By Ken Denney
When it’s vacation time, the natural instinct is to load up the car, strap in the family, and head off for exotic locales. But sometimes that’s just not practical.
Summer vacations don’t have to involve crowded beaches and bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can have a terrific time, right here in west Georgia, spending a long, lazy Saturday or Sunday exploring shops or seeing the sights.
There is lots to see and lots more to do in our own little world of Douglas, Carroll and Haralson counties, so let’s take a tour!
Heading west on Interstate 20 from the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, you’ll want to hop off on Exit 44 and head over to our first wstop, Sweetwater Creek State Park.
In this pristine natural setting is one of the state’s few remaining relics of the Civil War. In July 1864, the area around the park was a large mill complex turning out goods for the Confederate armies – that is, until Federal troops came and destroyed the place.
Today, the ruins of the mill are exactly as Sherman’s troops left them. And when you have finished exploring this amazing site, you’ll want to look over the many other amenities of this 2,500-acre park. It’s open 7 a.m. until sunset, and admission is free with a $5 parking fee.
Now, let’s get back on the Interstate and continue west for a short distance to Exit 36. Turn north along Chapel Hill Road and drive into the historic town of Douglasville, the seat of Douglas County.
While Douglasville itself is a large, bustling metro community, the picture is a little different downtown. Here you’ll see many store buildings that harken back to the late 1890s and early 20th century. Many of these historic buildings have been transformed into terrific restaurants and shops.
Let’s continue west along U.S. Highway 78. It’s easy to find; the highway serves as Douglasville’s Broad Street. This roadway is an important part of west Georgia history, and you’ll note that it parallels the railroad linking many of the region’s towns.
Driving along this winding road, you’ll soon cross over the border into Carroll County and enter the town of Villa Rica.
Here’s another fast-growing town, working hard to preserve its history and heritage. And there’s a lot of history here. The town’s name – “City of Gold” in Spanish – relates to its early history as a gold-mining town. In fact, the nation’s first “gold rush” in the 19th century wasn’t in California – it was here, in west Georgia.
After exploring downtown, you’ll want to head up Highway 61 (the Dallas Highway) and turn right onto Stockmar Road to discover the Pine Mountain Gold Museum. Here’s a chance to experience the past and provide some fun for the whole family. Visitors have a chance to actually pan for gold and look over some fascinating exhibits of how gold mining was done in the early 19th century. And children will love the farm animals and taking a ride on the Pine Mountain Scenic Railroad that circles the park.
This might be a good opportunity to return to Villa Rica and try some of the restaurants downtown, like the Olive Tree or the Chat & Choo located in the reconstructed Berry Pharmacy Building. If you’re lucky, there may also be something to see and do at the Mill Amphitheater downtown, scene of many concerts and festivals throughout the year.
Working our way back to US Highway 78, we’ll now continue heading west. As you reach the town to Temple, and the intersection with Georgia State Route 113, you have a choice.
You can turn north here to explore this small community, established in 1882 when the railroad was first built through this section of west Georgia. Or, to explore Carroll County’s link to Hollywood glamour, you can turn south and take a short, 10-minute detour down Ga. 113 to Old Center Point Road, then west to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church and the gravesite of Academy Award-winning actress Susan Hayward.
Continuing west again from Temple on US 78, you cross the Haralson County line and enter the town of Bremen. Before the railroad came through here, this place was called Wolf Pen, but a German immigrant and merchant named Ernest G. Kramer wanted it named after the German city. Bremen is home to several unique places to shop, eat and lodge.
While in Bremen, you may be interested in dropping by the Mill Town Music Hall at 1031 Alabama Ave. Not only is this one of the region’s premier stages for musicians of every stripe, it is also home to a collection of awards by Harold Shedd, a legendary producer of many Country hits, and who was born and raised nearby.
While visiting Haralson County, be sure to be on the lookout for the many, many barbecue restaurants in the area. All the barbecue served in west Georgia is good, but Haralson County for some reason seems to have some of the best in the region.
Returning to US 78 and continuing west, you will cross over U.S. Highway 27. Here, you can choose to turn north and travel about five miles to take Business Route 27 west to the small town of Buchanan, the county seat of Haralson County, where the Historic Courthouse, located at 145 Courthouse Square and built in 1892, now houses the library.
