Story by Bill Farley
American Roads Travel Magazine
Marker at Confederate cemetery in Jonesboro
Scenic and historic
as it is, Georgias Clayton County has to be forgiven if it sometimes gives the
impression that, like Rodney Dangerfield, it feels it dont get no
respect. Situated in the penumbra of the sprawling megalopolis of Atlanta, Clayton County
is something of a country cousin that too often gets overlooked by travelers seeking a
colorful and eclectic destination. But vacationers and especially history buffs who bypass
Clayton do so at their own loss. There is much to recommend this county just twenty miles
or so from the big city, both in terms of nostalgia and in terms of the best of today.
The county seat of
Clayton is Jonesboro, site of a brutal clash that marked the final battle of the Atlanta
campaign during the War Between the States. Its a place where the ghosts of the
Confederacy linger and one can visit a cemetery where the brave soldiers of the South were
buried after they were overrun by a much larger Union force.
Visit this museum for all things GWTW
Decades later, Jonesboro
was the town where a young Margaret Mitchell would summer with her grandparents, soaking
up from them and from other local residents who had lived through the war and its
aftermath the stories that she eventually wove into her American classic novel, and that figured prominently in the legendary
Academy Award-winning film adapted from her book.
Mitchells shadow looms over much of which gives Clayton County its fierce sense of
pride in its history. The Georgia legislature has recognized this as well, designating Jonesboro
as the official home of Gone With the Wind.
But, important as GWTW is
to Clayton County, if offers much more, often seeming to be a study in contrasts. For
example, a former railroad warehouse in the heart of town houses the Road To Tara Museum,
where all things GWTW dominate. The gold standard for fans of the book and film,
this entertaining and informative showplace offers everything from Civil War memorabilia
to film posters to reproductions of Gone With the Wind costumes. Other displays range from rare books and
manuscripts to a tribute to the reality of and the fictional concept of the
Mammy to seats from the theater where GWTW premiered, a setting of Margaret
Mitchells personal china, a huge, working cotton scale and a detailed, doll
house-sized replica of Scarlett OHaras ancestral home, Tara.
Scarlett greets guest to Stately Oaks mansion
The Road to Tara
museum has become something of a shrine for dedicated fans of Gone With the
Wind from throughout the world, and no foreign country sends more visitors through
its portals than Japan, where for decades the book and movie have inspired almost
Theres more period
flavor to be savored aboard the Southern Belles and Whistles tour, a tram that travels
through Jonesboro presenting historic commentary as well as close-up views of ante bellum
homes and the Confederate cemetery. And, perhaps the best feel of the era can be had by a
visit to Stately Oaks Plantation, an 1839 structure that survived the Battle of Jonesboro
and is the closest thing to a real-life Tara.
But, Clayton County is
not all hoop skirts and the horrors of war. While retaining its quiet, country charm, the
county has moved comfortably into the 21st century, and is home to some
attractions that surprise and delight.
One such attraction would
be Spivey Hall, situated on the lushly landscaped grounds of Clayton State University,
which began its life as a predominantly black two year college and now offers both a full
four year baccalaureate and a few masters degree programs. The sophisticated Spivey
Hall is regarded as the leading recital hall in the Southeast and renowned artists from
around the world in musical genres from classical music and opera to jazz and world music
perform there regularly. The crown jewel of this elegant and intimate auditorium is the
mighty Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ built by Fratelli Ruffati of Padua, Italy.
Resplendent to view, its soaring voice transports the listener, particularly if at the
keyboards is the Halls Organist in Residence, Richard Morris.
Murals of 1920s Jonesboro brighten the
exterior of the art gallery.
Another home to the
arts, in Jonesboro, is the Arts Clayton Gallery. Located within what was once a Ford Model
T dealership and later a gasoline service station, the gallery is pristine and inviting
and presents monthly exhibitions spotlighting new and established Georgia artists in all
mediums. Admission is free and the gallery also presents frequent wine tastings and
Clayton County also
boasts two major facilities for the preservation and storage of historical documents, the
National Archives for the Southeast Region and the Georgia Archives. Both are treasure troves of information and
invaluable sources for researchers of many stripes. At
the same time, each offers displays and programs open to the general public at no charge
that will fascinate anyone with an interest in our nations past.
