Georgia has some unique small towns. Where else can you find a hospital built to deliver Cabbage Patch Babies? It’s rare to find a town famous for being the birthplace of a rabbit. Imagine an island owned by 100 of the wealthiest men in America. While we’re talking rich, guess where the lost Confederate gold is rumored to be. Want to discover an alpine village or go underground into a gold mine? Maybe find Bigfoot. You can in Georgia if you know where to look.
I visited most of these places on comped press trips, but all opinions are my own.
Eatonton has two things going for it: It’s the home of Brer Rabbit and prehistoric rock effigies.
It’s the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of Uncle Remus Tales. Uncle Remus Museum is in Turner Park, once part of the homestead of Joseph Sidney Turner, the “Little Boy” in Uncle Remus Tales.
I love the statue of Brer Rabbit in front of the museum. The museum is housed in a log cabin made from three former slave cabins similar to where Uncle Remus would have lived.
Shadow boxes portray characters from 12 of Harris’ best-known stories. The museum has murals. My favorite exhibits are pictures from the movie Song of the South. Walt Disney donated them when the museum opened in 1963.
Eatonton rock monuments, The Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk Effigies, the only prehistoric remnants of this kind east of the Mississippi River, are made of milky quartz rocks in the shape of birds. They’re older than Egypt’s Great Pyramid, dating to about 3000 B.C.
Rock Eagle measures 120 feet across, 102 feet long, and about 8 feet tall. Rock Hawk has a wingspan of 132 feet and is 100 feet long. Both sites are free to view during the daytime.
The area around Rock Hawk is an outdoor classroom and park with trails, camping, wildlife viewing, canoeing or kayaking, a playground, and a beach. There’re two towers for viewing the mounds.
Native Americans living in the area when the European settlers arrived didn’t know who built the mounds. They were there when their ancestors came. The best theory is that the mounds were built as religious sites and associated with burials.
Looking to adopt a baby that doesn’t need diaper changing? Visit Babyland General Hospital, the birthplace of the Cabbage Patch Kids in Cleveland. On my first visit, I expected a fancy doll shop. Instead, the lobby felt like a hospital entry with exhibits in glass display cases. A closer look at the exhibits reveals Cabbage Patch Kids, like Willie, whose adoption fee was $55 and is now worth $1,500. That’s the big difference here. You don’t buy a doll; you “adopt.”
The major attraction is a large “cabbage patch” under a giant oak with little winged bunnies clustered in the branches. The cabbage patch is filled with baby faces within cabbage leaves. A “doctor” and “nurse” sterilize their instruments. The doctor delivers a baby and hands it to the nurse who wraps it in a blanket. Next, they take its temperature, weight, and heartbeat. Once it’s determined to be healthy, they invite you to adopt.
Naturally, I did. My baby is Evelyn Victoria.
Ellijay claims one of the most unusual attractions in the county. Expedition: Bigfoot, a research facility and museum dedicated to proving the existence of Bigfoot in Gilmer County. David Bakara opened the museum/lab in 2016.
There’s a map detailing sightings and differentiating between clearly viewed and indistinct. The museum displays one of the largest collections of Bigfoot artifacts in the world. There are items like Bigfoot footprints, handprints, hair samples, and feces samples. Bakara has sets of headphones that play recorded Bigfoot “conversations.”
There’s a recreation of the Ape Canyon Attack in Washington on July 16, 1924, creatures referred to as “apemen” attacked a group of miners.
A “BRAT” (Bigfoot Research and Tech) vehicle is on display. He was using it when he saw two of the creatures in Alva, Florida. One section of the museum is David’s research lab. You can walk through it and look. Just don’t touch.
Is Bigfoot real? David believes.
Dahlonega was the site of America’s first Gold Rush in 1828. Eventually, most of the mines shut down. Today, Dahlonega finds its fortune in tourism.
