The days are getting real short out here in east Georgia, but the weather has warmed up and the sun has reemerged, so at least that is something. This week has had its challenges, but a challenging week from time to time is to be expected. I’m pretty used to going with the flow and rolling with the punches, but this week has had a few more punches thrown in than usual. Not being able to find someone local to fix my camera, it is off to the Canon repair shop, so it will be a few weeks before I get it back. Not to worry, my spare is on its way from DC, and I should have it by the time you are actually reading this. This week’s post may not have the best photos with it, but fear not, this will all get sorted out in a few weeks. On a more positive note, I finally got the chance to check out one of my photos which went into Atlanta Magazine last month of the amazing Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It made me feel proud that my work is being appreciated in such a great publication (see the article HERE). I also want to wish a very Happy Hanukkah to all of those of you celebrating the Festival of Lights this week.
When I signed off last week, I made my way down to Albany, a city of about 75,000 on the Flint River. When I arrived, I went straight to the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum at the old Mount Zion Church. This is a wonderful little museum which details the role Albany played in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. My visit began with a short video showing the conditions in Southwest Georgia in the lead-up to the demonstrations there and also how the demonstrations played out. After the video, I had a very short guided tour of the museum and Mount Zion church, one of the local churches which hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited Albany. When my tour was over, I spent some time looking a little more closely at the exhibits, and listening to the voices of the people who were there.
When the museum closed, I headed out to see the beautiful Radium Springs Gardens just outside of town. Considered one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, Radium Springs pumps out 70,000 gallons of wonderful 68 degree water every minute. The springs have drawn people for centuries who wanted to come and “take the waters”. Most recently, there was a hotel and casino there and the springs were the centerpiece of a landscaped garden just below it. Bad floods in the nineties caused the casino to close, so now it is just a park housing the springs. This was a beautiful place to visit and very quiet when I was there.
Rolling back downtown before sunset, I visited the waterfront park laid out in tribute to Albany’s most famous native son: Ray Charles. The beautiful park is laid out like a piano, with a life size statue of The Genius sitting at his baby grand. There is a wonderful plaque in English and in braille accompanying the statue as well. I know that there was supposed to be music playing in the park, but that feature was not working during my visit. I could still hear him singing in my head regardless. Georgia, Geooorrgia, the whole day through…(this story in my next podcast)
After a brief wander around downtown, I stopped for a quick beer at the wonderfully cavernous Pretoria Fields Brewery. These guys have taken up a whole city block with their brewery, indoor taproom and outdoor seating area. It was a great place to have a beer.
Thursday I headed out in the morning through the towns of Ty Ty and Tifton to the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site in Fitzgerald. This is the site where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured on May 3rd, 1865 as he attempted to flee to the western theater and reorganize the confederacy. The memorial is small, as is the museum, but there is an excellent video describing the events of Davis’ capture. These were interesting features, but not nearly as interesting as the conversation I had with John Hughes, the site manager of the park for the last 15 years. John is from North Georgia, has several degrees including one in history, and was incredibly well read and well spoken about the Civil War and the Confederacy. It was amazing to have someone to discuss the Civil War with at length and hear the “Southern perspective”. We talked about everything from secession and the first shots at Fort Sumter to Davis’ surrender to the modern debates over the flags and monuments. John was such a wonderful resource for me to discuss these topics with and broaden my understanding of the war and its aftermath - topics which have really been on my mind for the last year during my travels through the South. We probably talked for three hours, and could have kept on talking, but I wanted to get into Macon before dark so I eventually had to say my goodbyes and move on down the road. If you are ever in the area and want to have a reasonable and respectable conversation about the Civil War, I highly recommend stopping into this historic site.
I did get into Macon before dark, and had the chance to enjoy their downtown Christmas lights display and a wonderful meal at the Kudzu Seafood Company on Third Street before hunkering down over some work at Starbucks.
