Georgia Travel Articles
Washington, Georgia, A Confederate Treasure
The Mary Willis Library
There is some debate as to the birthplace of the Confederate States of America, however, there is little doubt Washington, Georgia was the deathbed of the Confederacy. In May, 1885, President Jefferson convened his last cabinet meeting there and signed the papers officially dissolving the Confederate States of America. He had fled to Washington carrying with him the Southern treasury, estimated at over half a million dollars in gold. When he was captured the Union soldiers only recovered about a third of the treasure. To this day, legends claim it lies buried in or around Washington. The gold may be lost, but the treasure remains in the relics of the Old South found in the charming city of Washington. The Visitors Guide boasts over 70 historic sites in the area. It can be picked up free at the Chamber of Commerce.
The Treasure chest
With all the impressive buildings in town, the most impressive relic is the unassuming black chest that poses so many questions. What really happened to all that gold? As you stare at the ancient iron and leather chest that once held a portion of that gold, you are transported back to that turbulent time. The chest is located in the Mary Willis Library in Washington. It reclines beneath a priceless Tiffany stained glass window in the foyer of the first free library in Georgia.
A tattered news clipping tells the story of the chest's recent history. Whether or not you believe the stories of the hidden Confederate gold, the tiny city is a treasure in itself. Start at the Washington Historical Museum. At the time of the Civil War, it was owned by Sammuel Barnett, Georgia's first Railroad Commissioner. It is furnished in the Antebellum style. You will be drawn back to the fateful days of the Civil War by the sight of Jefferson Davis' camp chest and an astonishing collection of Confederate relics and memorabilia of the Reconstruction period.
Washington's most controversial citizen was Robert Toombs. His stately, white columned mansion is preserved as a State Historical Site. As the guide conducting the tour explained, "He was a man who fit his times." Toombs' home reflects his personality, a forceful lawyer, a successful planter a consummate statesman. As a United States Senator, he originally argued for Unionism. On January 24, 1960, he preached against succession, exhorting his fellow senators, "Defend yourself; the enemy is at your door!" But after the fact, he was an ardent Rebel. He served as Confederate Secretary of State for a short time then resigned to become a brigadier general. At the end of the war, he escaped from Federal soldiers by running out his back door and taking refuge with a neighbor. He spent two years in exile in France but scorned the idea of a pardon. In 1880 he boasted, "I am not loyal to the existing government of the United States and do not wish to be suspected of loyalty."
Another spot where the old South is close at hand is Callaway Plantation. The red brick mansion recalls a bygone era when cotton was king. In fact, you will enjoy seeing the tiny plot of cotton grown there as a memento of that vanished South. One step into the softly patined wood floor of the Greek revival style manor house, and you are emersed in a lifestyle that is "gone with the wind." In the drawing room, the piano, its sheet music lying open, awaits the delicate fingers of a southern bell. The round oak table in the dining room is set with everyday china, a blue willow pattern. Perhaps the reason the house invokes such a lived-in feeling is that it remained in the same family since it was built in 1869. The original plantation was 3000 acres. Self contained, like all plantations of the time, it resembled a small village with a schoolhouse, country store, cemetery and other buildings. The oldest structure is the settlers original cabin. This rough hewn log cabin was probably built around 1785 and is preserved along with the furnishings and tools used then. Later as the owners prospered, they built a four room, Federal Plainstyle home, which is also maintained and furnished in a typical 1790's style.
The Washington-Wilkes Airport is just across the highway from Callaway Plantation. The airport terminal building is the oldest in the state still in use. This tiny frame cottage with its twin fireplaces is open to the public free of charge.
A great way to see many of the historic homes in Washington is to visit during their Tour of Homes. This event is held the first Saturday in April and features seven private homes open only for this event. Another event that provides access to homes not open at other times is the Christmas Dinner and Holiday Tour in early December. Other Christmas events are the Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting and the Candlelight Christmas Open House held the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. At the same time of year, Callaway Plantation provides a glimpse of Christmas was celebrated on an plantation with Christmas at Callaway Plantation.
The biggest event is Mule Day Southern Heritage Festival in early October at Callaway Plantation. This is a fabulous celebration of plantation life in the Old South. You will enjoy watching humans lock wills with mules in the contests, crafters provide a colorful array of unique objects, and demonstrations of primitive skills remind you of how different life was a hundred years ago. The airport also sponsors their Fly-in at the same time with activities for the entire family.
Other festivals are the Cruise-in on the Square Antique Car Shows held the second Saturday in May and September, and the Washington Marching Band Festival held the first Saturday in October.
For campers, there are two state parks nearby, Alex H. Stephens or Elijah Clark. Callaway Plantation also has a small campground.
When you visit Washington-Wilkes County, you may not unearth any Confederate Gold but you will certainly come away with a treasure trove of great memories.
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.
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