Macon Rocks

by Brian Jewell 10. April 2012 23:20

Macon sits at Georgia's intersectoin of history and music. There are plenty of great attractions to visit duirng a tour of the city, but my favorite during my short visit was The Big House: The Allman Brothers Band Museum.

The Allman Brothers were one of the pioneering bands in the music today called Southern Rock, blending traditional rock 'n' roll, country, jazz and blues styles. During the early 1970s, the band lived, wrote and rehearsed in a rented house on a hill overlooking downtwon Macon.

"They moved in here in 1970 as an unknown band," said E.J. Devokaitis, the museum's curator. "By the time they left in 1973, they were one of the most popular bands in the country, but they had lost their two leaders in motorcycle accidents."

Visitors to the house today will find that it has been transformed into a museum that pays tribute to the band and their musical achievements. Near the entrance, a television plays a continuous loop of live concert footage, helping to familiarize guests with the bands' characteristic dual-guitar solos and other signature sounds.

From there, galleries throughout the house help to tell the bands' story, illustrating it along with way with various instruments, props, costumes and other artifacts from the group's heyday. Music buffs will marvel at the numerous drums and unique electric guitars on display. Other exhibit areas deal with life on the road, the band's touring crew and the equipment necessary to stage a 1970s rock show.

Upstairs, two of the house's bedrooms have been re-decorated as they were during the band's time living there, with the help of one of the founding members' wives. Visitors can also see the re-created "getaway room," where the musicians and their families would escape the music business proceedings downstairs to relax in a typical 1970s "hippie's" den.

I'm not old enough to have remembered the Allman Brothers in their heydey. But after an hour exploring this museum, I came away with a great appreciation for these musicians and how they helped to shape the modern musical landscape.


The museum's front rooms now house museum displays.

An original Allman Brothers drum set.

Artwork memorializes the band and their era of rock 'n' roll.

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Monastery of the Holy Spirit

by Brian Jewell 10. April 2012 22:44

You may not expect to find a tourism attraction at at Catholic monastery, much less one in suburban Georgia. But in Conyers, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit has become a must-see location for groups touring the area.

A group of Trappist monks from Kentucky established this monastery decades ago, living in a barn and doing farm work in the nearby fields. Over the years, the monastery grew to include a church, workshops and more comfortable living quarters. Several years ago, the monks decided to embrace tourism as a means of creating some revenue and giving the public a look into their interesting lifestyle.

Today, the monks have created a first-rate visitor experience. The old barn in which they once lived has been transformed into the Monastic Heritage Center, with a great museum-style exhibit that details a day in the life of a monk. Visitors can see an example of the brothers' early sleeping quarters, some of the clothes that they wear, and the different trades that they ave learned to help make the monastery as self-sustaining as possible. The exhibits also outline the monks' daily schedule, from their first prayer service at 4:15 a.m. through their community meals and nighttime rituals.

After an introduction in the museum, group members have a number of options. They can visit the monastery's abbey — a sparsely decorated church by Catholic standards — and even join in a mass or prayer service if one is in session. They can also tour the gardens, where some of the brothers have honed their skills as master bonsai sculptors, or visit the on-site bookstore. A cafe adjacent to the bookstore sells deli sandwiches and other snacks, and gives diners an opportunity to have a peaceful, reflective meal.

It's funny to think about tourism and monastic life working well together. But at the monastery of the Holy Spirit, the brothers seem to have struck the perfect balance.


Monastic Heritage Center

A display of historic monks' habits.

The abbey's colorful, geomtric stained-glass windows.

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Surveying the Civil War

by Brian Jewell 10. April 2012 00:54

There are few places in the United States so impacted by the Civil War as Atlanta. The city famously burned after Union general Sherman captured it in 1864. Today, nearly 150 years later, the events are still a striking part of the Atlanta story.

There are plenty of places around the city that shed light on the Civil War battles that happened here and the scars that they left. But for visitors who want to get a broad overview of the war, its causes and effects, the best place to start is the Atlanta History Center. This museum has a variety of exhibits that deal with Atlanta's past, including a large section called "Turning Point: The American Civil War Experince."

"This is one of the one of the largest collection s of Civil War memorabilia on display in the country," said Brandi Wigley, the museum's senior manager of community initiatives. "It tells the human side of the Civil War."

The exhibit has all of the common display pieces that you would expect to find: guns, uniforms, cannons, maps, photographs, etc. But it also does a great job of distilling the major causes and movements of the Civil war into easy-to-understand pieces. Visitors begin in a section calld "War of Ideals," that deals with the motivations of each side that led to the outbreak of war. As the experience progresses, displays mark the turning points that took place in each year of the war, and mark the important shifts in strategy, economy and national attitude that eventually led to the Union's victory.

I really appreciated the way that the museum made the war easy for me to understand. And the artifacts on display helped to illustrate some of the realities of the conflict that aren't apparent simply from reading a text pannel. One of the most striking images I came across was a collection of "war ordinance" -- dozens of shells, mortars and cannonballs that were used in battle. The small ones were the size of a grapefruit; the larger ones could be twice the size of a modern bowling ball. The size and number of these weapons helped me to understand just how scary action on the battlefield must have been, and how much bravery was displayed by those who fought.

The exhibit ended with a poingant discussion of reconstruction, reconcilliation and the legacy that the war left on Atlanta and the nation. Many of the issues at play in the mid-19th century still affect us today. But great, moving exhibits like this can help us all to understand just how far we've come.


The exhibit showcases both artifacts and attitudes.

War Ordinance

Re-creation of a Confederate encampment

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Roswell's Southern Trilogy

by Brian Jewell 9. April 2012 23:55

Barrington Hall

Roswell, Georgia, has all of the characteristic elements of a Southern village — a picturesque town square, a lush green park with a white bandstand and a historic river mill. But Roswell also has something that most of the other small towns around Atlanta don't — a trio of antebellum homes.

"Roswell has three antebellum homest ath are open for tour three days a week," said Marsha Saum, tourism sales manager at the Historic Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We call them the Southern Trilogy."

Civil War buffs know that Atlanta and much of the surrounding area were largely destroyed by Sherman and his troops in 1864. But Roswell escaped the path of Sherman's destruction, and today the Southern Trilogy gives visitors perhaps the best look into what the lifestyle of the Atlanta-area elites would have been like in the time before the Civil War.

During the short time I had to tour Roswell, Marsha and I made stops at all of the homes. The first, Bulloch Hall, is a temple-style Greek Revival mansion built in 1839. The family that lived there were influential members of the area — Margaret Mitchell once wrote about them in a newspaper article — and ancestors of president Theodore Roosevelt. The home has furnishings from the period, along with the stories of both family members and slaves that spent time at the estate.

The second member of the trilogy, Barrington Hall, is another classical Southern mansion. The most notable aspect of this home is its antebellum garden — curators and local gardeners have gone to great lengths to re-create the garden that the home's original owners planted in the back yard. The garden features historic heirloom botanicals, planted in the same arrangements that the property's first gardener created.

An estate called Smith Plantation rounds out the trilogy. Smith Plantation features 100 percen original furnishings, so groups visiting today will see a home interior that looks just the way it did when the Smith family lived there. The home also has 10 intact outbuildings, including slave's quarters, an ice house, corn crib, guest cabins and a covered well.

On a perfectly sunny spring day, these beautiful homes and the flowers blooming around them made Roswell seem as picturesque as possible.


Barrington Hall's antebellum garden

Dogwoods blooming on the grounds of Smith Plantation

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