[y] Athens Visitors Guide
Located in the rolling hills of Piedmont between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Upper Coastal Plain, an easy fifty-mile drive from Atlanta, Athens is the largest city in Clarke County, in northeast Georgia. Since 1990, the governmental functions of Athens and Clarke County have been consolidated under a unified government, though the smaller town of Winterville, also in Clarke County, continues to maintain some degree of separation and autonomy.
Athens is a city of moderate size and moderate costs with a rich tradition of education, history, music, the arts, social equity and excellent quality of life. Athens is the culturally vibrant home of the University of Georgia (represented by the acronym UGA, which fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, set in relatively nearby Savannah, will recall as the inspiration for the naming of a dynasty of the university’s mascot bulldogs, Uga I, Uga II, etc.). There is no denying that Athens is a college town, but it is not exclusively a youth-driven community. Money Magazine recently (2005) named Athens as one of the five best places in the United States to retire. There are many reasons for this distinction, but major factors include the broad range of cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities paired with the inviting economy wherein modest homes start in the $150,000 range and an evening fine dining for two in the many charming restaurants can easily cost less than $50. Anyone over the age of 62 is invited to take classes at the university at no cost.
The virtually untouched antebellum charm of Athens’ buildings provides a fitting and notable coordinating-while-contrasting home to the many benefits and charms of the energetic“New South”.
Athens GA Fast Facts
- Metro area population: Clarke County, excluding Winterville, 2000 census: 100,266, though this figure excludes college students maintaining temporary residences in the area
- Elevation: 807 feet above sea level
- Average daily temperature in January: 41.8 degrees F
- Average daily temperature in July: 79.6 degrees F
Nearby parks and recreational areas include Fort Yargo State Park (which offers miniature golf, boat rentals, fishing, cottages, tennis, nature trails, camping, picnicking, and an interpretive center near the well-preserved survivor of the original four log forts or “blockhouses” built by settlers in 1792 for protection from wildlife, the elements, and out of fear of the local Creek and Cherokee tribes), Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail, and Sandy Creek Nature Center. In Athens, itself, are Founders Memorial Garden and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. For those who prefer to do their walking in the presence of educational narrative, there are the University of Georgia Museum of Natural History, Church-Waddel-Brumby House Museum, The Georgia Museum of Art, and the U.S. Navy Supply Corps Museum.
Athens Sports & Recreation
Athens is a football town like no other. UGA is known as a football powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference. The crisp autumn “football weather” must contribute to the enthusiasm for the game, but it is difficult to imagine that any conditions would keep the Bulldogs fans away from the stands. Athens is almost as mad for golf as for football, and residents benefit from the presence of three golf courses within five to ten miles from downtown. Proximity to the mountain and coastal areas make Athens a great location for mountain bikers, hikers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts of all sorts, except those whose sporting enjoyment is dependent upon extremely cold conditions.
Athens Georgia Arts
Athens is among the relatively few American cities of its size to support a community symphony orchestra. The Chamber of Commerce sees the Arts community as such a significant section of the local economy and identity that they have a book in a production featuring reproductions of paintings and photos of other visual art pieces from Athens artists and galleries. The Fine and Performing Arts are well-supported with state of the art facilities on the University campus, and the line between student artists and professionals is porous and allows for mutually instructive and collaborative work among talented people of all ages and expertise.
The calendar is filled, year-round, with exhibit openings, wine tastings in the botanical gardens, performances and festivals.
Athens GA Festivals
- January – Stitching Stars Storytelling Festival
- February – Mental Health Benefit, A Taste of Athens
- March – Robert Osborne’s Annual Classic Film Festival
- April – Athens Greenfest, Boybutante Ball (AIDS Benefit), Breastfest (Breast Cancer Benefit), Classic City Brew-Fest, Hands On Athens, Run/Walk for Home 5K
- May – Athens Human Rights Festival
- June – AthFest: The Athens, GA Music and Arts Festival, Grace’s Birthday Party (Fundraiser to defray veterinary costs for low-income pet owners)
- August –Athens PopFest, Groovy Nights
- September – Athens Run for the Dogs
- October – North Georgia Folk Festival
- November and December – Christmas in Athens
The restaurant scene in Athens has never been better, and it is beginning to gain regional and national attention as a gastronomical tourism destination. The affordable, innovative cuisine of the downtown area’s many independent restaurants has been the subject of several recent articles in national gourmet magazines. Athens chef Hugh Acheson has been named one of America’s best new chefs by Food and Wine magazine. His relatively new restaurant, Five and Ten, takes a proud place in the dining excellence pioneered in earlier decades by such establishments as that perennial favorite, The Grit, on Prince Avenue.
