Trip Ideas

Must-See Historic Homes and Gardens

Georgia offers visitors a variety of restored homes and splendid gardens. Explore some of the best.

  • Hay House

    GDEcD Photography

If you’re looking for the most famous place in Georgia that doesn’t exist, you’ll end up in historic Jonesboro, 20 miles south of Atlanta. The Clayton County town prides itself on being the official home of “Gone With the Wind” and is as close to Tara, the story’s fictional plantation, as you can get.

That’s because as a child, author Margaret Mitchell spent summers at her great-grandparents’ Clayton County farmhouse. The stories she heard and homes she saw during those days inspired her imagination and later found their way into her writing. One of those homes is Stately Oaks Plantation, an 1839 Greek Revival that is now open for tours.

History of a different kind resides in Savannah’s Scarbrough House, built in 1819 for one of the principal owners of the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. Scarbrough House is home to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, displaying a collection of ship models, paintings, and antiques.

Also in Savannah, the Davenport House Museum is where the city’s rebirth began. Built in 1820, the Federal-style dwelling on Columbia Square became the headquarters for the Historic Savannah Foundation in 1955, ushering in a new era of preservation. Today, the house serves as a museum, showcasing period furnishings and wallpaper.

In Madison, many of the meticulously restored antebellum homes are privately owned but open for tours. One of the most distinguished is Heritage Hall, an 1811 Greek Revival residence.

Over in Macon, Hay House, a property of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation was built between 1855 and 1859 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. With its arches, curves, and opulent three-story cupola, the house marks a sharp contrast to the straight-lined Greek Revival style of the antebellum period.

The Meadow Garden Historic Farm House of George Walton dates back to 1791. Located in Augusta, it’s one of the oldest homes in Georgia, built by the youngest man to sign the Declaration of Independence.

While Georgia’s historic homes tell their stories through stone, brick, wood, and marble, its gardens talk through flowers, herbs, and trees. Opening in spring 2015 is the Smithgall Woodland Garden in Gainesville. One of the largest and most diverse woodland gardens in the country, it features an extensive collection of magnolias and witch hazel. It’s operated by the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which is built on 30 acres next to Piedmont Park and has the largest conservation nursery in the Southeast.

Situated on 313 acres, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens serves as a cultural, educational, and recreational magnet for the entire region. More than 300,000 species of native and exotic plants grow in themed display gardens.

Dunaway Gardens, a rock and floral garden in Newnan, has an intriguing Gatsby-esque history. Stage actress Jane Dunaway established the gardens in 1934 as a theatrical training ground for performers, directors, and producers; media mogul Walt Disney was a frequent visitor. In the 1950s, the parties subsided and the gardens were slowly overgrown by layers of vine, ivy, and kudzu. In 2000, Dunaway Gardens -- and its long-forgotten stories -- were finally restored.

Located on 292 acres about an hour north of Atlanta in Ball Ground, Gibbs Gardens is one of the nation’s largest and most sophisticated residential estate gardens. Ancient and gnarled trees give the grounds instant character, while the dark green boxwoods add a touch of history -- they were grown from cuttings that came from founder Jim Gibbs’ ancestral estate in historic Appomattox, Va.

What Massee Lane Gardens Historic Headquarters of the American Camellia Society in Fort Valley is for camellias, Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee is for rhododendrons. Three thousand plants grow at the latter location, including more than 400 varieties of rhododendrons.

Two attractions are closely linked to the noted Callaway family in West Central Georgia: Hills & Dales Estate and Callaway Gardens. The centerpiece of the Hills & Dales Estate in LaGrange is an Italian-style villa, completed in 1916 by textile magnate Fuller E. Callaway. The property also features the historic Ferrell Gardens, a formal boxwood garden that is among the best preserved nineteenth-century gardens in the United States. In 1952, Fuller’s son Cason J. Callaway founded Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, a manmade landscape nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with lakes, beaches, and woods -- famous in particular for its variety of azaleas.

A tour of the homes and gardens of Georgia pulls visitors into a swirl of surprising details and charming secrets. They feed the fantasy, fuel the mind, and inspire the imagination. That, after all, is how Tara was born. 

My Favorite Georgia Gardens

Vince Dooley is the former head football coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, a bestselling author, and an avid master gardener.

“Right in my own town of Athens, we’ve got the State Botanical Garden. I’ve seen it develop over the years, and it now has 11 distinct botanical and horticultural collection gardens.

Another fine garden is the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It has such a wonderful variety of woods, gardens, and plants on relatively small acreage. It has a great conservatory and the canopy walk, so you can go from the woodlands into the formal gardens. Like the State Botanical Garden, it’s a great place of inspiration for me. I’m always looking to learn about new plants that I don’t have and want to get.”

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