Overlooking Madison's historic downtown district, Madison, Georgia.

These Towns in Georgia Have a Rich Cultural Heritage

The state of Georgia is one of the most beautiful in the southern United States. Deeply tied to the fascinating and storied history of the region, there is lots to uncover and explore in every corner of the state. These towns run the gamut with rich cultural heritage, featuring histories that include Civil War tales, gold rushes and even dips into Hollywood.


Old courthouse, downtown Eatonton, Georgia, USA.
Old Courthouse, Downtown Eatonton, Georgia, USA. Editorial credit: Williams Photography 365 / Shutterstock.com

Founded in 1808, Eatonton has a deep connection to the history of the state of Georgia. The town was an essential locale during the American Civil War, and some of the buildings that were used at the time, such as the courthouse, are still around today to be explored and experienced. The Old School History Museum in town is another great spot to learn about the history of Eatonton and the surrounding Putnam County, and for even more in-depth information, visitors should seek out the knowledgeable Eatonton-Putnam County Historical Society, which is headquartered in the historic Bronson House. Another exciting piece of Eatonton history is the fact that Joel Chandler Harris, the author responsible for the world-famous Uncle Remus stories, was born and lived in the town. More recently, Alice Walker, whose works include the celebrated The Color Purple, was also born in the town. 


Georgia College and State University campus scene, Milledgeville, Georgia, USA.
Georgia College and State University campus scene, Milledgeville, Georgia, USA. Editorial credit: Rob Hainer / Shutterstock.com

Milledgeville was founded in 1803 and was the fourth capital of the state of Georgia from 1804 until 1868. Much like Eatonton, the town was significant during the Civil War and suffered heavy destruction during those years. Once the war was over and the capital moved to Atlanta, Milledgeville was forced to rebuild itself in the new reality of America. Some remnants of this era still exist, such as Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion, an emblem of the antebellum south, and the Andalusia Farm, a plantation that much later was the residence of famed writer Flannery O’Connor. Both buildings are open with tours for the public. A different perspective on the town’s history can be found in places such as the Flagg Chapel Baptist Church, the first African-American church in Milledgeville. Heritage Hall, on the Georgia College campus, is another spot where visitors can learn about the history of the area while enjoying a collection of artifacts and photographs. 


Dining alfresco at Capers on Dahlonega's historic public square, Georgia.
Dining alfresco at Capers on Dahlonega's historic public square, Georgia. Editorial credit: Jen Wolf / Shutterstock.com

North of Milledgeville and Eatonton in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is Dahlonega, a town with a totally different kind of history. Established in 1833, the town is the site of one of the first gold rushes in the United States, predating the Californian and Klondike rushes. The town takes its name from a Cherokee word referring to the color of gold. Dahlonega is rich with opportunities to explore its mining history, including the Crisson Gold Mine, which has been operating since the mid-19th century. Housed inside the old courthouse is the Dahlonega Gold Museum, where visitors can learn about the town’s heritage and enjoy photos and films of the gold mining. For some non-gold-focused history, there is the Long Mountain Living History Center, which generally educates guests about the fascinating story of Lumpkin County. 


Historic train passenger depot, Jesup, Georgia.
Historic train passenger depot, Jesup, Georgia. Editorial credit: Gestalt Imagery / Shutterstock.com

Incorporated in 1870, the town of Jesup is another with a deep connection to the history of the land and the state in which it exists. Much of the heritage of the town is tied closely to the railroads that run through its center. Three railfan stops still exist in Jesup and are reminders of the importance the railway served in 19th century America. Just northeast of town is the site known as Doctortown, which has ties to both the Revolutionary Era and the Civil War. Jesup has strong ties to more recent history as well, perhaps best exemplified by the famous Jesup Drive-In. One of Georgia’s only remaining drive-in movie theaters, the spot dates back to the late 1940s and is steeped in the charming Americana of the post-war era. 


Elder Mill covered bridge, Watkinsville, Georgia.
Elder Mill covered bridge, Watkinsville, Georgia.

Founded sometime around 1791 as Big Springs, the town today known as Watkinsville gained its name in 1802. Located in north-central Georgia, known as the Historic Heartland region, near the city of Athens, the town was an emblem of a frontier town, a heritage it still has connections to today. Visitors looking to explore the history of this storied town should begin at the Oconee County Welcome Center, which can be found in the historic William Daniell House dating back to 1790. In downtown Watkinsville stands the Eagle Tavern Museum, which exists inside one of the oldest standing buildings in the town. The town is also home to the Elder Mill Covered Bridge, one of the last covered wooden bridges still being used on a public road. 


Historic downtown Madison, Georgia, USA.
Historic downtown Madison, Georgia, USA. 

Another of Georgia’s picturesque frontier towns, Madison, was founded in 1809 as a stagecoach stop and residence for the families of plantation workers. The town today is magnificently well-preserved and has lots to interest those history-minded visitors. Chief amongst this is Heritage Hall, a Greek Revival mansion today owned and operated by the Morgan County Historical Society. Stock full of preserved period-accurate furnishings, the mansion is a little slice of early 19th-century fascination. The Morgan County African-American Museum, located inside the Horace Moore House and dating back to 1895, is an essential stop for all visitors and a great way to understand Georgia’s history better. Finally, the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center is the ideal place to enjoy not just Madison's history but also the ever-expanding landscape of arts and culture that the town celebrates. 


World-famous restaurant, Juliette, Georgia, USA.
World-famous restaurant, Juliette, Georgia, USA. Editorial credit: Georges_Creations / Shutterstock.com

An hour’s drive south of Madison will bring you to the tiny hamlet of Juliette. Full of the charm found in the other small towns of Georgia and steeped in the natural beauty of the state, Juliette has an entirely different and totally unique connection to the region's cultural heritage. Moviegoers will immediately recognize the town as the setting for the film Fried Green Tomatoes, and the iconic Whistle Stop Cafe is the perfect spot to relive moments from the movie. In addition to a gift shop celebrating the town’s position in Hollywood history, there is an annual festival commemorating the film with a variety of local crafts and artisanal delights, including, of course, fried green tomatoes. Besides its movie connection, Juliette is also steeped in the history that defines the state of Georgia, and the best way to experience this is at the nearby Jarrell Plantation, which includes an interpretive center and many historic trails.

A Journey Through Georgia's Historic Towns

The history of the American South is far from an uncomplicated one. This complexity can sometimes feel overwhelming, but one of the best ways to get a full picture is to immerse oneself in the actual places where history happened. These towns in Georgia are the perfect place to do just that. From the antebellum stories of Eatonton and Milledgeville to the frontier memories in Madison and Watkinsville, the towns on this list allow for opportunities to learn and gain an appreciation for the history that not only defined a growing country but continues to create a modern one.

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