Story and photos by Will A. Davis and Mary Gallagher
Looking for a quick getaway with loads of history, shopping, and dining at a fun three-college town featuring a huge lake, river, and outdoor playground just two hours from Atlanta, four hours from Charleston and Jacksonville, Fl? As we found in three short days, Milledgeville, Georgia is a great choice.
Milledgeville, Georgia was a planned city with the establishment of Baldwin County in 1803 because of its central location near the Oconee River for travel and trade plus the area had a wealth of water springs, specifically to become the capital of Georgia which it did from 1807 until 1868. Planned in a configuration of four 20 acre Squares while getting the inspiration for such from the similar plan used in Savannah and also inspired by the design of Washington, D.C. Each Square was set off in a checkerboard arrangement. Thus lots could be bought to raise funds for buildings and other infrastructure. The streets were named for Georgia counties and two Revolutionary War generals. Walking Tour. https://www.gcsu.edu/sites/files/page-assets/node-2213/attachments/eddy_walking_tour.pdf[/caption]
The former capitol building is now used by Georgia Military College.
The Gothic-style building still stands and is used as part of the campus of the Georgia Military College.
Penitentiary Square was the site of yes (You guessed it!) the Georgia State Penitentiary. Long gone, the Square has been the main campus of Georgia College and State University since 1889.
Cemetery Square was planned for church use with early 19th century churches built by different religious groups and is now the site of the beautiful and historic Memory Hill Cemetery. This well-maintained cemetery holds the remains of many Milledgeville residents both famous like longtime Congressman Carl Vinson who helped to develop the Pacific Naval Fleet, infamous like Bill Minor (Who claimed to be the last of the great train robbers!), and the graves of three Buffalo Soldiers.
The Soldiers Monument, graves of slaves, and many others, not the least being the gravesite of famous short story writer Flannery O’Connor, the “Odd One”. Our guide, Sara Brantley, was really a gem with extensive knowledge of the cemetery and Milledgeville history. Asphalt paths run throughout the cemetery excellent for walkers and runners.
The fourth Square was planned to be the governor’s home but was not developed. The Square was finally utilized in the twentieth century for dormitories and athletic complexes for Georgia College and State University.
So what is Milledgeville like today? The answer is that after the Civil War and thru the Reconstruction Era like many southern cities and towns, Milledgeville suffered a long period of economic decline. Happily, it has recovered in a big way. One of the primary reasons was that in 1864 Union General William Sherman and the 30,000 soldiers that he led stayed just a few days in Milledgeville and for the most part Milledgeville did not suffer the burning and destruction of many other southern cities such as Atlanta on Sherman’s famous or infamous March to the Sea.
A great way to see and learn about Milledgeville is with a trolley tour.
Today, either by trolley or a walking tour, you can enjoy the remarkable Historic District featuring many nineteenth and twentieth-century homes and buildings with so many diverse architectural features. Prominent styles on display include Gothic, Federal, Greek Revival, Victorian, and others. Many of the homes were the residences of notable citizens of Milledgeville such as the 1890 Sallie Ellis Davis House. Mrs. Davis was a renowned teacher and what we consider today to be a student counselor for over fifty years.
The Organ at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
Historic churches like the 1841 St. Stephen’s Episcopal line the route of your tour choice. Be sure to find out about the church’s roof being damaged when Union forces blew up the munitions stockpile and the pouring of syrup into the wonderful organ by troops staying in the church when the town was occupied!
Make your first stop at the Visit Milledgeville Visitors Center located on Hancock Street and chat with the folks there. They are an incredible group whose local knowledge and suggestions will only enhance your visit. You can make trolley tour reservations here too.
Milledgeville Visitors Center.
As mentioned Milledgeville has a host of historic properties and structures. Four not to be missed are the 1839 Old Governor’s Mansion, the incredibly interesting history of the Central State Hospital, the former 1807 Georgia State Capitol building, and the grounds of the now Georgia Military College
As well as the campus of Georgia College and State University with its defining 1896 Neoclassical architectural style building, Atkinson Hall.
The Old Governor’s Mansion.
Our favorite was the Old Governor’s Mansion. It is considered one of the finest examples of High Greek Revival architecture in the nation. Director of Historic Museums, Matt Davis, gave us an in-depth tour of the fully restored interior featuring a wealth of period artifacts.
Spacious and Luxurious Meeting Room at the Governor’s Mansion.
The large capacity dining area on the first floor and the matching Meeting Room above it on the second floor are most impressive. It has a cool Otis elevator still in use for physically challenged visitors. The inspiring dome on the roof, not visible in the photo, brings color and light to the building. We wanted to move in as everything; colors, furniture, decorative objects, and large windows overlooking the grounds were all perfect for the lifestyle I’d like to become accustomed to! The Governor’s Mansion, like much of Milledgeville, is fully accessible with handicapped parking and entrance in the rear, the Otis elevator gives access to all floors.
Entrance to Central State Hospital.
