Sam Burnham, Curator
Crystal clear water has been bringing people to this spot for centuries. Evidence suggests the Cherokee and Mississippian peoples called this place home. Today the site is home to one of Georgia’s great small towns. Welcome to Cave Spring, population ≈ 1070
Cave Spring incorporated in 1832. That was two years before the county seat of Rome and five years before the state capital, Atlanta. But the official incorporation was just a recognition of a long established Cherokee community. In the following years the inhabitants would be led away on the Trail of Tears and white settlers would plant roots here.
Like so many Georgia towns, Cave Spring would house wounded and sick soldiers of both armies during the Civil War. Makeshift hospitals in and around town were where men came to heal, convalesce, or die. Between the war and the removal, Cave Spring has much more than its share of ghost stories.
The defining moment for the town came in 1847 when four pupils and one teacher met for the first time in a log cabin, founding what would become Georgia School for the Deaf. The school would become an economic and cultural engine for the town. In 1955 the school had 89 teachers. Students came from all over Georgia to be educated in numerous buildings on a sprawling campus. Most Cave Spring residents were bilingual, fluent in English and American Sign Language.
Educational modifications have moved deaf students into traditional classrooms. Other educational opportunities have drawn students away from GSD. The school is now much smaller and struggles for funding but it still holds a special place in the hearts of Cave Spring residents. Many of the old campus buildings have found new life and many more are available for restoration and reuse.
The town is best known for the cave and it’s neighbor, the spring. These features anchor Rolater Park, a beautiful public green space. The cave is open for regular tours. It can seem a bit kitschy but there are impressive formations in that small cave. The spring provides pure award winning drinking water for anyone with a container, free of charge.
Despite the crowds collecting the water, the vast majority of the spring’s produce flows into a pond and also a 1.5 acre swimming pool. If you’ve never had all the air sucked from your lungs in a fraction of a second, stand in the searing Georgia sun for about 10 minutes and then hop off into this pool. You’ll instantly know what I’m saying as your lounges empty, your body erupts in goose bumps, and your eyes try to pop out of their sockets. It’s kinda chilly.
Some brave souls gather here on New Year’s Day to participate in a polar bear plunge. I’m not sure if the shock is as substantial as it is in the summer as I have never been that big of a fool before but I imagine it’s still pretty startling.
Throughout the town you’ll find beautiful architecture. The houses, businesses, and the old school buildings offer an eclectic and diverse mix of styles and designs.
Visit Cave Spring for antique shopping, dining, swimming, collecting drinking water, or take in one of GSD’s 8-man football games. You will enjoy the Big Cedar Arts & Crafts Fair. Their annual 4th of July and Christmas parades are community events that invoke a sense of small town nostalgia. They are both highly recommended.
To complete the small town feel, you’ll also find a small post office, a local branch of the library system, a local grocery store, and a highly active volunteer fire department.
Cave Spring is located in Floyd County, Southwest of Rome.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Sometimes you find a place that just grabs you. I first wandered into Talking Rock close to 20 years ago and I’ve been infatuated with it ever since.
This is the epitome of a small town. Roughly 70 people live on the 0.2 square miles designated as the town of Talking Rock. The 1890 census, the first in town history, counted 141 residents. The number has never been that high since.
Despite the low population the town has a fine creek side park. The park offers public restrooms and a covered picnic area as well as open air tables with charcoal grills. There’s a playground for the kids and lots of shade trees. It’s a beautiful setting with a good design. It’s the sort of place you want to visit and so people do.
The business district, so to speak, features a row of businesses along the west side of Georgia 136. A parking area, a few train cars, and another small covered pavilion sit between the west side of 136 and the railroad tracks.
It’s a special feeling to hear a rooster crowing as you stand on the downtown sidewalk. There’s no overzealous HOA administrator dragging out some draconian zoning ordinance. There’s just the call to poultry prayer echoing through town as you admire the regulation horseshoe pits outside the local woodworking shop. Yes, there’s a woodworking shop right downtown. There are antique and vintage stores and Town Hall. The old school is preserved as a museum. A red caboose welcomes you to town.
