Are you a fan of Margaret Mitchell’s one and only novel? Did you swoon over Clark Gable and marvel at Vivien Leigh’s tiny waistline in “Gone With the Wind?” Do you collect movie memorabilia? Or do you just enjoy shopping, eating and basking in luxury spa treatments with some of your girlfriends? If any of the above questions piques your interest, then grab a couple of gal pals or maybe even a daughter or granddaughter and head to Henry and Clayton Counties located just south of Atlanta.
MAKE THE “GONE WITH THE WIND” CONNECTIONS
A visit to Stately Oaks Plantation, 100 Carriage Lane in Jonesboro, GA, would be a great way to kick off your weekend. A costumed docent will take you through the historic home, pointing out the obvious ties to Margaret Mitchell and the ways this particular building influenced her novel. Margaret visited her great-grandparents in Clayton County when she was growing up. The stories she heard from them about the Civil War and the customs and scenes of the day are intricately woven into her book. You’ll learn about life in antebellum Georgia and how this home survived when the Union troops showed up in Jonesboro.
In August, the home is dressed as it might have been when the occupants were in mourning, and in December, it is bedecked in holiday grandeur reminiscent of the 1860’s.
The Road to Tara Museum is a great place to view both actual Civil War History through the displays of artifacts and uniforms from the Battle of Jonesboro fought in 1864 and the many costumes, posters and photos from the premier of “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. The Gift Shop at the museum is a mecca for collectors of anything related to the epic movie.
A Gone With the Wind Tour is offered on a comfortable 14-passenger minibus. It lasts about an hour, includes admission to the Road to Tara Museum and leaves from the visitors center beside the railroad tracks in Jonesboro.
Take a detour off of the historical context and visit Scarlett’s Retreat Day Spa and Boutique at 22 Jonesboro Street in nearby McDonough, GA. You and your girlfriends can enjoy being pampered for pedicures, manicures, skin treatments and massages in this quiet, relaxing spa. Photos of Scarlett O’Hara adorn the walls. Surely she would have indulged in such luxury if it had been available in the 1800’s. If you decide to take your significant other rather than your girlfriends, keep in mind that Couples Massages are very popular for anniversaries and special occasions.
GET OUTSIDE FOR FRESH AIR AND EXERCISE
The Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary is a special place to walk, jog, have a picnic or take kids to the playground while supporting this worthy cause of animal rescue and rehabilitation. The habitat areas are open noon to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. There are over 1500 animals living on the grounds that encompass 250 acres. You’ll see a wide range of domestic and exotic animals as you wander the nature trails.
Admission is always free, but donations to help defray the estimated $33,000 per month needed to provide food and care for the animals is much appreciated. You will be inspired by the important work of the caring, committed staff members. Even the hours when visitors are allowed reflect the emphasis on the wellbeing of the animals, rather than the convenience of the visitors. This is not an adoption facility, nor is it a place for breeding and propagation. Once an animal comes to live here, the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary becomes its home for life.
Newman Wetlands Center at 2755 Freeman Road in Hampton, GA is a fantastic place to walk/jog or merely stroll. Trees line the raised boardwalk trail winding one/half mile through the wetlands, and over 170 species of birds and animals such as foxes, muskrats, river otters, deer, reptiles are spotted frequently along the path. A Learning Center seeks to educate the public about the importance of the water cycle and even showcases a Honey Bee Observation Hive.
Like the Animal Sanctuary, both admission and parking are free. The facility opens every morning at 7:00 a.m. and remains open until 5:00 p.m. November to February and until 7:00 p.m. March to October.
GIRLS NEED TO SHOP
Where two of more girls are gathered, some shopping is bound to take place. Henry and Clayton Counties have all the bases covered in this area, too. From big box stores to tiny boutiques, you will not have to drive very far to find it all.
Tanger Outlets at 1000 Tanger Drive in Locust Grove, GA feature dozens of name brands with their factory seconds, last year’s styles or current styles and bargains, and Peachtree Peddlers Antique Mall and Flea Market at 155 Mill Road in McDonough, GA has over 20,000 square feet of antique booths and dealers. Tanger Outlets is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday. Peachtree Peddlers is open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, on Saturday from 9:00 to 6:00, on Sunday from 10:00 to 6:00, and it’s closed on Wednesdays.
Both Downtown McDonough and Downtown Locust Grove have great shops for clothing, décor and more. McDonough shops take up three side of the town square, and the Locust Grove shops run parallel to the railroad tracks. Both have conveniently-placed benches for catching your breath and relaxing.
