Looking at the quaint tree-lined streets of downtown Milledgeville, with its mom and pop coffee shops, art galleries, plentiful antiques stores and restaurants, it might seem that this antebellum town hasn't gotten a fair shake in the public's eye.
For years, Milledgeville has been known as home to Central State Hospital, the state's largest mental health hospital, commonly called "the institution." And last spring, that image was overshadowed by a rape investigation involving Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a student from Georgia College & State University.
The locals, however, shun those unsavory perceptions and are quick to point out the good, and great, in this college town just an hour-and-a-half drive from Atlanta. Aside from its vibrant campus community and charming storefronts, Milledgeville boasts the farmhouse home of the late American author Flannery O'Connor, the state's Old Governor's Mansion and a host of museums.
And now, a group of people is working to give tourists another reason to pop by this Baldwin County gem: art.
To that end, artwork can be seen hanging in the windows of shuttered businesses, not just as a means of sprucing up a barren building, but also to attract the eye of a potential business owner looking for commercial space, said Renee Fontenot, associate professor of marketing at GCSU and a leader in the "Milledgeville: The Arts Destination" movement. The artwork comes from Creative Expressions, a nonprofit that promotes artists with developmental disabilities, Fontenot said.
"We are a little town, but we have a museum district, a number of historical homes that have been restored, the Governor's Mansion and the Old State Capitol," Fontenot said. "You've got to get off 75 to get here, but it's worth the trip."
Museums and attractions
A must-see attraction is Andalusia, O'Connor's farmhouse home on U.S. 441. O'Connor lived on the 544-acre farm from 1951 until her death in 1964. The farm is open for self-guided tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (except Wednesdays); and by appointment seven days a week. For details, call 478-454-4029 or visit andalusiafarm.org.
History buffs should also check out the Old Governor's Mansion, completed in 1839 and used by Gen. William Sherman during the Civil War. The mansion was abandoned after Atlanta became the new state capital, and it now serves as a historic house museum, according to its Web site, www.gcsu.edu/mansion. The mansion is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; and from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays. For details, call 478-445-4545.
Take in downtown Milledgeville on Tuesdays during its Milledgeville Marketplace, a farmers market complete with live music and entertainment. The marketplace is held from 4 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday in the city parking lot at 222 E. Hancock St. from May through November. For details, visit www.milledgevillemainstreet.com/play/farmers-market/.
This small town is big on taste, with restaurants offering an impressive selection of cuisines. For easy, casual dining, try the Brick or Cafe Amici on West Hancock Street (near South Wayne Street), but locals are in love with Little Tokyo Steak House and Sylvia's Grille on the 2600 block of North Columbia Street. For fine dining, they head to Aubri Lane's on South Wayne Street for American fare. And it's impossible to miss city gem Ryals Bakery, a family-owned sweet shop on South Wayne Street that sends scents of sugar and cookies wafting down the way.
Where to shop
Once again, the downtown historic district is where shopping is at its best. South Wayne and West Hancock streets are ripe with old-timey antiques shops filled with collectibles. The Creative Expressions art gallery can be found on North Jefferson Street, and art lovers might also visit the Folks Art gallery on West Hancock.
For more, visit www.milledgevillecvb.com.
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