A sign for the Tater Patch Players suggests there’s a theatre troupe in town. Although this year’s event is cancelled do to the COVID, the annual Heritage Days festival is celebrated each fall. What you’re seeing is a complex culture. You can’t find this just anywhere. Fancy facilities and large population can’t guarantee such a culture. This is born out of a sense of place, civic pride, and a love of home.
There are plans in the works to open a craft brewery in town. This could attract some outside attention and bring money into the local economy. Hopefully it will do so without destroying the peace and tranquility this town offers visitors. While a short drive to Jasper is needed to get necessities such as gas, groceries, and household goods, the balance here is delicate and even a little development could wreck it.
A visit to Talking Rock is just a small detour off the Zell Miller Parkway between Atlanta and Blue Ridge. It is well worth the time. Go visit, shop, look around, breathe it in. But tread lightly. It would not take many newcomers to ruin this place. There aren’t many like it.
Sam Burnham, Curator
If you aren’t familiar with Cartersville, Georgia or if your familiarity is a recent development, you probably wouldn’t imagine a sleepy little town of mostly miners and farmers. In the 1980s Cartersville was still a quiet little town, so if we go back to the 1940s, mentally, it will help set the stage for this story. This one is a legend passed to us as fact. The source is reputable so we’ll take it as fact until convinced otherwise.
This story begins in 1931. Herbert Hoover was President. A man named Fred Garrison set up shop, slinging burgers at the corner of Main Street and Gilmer Street in Downtown Cartersville. It seems an unlikely time to be opening a small business in a sleepy small town of miners and farmers. But 89 years later, 4-Way Lunch is still slinging burgers. In all that time they’ve never had a telephone.
Sometime in the 1930s, 4-Way hired a young man named Butter Ross. I don’t think his mama named him “Butter” but I don’t ask Superman what his real name is so I’m not asking for Butter’s birth certificate either.
Shortly thereafter the entire world went to war and Butter Ross went went with it. He did his duty and served his country. He fought honorably against the Axis powers. He returned to Cartersville as a hero with a dream. He wanted to open his own diner, sling his own burgers, be his own man. He wanted to hang his own name over his own door. So he announced his intentions to open his own place just around the corner.
In 2020, Cartersville is becoming a happening place. They have two world class museums and a Kroger with a bar in it but it’s still a relatively small town. In 1946 Cartersville was barely on the map. The idea of two diners operating less than the length of Weinman Stadium apart was unthinkable. The competition would be brutal. This town just wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
The management at the 4-Way begged Butter not to do it. They even warned him, “you’re gonna start a war!” But Butter was determined. “It won’t be my first war. And I ain’t never lost.” True to his words, Butter didn’t lose. In fact, his diner is still open as well. For both places to survive 74 years in such proximity in a small town is astonishing. The biggest takeaway is that they both had to be on top of their game every day. A bad day for one could mean its demise.
Today you can find a dozen or so places to eat within walking distance of this metaphorical battlefield. Regionally recognized chains and excellent local choices have added serious competition for the lunch crowd. There are more comfortable options with much larger menus. Despite the added pressure, the original two belligerents are still going strong.
The 4-Way boasts 10 diner stools at the bar in the main room. The back room, a remnant of segregation days, can hold two or three customers. No one cares what color you are now, all seats are first come, first serve. The only color that matters is green, as in cash. Your card is worthless here. They don’t even have a phone, much less a card reader. With so few seats the menu is small. All meals are made to order, meaning they make it, you order it, they immediately place it in front of you. No waiting. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Enjoy it but get to eating because someone is probably waiting on your seat. A gravy burger with chili cheese fries and a sweet tea is a fine meal.
Over at Ross Diner the setting is a bit more relaxed. With at least twice the seating things aren’t quite as rushed. Everyone sits around a u-shaped bar while the waitresses work through the middle. There’s a full kitchen in the back as opposed to just cooking everything right behind the bar like they do at 4-Way. It takes longer to get your food but it is made fresh. A fried pie with ice cream is an excellent choice and give you a chance to eat at both diners on the same visit to town.
So ABG has now given you a tip on how to get lunch and desert at two places but only using one parking space. You can add in some great shopping as well as enjoying the fantastic architecture of historic downtown. You’ll also be doing your part, serving honorably in the Great Cartersville Diner War, 74 years and still going strong.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire