Surprising Suburbs: Villa Rica

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Peal your eyes west next time you squint in the glare of Georgia’s capitol building. The gold leaf crowning that handsome dome has a new history.

Follow your view 35 miles to explore the Pine Mountain Gold Museum in Villa Rica and learn the facts about discovering gold in 1826, three years prior to the gold rush in Dahlonega.

IMG_2757Museum historians aren’t claiming the State Capitol gleam came from West Georgia, but they do raise interesting facts in an 18-minute documentary and in detailed exhibits about the early discoveries.

Then they teach techniques for finding bits of gold yourself. Worked for me, and the people on either side in a convenient stand-up trough with skimming pans and a teacher.

Larry “Pop” Arnold is his name. “Been panning for gold here for 50 years,” he says. “Keeps me outside and I just like the process.” 

He’s also a bona fide member of the Gold Prospectors Association of America. Who knew?

Maybe if my Spanish were up-to-snuff I wouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Villa Rica means village of gold. Another clue might be the Civil War company from Carroll County formally known as Georgia Company I, 19th infantry regiment, but called the Gold Diggers.

IMG_2756Fine grains, baby powder texture are the kind of gold found here and a ride on the railroad provides a sense of the land in which hopeful miners worked.

Carl Lewis is one of them, adding his authentic voice to museum tours, noting he is Villa Rica’s last commercial gold miner.

He also shares the story of the Samuel and Asa Candler families and their Coca-Cola bottling business in Villa Rica from 1903-1923.

Real-deal gold-mining history fills the woods, along with high and low huckleberry bushes, sassafras trees and wildflowers including hundreds of Pink Ladies.

Peer 50 feet into the Old Glory Hole to start understanding the process introduced in 1917 to extract the gold. Cyanide, sump tanks, ore gondolas, leaching tanks, after-effects of plate tectonics – this is a vocabulary lesson too.

Signage is clear and informative.  

IMG_2760$5.00 is the price of Museum admission, $5.00 more to ride the train (a pleasant experience relying on a four cylinder propane engine and air brakes), $5.00 to pan for gold and gemstones. Not so simple to master the right flick of the wrist so I appreciated miners more just because I tried.

Walking three miles of nature trails is free, so are the picnic grounds. Stockmar Park is the location and I’d recommend allowing time to see the farm animals and community garden.

In fact, all day could be plenty of family fun. Get a picnic to go from Evans Barbecue Company or The Southern Table.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

Surprising Suburbs: Watkinsville

All-inclusive resort vacations aren’t limited to the Caribbean; try this concept — a surprising suburb of Athens.

Point is—vacationing with indulgences is within reach! If this checklist works for you, head to Watkinsville.

  • Luxurious accommodations
  • Abundant art
  • Massage and yoga
  • Gardens and gentle walking paths
  • A bit of history
  • Convenient dining
Ashford Manor

Ashford Manor

Sleep in Ashford Manor, an 1893 Queen Anne home that is a sumptuous inn where breakfast is a work of art.

I might make arrangements in advance to see about dinner there too, or a picnic packed to enjoy on the terraced yard.

“We’re very high service oriented,” says Dave Shearon. “Breakfast can be in your room, on the porches or in the gardens.”

Wherever you like and whatever you like seems to be their style at the Ashford Manor.

 

Choose the 1840s cottage with three suites if you are an antebellum purist or the elegant main house. Expect almost 10 acres, four terraces, gracious yards and a gazebo.

Cottage at Ashford Manor.

Cottage at Ashford Manor.

What else is all-inclusive? You could arrange a massage therapist for in-room treatments.

Walk across the street—busy but with a traffic light—and choose from several eateries.

There is a yoga studio across the street too and that’s an all-inclusive feature many claim in the resort world. Could splurge on a four-day yoga renewal retreat in March, at Ashford Manor.

Artland is Watkinsville’s moniker, and one way to immerse yourself is in the 1827 Haygood House, now home and gallery for Jerry and Kathy Chappelle.

Watkinsville Chappelle Gallery

Chappelle Gallery

As if their fine pottery weren’t reason enough, 125 artists have works here. Happy Valley Pottery, the community of artists a few miles south of Watkinsville, is all wrapped up in the art movement here since the 1970s. Ask for pointers to the Watkinsville mural art that is located in several locations around town. The last population census was 2,832 so you know you won’t have to drive far.

The pewter is polished and the wood handsome in Watkinsville’s Eagle Tavern. Could have purchased a half-pint of cordial there had I visited in 1819, according to ledgers with flowing handwriting. Instead I mused about the wonder of standing in a 1790s former stagecoach, then hotel, then tavern on land given to a Revolutionary War veteran. That classic George Washington portrait hanging in thousands of classrooms meant more in this place.

Oconee is the county name, and Athens is just 10 minutes north.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

Surprising Suburbs: LaGrange, Georgia

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Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange, Georgia.

Choose lunch on a jaunt to LaGrange, a surprising suburb of Columbus. The great-great grandson of the legendary town philanthropist most likely is cooking at the stylish downtown eatery called C’sons, pronounced “seasons,” and the exquisite menu is seasonal, changing daily with what’s fresh.

Here’s why I found that significant: LaGrange has much more going on than most towns of 30,000 — art and history museums, fine culinary experiences, handsome downtown facades and urban forest treescapes. It’s a natural setting for storytelling and art festivals, symphony, ballet and theater, with audiences to fill them. It’s also home to gardens and historic homes, plus significant artifacts in an antiquity center.

Fuller E. and Ida Cason Callaway set the tone in the community as early as 1895, and their notion of sharing abounds to this day. Their two sons carried on the home and businesses, each forming a foundation touching LaGrange in major ways today.

Statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in downtown LaGrange.

Statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in downtown LaGrange.

I recommend spending the day in their home and gardens, Hills and Dales Estate. The home is protected, preserved and filled with original family furnishings. That means something since the Italian villa has 30 rooms. Enormous but not pretentious. Docents guide the tours, but no velvet ropes stop visitors from walking throughout the rooms. How special is that? Trusted in a historic home.

Allow plenty of time to stroll the boxwoods, trees and flowers, continuously cultivated for 180 years. With 23 garden highlights noted on the tour brochure, you might want time to breathe the fragrances and to muse. I recommend sitting on the curved stone bench where Ida and Fuller fell in love. Hear their story in the “Living Legacy” documentary in the visitor center.

The allure of storytelling at Hills and Dales and throughout LaGrange feeds an 18-year-old annual storytelling festival. “Listening to stories brings back our own memories and reflections,” says Joyce Morgan Young, one of the Azalea Storytelling Festival founders.

Legacy on Main Museum in LaGrange, Georgia.

Legacy on Main Museum in LaGrange, Georgia.

Quilts in Legacy on Main stitched me back to the textile industry. Wealthy women were the quilters, the exhibit suggests, in an era when fabric only came your way with spinning and weaving. When textile mills like the Callaway’s created cloth, quilting became more available to other women, too.

These LaGrange fabrics continue to influence the arts, so I learned from Karen Anne Briggs, executive director of the LaGrange Art Museum. “Textiles require design,” she said, “and the mills sent people to Europe to study fine design.

“This community has a disproportionately large population of people interested in art, in design, in creative expression,” Briggs said.

Visit Bellevue, too, an 1850 Greek revival home with a story of its own about the Nancy Harts.

This all-female militia formed in LaGrange, credited with preventing Federal soldiers from destroying grand homes when they marched through on April 16, 1865. Forty women drilling twice weekly with Capt. Nancy Morgan halted the forces of Col. Oscar H. LaGrange. (How ironic that was his name?) Businesses burned, homes were saved and the militia women served dinner.

Perhaps all these connections also fuel the reason Israel chooses to share ancient artifacts for display in the LaGrange Explorations in Antiquities Center. This interactive history museum describes itself as daily life in Biblical times: shepherds, farmers, villages, Roman market streets and dining experiences. The new Biblical Life artifacts gallery, officials say, is one of only seven worldwide and only four in America with a long-term collection from Israel.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

Surprising Suburbs: McCaysville

IMG_4877_2Standing on the edge requires no quivery balance in McCaysville, Georgia’s surprising suburb 10 miles north of charming Blue Ridge on the Georgia-Tennessee border. Simply decide if you’re in Georgia or Tennessee, and proceed to discover astonishing and interesting art, calm waters to paddle, trout to catch.

Come on your own, or ride the Blue Ridge scenic railway to downtown McCaysville. A blue dotted line in a small grocery store parking lot identifies the state border. “Step behind the white tree, and you’re still in Georgia,” Tammi Mann assures visitors to the international artists’ showcase and shop she and husband Rip Mann created on a busy downtown corner. Rip looks like Santa Claus, and they call the shop Christmas is Here! Don’t expect Dec. 25 kitschy focus; do expect skilled artisans.

IMG_4887_2Handhewn bowls are Rip’s specialty. He learned the centuries-old craft from one of America’s last masters, sitting on a stump after retiring from a career in the restaurant business. Thanks to all he learned, now you and I can sit next to his stump in McCaysville, watching a master. Visit in December and also find Rip Mann portraying Santa, which he did professionally along the East Coast.

The ancient Chinese art form called Ne’Qwa provides quite a counterbalance to handhewn wood in this McCaysville shop. Delicate glass, reverse painted—from the inside, showing on the outside. On Oct. 4, an annual workshop will be held in McCaysville, featuring Georgia artist D. Morgan from nearby Young Harris, one of only 35 in the nation whose paintings are accepted as Ne’Qwa designs.

A husband/wife duo — two more talented artists — exhibit their bark baskets, wearable fiber arts, wood turning, brooms and photography in the Organic Artist Tree, sharing a spacious lobby with Christmas is Here! JoAnna Belmont, a nurse for 30 years, and Mark Hendry, professional dancer, chose McCaysville for their shop, while their home and studios are in Blue Ridge. Find them both places to watch creativity happening and to take some classes.

IMG_4873_2Smack dab in the middle of McCaysville, a small steel bridge built in 1911 crosses the river: Toccoa on Georgia’s side and Ocoee on the other. Watch kayakers crossing under the bridge, or get in one yourself and navigate the calm waters around McCaysville.

Blue Ridge Mountain Kayaking has a Copperhill, Tenn., address but they will take you to Georgia to float! Kayak tandem for $25 or solo for $15. Big, fat inner tubes are $8 for two hours or $16 for all day.  Cup holders, mesh bottoms and backrests are included.

Prefer life on the land? McCaysville’s Horseshoe Bend Park on the Toccoa River is a grassy spot ready for picnics and sightseers, and often features live music in the summer.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

Surprising Suburbs: Harlem

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Silly is good in the suburbs, especially when you choose little Harlem, Georgia.  Consider this a suburb of Augusta and Thomson in Columbia County, which Grammy winner Lady Antebellum calls home.

Laurel and Hardy pull raucous laughter out of thousands of visitors all year long, and by the thousands during the annual first Saturday in October festival tied to their museum in Harlem.  Movie dates are noisy, a cause and effect of laughter from the Laurel and Hardy Museum’s non-stop run of classic film.

Family travel builds bridges here, with some children seeing their first silly slapstick black-and-white short films; first wondering why their parents are stricken with the giggles, before contracting them, too. Laurel and Hardy films are a good counterbalance to the werewolf and vampire dominance in film-watching America today.

Laurel.Hardy.MuseumThe Laurel and Hardy Museum is a homey, unpretentious, sort of simple place with thousands of memorabilia items. Most everybody poses for a picture with Stan and Ollie in their car, known from their 1929 film “A Perfect Day.”

Museum docents are proud to tell this is the only Laurel and Hardy museum in America, and one of only three in the world. As such, it attracts visitors from all over. You don’t see signatures listing Saudi Arabia as home in just any museum guest book, but I did here. This idiosyncratic museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

You might consider staying overnight at nearby Red Oak Manor bed and breakfast. That will give you another day to watch more films and laugh longer.

horizonal tree through trees webBuilt in 1885, seven years before Norvell “Oliver” Hardy was born, Red Oak Manor has five guest rooms; the downstairs room and bath are handicap accessible. Two upstairs guest rooms have private baths, and two share one. Acorn is the name of the Manor’s restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pass under centuries-old oak trees walking through the yard to the museum.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.