Marking a moment in time in Milledgeville — appreciating the present and past in our state

By Maria Saporta

Indulge me.

My son, David Luse, graduated from Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville on Saturday — an occasion that gave me an opportunity to reflect on the passage of time — both in our personal life as well as the in the evolution of our state.

For those of you who do not know the beauty and gentility that exists in historic Milledgeville — do yourself a favor. The county seat of Baldwin County was Georgia’s first state capitol, and the town is full of treasures that predate Gen. William Sherman’s march through Georgia.

David Luse after walking on stage at graduation (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Georgia College is wonderfully placed in the heart of the town, and Milledgeville has become a college town on a manageable scale. The college has become one of Georgia’s top public universities. With a student body of about 6,000, Georgia has been a nurturing and intellectually stimulating place for David — a place where he has grown into a fabulous young man.

So consider this column a thank you to Milledgeville and to Georgia College — Georgia’s public liberal arts university that is one of the state’s best kept secrets.

Seniors waiting to hear their names called at the graduation ceremony at Georgia College & State University

I am a proud mother, and I could write this whole column about how the wonders of a son becoming a man during an era that has challenged all of our souls.

And yet, spending a weekend in Milledgeville also has given me an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the past while bemoan the kind of environment that we have built in the last 50 years.

The beautiful and elegant Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville

On Friday night, my sister, Elena Saporta, and I spent the night in one of the car-oriented motel-hotels along Highway 441 — a commercial corridor full of strip shopping centers only a couple of miles outside of central Milledgeville.

All the chain stores and eateries are well represented on the strip along the five-lane or six-lane road. It’s a place where people go but it’s not a place where people want to stay.

By comparison, the elegance and soul of Milledgeville rests in its historic heart — where Southern mansions and beautiful trees — from magnolias to oaks — provide visual and environmental comfort.

The Antebellum Inn's Jane Lorenz hangs out with David on the back steps of the bed-and-breakfast

On Saturday, we were fortunate to be able to stay in the most wonderful place in town — the Antebellum Inn — (several months ago it had already been fully booked for the Friday night before graduation).

The bed-and-breakfast is only a block away from the college and just a couple of blocks away from the Hancock Street — the commercial core of the town.

Now this is place where one wants to linger — where one wants to savor the smells of gardenias and feel the refreshing shade from the old growth trees. Large porches with rocking chairs. Sidewalks full of people. Places built before air-conditioning with natural ventilation and built-in shade.

Andalusia — Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville

I’ve been staying at the Antebellum Inn since David started going to Georgia College four years ago. Jane Lorenz, the owner, has become a welcome friend and a real asset for the Milledgeville community.

Unlike the commercial strip on 441, downtown Milledgeville is a place that draws tourists. They come to see the old governor’s mansion and the historic homes. Historical markers are sprinkled on almost every block — giving context to our past and present.

A garden at Lockerly Arboretum in Milledgeville

During this weekend visit, we were able to visit two other attractions in the Milledgeville area. We went to see Flannery O’Connor’s home — Andalusia — where she spent the last 14 years of her life — her most productive years as a writer.
We also went to Lockerly Arboretum, a public garden and horticultural educational center. The property includes the Rose Hill Mansion, which was built in 1839. and was said to have been given its name because of the Cherokee roses that decorated the site.

On our way back to Atlanta, Elena and I visited several historic downtowns — Eatonton, Madison, Rutledge and Social Circle — and we were taken by the unique spirit of each town center. Again, it was a stark contrast from the anywhere U.S.A. commercial strips that all look painfully alike.

A pecan grove between Madison and Milledgeville

Elena and I are both “city girls.” She lives in Cambridge, Ma., and I’ve been living in the center of Atlanta my whole life.

Our visit on back Georgia roads reconfirmed what I’ve always felt. The most appealing places are not just cities and vibrant historic town centers. They also are those great expanses of nature — pecan groves, national forest, state parks, farms and pastures with bushels of hay.

A sign in front of a home in Social Circle against the clear cutting of trees in state parks

It’s the in-between environments — places that are neither city or country — that are the least inviting. Those are the places that have been developed around the car rather than environments that have been cultivated for people and living things.

Spending the weekend in Milledgeville during a momentous time in my son’s life just reinforced what’s most important in our personal lives and in our communities.

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12 comments
Ken Bleakly
Ken Bleakly

Maria: Great article and congrats to your son.  I just took my daughter to visit Georgia College and was blown away by the college and Milledgeville.  It is one of Georgia's great communities.  Hats off to the campus planners and Regents for keeping the college downtown when it woud have been so easy to build it on the edges of the town.  Instead, they have created a true walkable gem, built around the bones of the existing older campus.  Georgia has many wonderful college towns like Valdosta, Dahlonega, Savannah, and LaGrange, they create a truly special quality of life for the students and their residents.  You captured that special feeling so well in your article. 

