Historic haunts spook and entertain around the state
In Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel, Gone with the Wind, young Scarlett O’Hara struggles with loss, heartbreak and poverty during a time of war and destruction that nearly tore the United States apart.
By 1861, Union troops had halted the export of cotton and import of manufactured items by sea and rail, virtually cutting off any means of survival. Plantations, rails and livestock were destroyed, save for a few cities spared during the March to the Sea in 1864. Civil War-ravaged Georgia is the backdrop for the book, which depicts life in the South before, during and after the war.
Nearly a century later, Atlanta was caught in the midst of a powerful movement that swept up the nation with visions of long-awaited progress, equality and social change. By the 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had become the face of the civil rights movement. At his birthplace in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta, King emerged as a beacon of hope from his pulpit in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached about nonviolence and the importance of serving humanity.
Visitors that come to Georgia can relive those moments forever etched in America’s psyche—from Atlanta’s socially significant museums, such as Center for Civil and Human Rights, to antebellum architecture that has made Savannah’s town squares into tourist attractions.
In other parts of the state, including College Park, Athens and the Sea Islands, vestiges of the past lurk among old artifacts and places that still have stories to tell. Meeting groups can discover national sites, grand architecture and immersive experiences that bring the past full circle for a visit they’ll never forget.
Atlanta was burned to the ground during the Civil War, one of the nation’s most tumultuous times. But the city was also a major railway hub, connecting the South to the North and the Midwest. Atlanta was able to rebuild itself from the ashes and has since become a major metropolitan center of business and commerce with a population of more than 5 million, making it America’s ninth largest city.
Atlanta lacks some of the traditional Southern architectural styles present throughout the rest of Georgia, but make no mistake—there is a host of historically significant landmarks and museums for groups to see, such as Atlanta History Center in the Buckhead district.
“With more than 1,500 Union and Confederate artifacts including cannons, uniforms and flags, groups can experience the Civil War through the eyes of soldiers and civilians,” says Rachel Peavy, director of public relations and communications for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.
For an elaborate place to hold events, consider the Swan House, which was recently featured in the film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The 1928 mansion has an opulent interior with 13,400 sq. ft. of function space; there’s also 33 acres of manicured gardens for outdoor gatherings. Fans of Gone with the Wind can also visit Mitchell’s former house, where the Atlanta native penned her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in 1936.
Mitchell is also one of the most famous residents of Oakland Cemetery, in the historic Grand Park district. She is buried there alongside several notable citizens and Civil War soldiers. The 48-acre cemetery is a peaceful hillside botanical preserve with old oak and magnolia trees. Groups can take a docent-led tour of its 55 elaborate mausoleums and approximately 70,000 grave sites.
Tribute to Civil Rights
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site serves as an emblem of the civil rights movement, which has deep roots in the city that says it’s “too busy to hate.” Groups can walk in the footsteps of the civil rights leader who changed the course of history during an era of segregation.
The 35-acre site includes King’s birthplace, his former church, his burial place, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and a visitors center. “Atlanta is considered the birthplace of the American civil rights movement,” Peavy says. “Visitors can explore the evolution of the movement and how it relates to modern global human rights.”
This spunky college town likes to be known for its vibrant nightlife and eclectic music scene, which spawned famous bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52s. But it couldn’t have been possible without the University of Georgia, the United States’ first state college, chartered in 1785, which helped put the city on the map. Groups can tour Athens through the ages by visiting any number of neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places.
Morton Theatre is one of the oldest vaudeville theaters which first had an African-American owner. Monroe Bowers Morton built the theater and hosted early performers, including Butterbeans and Susie, Blind Willie McTell and Curley Weaver. When it’s not hosting live theater and concerts, the facility, which seats 500, can be rented for events.
Athens was also the site of various Civil War skirmishes. Groups can visit many traces of the past, from an old double-barrel cannon in front of city hall to well-preserved period dwellings. “Athens is home to four antebellum house museums representing the first four decades of the 1800s with their four distinct architectural styles,” says Rachel Watkins, information and public relations coordinator for Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Taylor Grady House is a popular venue for rentals. The Greek-Revival structure was built in the 1840s as a summer home and retains its original furnishings and tall white columns. It holds up to 350 people and has a large conference room and ballroom. Ware-Lyndon House was Athens’ first recreation center and remains an important community institution. Constructed in 1856, the arts center displays a mix of historic artifacts and collections from emerging artists. Tours, art classes and event spaces are also offered.
During the Civil War, few states witnessed as much military action as Georgia. Athens is one of seven places that was spared when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman led a burning march through the state. Groups can participate in the Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route, which spins through 170 miles of picturesque sites and town squares. Guided tours and maps are offered at Athens Welcome Center.
More than 40 years before the United States declared independence from Great Britain, Savannah was established in 1733. The oldest city in the state was declared America’s 13th colony by English Gen. James Oglethorpe, whose name still graces city streets and buildings. Every year, Savannah attracts millions of visitors to its historic squares and cobblestone streets, where they can experience its lengthy history of swashbuckling pirates, ghostly tales and stately architecture.
“Savannah is an extremely walkable destination with the Historic District that’s only 2.5 sq. mi., in which you can find attractions, restaurants, historic sites, 22 park-like squares, hotels and meeting space,” says Taylor Castillejo, communications associate for Visit Savannah.
Groups can visit many restored Southern homes that were spared during Gen. Sherman’s March to the Sea. During the Union occupation, Sherman stayed at the Green-Meldrim House, one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture. The grounds are popular for tours and space rentals for up to 200.
The Sorrel-Weed House, built in 1837, is another antebellum masterpiece better known for its paranormal occurrences. Visitors claim they have seen figures appear in the windows, heard sounds of disembodied voices and had eerie feelings of being touched. If brave enough, groups can go on an evening tour of one of the most haunted locations in the city, which has been shown on HGTV and the Syfy channel.
To experience the life of a buccaneer, head to the Pirates’ House, a historic restaurant and tavern founded in 1753. One of the oldest standing buildings in the state, the house earned its name as a boarding place for sailors, pirates and society’s underbelly.
Beneath the building is a network of tunnels that served as a morgue during the yellow fever epidemic. It was later purportedly used to smuggle liquor and capture unsuspecting sailors thought to have been taken to China, or “shanghaied.” Groups can dine in one of 15 dining rooms, and on weekends Savannah Community Theatre takes command of the ship for a night of Murder Mystery Theater.
Georgia’s historically significant cities remain on the top of meeting planners’ favorite destinations. Several large convention centers spread throughout the state—including Georgia World Congress Center, The Classic Center and Savannah International Trade & Convention Center—are in close proximity to area attractions that are sure to enrich any group’s travel agenda. Visitors will come away with thrills and adventure, seaside relaxation and an unequivocal appreciation for American history.
Pristine beaches, rare wildlife and mossy oak trees are what groups will find if they decide to venture from the mainland. A chain of barrier islands lie scattered along the Georgia coast. Places such as Sea Island and St. Simons Island boast prime beachside real estate, perfect for weekend excursions.
St. Simons Island
Visitors will find this island, which was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, to be chock-full of old places to explore. Monumental battle sites, historic churches and plantation homes still remain intact, along with plenty of tall tales and folklore. Take a historic trolley tour or visit Colonial sites at Cannon’s Point Preserve and Fort Frederica. The adventurous might take St. Simon’s Island Ghost Walk, filled with stories of tragic endings, deathly love and lost souls.
Groups can experience more of the island’s historic charm with a stay at The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. It was originally a seaside dance club when it opened in 1935, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today the Mission Revival-style resort features 195 luxurious guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of oceanfront meeting space.
Golf enthusiasts can stay at The Inn at Sea Island, which has 85 guest rooms and is next to three 18-hole courses at Sea Island Golf Club. The Lodge at Sea Island is another exclusive option, with 40 secluded guest rooms including two suites in the style of an English country manor.
Adjacent to and east of St. Simons Island sits a little seaside getaway that was intended to be a resort town. In 1928, the first hotel opened at what would become The Cloister at Sea Island. It offers 204 guest rooms and boasts more than 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space with expansive ocean views. Sea Island has received four Forbes Five Star awards for the past seven years. The Cloister, The Lodge, the Georgian Room restaurant and The Spa at Sea Island were all Forbes Five Star recipients during that time.
Between Past & Present in College Park
Just outside Atlanta, College Park meets the demands of large conferences within a quaint suburban locale. It’s home to the world’s busiest airport, has the state’s second largest convention center and is Georgia’s fourth largest urban historic district. Although there are no universities in College Park, it is a meetings campus with a wealth of ways to visit the past.
Made for Meetings
This year, Airports Council International gave Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) the highest ranking for the 17th consecutive year. Last year, more than 96.17 million passengers passed through, putting the airport at the top of the list. That’s 1.7 million more travelers than in 2013. It also expanded the number of international flights by 10 percent to 74,791 in 2014.
Convenient access to almost any major city around the world is College Park’s calling card. Georgia International Convention Center (pictured) is located close to the airport, also making the city a popular choice for meetings. A short transit ride away from the airport’s MARTA station, the convention center offers 400,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, including a 150,000-square-foot exhibit area and a 40,000-square-foot ballroom. There are more than 8,000 hotel rooms within a 2-mile radius of the convention center.
