A Trip Through Georgia’s History
What You Will See On This Trip: Civil War Prisoner of War site, Railroad museums, authentic 1850’s village, canyon views, hometown of a former President and the airport where Lindbergh made his first solo flight.
We’ll start this journey in the town of Montezuma. Just off I-75, this vibrant middle Georgia town was named by veterans returning from the Spanish American War. In fact the names of several towns on this journey were influenced by that war. Located at the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Flint River, downtown Montezuma was inundated with over 6 feet of brown muddy water during the devastating floods of 1994. Right after the flood, the town started the Beaver Creek Festival to mark the recovery and recognize those who worked so hard and to mark the anniversary of the event. In the surrounding county are is a large and thriving Mennonite community. Tourists come to Yoder’s Deutsch Haus, Ga Hwy 26 East, 478-472-2024 for one of the best lunches anywhere around. Open from 11:30 to 2:30 Tuesday – Saturday. There is a bakery next door to where you can fill your saddlebags with snacks for the days’ journey.
When you leave Yoder’s head west to reach the city limits of Montezuma, and turn right at mile 17 on Spaulding St. You’ll soon cross Beaver Creek. Remember that this seemingly harmless waterway flooded downtown with 6 feet of brown muddy water which remained for six days. In less than 1 mile you’ll reach E Railroad St. Directly in front of you is the Montezuma Depot S. Dooley @ E. Railroad St. built in 1890 and donated to the city in 1980, the depot was completely renovated in 2001-2002 and houses a railroad museum along with other shops.
Across the street from the depot is the Carnegie Library, built in 1908 with a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. Carnegie was a wealthy industrialist who believed it was a disgrace to die wealthy. So he started giving away his money to build libraries. From 1881 to 1917 the man whose legacy was to become the free library gave grants in excess of $56 million dollars to build over 1,900 libraries in the United States and several hundred overseas.
You might mistakenly believe that he really wanted his name immortalized in stone all over the country but he did not stipulate that any library be named for him. Instead his preference was to place a representation of the rays of the rising sun, and above it the words ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT.’”
From this intersection pickup SR 49 towards Oglethorpe and continue on towards Andersonville. At mile 27 turn left into Andersonville National Historic Site. Here you have a choice. You can continue straight on to the National Prisoner of War Museum and save the tour of the prison site and cemetery for later or ride around the perimeter of the camp and take in the monuments and read the historical markers and then visit the active military graveyard and then visit the museum.
Either way, give yourself an hour or two to explore here. The Civil War buff will be familier with Andersonville and the story of the camp. Known officially as Camp Sumter, it was built to house 10,000 captured Union prisoners but due to numerous factors came to house over 45,000 and of that number, 13,000 died due to unsanitary living conditions, poor medical care and too little to eat. The commandant, Captain Henry Wirz was made the scapegoat for conditions he was powerless to influence or change.
Even though there were camps in the north, such as Elmira, New York, which were as bad as Sumter, Wirz was the only person tried for war crimes and he was eventually hanged for mistreating his prisoners.
As you exit the park you can continue straight across Hwy 49 into the old village. There is a seven acre pioneer farm complex, a restored turn of the century train depot and stores with Civil War memorabilia. Dominating downtown is a monument to Captain Wirz. It was erected by the local community to honor the memory of a man who refused a pardon because the conditions were for him to sign a statement implicating others such as General Robert E. Lee or the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. This is an example of the character of the men who fought with honor and died with dignity in that great struggle, and the memory of their sacrifice still resonates through the small towns of the South.
When you’re ready to leave, continue on Church St. past the Wirz monument to Hwy 228. At mile 30 turn left onto 228 and head west. This is my second favorite stretch of highway on this journey. The road bends and twists just enough to keep you from being bored. Too soon you’ll arrive in Ellaville. At mile 41 turn right onto US 19 and in .2 mile (about 1 block) turn back left on SR 26. The next 13 miles are similar to the previous 11. Remain on SR 26 through Buena Vista. This is one of those towns that have has a Spanish influence. It was originally named Taylor, and then called Pea Ridge, and in 1847 word of a major victory in the Spanish American War near the village of Buena Vista reached the townsfolk so they choose to adopt this name for the town.. Viva Le Motorcycle!