M M Conservancy
M M Conservancy

"The most appealing places are not just cities and vibrant historic town centers. They also are those great expanses of nature — pecan groves, national forest, state parks, farms and pastures with bushels of hay."  We at the Madison-Morgan Conservancy couldn't agree more! Our mission is to provide public education on conservation matters and to protect and enhance the heritage and quality of life of the residents of Morgan County by preserving historic sites, greenspace, farmland, and timberland.  We are also have a Farm to Table initiative that support local farms to insure that Atlantan's have a access to local food.  We also have a guide to farms and festivals in central Georgia.  Visit our website: www.mmcGeorgia.org.  Better yet, become a member!

Frank
Frank

I have traveled through Milledgeville several times and stopped to see the sights a couple of times.  Andalusia is definitely worth seeing as well as the historic places in town.  The last time I went to Milledgeville, I drove up from Dublin on US 441 which is a lovely four-lane divided highway with no virtually no cars.  Here we are in metro Atlanta strangling on our traffic with inadequate transit while other parts of the state enjoy beautiful traffic-free highways.  Still, I got to Milledgeville in record time and had time to drive around the city and have a nice non-fast food meal before getting on up to Eatonton and Madison and I-20 for the rest of the trip to Atlanta. 

 

I congratulate your son for his choice of college and for his graduation.  I think GCSU is a state treasure. 

Mike
Mike

Nice article, but you got one fact wrong:  Milledgeville was not the first capital of Georgia.  It was actually one of Georgia's other small towns, Louisville, which was capital from 1796 to 1806 when Milledgeville became the capital.

DonJackson
DonJackson

We also love Milledgeville - downtown - GCSU has done a wonderful job of keeping the downtown area alive - though some old timers complain that downtown M'ville is just a bunch of restaurants and bars for the "college crowd" - it still reminds us of the small town we where grew up, fell in love, and got married.

sarahcannon
sarahcannon

It was a sad day when my family sold my grandparents' antebellum home in Milledgeville a few years ago. No one in the family lived in the area, and insuring an uninhabited 150-year-old house was price-prohibitive. Thankfully the home was purchased by GCSU and now houses its Admissions Office. The university should be commended for its work preserving historic buildings in the area.

alida
alida

On what was clearly a very happy occasion, you captured something essential about places and people in your article:  the importance of sense of place and maintaining a sense of place through the years so that those who come later can feel connected to the place and those who contributed to its creation.  We human beings need connection.  And cities also have a soul and historic heart - unless they have destroyed them.  Fortunately, there is still hope for Atlanta or at least those of us who live in her historic neighborhood districts soldier on.  And those who understand about the sense of place stand up for places that evoke our past and connect us to our past.  The latest example is the upcoming hearing on the Crum & Forster building in Midtown's Tech Square, a very urban and lively little area that needs the nearby Biltmore Hotel and the Crum & Forster for a more vital, interesting 'look' that indicates that the area has a past that was vital and interesting and still important.

Kay Powell
Kay Powell

I lived in Milledgeville for years and still regularly stay with friends on Lake Sinclair. Congrats to your son and on your finding this Georgia jewel.

Terry Lawler
Terry Lawler

Wonderful story Maria.  And congratulations to you and your son on a wonderful achievement.  He couldn't have done it without Mom!  

Milledgeville, and all of Georgia's small towns, have so much personality to offer, even those inside I-285.  Folks should get off the interstate more often and see what makes our state so great; its friendly and charming people.  

KarinPendleyKoser
KarinPendleyKoser

Congrats, Maria on David's success! And you are so right, this is a beautiful part of Georgia!

 

atlurbanist
atlurbanist

This is the way to see Georgia, taking the small roads and looking at well-preserved historic downtowns like these. Traveling on the interstate is, as Charles Kuralt said, a great way to drive across the country without really seeing any of it. And, as you point out, the developments closest to the interstate exits are all those big-box anchored shopping strips full of chains that look exactly alike. That's no way to find the real character of a place.

 

Some of my favorite downtown to visit are those is Thomasville, Washington, Rome and Acworth.

 

Speaking of, the GA Dept of Natural Resources is currently having a contest for photos of historic downtowns:

http://georgiashpo.org/2012contest

Ken
Ken

Actually, Mike you also miss the mark. Considering Georgia was one of the first 13 colonies/states 1796 would be awfully late for a capital!  Milledgeville was the 4th capital (not counting temporary meeting places).  Here's the list: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville, and Atlanta.