Antebellum Pilgrimage stops in county
By Lindsay Oberst
Re-discover an era whisked away by the winds of time and overshadowed by everyday life, an era that serves as a foundation to the traditions of today.
The 25th anniversary of Georgia's award-winning, Antebellum Driving Trail will be celebrated during a three consecutive week pilgrimage this spring.
Participants can expect to be welcomed as guests into gorgeous private historical homes, not normally open to the general public, as well as experience authentic battle sites, beautifully preserved museum collections and other points capable of transforming visitors into time travelers.
The idea for the pilgrimage began during an annual retreat last year.
Representatives from the seven cities chose the dates of April 16 to April 18, April 23 to April 25 and April 30 to May 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. after discussing the events already going on during these dates.
"This is a very important time for Georgians to focus on travel in Georgia," Amy Clark, Athens Convention and Visitor Bureau leisure traveling marketing director, said.
Georgia's oldest trail is 100 miles through seven communities that escaped Sherman's burning march through the state during the Civil War.
It runs from Athens to Macon and started as a University of Georgia student project, by Cynthia Alford, in March 1984.
The state officially recognized the trail a year later, and the Georgia Department of Transportation erected signs along the highways.
Additional signs will be in place during the Pilgrimage to make navigation easier.
"We invested in great signs, up just during the three days," Clark said. "Getting into some of the communities can be difficult, but the welcome centers will have turn-by-turn directions."
In all of the communities, many activities and tours will be free during these three weekends, while the purchased pass allows entry into seven participating fee-based attractions.
Experience the Athens Vibe
Athens is the northern gateway to the trail, and was named one of the "2009 Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
With a thriving college community backed by a restored Victorian-era downtown filled with art galleries, boutiques, high-class cuisine and music venues recognized as the best in America, this is a great place to began the trek.
Attractions include the 313-acre State Botanical Garden, the Terrapin Beer Company Brewery and four historic house museums along the "Museum Mile."
For family fun, position yourself downtown for the 30th annual Athens Twilight Criterium and Festival, a popular, professional cycling event that will take place on Friday, April 24 to Saturday, April 25.
Also, lovers of natural beauty can view six gardens during the 16th annual Piedmont Gardeners' Garden Tour on Saturday, April 18.
Wander through Watkinsville
This next stop along the trail is the historical, cultural and artistic center of Oconee County.
The Eagle Tavern Museum with antebellum artifacts and the William Daniel House, which is the oldest house in the county, are both good ways to take pride in history.
A giant thrift sale will be underway during April and at Washington Farms, the strawberries will be ripe for picking.
Participants in the Pilgrimage will receive exclusive discounts for Ashford Mabor Bed & Breakfast and other participating local restaurants and merchants.
Feel the Hospitality in Madison
Being a tourist in one's own city is something people rarely stop to consider.
Use this pilgrimage to re-discover the Southern culture of Madison.
Venture outside of the city to Rutledge and play in Georgia's largest state park, Hard Labor Creek State Park.
Or tour the Piedmont Plain-style house and slave residence, the Rogers House and Rose Cottage.
At the end of the Pilgrimage, MadisonFest will be underway with handmade crafts and barbecue.
Discover the Stories of Eatonton and Milledgeville
From fisherman tales to spooky ghost sightings, these cities know how to entertain.
The Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton is a log cabin made from three original slave cabins similar to the one occupied by Uncle Remus, the character created and made famous by Joel Chandler Harris.
For the outdoorsman, Lake Oconee and Sinclair cover over 36,000 acres.
Get inspired by Milledgeville's museum district or visit author Flannery Conner's family farm,
Experience edible opera on the Saturday, April 18 in Eatonton or attend the Georgia College and State University jazz festival.
Find your Soul in Jones County and Macon
More music rounds out the pilgrimage experience.
Roll along with the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon and watch antebellum dances performed by a group called Macon's 1800 Club.
Press the rewind button for time in Grey, "the town that time forgot," and see the Jarrell Plantation near hiking trails or the Old Clinton Historic District with early 19th century homes.
The Pan-African Festival emphasizing the principles of love, peace, unity and hope will be held from the April 18 to April 26.
This is the end of the trail - or the beginning if you travel from the south - but lessons learned by experiencing history firsthand will not soon be swept away.
The Future of the Pilgrimage
Clark says the cities are committed to this project for at least 5 years.
In order to judge the success of the pilgrimage, workers will "plant travelers" along the way.
"Folks will travel along the trail and collect feedback," Clark said.
She hopes to evaluate ticket sales and hours of operation, and will track traffic and occupancy in hotels.
Many of the small towns are using extra volunteers to man the museums and attractions.
Grey will involve volunteers from its historical society.
"In Madison, workers are doing double duty," Andy Williams, project coordinator of the Madison-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.
The trail guide and the Web site both offer detailed sample itineraries and details about historic sites.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at any of the welcome centers along the trail or online at the Antebellum Trail Web site, www.atpilgrimage.com.
Group rates are available upon request.
PRINTED IN THE APRIL 16, 2009 EDITION