By Renee Gordon
Georgia is divided into nine travel regions the most familiar being probably Atlanta Metro. Each is unique in its history, geography, heritage, attractions, driving tours and activities and each region is easily accessible using Atlanta as a base. A great place to begin your regional explorations is in Northwest Georgia, the Historic High Country, renowned for its Native American heritage and world-class museums. The land tucked into the state’s northwest corner is geologically part of the Appalachian Plateau and is located on the westernmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains.
The area, occupied by Native Americans for more than 10,000-years, was by them as “the enchanted land” because of its resources and natural beauty. www.n-georgia.com/nw-mountains-travel
Archeological evidence points to an early occupation by Creek Indians who were dislodged in the 1500s by the Cherokee who established their capital in New Echota, Georgia. Initially settlers trickled into the area but the discovery of gold in the region in 1828 caused a land rush.
Ten years later the brutal removal of the Cherokee from their land by the federal government would occur. Their relocation to an Oklahoma reservation is generally known as the “Trail of Tears.” Native Americans refer to it as “Nunahi-dunoklo-Hilu-I,” “the Trail Where They Cried.” Their land was given away in a series of lotteries. A 200-mile Chieftains Trail has been established to showcase those events and important Native American heritage sites several of which are in NW Georgia. www.chieftainstrail.com
Cartersville, only 44-miles from Atlanta, is a High Country gem. Originally it was a small village on a stagecoach route called Birmingham. The town was renamed in 1840 after plantation owner Farrish Carter. An 11-stop downtown tour brochure is available the highlights of which are the architecture and the oldest exterior Coca Cola sign. James Couden painted the sign on the wall of Young Brothers Drug Pharmacy in 1894. He forgot the “I” in drink and one can clearly see where he squeezed it in. www.cartersville.com
Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site is the most significant prehistoric Mississippian Period cultural site in the country. The 52-acre Etowah was once home to 4,000 people but little evidence remains other than the defensive ditch, central plaza and six earthen ceremonial and burial mounds, the largest of which is 63-ft. high.
A visit to the on-site museum interprets the lifestyle of the mound builders whose culture flourished from 1000 AD and was described by DeSoto. Though there is no documentation of armed conflict 90 percent of the population died shortly after his visit. Modern visitors can climb the main mound for a great view. 813 Indian Mounds Rd SE. www.gastateparks.org/EtowahMounds
Cartersville, Georgia’s museum city, is the smallest city in the nation to be home to two Smithsonian affiliated museums and that reason alone is enough to make a visit mandatory.
Tellus Science Museum is 120,000-ft facility with four galleries dedicated to minerals, fossils, technology, a digital planetarium and interactive areas. Highlights of the exhibits are an 80-ft long Apatosaurus fossil, a 20-ft. Dunkleosteus armored fish, a visual periodic table and a display case of dinosaur waste. 100 Tellus Dr. www.tellusmuseum.com
The Booth Western Art Museum (BWAM) is one of my favorite museums in the world. This 120,000-ft jewel gets everything just right, from the selection and display of the artworks to true cultural inclusion. The goal of the museum is to relate the story of America’s heritage through Western art depicting the individuals, incidents and cultures that came together to shape the frontier experience. Galleries are on three levels and not one piece of art should be overlooked. It is the largest permanent museum of Western art in the world, all of the greatest artists of the genre are represented and black cowboys are depicted alongside white cowboys and Native Americans in proportionate numbers.
My favorite painting, “A Noble Past” by Ernest Varner, is located on the 2nd-level and shows a buffalo soldier and a Zulu warrior in battle stance. Also on this level you will find stunning cast paper sculptures by Patty and Allen Eckman that must be seen to be believed. The museum’s signature artifact is an original stagecoach complete with bullet holes. www.eckmanfineart.com/works_oneofakind.html#dancers
Be certain to leave at least an hour to visit the Carolyn and James Miller Presidential Gallery. An original, signed, one-page letter is displayed from each president along with a portrait and the text of the letter. A letter from Barack Obama was unveiled earlier this year.
