Athens begins Georgia's antebellum trail and showcases several buildings of note, many centered around the University of Georgia.
Taylor-Grady House, 634 Prince Ave. (tel. 706/549-8688; www.taylorgradyhouse.com), a Greek Revival home constructed in the 1840s by Gen. Robert Taylor, planter and cotton merchant, is open year-round. Filled with period furniture, it has 13 columns said to symbolize the original 13 states. Henry W. Grady, a native of Athens, lived here from 1865 to 1868. As managing editor of the Atlanta Constitution, he became a spokesperson for the New South. Admission is $3. Hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm; closed 1 to 2pm. Warning: Call ahead, as the house is sometimes booked for private events.
Athens's Double Barreled Cannon is the only one of its kind in the world and is among the most unusual relics preserved from the Civil War. It was designed by John Gilleland and built at a local foundry in 1863. The concept was to load the cannon with two balls connected by a chain several feet in length. When fired, the balls and chain would whirl out, bola style, and cut down the unfortunate enemy soldiers caught in the path of this murderous missile. It stands on the City Hall lawn at College and Hancock avenues.
The Tree That Owns Itself, at Dearing and Finley streets, is another Athens landmark. William H. Jackson, a professor at the University of Georgia, owned the land on which a large oak stood. He took such delight in the shade of the tree that he willed the tree 8 feet of land surrounding its trunk. The original tree blew down in a windstorm in 1942. The local garden club planted a sapling on the land in 1946, grown from one of the acorns from the original tree. Locals refer to the tree as "the world's most unusual heir and property owner."
The main campus of the University of Georgia extends 2 miles south from "the arch" at College Avenue and Broad Street. For information, call tel. 706/542-3000 or visit www.uga.edu/visctr. The current campus was established in 1801. John Milledge, late governor of the state, purchased and gave the board of trustees the chosen tract of 633 acres on the banks of the Oconee River. The view from the hill on which the 1832 Chapel now stands reminded Milledge of the Acropolis in Athens, and the hill was named after its Greek forebear, the classical center of learning. The school produced its first graduating class in 1804. Later funds were raised for the first permanent structure on campus, Old College (1806), which still stands today.
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, 2450 S. Milledge Ave. (tel. 706/542-1244; www.uga.edu/botgarden), encompassing 313 acres, is a "living laboratory" in teaching and research that is open to the public. Its three-story conservatory features a display of tropical and semitropical plants. Along the garden's 5 miles of nature trails are diverse ecosystems, with many plants labeled. There are nearly a dozen specialty gardens. The garden lies a mile from U.S. 441, about 3 miles from the university campus. Admission is free; it's open daily 8am to sunset. A visitor center and the conservatory are open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 4:30pm and on Sunday 11:30am to 4:30pm. Grounds open daily April to September 8am to 8pm and October to March 8am to 6pm.
The Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton St. (tel. 706/542-4662; www.uga.edu/gamuseum), is the official state art museum, offering an extensive collection of American paintings, prints, and drawings in a new 52,000-square-foot facility. It is currently closed through 2011, though scheduled events are still open to the public during the closure; call or check the website for the calendar of events.
Founders Memorial Garden and Houses, 325 S. Lumpkin St. on the University of Georgia campus (tel. 706/542-4776; www.uga.edu/gardenclub/foundersgarden.html), became the first garden club in the United States, founded in 1891 by 12 Athens women. Set on 2 1/2 acres, it offers varying landscapes and the seasonal foliage of a Southern garden. Plantings range from the native to the exotic, and the gardens are a particular delight in spring when the azaleas burst into bloom. The boxwood garden evokes the formality of bygone ages, and the camellia walk is notable. Admission is free, and the garden is open during daylight hours.
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