Continue west to mile 67.4 and turn left on SR 26 towards the town of Cusseta. In approx seven miles you’ll cross a bridge over railroad tracks and at mile 66.9 turn left onto Liberty Hill Rd. Soon you’ll understand why I took you on this little two lane odyssey. The only negative about this road is the choice of paving material. I would prefer asphalt but this road is constructed longer lasting composite material which is gravel overlaid with asphalt and packed solid. It’s no problem to ride, but not as smooth as solid blacktop. In a few miles you’ll make a sharp right, to remain on the pavement but otherwise you’ll continue straight as you notice the road name changes to Seminole Rd. and in a few miles (mile 85.5) you’ll dead end at US280/SR 27. Turn right and head into the town of Richland. Stay on SR 27 through town towards the town of Lumpkin.
In Lumpkin visit Westville, an old town that is, but never actually was. 1850 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. www.westville.org Westville is a working 1850’s town created entirely to preserve the traditions of antebellum west Georgia in the period immediately preceding the Civil War. John Word West was a history teacher who had a passion to preserve this history for posterity and in 1928 began to collect nineteenth century buildings and artifacts. West corresponded with oil tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., who had begun Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia about that time, and also with automotive pioneer Henry Ford, who founded Greenfield Village in Michigan. West died in 1961 and did not live to see his village come to life. However the work he started culminated when Governor Lester Maddox presided over the village’s formal founding on August 31, 1968. In Westville you’ll find over 30 authentically furnished Pre-Civil war buildings.
For the best experience, visit either during the Spring Festival in mid-April or the Harvest Festival in late October and early November. During the times Westville comes alive with community volunteers in period garb in traditional community activities such as candle and shoe making, blacksmithing and, my favorite the cotton ginning. You will come away with a better understanding of the South after this visit, I can guarantee it! Open Tuesday through Saturday except New Years Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
After leaving Westville, return to Main St. and turn left at the Singer Co, established in 1838 it lays claim as being Georgia’s oldest working hardware store, and well, it showing it’s years. But if you remember old rolling ladders, wood floors and buck knives you’ll look browsing. A few stores further up is Dr. Hatchett’s Drug Store Museum & Soda Fountain. This authentic soda fountain drug store combo is a time capsule just waiting to be opened.. Dr. J. Marion Hatchett, a surgeon during the Civil War, opened the store in nearby Ft. Gaines in the 1870’s and ran it until his death in 1894. Then his son, Samuel “Pope” Hatchett took it over and ran it 63 years until his death in 1957. His widow locked the store and the entire collection and kept it exactly as it was at his death. When the town of Lumpkin restored this building to an approximate facsimile of the Ft. Gaines store the family moved the entire collection here. The collection houses a wonderful display of pre-FDA medicines and remedies commonly referred to as snake-oils. Inside you’ll find products with names such as “666 Malarial Preparation.” and “Pigeon’s Milk” which was an entire kit for the treatment of gonorrhea. If you’re waiting for the punch line, I’m not going there. If you’re interested you can contact Allen Vegotsky who has inventoried the entire collection. (770) 270-1034.
When you’re ready to continue, head west on SR 27 to US 1. Turn right for a couple hundred yards and turn left on SR 39C towards Providence Canyon State Park. Providence Canyon is also known as Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. Called one of Georgia’s Seven Wonders, Providence Canyon is a direct result of poor farming practices of the 1800’s. The settlers in the area had no understanding of soil conservation and simply plowed the land in the easiest manner, straight up and down the
hills. Once the crops were harvested, the winter rains soon turned plow rows into ditches which evolved into gullies and in the blink of a geological eye have become massive ravines; the largest of which are over 150 feet deep! The result is a natural and unpolished tourist attraction. At one time enterprising locals tried to slow the pace of erosion by introducing non-native species such as kudzu and other ground covers but it has only been marginally successful.
Even the steep ¼ trail from the interpretive center to the floor of the canyon is under constant threat of erosion. This trail isn’t for the person with a heart condition but I walked it in Sidi riding boots carrying a heavy camera bag and I’ve sat behind a computer screen long enough to be out of shape and it didn’t kill me, but I’m not making any promises.
If you have the time, I recommend hiking to the bottom. At the bottom, turn left and head north into the canyon for the best views. This park isn’t as busy as State Parks go and during certain times of the year you may find it all to yourself. I don’t recommend walking to the bottom after a rain shower or anytime the ground is damp because of the sticky and slick red Georgia clay.
To view the canyon from the rim, park in one of the spaces before you reach the interpretive center and walk to the wooden fence. There are sections where you can stand within 5 feet of the edge. Remember however that the canyon is, in many places, still eroding and some of the ground will be unstable after a heavy rain. In places you can see where the Parks Service has closed off sections due to collapse that a few years ago were open to the public. This is a changing landmark and the view you see today won’t be the same one you will see if you return in a few years. Whichever you choose, treat our natural treasures with respect and take only photos and memories, and leave only footprints.
When you’ve had your fill of Little Grand Canyon, retrace your route to Lumpkin on SR 39C at mile 127 turn right on US 1 and immediately turn left again on SR 27. Stay on SR 27 through the town of Preston and on to Plains. www.plainsgeorgia.com
At mile 138 as you enter the town of Plains you’ll pass a wooden guard house at Woodland Drive. This is the current home of the 39th President, James “Jimmy” Carter and wife Rosalynn Carter. There is a viewing area but nowhere to park, so pull off on the other side of the road in a driveway and walk across the highway. Luckily there isn’t much traffic in this town of less than 1000 residents. You’ll notice a high black fence that surrounds the home and grounds and access to Woodland Drive is restricted by Secret Service. It’s easy to see that the former President is the
favorite son of Plains and downtown are several memorials to his accomplishments.
During his Presidency the media often enjoyed casting him as a rural hick and often attempted to use his siblings as proof. His brother Billy enjoyed the spotlight and often held court at his service station. The original station still stands next to the police station and you can pull in and have you photo made next to the sign. Carter also had two sisters. Both are deceased. One was an evangelist, Ruth Carter Stapleton and the other was Gloria Carter Spann, who well known as an avid motorcycle enthusiast. Spann is buried in the Lebanon Church Cemetery near Plains and on her tombstone is the inscription “She rides in Harley Heaven.” If you visit, leave a penny on the grave. There are several shops downtown that cater to the tourists traveling through and if you have a few minutes to spare you might want to stop in and purchase a souvenir or two.
Railroad buffs will want to time their schedule to coincide with the arrival of the SAM’s Shortline. SAM stands for Savannah, Atlanta and Montgomery railroad company which operated this line during the 1800’s. Today it’s operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the route runs between Cordele and Archery Georgia, a distance of approx 34 miles one way. Day trips usually depart Cordele at 9:30 and return by 5 pm. For more info visit www.samshortline.com or call 877-GA-RAILS.
As you leave Plains on 27/280, you’ll pass the Plains Welcome Center. You can stop in for more information on the area and the SAMS Shortline and the special Amtrak train called the “Peanut Special” that departed from Plains after Carter won the election which carried friends and supporters to his inauguration in Washington, D.C.
At mile 146 you’ll enter the town of Americus. This is the end of our journey but there is still one more sight to see. At mile 150 turn left onto SR 49 and head north for 4 miles to Souther Field. Turn left into the driveway and there at the terminal stands a monument to Charles Lindbergh who took his first solo flight over the cotton fields of South Georgia.
Lindbergh had come to Americus because there was an abundance of affordable surplus WWI planes. He chose a Curtiss JN4 “Jenny.” He got the plane with a brand-new engine, a fresh coat of paint, and an extra 20 gallon fuel tank for $500. Although he only had 20 hours of instruction in flight and had never flown solo, in May 1923, Lindbergh set off on a course that would forever change aviation history and it started right here!
Return to Americus and journey’s end. If you’re hungry, be sure to visit The Station 222 W. Lamar Street, 229-931-5398.. Open Tues-Fri for lunch 11:30am-2pm. If you’re adventurous try the fried cheese grits as an appetizer or with your meal, for dessert the crème’ brule is scrumptious. Across the street is the Windsor Hotel Grand Dining Room W. Lamar Street, 229-924-1555. They serve a buffet lunch and dinner Mon-Sat. It’s a tad sophisticated for the average motorcycle traveler so wear the good leather. Scrape the bugs off your teeth before you sit down.
If you’re still in town for breakfast or lunch try Granny’s Kitchen at Hwy 19 and 280 (heading towards Plains) Prices are per entrée or side dish. Try the banana pudding, it’s authentically delicious. Open Mon-Sat 6am – 2pm