If bookstores are one of your weaknesses, then plan to stop in at Speakeasy Bookstore, 26 East Main Street in Hampton, GA. Not only does it sell hundreds of used books, it also buys and sells rare and antique books and offers an espresso bar for its customers. Story on the Square is a locally-owned bookstore in McDonough, GA. It will open soon in its new location at 19 Griffin Street but has a temporary location at 13 Keys Ferry Street. The new place will feature a wine and beer bar that will be perfect for settling in with a nice beverage and a good book.
SATISFY YOUR DESIRE TO BE CREATIVE
The Creativity Café at 2005 Jonesboro Road in McDonough, Ga offers instruction, materials and classes for painting canvases or ceramics. You can even learn to create your own pottery piece from scratch. This is lots of fun for girlfriends or mothers and daughters to relax and enjoy together, while taking home a nice souvenir of the experience.
Olive in a Bottle on Highway 42 in Locust Grove, GA offers daily tastings of its gourmet olive oils and vinegars, but you and your friends should watch their announcements for cooking classes, as well. What fun to learn and eat at the same time!
EATING IS A MUST
As you might expect, there are a fair number of chain restaurants scattered throughout Henry and Clayton Counties, but allow me to spotlight several that I tried recently and enjoyed.
15th Street Pizza & Pub at 2130 Jodeco Road in McDonough prides itself on pizza dough that is made fresh daily and hand-tossed. Choosing from 23 toppings will certainly satisfy everyone at the table. In addition, you can order burgers, subs, salads, calzones and pasta entrees. The atmosphere is lively and friendly.
Gritz Family Restaurant on the square in McDonough is a perfect place to start a day of fun with a hearty breakfast, or it is convenient for a lunch break when perusing all the shops in the center of town. The breakfast menu includes all of the Southern favorites as well as healthy options of egg white omelets and oatmeal. The lunch menu offers an array of “meat and three” choices, but diners may also order salads, soups, and sandwiches. Homemade cobbler is on my radar for a future visit.
Kirby G’s is only a block away from Gritz. This 50’s style diner has a burger that has been voted the best in the Atlanta area for several years, but you might want to also consider it for an afternoon treat with its extensive ice cream selections. The décor is fun, and the service is good.
Pasta Max Café, at 50 Griffin Street, is also within walking distance of Gritz and Kirby G’s and Queen Bee Coffee is right across the street if you’re craving fresh-roasted coffee and a decadent pastry. Pasta Max Café has the menu and the atmosphere of a true Italian trattoria. The chef is Douglas Fritz, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He prides himself on pasta, sauces and specialty dishes made in house. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday and for dinner only on Saturday. Plan ahead because it is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Anne and Bill’s Restaurant, at 1057 Main Street, Suite A, in Forest Park, GA is a bastion of Southern comfort foods. Think fried green tomatoes and sweet potato casserole. It is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday and for lunch only on Sunday. Save room for one of their homemade corn muffins and a serving of banana pudding. Anne and Bill’s is popular with locals and with senior adults traveling through the Atlanta area.
WHERE TO SPEND THE NIGHT
As with restaurants, there are numerous chain hotels offering comfortable lodging for visitors who want to spend a great weekend in Henry and Clayton Counties. One, in particular, though, stands out. TRU by Hilton is a fresh brand that is growing rapidly throughout the country. With a lobby area that combines the reception desk with a game room, business facilities, snacks and a wide variety of breakfast items, TRU is appealing and attractive. The beds are comfortable, the rooms include complimentary Wi-Fi, and the hot water in the showers is plentiful. The exterior might look like a traditional hotel, but the inside is upbeat and contemporary.
A FEW MORE RECOMMENDATIONS (if you have time)
The Heritage Park Veterans Museum in McDonough is one of the most compelling I have ever visited. The 20,000 pieces in the collection are impressive enough, but the dozen or more veterans who volunteer to lead tours choose to focus more on the stories of the soldiers rather than on specific wars and battles. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and admission is free.
Atlanta Motor Speedway at 1500 Tara Place in Hampton GA is a gigantic facility in Henry County with a seating capacity of 125,000 overlooking its 1 ½ mile racing track. Tours are $10 and can be scheduled between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Be sure to call ahead to check availability and be prepared to enjoy the effects of the 24-degree turns at a comfortably fast speed.
Henry and Clayton Counties take up a combined area of only 471 square miles, but those miles are packed with attractions, food and lodging choices that can create an unforgettable experience for friends or family members who choose to explore it together.
All photos by Connie Pearson