The National Archives
building houses more than 110,000 cubic feet of documents dating from 1716 to the 1990s
(with more to come!). These include records of slave sales, of the Civil War and
Reconstruction, the Depression and New Deal, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the civil
rights movement and all of the nations military draft registrations from WWI.
Focusing on the Peach State, the Georgia Archives
preserve a wide range of important documents from the Colonial Charter to the records of
the Governors Office and the General Assembly, 1750 to the present, county and state
papers, papers of private individuals and an unequalled collection of histories Georgia
photographs and postcards.
The former court and jailhouse is now a history center.
Fans of the
outdoors will find plenty to do in Clayton County, one of the most interesting being the
Reynolds Nature Preserve, a 146 acre woodland encompassing five ponds, birding and picnic
areas, 4.5 miles of trails and a nature center. Visitors
are free to roam the trails by themselves or learn more about the regions flora and
fauna from an experienced guide. Also, the Newman Wetlands Center offers a gentle
wetlands trail where indigenous animals such as beaver, river otter, fox, raccoon, muskrat
and mink are often spotted.
Of course, after a day in
the wild, hunger is bound to strike and there is no dearth of interesting dining in Clayton
County. Just a few examples include the Pinehurst Tea Room, an impressive fin de siecle
structure, once a private home, which is now also a catering and special events facility.
Open for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays and presenting Sunday Brunch and Wednesday High
Tea, Pinehursts simple yet refined menu includes such variations on comfort
food as a chicken pot pie served with the chicken, peas and sauce surrounding a
square of light-as-air pastry.
Another poultry paradise
began life in neighboring Fulton County and is now one of Americas premier casual
dining chains Chick-fil-A. It all began when local boy S. Truett Cathy started a
mom-and-pop restaurant, perfected a special chicken sandwich, and ultimately spread his
concept to more than 1600 restaurants in 39 states. The
legendary and much-respected Cathy is still around and can often be seen dropping by one
of his three special area restaurants, Truetts Grills. Decorated in fun, free-form 50s diner style
in one, a model railroad runs around the walls and a vintage Indian motorcycle is
suspended from the ceiling these offer more diverse fare than the franchised
locations. You can enter or leave these grills via a kid-sized dwarf door, an
artifact that recalls when Cathys first restaurants were called Dwarf
House or Dwarf Grill.
At the opposite end of
the dining spectrum is The Feed Store. If dining at a bistro with such a pedestrian name
conjures up images of deep fried oats or hayburgers, think again! This College Park eatery
is as nouvelle as anything in Beverly Hills. Executive chef Peter Golaszewski has created
a menu featuring such items as Buffalo Crawfish Tails with Apple, Bleu Cheese and Chive
Slaw, Butternut Squash Bisque with Pecan Fried Mushrooms and Crème Fraiche, Seared
Mountain Trout with Glazed Leeks, Sweet Potato Puree and Georgia Pecan Sauce and Pear
Sorbet with Candied Lemon Peel and Local Honey. The ambience at this restaurant is
ultra-chic, as appealing as its menu, and pricing is not unreasonable. And, it really was
formerly a feed store!
If you might be wondering
where all that terrific food comes from, look no further than the Atlanta Farmers Market.
Billed as The USAs Largest Roadside Fruit and Vegetable Stand, this
huge, 150 acre hub of commerce proffers endless displays of the best of Georgia-grown
produce as well as a universe of items from around the nation and the world. Its
open to the public and while you might not want to purchase a few tons of melons, you can
always pick up a few ears of corn, a pumpkin, or a straw hat or woven basket
very good price.
Accommodations are never
a problem in Clayton County and one of the most inviting is the Comfort Suites in
Stockbridge. Its attributes include spacious, well-appointed rooms, an attentive staff, a
complimentary breakfast bar, and, several nights each week, a managers happy
hour with complimentary wine and light hors doeuvres.
When alls said and
done, a visitor to Georgias Clayton County would likely never even think of the
Rodney Dangerfield demeanor of a historic county located so close to an internationally
known city. Instead, he or she would more
likely recall the signature song of another great entertainer, Bob Hope Thanks for
For additional information, contact www.visitscarlett.com
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.
all contents copyright © ci-Interactive formerly Cyber Island
design and programming by ci-Interactive