The BWAM has a wonderful gift shop and no visit is complete without a ride on the elevator, one of only two like it in the country. 501 Museum Dr. www.boothmuseum.org
Rome, Georgia is a small town with big things to offer including a 90-acre, “Between the Rivers,” historic district and a 132-ft. wide Broad Street, the widest in the state. The 1857 terraced Myrtle Hill Cemetery is listed on the National Register. In October of 1864 Sherman was headquartered in Rome and after the war a Freedman’s Bureau was established in the city. www.romegeorgia.com
Berry College Campus, the largest college campus in the world, encompasses 26,000-acres in Rome. The Berry family moved to Rome in 1866 and built the Greek revival Oak Hill Mansion, featured in “Sweet Home Alabama” as the Carmichael Mansion, in 1884. Martha Berry, the founder, lived here until her death.
A campus tour takes in 20 sites and begins in the museum’s exhibits on Martha Berry’s life. The house features all original furnishings and guides relate the story of Martha Freeman (1844-1951), her African American housekeeper and friend. Visitors can also view Aunt Martha’s 2-room cottage in the rear of the house. An 1873 original cabin is considered the college’s birthplace. In the 1890s Martha Berry used the cottage as a site for contemplation and it was here she met three illiterate boys and began to teach them to read. The college grew from that idea. The totally unique House O’ Dreams was built atop Lavendar Mountain in 1921 as a surprise gift for Ms. Berry. A tower adjacent to the house provides a panoramic view of the campus, Rome and beyond to Alabama and Tennessee. www.berry.edu/oakhill
WinShape Retreat is the best option for singular accommodations in this area. Nestled in the midst of a wildlife preserve the former Berry Dairy has been modernized and transformed into a bucolic 80-room center complete with dining and activity options. Guestrooms are beautifully appointed and media-free.
WinShape offers marriage and religious retreats and classes in cooking, fly casting, gardening, photography, team building. This is a wonderful place to do everything, or nothing. I highly recommend it. www.winshaperetreat.org
Hamilton House is only one of the treasures in Dalton, GA. It was constructed in 1840 and is the oldest brick home in the area. The land was acquired by lottery in 1834 and sold to the builder, John Hamilton, in 1838. A tour of the house includes the original four rooms and hall and an unusual basement kitchen with a 6′ by 5′ fireplace. Both sides used the residence as a hospital during the Civil War.
At first glance Downtown Dalton appears arrested in time. The city is rife with Native American and Civil War history that exists alongside fantastic boutiques and antique shops. There are a number of restaurants the most intriguing of which is the Dalton Depot’s Trackside Tavern. The Dalton Depot, built in 1853, is one of the last remaining antebellum depots in the region. At this historic depot a man was dropped off during the Great Locomotive Chase to wire ahead to Chattanooga to stop “The General.”
The Trackside Tavern is an upscale restaurant with laid-back ambience. Food is prepared with fresh ingredients and the selection is mind-boggling. Walls are decorated with memorabilia and patrons are treated to the sight of trains passing by as they dine. www.visitdaltonga.com
The first railroad line through the Appalachians was deemed “The Great Tunnel,” of the Western & Atlantic. The tunnel was the setting for a portion of the Great Locomotive Chase and several minor Civil War battles took place in the area. www.civilwarhome.com/locomotivechase.htm
The Tunnel Hill Heritage Center interprets the history of the 1,477-ft. hand dug tunnel carved from the rock using slave and Irish immigrant labor in 1850. Local pieces are displayed as well as Civil War artifacts, Chenille bedspreads and an authentic Confederate limber. Tunnel tours and special events are regularly scheduled. www.tunnelhillheritagecenter.com
Once again on the Chieftain’s Trail we’ll close our whirlwind tour of NW Georgia at the newest site, the Funk Heritage Center of Reinhardt University. This outstanding complex is the official Frontier and Southeastern Indian Interpretive Center. Highlights of the exhibitions are an award-winning orientation film, the Hall of the Ancients and the Sellars Gallery of Historic Hand Tools, a priceless, comprehensive collection of creatively displayed hand tools. It is the largest display of its type in the nation.
Ten thousand years of native culture and history are related through the creative use of videos, dioramas, artifacts and interactive kiosks. Mid-19th century southern Appalachian culture is presented in an outdoor Appalachian Settlement. A visit provides a good orientation to or summary of the region’s history. Waleska, GA www.reinhardt.edu/funkheritage
Information on all these locations is available online so you can begin planning now. www.exploregeorgia.org
I wish you smooth and enchanted travels!