If, instead of visiting Buchanan you decide to continue traveling west on US 78, you’ll continue to follow a meandering route through fields, pastures and homes until you reach the town of Tallapoosa, a town that has one of the most colorful histories of all the towns in west Georgia.
Originally known as “Possum Snout,” the name was changed to Tallapoosa in 1860. But don’t laugh at that name; each year, on New Year’s Eve, the annual “Possum Drop” is one of the most well-attended events held to welcome the new year, rivaling even better-known events in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Tallapoosa began to grow in the 1880s, after the railroad arrived and a land speculator named Ralph Spencer. He began advertising the place in northern newspapers as a boomtown, and many people from across the northeast relocated here. Unfortunately, the boom went bust – yet the houses those settlers built remain as some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture that can be found in west Georgia.
And not all Spencer’s plans went bust. He correctly foresaw that the land in Haralson County was perfect for winemaking. In the late 1880s, he invited some 200 Hungarian winemaking families to move here, and they settled north of Tallapoosa in settlements they called Budapest, Nytria and Tokaj, recalling those famous winemaking regions of Hungary.
Today, that industry is making a comeback, as you can see at Trilliam Vineyards near Bremen, or the Little Vine Vineyard in the community of Hulett near Villa Rica.
If you enjoy canoeing or kayaking, you’ll have to come back to Tallapoosa to try out the Dub Denman Canoe Trail, a 27-mile long watercourse that connects to the Alabama Canoe Trail.
Bowdon to Carrollton
Continuing our adventure, let’s leave U.S. 78 and travel south along Georgia State Route 100. As we re-enter Carroll County, our destination now is the quiet west Georgia town of Bowdon, site of Bowdon College, chartered in 1856 and one of the premier educational centers in the state before the Civil war.
Arriving in Bowdon, you might want to take a coffee break at Bowdon Coffee Roasters, 140 City Hall Ave., before heading out again – this time east along Georgia State Route 166.
Our destination now is Carrollton, home of the University of West Georgia and located just 18 minutes away. Driving east on 166, (we all know it as Maple Street), you soon arrive at Adamson Square, the historic center of this town, first surveyed in 1830. The square is now home to many restaurants and shops.
You’re especially invited to shop at Horton’s Book & Gifts, the state’s oldest bookstore, located at 410 Adamson Square. Once you’ve bought a book, why not stroll across Alabama Street and enjoy a cup of coffee at Gallery Row at 306 Adamson Square, or just sit outside under the trees. And if you’re hungry, the Corner Café is handy at 304 Adamson, and there are many other restaurants all over the square to suit any taste.
Bradley Street, which runs between Plates on the Square restaurant (301 Adamson Square) and the Irish Bred Pub & Grill, (210 Adamson Square) leads to the next stop on our tour.
Bradley Street was once home to several textile mills, which helped transform the region’s economy after the railroad arrived. The Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum, 306 Bradley Street, pays homage not only to that heritage, but it is also a premier destination for lovers of quilts and quilting. Tourists from around the South, and even the entire world, make trips here to see what’s on display.
While in Carrollton, why not check to see whether a concert or show is going to be presented at The Amp amphitheater, 119 Bradley Street, or you can find out what’s going on at the Carrollton Cultural Art Center, 251 Alabama St.?
McIntosh RESERVE Park
From Carrollton, you can head south along Alternate US Highway 27 to the town of Whitesburg, and two of the more unique areas of fun and recreation in the whole area.
Historic Banning Mill, 205 Horseshoe Dam Road, is a former historic mill village that has been transformed into a resort. The key attraction is a network of zip lines that will transport you through the treetops.
McIntosh Reserve Park, 1046 W. McIntosh Circle, is named for Chief William McIntosh, a Creek leader assassinated in 1825 for ceding to Georgia all the nearby Creek territories without permission of the Creek Nation.
The park today consists of 527 acres of beautiful woodlands, with trails and a spectacular view of the Chattahoochee River. At the center is a recreation of McIntosh’s home and a marker for his burial site. The park is open year ‘round except for major holidays, daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Whether as a day trip, or a weekend adventure, there’s plenty to do and see right in your own backyard of west Georgia. Take a tour. You and your entire family will be glad you did.