Summertime. For the last few years this has meant a Georgia road trip for our family. There has been a coastal trip, a northeast mountain trip and last year's South Georgia extravaganza. A larger than normal vacation and other scheduling conflicts made any such trip impossible this summer.
However, when you are raising a history fanatic properly he will select, as reward for particular achievements, to visit historic sites in the state. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
So, as the sun began to break the plane of the horizon, we were merging onto I-75 in search of Georgia's early days and the leadership that guided her through rough times. At such an early hour on a Saturday, even Atlanta is pleasant and the traffic is moving. But during the anniversary of the Atlanta Campaign we were still mindful of the events that were happening those 150 years ago. The journey we were on would have been impossible then.
But on that morning, 74 & 20 were both straight and true. A little rain was not enough to dampen our spirits and in due time we found ourselves well to the east and transported back to the days of the war and even earlier. The town of Crawforville is the seat of Taliferro (which we observed is pronounced "Tollifer") County, which is the home of approximately 1700 people Its most notable resident was the diminutive but powerful Alexander H. Stephens.
The State of Georgia has preserved his home, Liberty Hall, and the surrounding land as a state park where camping, cottages, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, and paddle boats are all available. But our focus was on the home and the accompanying Civil War museum. The historic site was understaffed so we had to call a number to request a tour. We visited the grave site of Mr. Stephens and his brother while waiting for the guide to arrive. She appeared shortly and unlocked the museum. We paid our small admission fee and were given free run of the small facility. The museum is not big but the artifacts on display are very impressive. Many weapons, flags, and everyday items. The guide put on some period music to add some ambiance to the experience. we took our time reading the descriptions and looking at each display case. It was very informative.
Once we had finished touring the museum, we told our guide and she secured the museum while we walked over to the front porch of Liberty Hall. We stood and talked where so many Georgia legends had talked before us. Our guide unlocked the front door and, like so many visitors before, we entered the hospitable home of Little Aleck. We were afforded a guided tour with details from each room. Each one had little specifics - the comforts of that age - or a story about who had used which room. Everything from Crawford Long's desk to the famous Robert Toombs bedroom (where if you were fast asleep and Toombs arrived, you were awakened and showed to the tramp room so Toombs could have his bed). Many of the furnishings are original or have ties to Mr. Stephens. The tour included the detached kitchen, the grounds and outbuildings, including a slave cabin, and the law library. It was a fantastic tour.
After another, more formal, stop at the grave site (and the giving of regards on behalf of my regular lunch companion & Mr. Stephens' good friend, Judge Wright), we headed off to find some lunch of our own. The locals we met all suggested Heavy's BBQ.
A little back story: I had investigated this location after a ranger recommended it during a pre-trip phone call. I looked for the place online. Good luck with that. But I did find it on one of these travel review sites. One particularly nasty review was from a woman 1) from south Florida that 2) had never heard of Brunswick Stew and admitted that she 3) wasn't crazy about sweet tea and was 4) "used to real BBQ sauce that's thick, sweet and savory".
I knew I had found my place. And boy was I right. Besides, it's the only place in town. Let me clarify a few things first. Now, if you're looking for some Long John Silvers slaw and some K.C. Masterpiece sauce, keep driving. If you expect a glistening palace shining and shimmering in radiant sunlight, check Augusta. They have a nice golf course you might like. But if you're looking for a real BBQ place with the atmosphere to match, this is your place. The meat is tasty and flavorful, the sauce is tangy and good. The slaw is incredibly fresh and crispy. The stew wasn't the best I've ever had but it is by no means "nasty". If you're too bourgeois to appreciate a loaf of white bread on the table, you have no business in a real BBQ joint. Suffice to say, the aforementioned reviewer needs to stick to bagel stands or delis and let the real Southerners review the BBQ joints.
We left Heavy's and pointed to car toward Washington (no, not that one, the quaint one in east Georgia). The Robert Toombs House provided us with a self-guided tour that included information on the house from it's original construction by the Abbott family in the 1790s. The house has hosted guests from James Monroe to John C. Calhoun to Daniel Webster. Toombs had designated a room in his house for Mr. Stephens with similar policies to the Toombs bedroom at Liberty Hall. We stood in the gentlemen's parlor and thought about all the pivotal discussions that went on and all the bourbon that met its demise in that room. The lady that was working at the site was very knowledgeable and added many suggestions to my reading list. She answered many questions and gave us perfect directions to the Toombs family plot at Resthaven Cemetery.
Washington had much more history to offer but we were on a roll. We will have to revisit that fine town again in the future.
We made a stop at the site of the 1779 Battle of Kettle Creek. At that site, Andrew Pickens, Elijah Clarke, and John Dooly snatched the high ground from the British force that occupied the hill. The Loyalist force was routed, providing a much-needed Patriot victory in Georgia. The site is rural and quiet. The small cemetery on the hilltop is filled with veterans of the American Revolution and the leaders of this victory remain Southern legends to this day - each having a Georgia county named in his honor. A sizable monument marks the spot and retells the story of the battle.
We finished the tour with a stop in Athens to visit the grave of Thomas R.R. Cobb (although we are Stephens/Toombs men and no fans of Cobb) and to visit the old North Campus that was the Franklin College (prior to becoming UGA) that Stephens & Toombs attended. The site is the location of the Demosthenian & Phi Kappa Literary Societies. Toombs belonged to the Demosthenian Society. Stephens was a member of, and later paid the construction costs of the hall for, Phi Kappa.
The ride home was quiet and my fellow historian spent a bit of it napping. Our journey took about 13 hours from porch to porch and we used about a tank of gas. We had a great meal and learned a little about many of our heroes. Seeing their homes, graves, and the sites where they made their permanent mark on our state was great. The time spent and the memories made together were even better. It might not have been as long or involved as last year, but it was worth every second.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire