Georgia’s Lake Country, Milledgeville, Eatonton, Madison and Greensboro
ABOVE PHOTO: O’Connor’s worker’s cottage
ByRenée S. Gordon
A mere 70-miles from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta you can find yourself in Georgia’s 34,000-acre Lake Country. Though the region was only deemed “lake country” after the initial damming of the Oconee River the area’s written history dates from the early days of colonization. Creek Indians, who knew the river as the “Great Water,” once populated the land around the “Okoni” River. The four towns, Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison and Milledgeville and two lakes, Oconee and Sinclair, within the region each have a special history, dining options and unique accommodations.
The 15,000-acre Lake Sinclair was created in 1953 by the damming of the Oconee River to generate electricity. Twenty-six years later Wallace Dam was built to increase the generation of Georgia’s hydroelectric power thereby creating the 19,050-acre Lake Oconee. Lake Oconee is noted for its 376-mile shoreline and for being home to more fish per acre than any other GA. Lake and along with fishing visitors can engage in a full slate of water activities and golf on any of the eight championship courses in the vicinity. www.oconee.org
Cuscowilla Resort on Lake Oconee offers several types of accommodations including villas and cottages. The resort provides golf lessons, Kids Klub, walking trails, tennis, basketball, swimming and massage therapy. Chef Gerald Schmidt presides over The Waterside Restaurant creating menus that rival those he has crafted for U.S. Presidents and Jacqueline Onassis. Specials, promotions, reservations and information is available online. www.cuscowilla.com
The 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation was named a 2013 AAA Five Diamond Lodging and 2013 Forbes Four-Star resort. The opulent property offers 30-acres of lake shoreline, championship golf, accommodations with luxury amenities and Forbes Four-Star Award 26,000 square-feet, full-service spa and fitness center. The resort is ADA accessible. Reynolds Plantation hosts a series of special events, the most renowned of which is the Christmas “Lighting of the Lodge.” www.ritzcarlton.com/ReynoldsPlantation
On acreage ceded by the Creek Indians the Georgia Legislature created Milledgeville on May 11, 1803 for the express purpose of establishing a town to serve as state capital. The town, known by the natives as Standing Peachtree Village, was named after the then governor, John Milledge and modeled on Washington, D.C. The antebellum structures were built using enslaved labor, the streets were named after Revolutionary War heroes and it remains the sole example of a complete Federal-era city in the country. Milledgeville was so beautiful and politically significant that Lafayette visited in 1825. More than 20 buildings within Milledgeville’s Historic District have been placed on the National Historic Register and the city is part of the Antebellum Trail. www.antebellumtrail
The town market was held on the 20-acre Capital Square and it was there that slave auctions were held. In the 1820s the free white population was 789, the black enslaved population numbered 783 and there were 27 free blacks with many of the African Americans being skilled laborers.
The 1807 Old State Capitol was used for legislative sessions from 1807-1868 when the capital was relocated to Atlanta. The building, constructed for $80,000, is a Gothic Revival parallelogram with 4-ft. thick walls. Additions were made in 1828 and 1837.
On January 16, 1861 the GA Secession Convention opened at the site. Three days later they voted for the Ordinance of Secession by a vote of 208 to 89. In November of 1864 the government abandoned the city because it was on the route of Sherman’s march.
A museum is located on the ground floor that interprets the history from prehistoric Georgia to Post Civil War Georgia. The Capitol Building is located on the campus of the Georgia Military College. www.oldcapitalmuseum.org
Charles Cluskey designed the three-story Greek Revival Old Governor’s Mansion and construction began in 1836 and was completed in 1839 for $50,000. It served as both office space and home for 10 governors prior to the move in 1868. In 1973 it was deemed a National Historic Landmark.
Tours of the 21,912-sq. ft. building are phenomenal. They begin on the ground level and interpret the lives of the workers both free and enslaved. The governors brought their personal slaves to the mansion because the state did not own slaves. There was a minimum of four slaves and a maximum of 14 at any one time. A highlight of this area is Jim the steward’s room. He maintained the storeroom, was entrusted with the keys and died in 1859 still clutching them. The originals are on display.
The staircase is original with a 64-ft. banister and the Grand Salon on the upper level is an almost exact replica of the East Room of the White House circa the 1850s. When Sherman arrived in Milledgeville with 30,000 troops he billeted in the mansion. The governor had evacuated and GA state prisoners had stripped the building of furnishings. Sherman finalized his plans for the march in the dining room. Historic Tours and an African American Tour are available for download as well as schedules and information. www.gcsu.edu/mansion
Memory Hill Cemetery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has more than 7,000 graves of both black and white residents, slave and free including three Buffalo Soldiers. Enslaved blacks are interred in a section that is denoted by links of chain. Other notable burials are Flannery O’Conner and Bill Miner the “Gentleman Bandit.” www.friendsofcems.org/MemoryHill
The Sallie Ellis Davis Cultural Arts Center is located inside the former home of educator Sallie E. Davis. The one-story 19th-century frame house has a full width porch and central hall. She lived there from 1910 to 1950.
Sallie was the daughter of Josh Ellis an Irish businessman and an African American mother. Ellis raised her from the age of 3 when her mother died in 1877. After graduating from Atlanta University she became a teacher and administrator of Milledgeville’s Eddy School. Because many black students were forced to travel great distances to be educated she allowed students to board with her. Tours of the center are available. www.gcsu.edu/salliedavis
Andalusia Farm, the home of Flannery O’Connor from 1951-64 is a site on the tri-state Southern Literary Trail. O’Connor was confined to the first floor of the house because she suffered from lupus. Visitors can see the room in which she wrote but the desk, chair and typewriter are not original. A tour of the exterior includes Hill House, the home of the black couple who managed the farm. www.andalusiafarm.org
Milledgeville is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only city in the world to require a train to stop at a red light. You can learn all about that and plan your trip at www.visitmilledgeville.org
Two major southern literary figures were born in Eatonton and sites connected with both authors are must-sees when in the area. The town itself boasts more than 100 significant Antebellum and Victorian buildings. It was established in 1805 and named to honor General Eaton of Connecticut. www.eatonton.com
Alice Walker was born the child of sharecroppers here in 1944 and would use locations and stories she heard growing up in the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Color Purple.” A tour of Walker’s Eatonton visits five sites including the church where she was baptized, the family gravesite, her childhood home and her birthplace.
Joel Chandler Harris was born into poverty in 1848. He was apprenticed on the Turnwold Plantation and it was there that he first heard the slave’s folktales that would eventually form the basis of the Uncle Remus and Br’er Rabbit tales. The Uncle Remus Museum replicates the cabin in the folktales and was crafted of three former slave cabins. The museum has a wonderful gift shop and an outstanding resident storyteller. www.uncleremusmuseum.org
In 1845 Madison was described as “the most cultured and aristocratic town on the stagecoach route from Charleston to New Orleans.” The town has endured and today it is the 2nd largest National Register Historic District in the state and one of the “16 Most Picturesque Villages in the World.” Madison stood between Atlanta and the sea on Sherman’s 1864 route but the town was not burned due to an agreement between Sherman and Madison resident Senator Joshua Hill. A 1.4-mile tour route takes you through the historic district walking or by horse-drawn carriage. There are nearly 200 antique shops, 40 unique retail stores and 20 eclectic dining establishments. www.madisonga.org
The Morgan County African American Museum is located in the 1895 Moore House that belonged to John Moore. The museum interprets the African American contribution to southern culture. www.mcaam.org
The Greek Revival Heritage Hall is one of Madison’s real gems. Dr. Elijah Jones constructed the house in 1811 on four acres as a town home. The four room, more than four room structure was built by slaves. He owned 3,000-acres throughout the state and 114 slaves. Tours of the house include the first and second floors and include the Front Bedroom or “Ghost Bedroom.” The room is believed to be haunted and has a visible stain depicting a woman holding a child on the hearth that cannot be removed. Heritage Hall has been used as a movie set. www.friendsofheritagehall.com
Situated between the Ogeechee and Oconee Rivers, in what was once Georgia’s Cotton Belt, is the city of Greensboro. It was incorporated in 1803 and was named to honor Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene. The Greek Revival Greene County Courthouse was erected in 1849 on the site of an earlier log structure.
One of the state’s oldest jails, the 1807 Old Rock Gaol, still stands in Greensboro. The jail was patterned after France’s bastille with two-foot thick walls made of solid granite. There are two floors. The lower floor had no light, heat or ventilation and offenders could be chained to the walls. On the upper level prisoners had the benefit of a little light but on the downside the gallows was at the end of the hall. Prisoners were hung from 1735-1924 and the execution room remains the same as it was in the 1800s. Records indicate that only one person was ever hung in the county. The first attempt failed so he was hung a second time.
The Greene County African American Museum is housed in the Dr. Calvin M. Baber House, a 1925 one and a half story Craftsman cottage. In 1987 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum relates the story of the African American presence in the county and the state.
Do not leave town without a slice of Greensboro’s famous buttermilk pie. The Yesterday Café is recognized as one of the best places in the state to try it.
Georgia’s Lake Country offers history, literature, shopping and spas as well as outdoor recreation. Begin planning the perfect vacation now. www.galakecountry.com
I wish you smooth travels!
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