea sanctuary into a multifaceted retreat with lakes for boating and waterskiing, dozens of miles of walking trails, one of the world’s largest man-made beaches and a LEED-certified butterfly center.

Another outpost of the Callaway family, the Hills and Dales estate in the heart of La Grange, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Groups can visit the Callaways’ historic home, where members of the family resided until 2000, as well as the estate’s gardens, which date back to the 1840s.

“It’s neat to be able to tour a historic home of this stature,” said Holly Winner, project manager for the region. “You can feel what it was like for someone to live there, unlike, say, the Biltmore, where it’s hard to wrap your mind around someone actually living there.”

History in the Pathways

President Roosevelt left a lasting mark on many individuals and institutions in this region during his life, but none more significant than his estate in Warm Springs, which has acquired the moniker the Little White House for its combination of diminutive size and the number of influential political dealings that took place in its six rooms.

Roosevelt was originally drawn to Warm Springs during his time as governor of New York in search of polio treatment. Though he didn’t find a cure for what ailed him, his experiences in the area did inspire many of the economic relief programs he devised to heal the nation after the Great Depression.

The home has been preserved exactly as Roosevelt left it when he suffered a stroke there while posing for a portrait, and groups can tour the home’s rooms and exhibits, as well as the historic therapy pools and springs. While the home’s pools are no longer open for swimming, groups can book a therapeutic experience at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute to round out their visits.

Art in the Pathways

Columbus’ Springer Opera House is one of seven National Historic Landmark theaters in the nation and has been dubbed the State Theatre of Georgia. Since 1871 it has hosted the biggest traveling acts of all genres, from vaudeville to soul music, and light-box exhibits in the lobby highlight the legends that have shared the stage over the decades. Private tours of the majestic interior, which was fully renovated over 24 years before the turn of the 20th century, highlight its ornate decoration, long history and the rumors of its ghoulish residents.

Film in the Pathways

As Georgia has become an increasingly popular filming location, the Presidential Pathways region has become correspondingly popular onscreen. The town of Senoia is the home of the hit series “The Walking Dead,” and so many locations around town have been featured in the show that groups can choose from a variety of “The Walking Dead” walking tours by Georgia Mercantile or a bus tour by Atlanta Movie Tours to experience the sites.

The “Hunger Games” movie franchise has also made its mark on the area, prominently featuring the Big Red Oaks Plantation in the second film for the sequences of the characters in the tropical-jungle-themed games arena. The plantation is open to the public for recreation, including clay shooting and quail hunting, as well as for overnight accommodations and as a retreat space.

New in the Pathways

Set to open this fall, the Pasaquan, the home of artist Eddie Owens Martin, or St. EOM, will give groups a direct line into the mind of the eclectic folk artist. As part of a collaboration between Columbus State University and the Kohler Foundation, the home was completely restored after having remained untouched since the artist passed away in 1986.

The structure of the group tours will be similar to a historic home tour in group size and length; however, the focus will be on the home as an object of art, and as inspiration and a creative breeding ground for Martin’s pre-Columbian-inspired works.

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.