Communities in Athens GA
The neo-classical architecture of the pedestrian-friendly downtown and adjoining campus area was spared the destruction common to the area, when General Sherman’s Army routed its March to the Sea further to the southeast, through Savannah. The early planners’ vision of an academic town on the model of its ancient Greek namesake lives on by the banks of the Oconee River. The downtown area remains a testament to all the best of Southern openness and hospitality, with its dining, shopping, galleries and venues for the music that made the community famous in the late 70s and early 80s, most notably for the nationally renowned products of the national scene, the B-52s (‘a rock band named after a hairstyle named after an aircraft’ whose hits include “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack”) and R.E.M. (a rock band whose name was chosen at random from a dictionary whose hits include “Stand”, “Shiny Happy People”, “Everybody Hurts” and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”). Notable Americans who maintain homes in Athens, Georgia, include members of both R.E.M. and the B-52s, as well as football’s Fran Tarkenton, actress Kim Basinger, and former UGA student newspaper editor turned Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Deborah Blum, whose work deals primarily with the ethical conflicts between the interests of science and industry those of animals in research and environmental crises.
Among other factors, a superb healthcare system (with two hospitals located within five miles of the city center) and a violent crime rate of only 3.7 per thousand helped Athens rank as number fifteen on a 2002 survey of best places to live and work in the United States conducted by BestJobsUSA.com.
Athens winters are bright, the summers are sunny, and the springtime is spectacular with dogwoods and azaleas.
Athens GA History
Athens was preceded on its site riverside site by a trading settlement called Cedar Shoals. The University of Georgia was chartered by the Georgia General Assembly in one of its earliest acts as a legal entity, but the site for this new university, the nation’s first state-supported university, was not chosen until 1801 when a committee from the board of trustees of the university selected a hillside above Cedar Shoals. One of these trustees, a friend of Thomas Jefferson and a man who was later to become a governor of Georgia, John Milledge purchased the land for the campus and donated it to the young university. It was also Milledge who named the college-town-to-be Athens, after the ancient Greek home of Plato’s Akademie, and the starting place, in many senses, of academic study.
The town of Athens grew on parcels of land from the original gift to the university, sold off to support the expenses of constructing the early academic buildings, the first of which still stands. Now known simply as Old College, it was originally christened Franklin College in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Despite the clamor of construction and what must have been, at least at times, fairly rustic surroundings, the first class graduated in 1804.
The town was officially chartered in 1806. At that time, the area was growing more populous and prosperous as it became a center of cotton processing and textile manufacture. Rail transit came to Athens in 1841 and, for a time, Athens was known as the “Manchester of the South” after the bustling English mill town.
There were no major battles in Athens during the Civil War, though a small skirmish occurred on Barber’s Creek south of town on August 2, 1864, between the Home Guard and a small fragmentary force of Union cavalry, members of Stoneman’s Raiders from East Tennessee. During the war, Athens was one of the South’s few manufacturing centers. One of the textile factories was converted to house the manufacturing processes of Cook and Brother, makers of artillery, carbines, the temperamental double-barrelled cannon, and infantry rifles – notably the Enfield rifle. Vast numbers of Confederate uniforms came from the local industries and the capable seamstresses of the Ladies Aid Society. At the beginning of the war, 113 students were enrolled at the University of Georgia, but the campus was university was closed in 1863 for the remaining duration of the war. The chapel served as an Army hospital and 431 Union prisoners were housed on the campus. Sherman’s Union soldiers destroyed the rail connection to Atlanta during the waning months of the Civil War, but isolating Atlanta from the supply resources of Athens was of a much higher tactical priority than doing any lasting damage to Athens, itself.
Athens became an educational, political, and literary refuge for freed slaves during Reconstruction, as religious and cultural leaders emerged in the community. At one time, three different black newspapers were published in Athens. Athens was the center of one of the first trends toward the development of a professionalized black middle class.
During the war, many prominent residents of Athens had accumulated capital through wartime profits and had the foresight to do their banking through European financial institutions, so that their wealth was not lost with the collapse of Confederate currency. Manufacturing and trade flourished in the Athens area and the population and the local economy continued their rapid growth into the 1880s when, within a space of eight years, mule-drawn streetcars, paved streets, telephone service, public schools, and a police force all arrived in Athens. The first decade of the twentieth century brought the construction of a new City Hall, a seven-story building, a nine-story building, and a theater that would go on to host most of the major African-American performers of the early half of the century.
The Navy trained pilots near Athens during World War II. In 1961, Athens was the scene of one of the more peaceful integration experiences in the South, when two African-American students became the first to study at UGA. A strong regional music scene developed in the 70s, which flowered in the 1980s into a nationally noted source of the “Athens rock” sound.