Friday I started my day with a visit to the small but enjoyable Otis Reading Foundation on Cotton Avenue. The “mini-museum” and shop had some wonderful artifacts from this legendary soul singer, most famous of course for his hit Sitting on the Dock of the Bay which he recorded just a few days before he was killed in a plane crash in Madison, Wisconsin. On a personal note, my parents were in school there when it happened. Small museum aside though, the foundation is actively involved in getting area children involved in music, offering, among other things, lessons and a recording studio. It’s a great little spot.
From there, I went out to visit the reconstructed Mississippian Culture Earth Lodge Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument just outside of town. While the mound itself has been reconstructed, the floor is original and dates from 1015 A.D. I’ve been to a lot of mound sites around the country, and while they are cool, at the end of the day they are often just a bunch of little hills. It was very cool to see this one and get a better understanding of the culture that once utilized it. Earth Lodge Mound was probably used for ceremonial purposes. Ocmulgee National Monument is a National Park Service site, and there is a great museum and video as well.
For my last stop of the day, I headed into the really wonderful Tubman Museum downtown, a museum dedicated to local and national African American history, culture and art. The first floor exhibit on local history alone was worth the price of admission. On the second floor, there was a great art gallery with some really beautiful and thought provoking pieces. There was also a great exhibit on African American inventions and patents in American history. On the opposite wall, was a multi-paneled mural telling the African American story from African roots through the fight for civil rights. It highlighted African American leaders in the arts and sports and also major political and military heroes. It was fascinating to explore. Finally, there was a theater showing A Slave Story: A Thousand Miles to Freedom, an old movie showing the daring escape of a slave couple to the North. Interestingly, most of the movie was filmed just outside of my hometown of Washington D.C. at Gunston Hall and Gadsby’s Tavern. This was a fantastic museum and I’m glad I got to see it while I was in town.
That night I went to opening night of the play Mary Poppins put on by Theater Macon. It was a wonderful production with elaborate sets and costumes and some truly wonderful actors. Macon has a very active theater scene, and has apparently sent several of their local actors on to Broadway. By the caliber of this performance, I can see why. I smiled the whole time and really enjoyed the show. Since it was opening night, there was champagne and snacks afterword which was good since I hadn’t eaten all afternoon. I took advantage. After the show I went out for a quick couple of beers at Billy’s Clubhouse on Forest Hill Road. I really loved this bar. It had people of all different ages, colors, backgrounds and orientations in the same room, listening to good music and having a good time. Definitely a great spot in the greater Macon area.
Saturday I made my way back to Atlanta. There, I made my last attempt at getting my camera fixed locally and then gave up and headed on to try and get some work done. The internet at the library was unbelievably slow, and the Starbucks I tried was packed. The weather was grim and rainy and I decided to just call it a day. I went to watch the Georgia-Alabama SEC Championship Game at a great bar called Southern Comfort in Conley. This place has been featured in a lot of recent films, but is still relatively well hidden. It was a lot of fun to be there even though Georgia lostand the people were great. It made me forget about a rainy and unproductive morning.
Sunday I got up late and took care of some business before shooting down the highway to Augusta. Normally, as you know, I take the byways, but I wanted to make some time and get some work done. I got in late afternoon and sat at the Starbucks all night working on my next podcast. I figured out my plan to get my camera fixed and was really starting to pick my mood back up and get my head back in the game. Then I got some pretty difficult-to-hear news from an old friend which would keep me up late thinking about things. Sometimes it’s really tough to be on the road with nobody around when you need a hug. Eventually I got to sleep and woke up Monday feeling motivated and much better about everything. The warm, sunny weather didn’t hurt either.
In Augusta, I stopped into the Visitors Center and had a nice long conversation with Toni, the nice lady manning the desk. We probably talked for 45 minutes or more about Augusta and the revival of downtown, who is moving in and who is being pushed out. This was a different version of a very familiar story to me. It was fascinating to hear her perspective on things and to get some advice on some of the places I should see around town.
