More than 150 years of that history come alive today through Sunday along 100 miles stretching from Athens to Macon.
The Antebellum Trail Pilgrimage highlights historic sites in those two cities and five others: Watkinsville, Madison, Eatonton, Milledgeville and Old Clinton near Gray.
Jim Turner, executive director of the Old Governor’s Mansion on the campus of Georgia College and State University, remembers when the trail was just a vision.
“It’s a collaborative effort of all the historic sites on the trail,” Turner said. “We look forward every year to the Antebellum Trail Pilgrimage. It’s another opportunity for us to showcase not only the Governor’s Mansion, but historic sites in Milledgeville as well.”
The stately home of Georgia’s governors from 1839-1868 was restored to its 1851 splendor in a an almost $10-million project at the turn of the 21st century.
From the 23-karat gold of the rotunda to rustic slave quarters, the building demonstrates varied Civil War lifestyles. A “Labor Behind the Veil” tour, by appointment only, focuses on slave life and the contributions of blacks to the city’s history.
While the governor was in residence, his staff slept in a nearby bedroom that is included on the tour.
The clerks and messengers bedroom features furniture belonging to Gov. Joseph Brown that was donated by his descendants.
“Each (governor) had his own secretary and his own messenger, generally a young man with a good pair of legs,” Turner said.
All of the current furnishings date back before the Civil War in the building that figured prominently in the conflict.
“This is where Gen. Sherman headquartered during the war,” Turner said.
New on the Antebellum Trail Pilgrimage this year is the Sallie Davis House, built in Milledgeville in 1890. The former home of a pioneering black educator was restored in recent years.
Deitrah Taylor, a program assistant at the house, continues to research Davis’ life.
“Anytime you open a new historic museum, the stories and the artifacts are amazing because (people) are hearing this for the first time,” Taylor said. Sallie’s is a personal home, but Sallie was a teacher, and teachers touch everyone. It’s more relatable.”
Pilgrams on the tour set their own pace and plot their own course with stops at some of the state’s most popular tourist attractions and some private homes not usually open for tours.
In Old Clinton, the McCarthy-Pope House believed to date back to 1809, The Pine Ridge School from the late 1800s and the 1810 Parrish-Billue House are highlighted.
Tickets are $25 per person, or $20 with groups of 10 or more, and can be purchased at any of the welcome centers along the trail. Passes can be used all locations.
“The fact that you can purchase tickets for four days in seven communities, I think is a great deal,” said Jane Sowell, executive director of the Milledgeville Convention and Vistors Bureau.
The two-hour Historic Trolley Tour of Milledgeville will be included at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Special performances are also scheduled in Athens during the four days.
In the Ware-Lyndon House, a flute concert is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday at 293 Hoyt St.
The Athens Welcome Center celebrates its 40th anniversary with “Birthday Cake & Bubbly” at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
For more information or to buy tickets online, log onto http://www.antebellumtrail.org/pilgrimagetrail.htm, where you will also find brochures and suggested itineraries.
Turner expects larger crowds at the mansion this year as communities commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
“All Civil War buffs are interested to see where Gen. Sherman stopped.”