Southern Charm: Exploring Georgia and South Carolina

Avenues of oaks and their deep-rooted history in Charleston. Nothing says “Lowcountry” better than a Spanish moss-draped avenue of live oaks ©South Carolina Tourism

​​Frontier America founder Sandra Potter revisits her time in Georgia and South Carolina, the neighbouring Peach and Palmetto states complementing each other and combining to deliver the perfect immersive Southern road trip. From ancient Indigenous sites to the American Civil War, there is plenty to occupy the roaming mind, a mix of antebellum mansions, museums, stunning wilderness areas, preserved plantations, culturally infused culinary fare, musical interludes, and storied cemeteries inviting you to uncover layers of the Deep South’s past.

One of my favourite visits to the US was my time in Georgia and South Carolina. Not only was the food amazing, which it was, but there is so much to do and see in the area. I thought I knew about trees, but the first time I drove down an avenue of live oaks, it blew my mind. The ethereal beauty of the Spanish moss swaying gently in the breeze hanging from century-old branches was just gorgeous, and the fact that they are often in avenues leading to grand plantation homes just adds an extra frisson of delight.

The Stonehurst Place B&B, is one of Atlanta’s “most architecturally significant and well-preserved homes ©Stonehurst Place Bed & Breakfast

My journey started in Atlanta at the Stonehurst Place B&B, one of the Select Registry properties that I so enjoy. I spent a couple of nights here, and to get me in the Southern mood, I joined a tour of Margaret Mitchell’s (the author of Gone with the Wind) home and visited her grave. The book was one of my favourites, and I was looking forward to seeing some of the homes so beautifully portrayed in the film.  

Although the movie premiered more than 80 years ago, “Gone with the Wind” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel still inspire curiosity about Atlanta. Part of the Atlanta History Centre, the Margaret Mitchell House includes the restored rooms where most of “Gone with the Wind” was penned, complete with Mitchell’s writing desk, period furnishings, and original leaded glass windows. It also features the largest collection of Civil War memorabilia in the country.

The Atlanta History Centre is an expansive local history museum with a 33-acre campus that’s home to one of the largest Civil War artefact collections in the country ©Georgia Tourism

Be sure to allow plenty of time here, as the Atlanta History Centre is on 33 acres and exploring everything can take all day. You will find several other historic sites here too, including the Swan House, a 1928 mansion that is open to the public for tours, and the Smith Family Farm, a restored antebellum farm that offers a glimpse into rural life in Georgia in the mid-19th century.

For more silver screen inspiration, Twelve Oaks is only a 45-minute drive east of Atlanta in Covington. Built in 1836, this award-winning 11,000-square-foot mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the most beautiful examples of antebellum architecture in the South. Said to be the inspiration for Ashley’s home in the “Gone With The Wind” movie, the house opened to the public in 2012 as a luxury B&B and features gardens and an outdoor pool. Tastefully renovated and named after the Wilkes family mansion, it even features a Frankly Scarlett suite. All that’s missing are Scarlett and Rhett!  

Conveniently located near Atlanta, The home that inspired Twelve Oaks in the movie Gone with the Wind ©The Twelve Oaks Bed & Breakfast

After one of many memorable Southern breakfasts, it was time to say goodbye to Stonehurst Place, so I collected my car and headed off to Macon, where I stayed at the 1842 B&B, in, as you might have guessed, a period house dated 1842.

Said to be the finest hotel in Macon, the Greek Revival-style Antebellum home was built by John Gresham. Each of the rooms is named after local legends, including Sidney Lanier, the Georgia poet laureate who lived in Macon. Oprah is one of its many famous guests.  

I was spending a couple of nights in this smallish town, so I made time to visit Hay House, the cemetery, and the ancient Ocmulgee mounds.

One of Georgia’s most historic houses and distinguished structures, the Johnston-Felton-Hay House in Macon was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974 ©Hay House Macon, a property of The Georgia Trust

One of Georgia’s most distinguished structures, the Johnston-Felton-Hay House in Macon, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. It was built from 1855 to 1859 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, a marked contrast to the more restrained Greek Revival architecture of the antebellum period. The 18,000-square-foot mansion spans four levels and is crowned by a two-story octagonal cupola. Its stunning grounds are surrounded by ginkgo trees, magnolias, cedars, a lower garden, and a fish pond.

