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Small Towns, Great Stories

May 15, 2024
Explore the great stories behind the small towns along the trail.


In the heart of Eatonton, a small Southern town embraced by the Georgia landscape, a captivating tale unfolded—a narrative deeply interwoven with the roots of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. This enchanting town, where Walker spent her formative years, became the fertile soil from which her literary brilliance blossomed. Born and raised in the tight-knit community, Walker’s journey from these quaint streets to global acclaim is a testament to the extraordinary narratives that emerge from seemingly ordinary places. The echoes of Eatonton resonate in Walker’s words, particularly in her iconic work “The Color Purple,” where she delves deep into the complexities of race, gender, and societal dynamics.

Venture into Eatonton, and you’ll find yourself stepping into the very scenes that inspired Walker’s literary masterpieces. The Alice Walker Driving Tour offers a curated journey through the pivotal locations of her upbringing—a literary pilgrimage that reveals the profound influence of small-town life. From the home where she first put pen to paper to the familiar places that sparked her imagination, every corner of Eatonton whispers the story of Walker’s transformative journey. In these small towns, great stories emerge, leaving an enduring legacy that transcends both time and place.

Entrance to Andrews Family Legacy exhibit at Madison-Morgan Cultural Center


Madison unveils a collection of captivating stories that enrich its unique character, beginning with the Andrews family’s legacy. Originating as sharecroppers in the heart of the South, the Andrews family cultivated more than crops—they nurtured a lineage of writers, artists, and civic leaders. Their collective work serves as a poignant chronicle of navigating life as Black individuals in the rural, segregated South. Through their art, the Andrews family transcended the confines of Morgan County, leaving a lasting mark on culture and society. Today, at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, visitors can immerse themselves in the authentic narratives of the Andrews family, as the exhibition “The Andrews Family Legacy: Rooted in the Agriculture and Arts of Morgan County” unveils the compelling intersection of rural life and artistic expression that defines this extraordinary family’s story.

“The House that Changed a Georgia Law,” the 1850 Nathan Bennett House in Madison, stands as a testament to a pivotal moment in history. Inherited by Amanda Cardwell from her father, the house faced an unexpected turn of events when, in 1863, her husband, Junius Smith, lost it in a poker game to James Mann. As Mann sought to claim his winnings, a legal battle ensued, eventually reaching the Georgia Legislature. The outcome was the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1869, a groundbreaking decision allowing married women to inherit property separately. While the law came too late to save Amanda’s home, it marked a significant milestone for Southern women’s rights. Today, the Nathan Bennett House, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, stands as a living monument to the enduring impact of this landmark legal case.

Madison also boasts the tale of local legend of Joshua Hill, a congressman whose pivotal role during Sherman’s “March to the Sea” is said to have preserved the town from devastation. A staunch Unionist, Hill, despite his son’s Confederate service, negotiated with General Sherman to spare Madison during the destructive march in 1864. His plea to spare civilian structures ensured that most homes and businesses escaped the ravages of war. As Reconstruction unfolded, Hill’s political journey continued, making him Georgia’s first Republican Senator in 1871, leaving an enduring mark on Madison’s history.


The Grand Opera House unfolds tales of greatness, where historic echoes resonate with performances by luminaries like Broadway’s icons Lillian Russell and Maude Adams (Broadway’s original Peter Pan). It bears witness to the mystifying illusions of Harry Houdini, who cut nine doors into the Grand’s stage for his illusions, one of which has been preserved. The grand stage also hosted the grace of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and became a vibrant space during the Southern Rock explosion, featuring legendary bands like The Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band. Today, the Grand Opera House stands proudly as the home of the Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra, where it continues to weave captivating stories with nationally touring Broadway productions and an array of live musical and theatrical performances.

The story of Otis Redding is a story of love for a city and community that has transcended generations – interlaced with Macon’s music heritage. The King of Soul arrived in Macon at two and he would go on to meet Macon native, Little Richard, in his teen years and join the Pinetoppers band in 1958 with Johnny Jenkins, another Macon native. Recording hits like “These Arms of Mine,” Otis not only left a lasting imprint on music but his legacy also lives on through the Otis Redding Foundation, impacting youth with musical education and a mini museum on Cotton Avenue showcasing rare memorabilia. Learn more about Otis and Macon’s other music legends via the Macon Music Trail on the Tour Macon mobile app.


In 1891, Athens proudly became home to the inaugural garden club in America, a testament to its enduring commitment to horticulture. Fast forward to the 1930s, and the collaborative efforts of the Garden Club of Georgia and the University of Georgia landscape architecture department brought forth a captivating tribute – the Founders Memorial Garden. Sprawling across 2.5 acres, this verdant sanctuary showcases over 300 species, including historic trees, shrubs, and perennials. Adorned with a formal boxwood garden, two courtyards, a terrace, a sunken perennial garden, and an informal arboretum surrounding a historic residence, kitchen building, and smokehouse, the garden radiates tranquility. At its heart stands the Lumpkin House, an iconic rose-brick Greek Revival-style structure, originally erected in 1857. Serving as an active hub within the Founders Memorial Garden, the Lumpkin House, the first recorded address on Lumpkin Street, adds historical depth to the landscape. Recognized on both the National and Georgia Registers of Historic Places, this garden earned its place among the top 100 “landscapes of significance” in the United States, as acknowledged by the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999.