ATLANTA — As a city, Atlanta is both an economic powerhouse and a draw for both business and leisure tourists from around the globe.
But for visitors to The Peach State, the Empire City of the South is often the beginning, middle and the end. No disrespect to the ATL, but it’s just the one worthy destination in any Georgia excursion.
The state of 10 million is home to diverse regions, from mountains to beaches to rolling farmland and everything in between. Plus, a little bit of time away from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta will reveal a serene side to the state so often defined by Atlanta’s legendary traffic jams.
For those looking to explore more of the Empire State of the South, here are five small towns worth exploring.
Dahlonega: Home of the nation’s first gold rush
Dahlonega’s place in the annals of history was forever sealed in 1828 when gold was discovered in the area. The nation’s first major gold rush attracted miners by the thousands, but that growth slowed by 1849.
Though the rush soon faded into history, its impact on the town and region is today on display in the 1836 Lumpkin County Courthouse in the center of town. Home to the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site, the state park is a testament to the impact of that first major gold rush.
The museum’s collection includes exhibits about how gold is mined, tools miners used and actual samples of gold. The building features wooden seats from 1889 and the judge’s chambers.
Greensboro: Lakefront living, small-town charm
This charming little city is often a passing through point for people heading to Lake Oconee. But, this quaint town of 3,300, located about 75 miles east of Atlanta, is home to charming history and friendly residents.
For starters, visit The Old Rock Gaol in downtown Greensboro. Built about 1807 and used until 1895, the jail features granite walls two-feet-thick and is modeled after bastilles; it is the oldest standing masonry jail in the state.
Open by appointment, visitors can see where executions by hanging took place.
Cartersville: Deep history just outside Atlanta
For many, this exurb situated about 40 miles north of Atlanta is just an exit off the interstate. But, this city of about 20,000 is steeped in history and offers a surprising number of attractions, and given its proximity to Interstate 75, it’s an easy drive from Atlanta.
For starters, visit the Etowah Indian Mounds. The Mounds have survived for centuries and offer a one-of-a-kind look at a bygone civilization.
Folkston: Come for the swamp, stay for the trains
Nearly all Florida-bound freight trains pass through the city’s limits pass through Folkston. But rather than letting that serve as an annoyance, the city — known as the “Gateway to the Okefenokee” — embraced the railroad.
In 2001, with the help of a $30,000 state grant and inmate labor, the city opened a train viewing platform in downtown Folkston. The platform has fans, lights and a scanner that allows railfans to listen in on railroad radio traffic and help judge the direction and load of the next inbound freight, and railfans from around the country gather by the dozens on the platform downtown to catch the action, opting to visit the viewing platform.
Some, allegedly, even make it to the Okefenokee Swamp.
Elberton: A city solid as a rock
Granite, one could say, is the foundation of society. Particularly here in Northeast Georgia where the small hamlet of Elberton, perched just a few miles from the Georgia-South Carolina state line, established its role as the state’s granite producing capital in the years after the Civil War.
Today, the small town of about 4,700 located claims the title of “Granite Capital of the World.” As a tribute to the rock steady industry, the Elberton Granite Museum opened in 1981.
The free museum is dedicated to telling the story of how granite is produced and its impact on this small town is on display in the form of artifacts, photographs and whimsical anecdotes. It’s also home to a more whimsical display about “Dutchy.” The Confederate monument was erected in 1898, but so enraged locals that it was toppled one night and buried beneath the town square for nearly 85 years.