Blast from the Past
Take a stroll through College Park’s beguiling neighborhoods. From Dutch and Spanish Colonial to Victorian and Craftsman styles, there are 853 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This planned community was established in 1890 to suit its namesake, and six years later, Cox College and Conservatory opened. College Park also became the home of Southern Military Academy. While neither college exists today, Woodward Academy, a private college preparatory school stands in place of the former military academy.
While many of the landmark buildings are homes, schools and city hall buildings, meetings can be held at College Park Woman’s Club. The historic Colonial Revival-style structure was built in 1924 and offers a ballroom adorned with antique brass chandeliers hanging from an 18-foot barrel ceiling. It can accommodate up to 220 people. Groups can later take some swings on College Park Golf Course, a historic nine-hole course that first opened in 1929.
Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau
Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau
Meet College Park Georgia
Major Meeting Venues
Historic boutique hotel; Foundry Bar & Mill has nightly entertainment; 122 guest rooms; more than 12,000 sq. ft. of flexible space; signature spa.
Hilton Garden Inn Athens Downtown
Downtown hotel across from The Classic Center; 185 guest rooms; 5,566 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center; business center; indoor pool; Pavilion Lounge.
The Classic Center
Walking distance to 1,500 hotel rooms; one of the largest event facilities in northeast Georgia; 105,000 sq. ft. of function space; 56,000-square-foot exhibit hall; 8,000-square-foot atrium; 2,100-seat theater; 35 meeting rooms.
University of Georgia Conference Center and Hotel
Located at Georgia Center for Continuing Education; 200 guest rooms; 38,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 26 meeting rooms; free Wi-Fi; courtesy shuttle.
Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart
500,000 sq. ft. of centrally located meeting space; 47 breakout rooms; can accommodate 3,000 attendees; VIP wholesale shopping at AmericasMart.
Atlanta Marriott Marquis
Near Georgia Dome; skybridge connects to Hilton Atlanta and Hyatt Regency Atlanta; 1,569 guest rooms; 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Downtown domed stadium and current home of the Atlanta Falcons; largest cable-supported dome stadium in the world; seats 71,250; 102,000-square-foot floor; five meeting rooms.
Georgia World Congress Center
World’s largest LEED-certified convention center; 200-acre campus includes the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park; 3.9 million sq. ft. spread among three buildings; 12 exhibit halls; 106 meeting rooms; five auditoriums; two ballrooms.
Georgian Terrace Hotel
Historic property opened in 1911; luxury hotel with floor-to-ceiling windows and white marble columns; 326 guest rooms and suites; 5,514 sq. ft. of IACC-certified meeting space, including three ballrooms; contemporary dining at Livingston Restaurant & Bar.
Hilton Atlanta Airport
AAA Four Diamond Award hotel; five-minute drive from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL); 507 guest rooms; 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; fitness center.
Loews Atlanta Hotel
Forbes Four Star property in Midtown; 414 guest rooms, including 44 suites; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; two ballrooms; 10 breakout rooms.
Omni Hotel at CNN Center
AAA Four Diamond hotel; next to Centennial Olympic Park and linked to Georgia World Congress Center; 1,059 guest rooms; 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport Hotel
Newly renovated AAA Four Diamond hotel; 387 guest rooms, many with private balconies; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 35 meeting rooms.
The Westin Peachtree Plaza
73-story building near Atlanta Convention Center at AmericasMart; 1,073 guest rooms; 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; rooftop bar offers city views.
Contemporary hotel in Ellis Square; near shopping, dining and attractions; 151 guest rooms; 6,600 sq. ft. of function space; 2,800-square-foot-outdoor terrace; 24-hour gym; market-to-table dining at 22 Square.
Hampton Inn & Suites Savannah Historic District
Short walk to historic attractions, including Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum; decorated with Old Savannah bricks and gas lamps; 154 guest rooms; 2,686 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Mansion on Forsyth Park
AAA Four Diamond Marriott Autograph Collection boutique property; 125 guest rooms in a Victorian Romanesque mansion; more than 13,000 sq. ft. of flexible function space; 15 meeting rooms; six meeting galleries; art collection includes more than 400 original artworks.
Savannah International Trade & Convention Center
Conference center boasts views of Savannah River; 330,000-square-foot waterfront complex; 100,000 sq. ft. of divisible exhibit space; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 13 meeting rooms and four boardrooms; 25,000-square-foot ballroom; 367-seat auditorium.
The Brice, a Kimpton Hotel
Trendy and colorful hotel surrounded by Antebellum architecture; 145 guest rooms, including 26 suites; 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 1,700-square-foot garden courtyard; custom bike rentals; signature spa services with organic products.
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
AAA Four Diamond resort; accessible by complimentary water ferry service; Green Seal Silver Level certified; 403 guest rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 18-hole PGA golf course.