Nestled just below the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the vibrant college town of Athens, Georgia is the northern gateway to the Antebellum Trail. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected Athens as a 2009 Distinctive Destination in recognition of the authentic visitor experience provided by its dynamic downtown, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, and strong commitment to historic preservation and revitalization. Guided and self-guided tours of 16 historic districts and four house museums provide a glimpse into the past of numerous Confederate leaders. Athens’ restored, Victorian-era downtown historic district remains as vital as ever, housing an eclectic mix of restaurants, retail shops, local art, living space, and the world-renowned music clubs that gave birth to R.E.M., the B-52’s, and hundreds of other bands. Special events during the Antebellum Trail Pilgrimage include the 30th Annual Athens Twilight Cycling Criterium (April 24-25), spring Home (TBA) & Garden (April 18) tours, the 31st Annual Human Rights Festival (May 2-3), and the Nationwide Golf Tour’s Athens Regional Foundation Classic (April 13-19).
Just minutes south of Athens, Watkinsville and Oconee County retain a small town atmosphere. Visitors often wander through its scenic beauty or step into the past, touring one of the many historic sites in the area. The circa 1801 Eagle Tavern remains on its original site in Watkinsville and its museum reveals daily life in frontier Georgia. The Elder Mill Covered Bridge, built in 1897 by Nathaniel Richardson, is located 5 miles south of Watkinsville and still carries traffic over its wooden trusses. However, history isn’t all that the area has to offer. Downtown Watkinsville features eclectic shopping in Town Center and in the many antique shops, art galleries, and specialty shops located nearby. Another highlight is Happy Valley Pottery, where Jerry and Kathy Chappelle turned a rambling chicken ranch into a unique community of working artists. Further down Highway 441, travelers can make a stop at any of the roadside stands for fresh fruits and vegetables before making way to Bishop where they’ll find Brooks & Brady, a shop full of one-of-a-kind items and antiquities. Bishops Blue Women of Pottery and Winterhawk Pottery are also favorites among many, and are located on the direct route to the next stop on the Antebellum Trail—Madison.
Described before the War as “The most cultured and aristocratic town on the stagecoach route from Charleston to New Orleans”, Madison has been welcoming visitors from around the world for almost two centuries. Today, Madison is one of Georgia’s largest designated National Register Historic Districts and was named one of the earliest “Preserve America Communities”. Recently, Madison was named one of the “Top 10 Best Southern Towns” by Southern Living. A national treasure of antebellum buildings—its architecture stands as a monument to the time when cotton was king. Madison is home to breathtaking art galleries and museums, over 160 antique dealers, 45+ specialty shops, parks & recreation sites, ambient local dining options, and a host of distinctive lodging options including boutique inns and bed & breakfasts. Visitors often comment that a trip to Madison is like an amazing trip through time, where the charm of the Old South still exists, and where hospitality comes from the heart. Heritage Hall, the Rogers House, Rose Cottage, and private antebellum homes will be featured on the Pilgrimage.
In a tradition that started with Br’er Rabbit and continues to this day, visitors to Eatonton, the next stop on the Trail, enjoy many a good tale. From the fisherman telling the story of “the one that got away” to a golfer stretching the truth about the length of his drive, to a spinetingler about a ghost who lives in the house next door; the stories abound. Eatonton has a rich literary history and has produced two very famous writers: Alice Walker and Joel Chandler Harris. The town is nestled between Lakes Oconee and Sinclair and the Oconee National Forest. The wide water and gentle green landscape have inspired some of golf’s legendary designers to create masterpieces around Lake Oconee. Classic antebellum architecture can be seen on any street in the Historic Downtown.
Further down and located in the heart of middle Georgia, historic Milledgeville boasts of stately southern mansions and gracious garden gates which have harbored distinguished governors, generals, and ghosts. Beneath the sun-dripped shade of towering oaks, Milledgeville still beckons travelers with impressive architecture, historic venues, a glistening lake, and an authentic arboretum. Visitors can stroll through the charming downtown, or take a trolley ride. Amongst the grand Antebellum homes lining the streets of Milledgeville there exists a wealth of cultural opportunities all within walking distance. Those seeking history can follow in Sherman’s footsteps at the Old Governor’s Mansion or visit Georgia’s Old Capital Museum, located in the building where Georgia legislators voted to secede from the Union. Milledgeville’s rich assortment of historic sites, houses and museums provides visitors with a unique ambiance to learn about the days as the state Capital during a fascinating time of the nation’s history. But there is more to the district that just history. Contemporary student artwork and traditional collections add vibrancy and celebrate history in eclectic galleries such as Blackbridge Hall and the John Marlor Arts Center. Sites such as Andalusia provided inspiration for one of America’s greatest authors, Flannery O’Connor and served as the setting for many of her stories and characters.
One of the final stops on the Trail brings visitors to Gray and Old Clinton. Visitors can experience life on an 1850s cotton plantation as they walk the grounds of the Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site. Only a half mile from the Jarrell Plantation, Hitchiti Nature Trail offers hiking trials, including a four-mile loop that follows Little Falling Creek to the Ocmulgee River. Griswo
ldville, once home to a Confederate pistol factory, is dotted with historical markers describing the Battle of Griswoldville. The battlefield has been preserved and is well marked. Today, only farms and a few residents mark the town, once home to 500 people.
The Old Clinton Historic District is architecturally significant for its collection of early 19th century homes and public buildings now on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can attend Old Clinton War Days, a reenactment of the Federal occupation of Clinton during the Civil War (which takes place the first weekend of May) before heading off to complete the journey in Macon.
An old sweet song. A soulful serenade. A screaming guitar. Trail-goers: get ready to rock when you roll into historic Macon. An eclectic fusion of amazing architecture blends smoothly with urban downtown digs for fine dining, drinks and dancing in an eclectic environment for fun.
Even the museums rock and roll. Visitors can get down downtown at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame with the B-52’s, R.E.M., Little Richard, Jason Aldean and the Allman Brothers, sit on the dock with Otis Redding’s life-size statue overlooking the Ocmulgee River, or stroll along their beautiful boulevards lined with 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees. There is something to sing about...the Song & Soul of the South in historic Macon, Georgia.