First in a series along Georgia’s Antebellum Trail---year-round discoveries with special extras Apr. 18 – 21. New ways to experience Macon, Clinton, Milledgeville, Eatonton, Madison, Watkinsville and Athens.

MACON, Georgia — Yankee me following the Antebellum Trail in middle Georgia got goose bumps. Repeatedly.

Something powerful about visiting homes where families grappled with big passions, and something daunting about visiting places where secession was drafted.

Remarkable thing about this 100-mile Trail of seven communities is the abundant look into 19th century life – and earlier. Not glimpses; plenty of in-depth here backed with scholarly research.

Enter the back edge of the Civil War, not the battlefield center. This Trail connected me to Revolutionary War veterans and families too -- in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

The years leading to the 1860s are the focus and the Antebellum Trail adds special events each spring for the Pilgrimage.

Walk by the rest of the year 
but go inside the Ezell-Tatum 
Queen Anne Victorian house in Eatonton
during the Apr. 18-21 Pilgrimage.
Photo courtesy Eatonton-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

Choose Apr. 18 – 21 and you’ll get inside private 19th century homes and experience behind-the-scenes museum collection tours.

Expect additional docents and events in house museums, restaurants anticipating “pilgrims” and communities providing extra touches.

For instance, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens is offering a guided tour of their decorative arts collection Sunday, Apr. 21 at 1:00 p.m.

The focus? Items of significance to Georgia during the antebellum period. I got a sneak preview of the 1850s silver olive spoon, especially interesting since olives are growing again in Georgia.

$25 is the complete Pilgrimage cost. That’s entrance to everything, every town. Total. No individual entry fees these four days with the pass, available at each community’s welcome center.

Find those addresses on the Antebellum Trail website.

Take a group of 10 or more and pay only $20. For every admission.

I started in Macon and enjoyed my sojourn to Athens; seems all would work well north to south too. Claim half the experiences if you start in the middle.

This 1850s olive spoon manufactured 
by J. Hayden is among the rarely seen treasures 
in the decorative arts collection 
of the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens. 
Take a special tour Apr. 21 during the Pilgrimage.
Photo courtesy Georgia Museum of Art

Here’s a rambling, scattered smattering of the treats I found in the middle – beyond the obvious experiences -- to help keep your eye out. 

Eatonton is the antebellum 1848 birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris so go to the Uncle Remus Museum.

50th anniversary of the museum celebrations will be held every Sunday in April and that means you can also visit Turnwold, the plantation where young Harris listened to folk tales told by plantation slaves.

Go to the source. You know these tales.

Eatonton historian Jim Marshall will lead the Sunday afternoon tours, maximum 25 people, an opportunity not available the rest of the year. $15 charge for this.

T. R. R. and Marion Cobb lived 
in this grand house in Athens 
after their 1844 marriage. 
Visitors today see furnishings 
representing its 1852 era.

Connect to Br’er Rabbit in deeper ways thanks to this Antebellum Trail Pilgrimage opportunity. Much more depth than the Disney version.

Change your mind right now if you lack enthusiasm for visiting the Old School History Museum in Eatonton.

This is classy. And fascinating. The National Endowment for the Humanities thinks so too.

Head for the corner with the 1840 weathervane and look up. Used to show the wind direction on top of the Denham Tannery until 62,204 Union troops came to Eatonton and burned the tannery where shoes for Confederate troops were made.

Descendants of the freedman who fashioned this weathervane have come to see it. Honored that I could too.

So have string musicians with the Kazanetti Quarter. This museum is also an arts center, performance hall, visual arts gallery, arts classroom and setting for outdoor dances.

Lunch and dinner at HannaH’s in downtown Eatonton is a fine idea: casual place, skilled chef.

Sleep in Watkinsville because the Ashford Manor wraps visitors in history and hospitality. Choose the 1840s cottage with three suites if you are an antebellum purist or the main house, an 1893 Queen Anne.

Almost 10 acres, four terraces, sumptuous breakfast in your room, on the porch or lawns, in the dining room, whatever time you say.

Artland, Watkinsville is often called and one antebellum way to enter that reality is in the 1827 Haygood House, now home and gallery for Jerry and Kathy Chappelle.

As if their fine pottery weren’t reason enough, 125 artists have works here.

Frontier is antebellum too 
and the Eagle Tavern 
in Watkinsville portrays 
in detail traveling life circa 1801.

1801 is the antebellum frontier year the Eagle Tavern was built in Watkinsville, today fully furnished with immense detail, history stories told by costumed interpreters.

Stirring for me to stand in front of the iconic George Washington portrait in a business on land given to a Revolutionary War veteran.

Pilgrimage for me realizing that “before the war” can mean so much more than just the war.

Milledgeville was home to Georgia’s governors from 1839 – 1868 and their house is grandly interpreted now as the Old Governor’s Mansion. Antebellum, Civil War and early reconstruction history abounds.

Those governors received salaries but not entertainment budgets so don’t look for a grand dining room.

Do look for details because Curator Matthew Davis has the complete inventory of household goods from 1851.

Note the difference as you follow the Antebellum Trail because Macon’s Hay House of the same era was private, and it’s lavish.

Note the cost of admission to the Old Governor’s Mansion, too: $10 normal admission but only pennies using the Pilgrimage $25 ticket to everything.

Glimpse the lives of Georgia governors 
and their families from 1839 – 1868 
in the magnificently restored, furnished 
and interpreted Old Governor’s Mansion 
in Milledgeville.

Another OLD-in-the-title interesting option in Milledgeville is the Old Capital Museum. 1807 Gothic building this one presenting a museum shaped by a dynamic director.

Must be a trend along the Antebellum Trail: Old School History Museum in Eatonton, Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, a former school building, and Old Capital Museum, on the campus of Georgia Military College – and each with charm and sophisticated exhibits quietly shaped by clever women.

The Marquis de Lafayette traveled to Milledgeville, visiting Revolutionary War veterans so when you’re thinking antebellum as in Civil War on this trail, think postbellum 1776 too.

Peer into specific lives in the exhibit shaped by Executive Director Dr. Amy Wright.

Tableaux of eight antebellum women, researched from diaries and written records, most with a book you and I could read too. Should we launch a literary travel series?

Sharecropper widow Sarah Ellis. Nurse Kate Cummings. Slave Anasacka, sold in 1846 on the square where the Old Capitol stands. Spy Rose O’Neal Greenhow. And others.

Rose Cottage in Madison was the home 
of emancipated slave of Adeline Rose, 
born in 1864, earning 50 cents each load of laundry.

Then go upstairs in the Old Capital Museum and muse about the mood in the legislature where Georgia’s four-day secession convention was held in 1861 with 297 delegates.

Seems the good folks in the Methodist Church next door complained about the disturbance. Wonder if they could have influenced the vote?

That’s the kind of musing possible on this Pilgrimage.

Such depth along the Antebellum Trail that Madison, Macon and Athens details await another story.