Consolidated Gold Mine, Dahlonega’s Only Underground Gold Mine Tour, is one of the few places you can tour a gold mine. The tour took me deep underground. One of the most interesting features is the Glory Hole, where major gold veins converge. As they mined the gold, the cleared space formed a large skylight opening to a view of the sky. On the rock floor here, you are 300 feet beneath the earth. The original mine had three levels, but no one has ventured into the lowest tunnel for over 100 years. The guide told us that the tunnel was about 1 mile long and 1,000 feet deep.
The mine is viewable because when gold prices dropped in 1906, owners shut down production and dynamited the entrance, leaving the tools within. Most of the original machinery still works. Our guides were former miners, so they gave an informed tour. There’s an area above where you can pan for gold.
There’s an alpine German town in the North Georgia Mountains that wasn’t always a tourist destination. Helen was an unknown community in 1969. It began during the Georgia Gold Rush. Prospectors found gold at Dukes Creek. After the gold was gone, the settlers turned to another resource, timber. The Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company and Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad came. They named the town after the daughter of one of the railroad surveyors. By 1931, the lumber was gone; people drifted away. Helen was becoming a ghost town.
One resident, an artist named John Kollock, had spent time in Germany. He proposed a unique solution. They had a beautiful mountain setting. Why not recreate a town with a Bavarian flavor?
When you stroll Helen’s downtown, you feel you’re in an alpine village. I love shopping in the chalets-styled shops. The cobblestone streets add to the flavor. There’s a touch of Appalachian culture. Mountain crafts like pottery sit next to Bavarian glassblowers. Festivals here have a German flair. There’s Oktoberfest, from September to November, Fasching, a German Mardi Gras in February, and a Christmas market and winter festival.
6. Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island was a rich man’s playground in the 1900s. Five generations of du Bignons owned the island until 1886 when John Eugene du Bignon sold it to a group of millionaires. They called it The Jekyll Island Club. Its 100 members controlled about a seventh of the nation’s wealth. In November 1910, six men met at the club. J.P. Morgan is credited with arranging the secret meeting. They devised a plan that became the Federal Reserve System.
Today, it’s a state park. Many of the cottages are open for tours.
Crane Cottage, built in the Renaissance Revival style, boasts 20 rooms and 17 bathrooms. Crane’s plumbing company was the first to produce colored plumbing fixtures.
Indian Mound, owned by William Rockefeller, is a three-story shingle 25-room home with a stained-glass window, dumbwaiter, cedar-lined walk-in safe, and hot and cold saltwater in the master bathroom.
Goodyear Cottage is the Jekyll Island Arts Association and is open to the public at no charge.
Moss Cottage was owned by George Macy, the owner of Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.
The piece-de-la-resistance is the Clubhouse with turrets that stand taller than any other structure on the island.
There’s a tram tour that takes you through many of the homes.
Washington is the home of the Confederate Treasure Chest and lots of antebellum homes. In May 1885, as the Confederacy fell, Jefferson Davis fled to Washington with the southern treasury and gold from Richmond banks. Confederate paper money was worthless, but the gold was estimated at over $500,000. Most historians agree federal soldiers only recovered about a third of the gold. Gold worth over $1 million in today’s market is missing. Legends claim it’s buried near Washington. The old iron and leather chest is in the Mary Willis Library.
The small city of Washington is a historical treasure, not counting the gold. It has more antebellum homes than any other similar-sized Georgia city.
One of my favorites is Washington Historical Museum. It was owned by Samuel Barnett, Georgia’s first railroad commissioner in the 19th Century.
Robert Toombs’ white-columned home is another. Toombs served as Davis’s Secretary of State for a time, then resigned to lead Confederate troops as a brigadier general.
Callaway Plantation resembles a small village with all its buildings. Along with the Greek Revival-style plantation home, there’s a 1700s log cabin, a four-room Federal Plain-style home circa 1790s, and the boyhood home of former governor George R. Gilmer.
Washington’s historic hotel, the Fitzpatrick, is the place to stay while visiting these homes and many more in town.
Georgia offers a variety of interesting sites and places for visitors to explore: