May, 2015 — As we scouted around for a good route to travel north through the middle of Georgia from Thomasville to North Carolina, we came across the Antebellum Trail. This route passes through several pretty and historic small towns in Georgia that have strong roots from before the Civil War. We were on the hunt for statuesque antebellum mansions, and all the towns on the Antebellum Trail boasted at least a few.
There are seven towns and cities on the Antebellum Trail, and we ended up visiting three of them: Milledgeville, Eatonton and Madison. In each of these towns, caring homeowners and historical societies have lovingly preserved these elegant old homes.
And thank goodness they have, because old wooden homes just don’t stand up to the elements all that well. For every four or five true beauties that we gazed at on these lovely old town streets, we saw a forlorn one that had succumbed to the ravages of time.
There is a majesty to the tall columns and proud, imposing front porches of these antebellum mansions, and it seems that the number of columns that lined the front of the house made a statement about the wealth of the people that lived within. We read little signs on plaques that referred to the home being a “four column house,” or a “six column house.”
And then, of course, there were the people that built their house with columns going all around the outside. Wow!
There were inviting front porches everywhere we turned, and straight-backed rocking chairs adorned many of them. Even the simplest historic homes that just had a few posts holding up the porch roof rather than a row of grecian columns still had a row of rockers out front.
Milledgeville was in high spirits when we visited. We just happened to arrive on First Friday, a big downtown party that takes place on the first friday of every month. Impromptu bands made music in the street, and all the merchants and bistros threw their doors wide open. Throngs of people filled the sidewalks.
If this weren’t enough, there was an antique car show going on at one end of town. As we walked towards it, we heard music coming from the large lawn across the street — the front lawn of the Georgia College and State University campus. We walked over and discovered it was a spring outdoor concert. One group of kids after another got up onto a makeshift stage and played jazz tunes and big band music. What fun!
As we wandered back to the truck, we noticed lots of college students dressed to the nines walking around. It turned out that tonight was their big Senior Formal. The smell of perfume and cologne wafted over us, and we marveled at the shiny shoes, snappy ties and slinky dresses. Oh, to be young and sexy!
Meanwhile, some of the underclassmen seemed to be cutting loose with a prank or two. Many of the old homes around Milledeville are student housing of one kind or another, and I spotted a pair of boys climbing out of a window onto a rooftop. This was going to be quite a night!!
Coming down a few notches to a much lower key, we visited nearby Eatonton, a tiny town with just a few cross streets.
Exploring the outer edges of town, we went down one side street and noticed we were about to drive under a very low train bridge at just the last second. “Will we make it?” Mark looked at me wide-eyed. I hopped out to see. Just barely!!!
The Civil War is still felt in this part of the south, and we read plaques in every town that talked about General Sherman’s 1864 “March to the Sea” where he barnstormed across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah, mowing down everything in his path.
On the other side of the grand Eatonton Courthouse in the middle of town we found a statue of a very different sort: Brer Rabbit!
Eatonton was the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris who compiled a collection of stories about the wily Brer Rabbit (“brother” Rabbit) whose cunning and wits saved him (usually) from various scrapes. Harris’ stories were told by the fictional Uncle Remus, but he had heard them himself as a boy from the slaves on the plantation where he grew up.
Harris wasn’t the only famous writer from this area, and The Writer’s Museum on Eatonton’s town square is dedicated not only to him but to Flannery O’Connor as well. We knew little about either writer when we walked into the museum, but by the time we emerged we just had to check out Flannery O’Connor’s homestead on the outer fringes of Milledgeville.
The narrow road into the estate is so well hidden that we almost missed it, but the home and grounds within told the intriguing story of this young, brilliant writer who succumbed to lupus at age 39 in 1964.
She wrote her most famous works while living at this house between the ages of 27 and 39, and due to her decreasing mobility, she spent much of that time inside where she enjoyed the views from the large windows.
When we got to the trendy town of Madison, we were most impressed by the dramatic courthouse which stands on a corner facing outwards towards the heart of town.
At the visitors center we were told we should visit Madison’s new city park, and when we got there we saw why. It is a beautiful brand new city park for outdoor events and gatherings that was dedicated in 2009 but that looks as though it might have been around when General Sherman came through!
Our stay in Georgia was brief, but we thoroughly enjoyed sampling each of these unique towns and wandering at a leisurely pace along the Antebellum Trail. If you are taking your RV on a north-south route through Georgia, the Antebellum Trail is a wonderful way to go.
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More about the Antebellum Trail:
- Georgia’s Antebellum Trail
- Milledgeville, Georgia – Tourism Website
- Milledgeville, Georgia’s First Friday
- Eatonton, Georgia – Tourism Info
- Madison Georgia – Tourism Website
- John Chandler Harris’ “Brer Rabbit”
- Flannery O’Connor Novels and Short Stories
- Andalusia Farm – Home of Flannery O’Connor
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