Located on the banks of the Ocmulgee River, Rose Hill Cemetery is home to Soldiers’ Square where more than 600 Confederate soldiers were laid to rest. And, Macon being the birthplace of some of the world’s most talented music icons, several renowned musicians are also buried here, including three members of the Allman Brothers Band; the group helped to spark the Southern rock movement of the 1970s. Otis Redding (Macon’s Capricorn Sound Studios was originally meant to be a recording studio for Otis) and Little Richard are other legendary musical acts whose roots can be traced back to the city.

A view from the visitor center steps at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, looking along the sidewalk that leads to the Earth lodge ©Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

From Macon, it was on to Savannah, but not before I had taken a detour to Milledgeville to see the Governor’s House and the Lockerly Arboretum. Milledgeville is home to one of the finest restored historic homes in the state.

Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion was the residence of the Governor of Georgia from 1839 to 1864, when the state capitol was moved from Milledgeville to Atlanta. Restored to its original antebellum style, at first glance its centrepiece is hidden from view: a fifty-foot-high central domed skylight ceiling, coated in 23-carat gold, once serving as a waiting room for guests of the Governor. The Lockerly Arboretum is only a short drive away. The botanical delight boasts 50 acres of gardens, walking trails, and a pond. There is also a paved nature trail that will take you past many mature hardwoods, ferns, wildflowers, and flowering shrubs such as camellias and azaleas.

Founded in 1965, by Mr. E. J. Grassmann, Lockerly Arboretum boasts 50 acres of gardens, walking trails, and a pond ©Lockerly Arboretum

Arriving in Savannah in the late afternoon, it was time for a chilled glass of rose while sitting on the riverbank, watching the ships trundle by. I spent two nights in Savannah, and as with most everywhere I visited, rather wished I had an extra one. Making good use of my time, I took a highly entertaining walking tour around the Savannah squares with Savannah Dan. I would have liked to take a food tour to indulge in shrimp and grits, fried chicken (the holy grail of all southern foods), fried green tomatoes, and Savannah red rice, just some of the celebrated dishes served here, but I had not pre-booked and sadly they were full (ask our specialists about pre-booking tours before you travel). Instead, I wandered around the vast Bonaventure cemetery with its ornate graves, including that of Johnny Mercer, the song writer, and Forsyth Park.

Once a plantation, the Bonaventure cemetery is set in lush grounds and adorned with the city’s towering live oak trees draped in the quintessential Spanish moss. For the best experience, book a local tour, as this way you will unearth the “everyday” Savannah folks’ stories, this necropolis recognised as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.

Forsyth Park in Savannah, #Georgia was named one of the “Top 10 US Parks” by TripAdvisor! ©Georgia Tourism

Named for Georgia’s 33rd governor, the majestic 30-acre Forsyth Park is filled with blooming flowers, historic homes and of course, the timeless Parisian-inspired Forsyth Park Fountain. Erected in 1858, and one of Savannah’s most photographed sites, its romantic aura (many engagements and weddings are photographed here) and beautiful architecture is nothing short of enchanting. If you are visiting on St. Patrick’s Day, the fountain’s water is dyed green as part of the celebrations.

From Savannah, it is only a two-hour drive to Charleston. Again, I regretted the lack of time, so on my return, I plan to visit Hilton Head or return to Jekyll Island, a bit further down the coast (which I love). However, there was plenty to see and do in Charleston.

The John Rutledge House Inn® is the only home of a signer of The United States Constitution that now serves as both a living national historic landmark as well as an inn  ©The John Rutledge House Inn®

Both a National Historic Landmark and a lovely boutique hotel, I had given myself three nights to stay at the delightful John Rutledge Inn. The building was a wedding gift from groom John Rutledge to his 19-year-old bride in 1763. Interestingly, portions of the U.S. Constitution were drafted here, and revolutionary musket balls, which were unearthed during the house’s renovation, are on display in the ballroom.

While in Charleston, I wandered around some of the famous plantations. Boone Hall was a particular favourite—one of America’s oldest working plantations, continually growing crops for over 320 years—but they were all wonderful in their own way. I also took an evening river cruise for picturesque harbour views of downtown Charleston, a horse-drawn carriage ride around the cobbled streets of the French Quarter, and I ate my weight in seafood and gumbo.

I could have easily spent a week in the city, as I never even had time to visit the Civil War sites. Fort Sumter, located in the middle of Charleston Harbor and accessible by ferry rides, is where the American Civil War started on April 12, 1861.With so many roads left to travel in America’s Deep South, I shall have to go back—it will not be a sadness.  

Ride in a traditional horse-drawn carriage through historic downtown Charleston on a guided tour

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