As reported in my last blog, I just spent a week at Scout Camp at Camp Thunder in Molena, Georgia. The camp is located in Pike County on the banks of the Flint River, about 55 miles south of Atlanta. We had an awesome week at camp. Uncharacteristically for me, I did not do a lot of research on the general area before heading out. But, along the way I made some interesting discoveries about this area of central Georgia.
On Sunday afternoon, following a day at Six Flags over Georgia, we left Atlanta and headed south on I-85 on our way to camp. We bailed off the Interstate at Newnan, Georgia and it was immediately obvious that we weren’t in Hotlanta anymore, Scarlett. The area is beautiful. Not in a breathtaking sense, like the Smokey Mountains or the coastal plains, but in a very simple comforting way. Mostly piney woods set on rolling hills, the place feels like home. You immediately encounter farmhouses and wide fields. There were definitely more cows grazing in the pastures than there were people around. Our route down U.S. 27A took us through a succession of quaint, sleepy little towns. Newnan, Manchester, Greenville. Mostly well kept white frame houses with wide front porches and lots of windows. Newnan, the county seat of Coweta County, and Greenville, the county seat of Meriwether County, both were anchored by a large courthouse square complete with huge domed Colonial style courthouses, complete with a clock.
As we progressed down 27A, I made my first really cool discovery. As a was trying to watch the road and follow my GPS, I suddenly passed a sign that said “Moreland GA Corporate Limits”. I knew exactly where I was. And the next, much bigger sign confirmed it. “Welcome to Moreland GA, Hometown of LEWIS GRIZZARD”. Now some of you may not know of or remember Lewis, but if you are a dedicated fan like me, that was like finding a “George Washington slept here” sign or getting invited to dinner at John Wayne’s house.
Lewis was a columnist, writer, humorist and television actor. After graduating from Georgia, Lewis started out, at the ripe old age of 23, as the Sports Editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Later he started writing a 4-5 times a week column for The Journal, which was eventually syndicated in over 450 newspapers around the country. Above all, Lewis was a Southern and made no apologies about it. His wit and wisdom hit everything from sports, to politics to relationships. But he most often wrote about the conversion of the “New South” and how that was seen by those of us who had lived here all of our lives. When you read his columns or books, you would very often laugh out loud at what he had to say. He was somewhat controversial at times. One time, a newspaper “up North” declined to pick up his column, claiming that it was “too Southern”. True to form, Lewis penned a column that started out with “Too Southern? That is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as TOO Southern!”. He wrote many books and I used to have them all, with great titles like “Shoot Low Boys, They’re Ridin’ Shetland Ponies” to “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes!”. He even made a number of guest appearances on “Designing Women” as the Sugarbaker sisters black sheep brother.
Unfortunately, Lewis died in 1994 at the age of 47 from complications from a congenital heart defect. But, just riding through town brought back a lot of good memories. If you have never had the pleasure of partaking of his humor, here is a favorite video of mine:
And, if you listen to this one, you will know why I laughed when I saw the sign for Hogansville, Georgia:
We made it to the camp, and I spent Monday getting the lay of the land and helping the Scouts find where their classes where and figuring out the schedule along with various and sundry other adult leader duties. On Tuesday, I decided it was time to play some golf. So, I headed out to find the closest golf course. My trip took me through Molena, Woodbury Zebulon and to the outskirts of Griffin. That trip confirmed what I had started to realize on Sunday afternoon; this place if rural. Really rural. Not in a bad way, but in a comforting, sit on the porch, drink sweet tea and watch the sun go down sorta way. The closest big towns are Atlanta, which is 75 miles north, or Columbus, which is 65 miles east. You could tell that farming and raising cattle where the primary sources of income around hear for many years. You could drive for miles without passing another car, but when you did, they always waved.
Another thing I noticed was how many churches I passed along the route. Apparently this area is deeply religious, in a real Southern sort of way. There seemed to be a Baptist Church every few miles, with an occasional Methodist one sprinkled in from time to time.
According to the Census Bureau, 70% of Georgians identify themselves as Protestants. Around here, that means Baptist. Southern Baptist. They report that there are around 600,000 Methodists in Georgia. And there are still three times as many Baptists as there are Methodists. And, if you are a Presbyterian or Episcopalian, you have to go “to town”, like Griffin or Greenville, to worship. I don’t recall passing a single Catholic Church at all, which is quite strange if you are from South Louisiana.
Speaking of churches, on the road from Molena to Zebulon, I made a fascinating discovery. About halfway down Hwy 109, I discovered the Mount Olive Baptist Church, established in 1827.
I continued down the road about 100 hundred yards. Only about 100 yards, on the opposite side of the road, was the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.
You can literally stand in the parking lot and see the original Mount Olive Baptist Church across the road:
You might think that it is great that the folks out there are so religious that they need two churches across the road from each other. But, as a Baptist myself, I am betting there is a really good split story in there somewhere.
I finally found the golf course on the outskirts of Griffin. If you are a Walking Dead fan, you might know that they film the show in and around Griffin. In fact, they were reportedly filming there the day I was in town. The Golf Course was called Morgan’s Dairy Golf Club. It was a very pretty 18 hole course that had, in fact, been a dairy farm at one time. I liked it, but there were some strange moments. Like the ball I lost in the old sawmill on the right of the fairway. And on number 16, you play the fairway behind the old milk barn.
On the way back, I missed a turn on Hwy 41. As I was looking for a place to turn around. I noticed a historical marker along the side of the road and decided to check it out. When I got to where I could read it, the title said, and I am not making this up, “FIRST PAVEMENT”. It seems that in 1924, the people of Spaulding County completed a road program, which left Spaulding as the only county in the United States between Miami and Chicago to have a paved road from county line to county line. An achievement which they are still apparently pretty proud of.
Wednesday, I headed to Warm Springs, Georgia to see President Roosevelt’s Little White House. Warm Springs is only about 15 miles from Camp Thunder and some of our boys were taking a field trip there for their Citizenship in the Nation class. I like historical stuff, so I decided to drive on over. Warm Springs is a nice little town. The tour of the house and museum was very interesting. I might pen a future blog on that in the future. However, there is one story I feel compelled to share. As we were touring the cottage, we got to see President Roosevelt’s bedroom and bathroom. For whatever reason, as I stood there, I just felt compelled to take this picture:
I turned to my friend Mel Martin and said it may be strange, but I had to take that. Not many people can say the saw a commode where the President of the United States use to have bowel movement. Maybe it is a guy thing, but Mel smiled and said “I think that’s why I like you. I was just thinking the exact same thing.” Great minds think alike they say.
After the tour, Mel and I decided to find something for lunch. The lady at the Little White house recommended the Bulloch House. I am so glad she did. It is a huge Victorian style house that has been converted into a buffet style restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine. The buffet was awesome; 20 feet of delicious home cooked food like my Momma used to make. We feasted on meatloaf, fried chicken, chicken pot pie, fried green tomatoes, black eyed peas, cabbage, hot biscuits, cornbread and sweet tea, topped off by a piece of homemade caramel cake, all for under $20. I think there was also a salad bar, but I can’t be sure. It was certainly better that whatever they were serving in the dining hall at camp that day.
Another interesting thing I discovered is that the people in Pike, Upton and Meriwether counties are still Southerners. I mean real, old fashioned, down home Southerners. Everywhere you went, you were greeted with a smile and a kind word. And the kind words were spoken in a drawl about as thick and sweet as homemade cane syrup on a cold winter morning. They maintain a different pace. They move slower and don’t get excited, but that allows them to observe the genteel pleasantries of life. While some might find it strange, it was comforting and familiar to be greeted by total strangers who call you “Sugar”, “Honey” or “Baby” or hearing them “Bless your heart”. One day I went to Woodbury to buy 4 bags of ice. I was having a hard time keeping the bags on the counter, paying for my purchase and getting my wallet back in my pocket. Saying anything else, the older gentleman in line behind me grabbed two of the bags and simply said “Whatcha riding in.” Something like that has not happened to me in years.
All in all, it was an interesting trip. While I don’t see the area as a major tourist destination, if you want some down home, old time religion, cooking and hospitality, it might be worth a visit, especially if you are already in the Atlanta area.