My first stop after the Visitors Center was the James Brown Statue. While The Godfather of Soul wasn’t born in Augusta, or Georgia for that matter, he moved there at a young age and always considered it home. Augusta makes certain you know that with this wonderful statue, photos everywhere and a street and stadium named in his honor. It would be pretty hard to visit Augusta and not see something related to James Brown.
From there I headed over to the historic Cotton Exchange, now being used as a bank. In a modern renovation, a wall was taken down and they found, quite by accident, the historic chalk board used when it was the Augusta Exchange. There are some nice signs there to help interpret what you are looking at, and it is just really interesting to see. I’m glad that the bank lets this continue in their lobby.
Then I went to visit the Augusta Canal Discovery Center in the re-purposed Enterprise Mill. Augusta was, at one time, called the Lowell of the South because of its water powered textile mills which got their power from the hand-dug canal. Augusta was able to produce these textiles much closer to where the cotton was grown, lowering costs and raising profits. This Discovery Center is in a partnership with the National Park Service, and provides a fascinating history lesson on the mills, what it was like to work in them, organized labor and life in early Augusta.
When I finished my visit to the museum, I took a wonderful boat ride up the canal and got to learn even more about it. We went past the smokestack which was once part of a Confederate gunpowder mill located on the canal. In addition to learning a lot of history, we also saw some beautiful egrets and great blue herons and even an otter.
Leaving the mill I went to visit the Sacred Heart cultural center in what was once the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. When the church could no longer keep up this massive and beautiful cathedral, the city took it over and currently uses it for concerts and meetings. I was so glad to see that the city is using this building instead of knocking it down or leaving it empty. It was very pretty.
Then I headed down to the Riverwalk, a wonderful riverfront walking path along the Savannah River. It was a beautiful place to walk as dusk settled on Augusta. I really like when a city provides recreational trails, picnic tables and benches along its waterfront area, instead of selling it to the highest bidder.
I stopped in for dinner at Beamie’s at the River, a cute little seafood restaurant on Reynolds Street. I had a delicious oyster and shrimp basket and enjoyed sitting by the giant fish tanks and watching the fish. I have got to get back to scuba diving when I make it to Florida. Dinner was really good and when I finished I headed over to a wonderful place called Soul Bar. They were having a local songwriters night, a slightly stepped up version of an open mic night. There was some decent talent there, but a singer named Kendall Levesque was really rocking. If you hear his name in the future, you heard it here first. After the music I went out to a wonderful bar a little further out called Indian Queen. This was a beautiful log cabin with a fireplace, a good beer selection and a great bartender. They’re open late every night and well worth a visit if you’re in Augusta. I could’ve sat by the fire all night.
Today I’m having a slow drive towards Savannah. I may get there tonight, I may get there tomorrow. I stopped along the way at a little spot called the Honey Cafe in Millen, Georgia. This is a great little restaurant which had a meat-and-three set-up for lunch. I had some of the best fried chicken I’ve had in a very long time, some fabulous mac-and-cheese, black eyed peas and new-to-me white acre peas. I had never even heard of this kind of peas before, but I really liked them. I’m looking forward to catching up with my Savannah friends tomorrow, and always look forward to being in that beautiful city. I’ve spent a lot of time in Savannah before, but there is plenty I still haven’t seen. I also hope to get my podcast done in the next few days. It’s coming along nicely, but I still plenty left to do on it. I’ll be in Savannah for a few days, and then I start making my way down the coast. I am REALLY looking forward to seeing the ocean and spending some time on the beach. I’m looking forward to small communities, fresh seafood and sunrises over the water. I’ve got big plans for the coast, and hope to get out to Cumberland Island for a few nights as well. I also want to get out to the Okefenokee Swamp before I head on into Florida. When we meet back here next week, I’ll still be in Georgia though. I’ll have my camera back up and running, and my spirits revived by good friends, laughter and the ocean. It has been a tough week out here, but this next one will more than make up for it. Oh, and I got a Christmas tree for my van today, so THAT will definitely cheer me up. Have a great week y’all and I’ll see you right back here next time!