While some may find the history of the Central State Hospital disturbing, its historical significance both good and bad cannot be denied. Founded in 1837, Georgia lawmakers authorized a “Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum”. The campus would eventually have over 200 structures and house over 15,000 patients making it the largest mental facility in the world. Now mostly abandoned and scheduled for as yet undecided future development it still operates in a much smaller capacity. Two cemeteries are on the grounds holding the remains of both black and white patients. Yes, many bizarre and dangerous practices did happen there but advances were also made in treatments for the mentally ill. It’s important I think to recognize how far we have come in two hundred years in our treatment and care. Tours, both self-guided driving and by trolley are available. Check with the Visitors Center for schedules as they can vary.
Rose Hill Mansion at Lockerly Arboretum
If you have a love of flowers, trees, and other flora, allow time to visit the wonderful Lockerly Arboretum a 200-acre exposure to the best of what nature has to offer. The arboretum is fronted by the Rose Hill Mansion, an 1852 classic Greek Revival home that is also available for weddings and other events. Located just a few miles from Milledgeville in Putnam County you will not be disappointed. Closed Sundays.
Flannery O’Connor is one of America’s most well-known, and currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity, short story writers. She lived part of her life and did a great deal of her writing and died in Milledgeville at the family farm: Andalusia.
Flannery O’Connor with her peacocks.
She is famous for her books such as A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Good Country People, and others. O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia Her birthplace, a furnished two-story home is well worth a visit. She moved to the 500-acre family farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, after being diagnosed in 1951 with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that would eventually take her life in 1964 at the age of thirty-nine. She’s buried at Memory Hill Cemetery. Besides writing, stories abound about her love of the peacocks she raised along with chickens, some of which she tried to get to walk backward! (Check it out on YouTube!) Famous for her acerbic wit and quotes, one of which is my favorite “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd”! visitmilledgeville.org/blog/post/5-flannery-oconnor-sites-of-interest/
Andalusia is open to the public and the farmhouse is open for tours as well as the grounds. The newest feature is the recent opening of the stunning Andalusia/Flannery O’Connor Interpretive Center which hosts a wealth of personal belongings and objects detailing the life of O’Connor are on display. Between the home she lived in Savannah (open for tours) and Andalusia the farm, you’ll feel a real connection to Flannery O’Connor.
Andalusia Interpretive Center with displays and artifacts on Flannery O’Connor’s life.
Gravesite of Flannery O’Connor at Memory Hill Cemetery.
Of course, any visit to a delightful place such as Milledgeville would not be complete until we talk about dining and shopping in the quaint and vibrant downtown. Eclectic shops and eateries for all certainly abound. One of our favorites was Auntie Bellum Antiques, displaying a huge and delicious array of items from many eras and the owner also will sell you fresh eggs!
Auntie Bellum Antiques.
The former Campus movie theater, 163 West Hancock Street, was purchased by Georgia College in 2008, it has been restored and is now used for dramatic productions by the school. There is also a Barnes and Noble bookstore in the building. Southern Roots, Eclectic, The Red Door, and The French Vill’Edge are just a few of the creative fun/pun names of the plethora of shopping choices.
Handy Book Delivery.
Dining for every palate and budget is available throughout downtown with an alternative group of more independent and franchise selections a bit out of town on North and South Columbia Streets.
Reel Grill Restaurant
Perfect Bourbon Salmon on Spinach Entrée Salad at the Reel Grill.
Downtown we ate dinner at the Reel Grill which served wonderfully presented and quite delicious food. We were surprised when we walked in as the interior has two levels for seating, a great bar, and a large heavy door that leads to a private “dining vault” as the restaurant was formerly a bank. The vault holds the wine selections but you can also dine in the vault! I imagine a reservation would be in order for that unique experience.
Local Yolkal Cafe.
As breakfast was served at our hotel (Holiday Inn Express) we opted to eat lunch at the Local Yolkal Cafe, a bustling place with great food. The choices for all-day breakfast and lunch are many with clever names such as the Velvet Elvis, the Fat Squirrel, and Ms. Stella’s to mention just a few. For lighter fare or pick-me-ups try Doodle’s Cupcake Bakery or Blackbird Coffee.
We stayed, as mentioned at the newer Holiday Inn Express where the staff was great, rooms clean, free breakfast, and a most convenient location.
Beautiful Lake Sinclair.
With Milledgeville sitting along the fall line of the Oconee River flowing into the 15,000 acre Lake Sinclair which has 500 miles of shoreline, we have to mention this is a don’t miss if you have time, and possibly rent a lakefront cabin to use as your base for your Milledgeville visit. Boating, camping, hiking, biking, and other recreational experiences are all available in this scenic area. An RV site is nearby.
As CDC statistics now tell us one in every four persons (27%) in the United States has some sort of disability, we found Milledgeville one of the most accessible and easy walking or stroller-pushing places we’ve visited in recent times.
All in all, Milledgeville did not disappoint. After this super short 2 night and almost three-day visit, we left with a full belly of history, local culture, nature, and yes food! We plan to return in the fall to finish all the sights and attractions we missed on this first visit.
For more information. VisitMilledgeville.org