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.