I’ve been wanting to do some sort of series to highlight areas that have a special importance to me, or to where I enjoy traveling. Since I’m not really able to travel at the moment, I figured this would be as good of a time as any.
I can’t say Milledgeville is my hometown. But, I do call it the nearest civilization to where I grew up. It was the closest Wal-Mart, Shoney’s, and McDonald’s. As a child of the late 1980s, that was what was important then. As I grew, it became so much more to me. It grew to trips to the library, my first job, starting college, graduating and beginning the next degree, my first professional job, meeting my wife, my wedding, and starting our home together.
Unlike most of the counties around us, Baldwin only has one city – Milledgeville. But that is not our biggest claim to fame. We are a designed capitol city and was the seat of state government from 1804 until 1868 when it moved to Atlanta. The two main governmental buildings remain, along with many antebellum homes and historic sites.
As a planned capitol, the downtown area was designed as a grid centered around four public squares. One to hold the statehouse, one for the executive mansion, one for a state penitentiary, and one for a cemetery. Due to the weight of the executive mansion, it could not be built in the planned area due to poor drainage and it had to be moved to the top of a nearby hill. The Mansion is now operated by Georgia College & State University and is a National Historic Landmark, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and is the belle of downtown and a highlight not to be missed.
Up the hill to the center of town is the Old Capital Building. As The Mansion is operated by Georgia College, “The Castle” is now the primary building for Georgia Military College. This building was the site of the Georgia Succession Convention in 1861. In addition to this main building, the former state house square also houses several houses of worship including St. Stephens’ Episcopal Church.
These buildings, along with the rest of the town, were occupied as part of Sherman’s March to the Sea near the end of The Civil War and many local stories persist of the damages done by the invading troops. But the city hosted more welcomed visitors as well. Alexis de Tocqueville and Marquis de Lafayette both visited the capitol following the American Revolution. And today, as a center of educational, historical, and recreational tourism, it welcomes many others today.
No visit is complete without a coffee from Blackbird or dinner at The Brick. Just be sure to include breakfast at The Local Yolkal Cafe and lunch at one of the other restaurants downtown. If you want a burger (my personal preference when traveling), you can’t beat Buffington’s or The Velvet Elvis.
As I mentioned, downtown is home to both Georgia College & State University and Georgia Military College. Georgia College is the state’s designated public liberal arts university and focuses on that mission. Serving nearly 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students across four colleges, the institution also is the home of Old Governors’ Mansion, Andalusia (the home of writer Flannery O’Connor), and several other museums and cultural programs. The departments of music and theatre present a full schedule of performances throughout the academic year.
Likewise, Georgia Military College provides both a college preparatory school as well as associate degree programs both at their main campus in Milledgeville, but also around the state. Both of the schools are my alma mater, and I’m proud fo the effect both of them have had on my life.
In addition to the downtown treasures, the county has much more to offer. I’ve already mentioned Andalusia, which is currently closed for renovations but is an amazing site. In the south of the county, Lockerly Arboretum is a true hidden gem. Driving down the historic 441 business route is easy to pass it as you’re leaving the south side of town. But for those who know where to find it, it offers a peaceful respite from the hustle of downtown. Rose Hill stands as the center point for this relaxing oasis. While for years it was used for corporate retreats, it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The grounds provide walking trails and breathtaking nature scenes featuring a plethora of flora and wildlife.
Central State Hospital
Further south is the institution most associated with Milledgeville between the capitol period through the late 20th century is Central State Hospital, originally founded as the State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum in 1842. The institution grew to the largest asylum in the world by the mid-1900s, but as the dawn of 21st century arrived, changing treatment protocols and disbursed availability led to its closure and ongoing redevelopment. Many of the buildings still stand, but most are condemned due to outdated construction materials and structural insecurity. Because of this, it’s best to admire them from afar.
From the Antebellum Capitol and the world’s largest asylum, Milledgeville has grown to be a center of higher education and recreation, the later due to Lake Sinclair and nearby Lake Oconee. Each summer, the population increases exponentially as the weekend population rolls in to enjoy the sun and waves.
Milledgeville is full of history. From treaty breaking invasion of the Trans-Oconee Republic, to state houses built on slave labor, to mental health, to higher education. The community itself is a reminder that even though doing the best that is possible at the moment is not enough when viewed through the lens of history. The culture has changed, but some of the problems still remain. There’s a disparity between the lake country in the north, the blight of the southside, and agricultural fields on the edge of the county. There is always something to ponder. And always something to enjoy. And in downtown, everyone comes together for great food, great concerts, and a common idea of making our community better for our children, just as our parents have done for us.
Have you visited Milledgeville? Leave some of your favorite experiences and recommendations as a comment!