This is inspired by a series USA Today’s Pop Candy did last year about non-conventional reasons to visit American cities. While Americus lacks a certain spark to make me want to live here permanently, I have enjoyed getting to know the town and surrounding area the past few years. A weekend trip is definitely worth heading to southwest Georgia. Plus, we’re only a few hours away from the gulf, Savannah and Atlanta.
10. Andersonville: Andersonville served as a POW camp during the Civil War. It’s also a pop culture fixture mentioned in several movies, books and television shows, including “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” If you’re into history at all, this place is fascinating. Be careful with your camera. I’ve heard from co-workers that ghosts of the past play tricks to make the lens useless at the site.
9. Antiques: I love finding a cheap end table and having a reason to spray paint all weekend. From two hours on either side of Americus there are shops all around. I’ve filled my home with mostly vintage and antique items found around the area. Everyone’s always friendly and willing to deliver. Plus, they love for you to haggle. Two of my favorite places include The Maze and Alice and Jay.
The Maze is just a few blocks from my apartment and one of those mix-matched retailers that has everything from novelty wedding gifts to hand-crafted alligator chairs. The three-story shop is perfect for wasting an afternoon.
Alice and Jay is a 45 minute drive from Americus, but well worth the gas. The shop sits on the corner of the main street in Sasser, Georgia. This town has a post office in a mobile home and the only restaurant that I’ve seen is an ice cream parlor. The entire downtown strip is just a goldmine of antique stores and the lone town hall. Alice and Jay have taken their shop up a notch by offering classes on refinishing furniture, painting and craft making. They also have custom paint colors made for each of their pieces that you can take home to duplicate a vintage look. The only thing I don’t love is they know their price point and it’s hard to haggle when you know they didn’t just dump stuff in the store. I also love that the owners have a blog about their shopping adventures. They have a rich Georgia history and much of their work is influenced by the their late father.
8. Rylander theater and the Windsor Hotel: Americus has beautiful turn-of-the century architecture. From the houses of Lee Street to the downtown shops, the town has really kept the integrity of slow Southern living. Sometimes that’s a downside, but you’re just here for the weekend! Inside the Rylander Theater, I’m like a kid. I’m constantly looking at the fresco above the stage and always see some new intricate detail in the scroll work around the door frames. My favorite moment this past year was covering an event where President Jimmy Carter was in attendance and it happened to be his birthday weekend. I’d never been inside when it was a full house and it was just something to hear all those voices filling the theater with a grand “Happy Birthday.”
The Windsor Hotel is in the same vein. It’s just hard to believe a hotel like this was preserved through the ’70s, 80s and ’90s. I adore the telephone box that actually works (It calls the front desk. Don’t annoy them.). I also adore porch sitting. About 10 large wicker chairs line the veranda and are perfect on sunny days to rock and people watch.
7. Sunday School with Jimmy Carter: Plains, Ga., home of the 39th U.S. President, isn’t technically Americus. But like many rural counties, the small communities band together to make an area pretty awesome. When you visit it’s hard to believe a president came from this area. It really makes you think you can do anything. Plains is a day trip in itself as everything “Jimmy Carter” has been preserved. You can visit his boyhoood farm and eat boiled peanuts, you can take a look at his yearbook photos at the renovated high school where he attended, and you can visit his campaign headquarters. My favorite part about the Jimmy tour is attending Sunday School with him at Maranantha Baptist Church. Each Sunday he’s in town, he still leads the adult lessons. Even though it’s a smaller audience, his messages of peace are a capstone of most Sundays. Then he makes a comment about jetting off to Egypt or Brazil and you realize you’re just 5 feet away from a man that made history. If you make it through the entire service, you can greet him and Rosalynn afterward and have your photo taken.
6. Peanut Butter ice cream: It should be a sin for how many waffle cones I’ve downed in the past two years as visitors have come through. Soft serve homemade peanut butter ice cream is the best…unless you have a peanut allergy. Grab a cone and head outside to swing and enjoy the Southern weather. It’s sublime.
5. SAM shortline: The SAM shortline is the best way to take in all of Sumter County, Ga. For a small fee you hop on board and stop off in Americus, Plains, Lake Blackshear and Archery. Each stop gives you time to browse and shop. It’s almost too twee.
4. Thirteenth Colony Distillery: I was shocked when I found out a distillery was thriving in a town that just allowed Sunday alcohol sales in 2013. Thirteenth Colony serves vodka, gin and whiskey, plus they also do weekday tours. It’s a unique gem in a town that I thought I had all figured out.
3. Providence Canyon: Called the “Little Grand Canyon” of the south, Providence Canyon is a magnificent example of how education goes a long way. In the early 1800s, small farms were started by families struggling to keep food on the table. Conservation techniques were unknown by the farmers, so eventually fields became gullies then ravines then canyons. It’s truly amazing. The canyon offers 3-and 7-mile trails. It’s a great education tool for children, plus you can take off your shoes and squish your feet in the mud at the bottom of the canyon.
2. Koinonia Farm: Koinonia Farm is one the few places in the world that will restore your faith in humanity. The community that runs the farm has been in operation since the 1940s and continue to be radicals in sustainable farming practices and in their faith. Their founder, Clarence Jordan, was also instrumental in this area’s civil rights history. Having grown up in the South, it’s humbling to see how much good comes out of one county. The tour includes walking around 90-acres of pecan farms, checking out the pigs, chickens and cows, and touring their bakery where you’ll get a sample of their homemade chocolate. Visitors even have the option of eating lunch with the the community. Their blackberry cobbler is slap-your-mama good, so make sure to stay. And definitely take time to soak in the silence, beauty and history of the place.
1. Habitat for Humanity: Speaking of good coming out of one county…. Habitat for Humanity was founded based on the principles of Koinonia’s community. I’m amazed at how many people from the area still don’t know about the work of Habitat for Humanity. I love that our main offices look like a house with a picket fence entrance. I love that we have pot luck dinners in Loloma Park, located on Habitat’s property. And I love giving guests a tour of our Global Village and Discovery Center. In the GVDC, you get to see examples of homes built by Habitat around the world. You’ll receive a passport to punch at each location and information on building practices and costs. My favorite is the India house because it has a roof-top living space. By the time you leave you’ll really have perspective on if 2,000-square-feet is truly needed for living or if your lifestyle is sometimes a little extravagant.
Click to see The Daily Show‘s take on Habitat for Humanity.