Athens

Overview

Introduction

Located 70 mi/115 km east of Atlanta, Athens, Georgia, provides a good study in how the New South coexists with the Old South.

Athens has been the home of the University of Georgia, the first land-grant university in the U.S., since the school was chartered in 1785. A visit to the campus is worth your time. Begin at the University of Georgia Visitors Center, Four Towers Building, Campus Station Road, in Athens. Phone 706-542-0842. http://www.uga.edu/visit/reserve_tour.php.

The campus includes Sanford Stadium, where UGA fans cheer for the Georgia Bulldogs football team, which is spelled and pronounced "DAWGS." This is well-demonstrated during football season as fans yell, in unison, "Go You Hairy DAWGS!" or "Hunker Down Hairy DAWGS!" The Bulldogs are former national champions and (many times) Southeastern Conference Champions.

The UGA campus includes the State Botanical Garden, where your family can enjoy a stroll along 5 mi/8 km of wooded, floral trails and more than 300 acres/120 hectares of grounds on the Middle Oconee River.

Although some of the country's botanical gardens are boring, stuffy places to take the family, the gorgelike ravines and spring-fed streams of this garden include plenty of wide open spaces where children can run, skip, hop, jump, and whoop and holler to their hearts' content. The collection of plants includes local, tropical and semitropical plants. If you do take kids, make sure they see the interesting garden of medicinal plants. An especially nice rose garden blooms May-November.

A lively music scene (supported by students from the University of Georgia) flourishes in the bars, clubs and coffeehouses of the restored downtown (it brought the world such bands as R.E.M. and the B-52s). The city celebrates local music and art each June at AthFest. http://www.athfest.com.

You don't have to look far to find the Old South in Athens: It's evident in the many Greek Revival homes and buildings that dot the city. The best example is the circa 1845 Taylor-Grady House. Its 13 columns were meant to symbolize the original U.S. colonies.

The University of Georgia, across the street from downtown, boasts a number of these Greek Revival buildings, including Demosthenian Hall and the president's house. The university is also the home of the Georgia Museum of Art, whose collection emphasizes Italian Renaissance and 19th- and 20th-century American paintings.

Among the city's off-campus sights is the Church-Waddel-Brumby House, the oldest house in the city, now serving as the visitors center.

Before leaving town, take a look at the unusual double-barreled cannon at City Hall: It was designed to fire two cannon balls connected by a chain, but it was only tested once. That firing is said to have killed an innocent cow and destroyed a chimney.

Also in the isn't-that-just-nuts? department, Athens is home to "The Tree That Owns Itself." In gratitude to a white oak that had provided good shade, a property owner deeded possession of a small chunk of land to the tree. Though the original oak was destroyed in a storm in 1942, possession of the parcel passed to its offspring (an acorn), which has grown into another upstanding property owner.

Rabbittown is an unincorporated hamlet a few miles/kilometers from Gainesville (40 mi/65 km northwest of Athens). There, on an otherwise unremarkable dirt road, sits the home of R.A. Miller. Though not a household name in the world of high art, the elderly former minister has gained a cult following over the years for his makeshift sculptures cobbled together from scrap metal, engine parts and other pieces of the world's flotsam and jetsam. These peek out from every nook of his property, like a junkyard brought to life. As one might expect from a onetime man of the cloth, Miller often adorns his sculptures with religious messages.

More information on Athens, UGA and the surrounding area is available from the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau. Phone 706-357-4430. http://www.visitathensga.com.

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