Georgia's Architectural Gems

From cathedrals to colleges, prepare to be awed by Georgia’s splendid public buildings.

Berry College Ford Complex

Despite the destruction of the Civil War, Georgia still contains scores of celebrated architectural landmarks. Many are counted among National Historic Sites and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and most are open for daily tours.

Greek Revival, English Regency and Gothic Architecture in Savannah

Begin your explorations in Savannah, the founding place of Britain’s 13th American colony. Start with a visit to the Greek Revival–style Massie Heritage Center, which houses a model of the city, plus an interactive exhibit of the architecture that inspired some of its buildings (think the Parthenon and Notre Dame). When you stroll this city of squares, be sure to see the Owens-Thomas House (considered North America’s preeminent example of English Regency architecture) and the breathtaking Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Gothic Church in Macon

Drive up I-16 to find an equally impressive Gothic edifice: Macon’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, with twin cross-topped spires. Completed in 1903 by Cornelius S.J. Otten, it boasts a domed cupola; flying buttresses; Carrara marble sourced from the same quarries favored by Michelangelo; and a Bavarian stained-glass rose window crafted by Munich’s Franz Mayer studio. Be sure to ask for Pauline O’Mahony, who was born into the church 76 years ago and serves as its chief tour coordinator.

Gothic College Buildings in Rome

Gothic enthusiasts will also appreciate the excellent examples of this architectural style at Berry College’s Ford Complex in Rome. Anchoring the 27,000-acre campus, the English-inspired complex of buildings (most publicly accessible) was quietly financed by American industrialist Henry Ford in the 1920s and ’30s. Made of local stone, the buildings amaze with pointed archways, Medievalesque carvings, reflecting pools, fountains, even underground “catacombs.”

Victorian Theater in Columbus

Those who prefer the later architecture of the English empire will no doubt recognize Georgia’s Victorian structures. In an era before the silver screen, Columbus’s Springer Opera House was considered the finest opera house between New York and New Orleans. The late-Victorian building debuted in 1871 with an Edwardian-style lobby, curved double balconies, and three tiers of box seats that allowed spectators to catch glimpses of Oscar Wilde, Edwin Booth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt under the impressive proscenium arch. Eager to learn more? Visit the Springer Mondays and Wednesdays for a personalized tour.

Victorian/Dutch Courthouse in Cuthbert

Cuthbert’s Randolph County Courthouse is just as fanciful as any Queen Anne Victorian, but it nods to 16th-century Dutch design, which gives it something extra. Thanks to architects Kimball, Wheeler & Parkins — and financing by a carpetbagger — the 1886 building delights with a curious clock tower, terra cotta carvings and stepped gables.

Victorian Library in Washington

Those seeking a more subdued take on Queen Anne stylings should venture to Washington’s Mary Willis Library, a red-brick Victorian completed in 1889 by Atlanta architect Edmund Lind that was the first free library in Georgia. Immaculate brickwork and stained-glass windows crafted by Tiffany Studios distract from later renovations and additions that provided space for rare books and archives of local and state history — which you might thumb through before a stay at the nearby Fitzpatrick Hotel.

Granitoid Church in Fitzgerald

And since it wouldn’t be the South without a little eccentricity, visit Fitzgerald for a turn-of-the-century trend toward granitoid: rock-faced concrete blocks produced locally by the Fitzgerald Granitoid Company. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church epitomizes the style that peppers this town and further beguiles with its ship-like interior and Virgin Mary statuary (a rarity for an Episcopal church), as noted by local editor and church member Sherri Butler.

Covered Bridge in Comer

For a more rustic afternoon, traverse Comer’s Watson Mill Bridge, 229 feet of roofed heart pine construction, built in 1885 by Washington King, son of Horace King, a former slave who became a respected bridge builder in the 19th-century South. The “clackity-clack” of your passage is a relic of the past available at only a handful of bridges across the state — and arguably, none so impressive as this. Impassioned park ranger Jerry Cook can inform you of additional activities within the 1,118 picturesque surrounding acres.

Hindu Temple in Lilburn

Lastly, hidden in metro Atlanta is a destination that, while new, carries undeniable ties to tradition. Lilburn’s BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was completed in 2006, thanks to more than 2 million man-hours and 12,300 tons of Italian marble, Turkish limestone and Indian pink sandstone carved by craftsmen in India. It was assembled by the same volunteers who still give their time at this Hindu temple — officially the largest outside India.

West Georgia's Grand Courthouses

Martha Berry/Highway 27 offers one of the best ways to explore Georgia’s most alluring municipal landmarks. Hwy27.com guides visitors through the 21 courthouses that dot this nearly 350-mile stretch of western Georgia. Some are delightful by design, like the Randolph County Courthouse, while a couple (particularly those in Polk and Heard counties) are more austere.

Spanning styles from Greek Revival to 20th century modern, the courthouses credit prominent architects like William J.J. Chase and J.W. Golucke for their creation. Debut dates range from 1854 to the 1970s, with the majority built during the decades bracketing the turn of the 20th century.

Several still house government activity and have been expanded, annexed and updated for contemporary times, while others have become museums or multipurpose complexes. One of the oldest among them, relocated to Westville in 1975, is an antebellum woodframe county courthouse built by an unknown carpenter. Perhaps the most intriguing? Stewart County's Neoclassical Revival courthouse in Lumpkin, whose lawn contains one of Georgia’s most curious attractions: a 1908 marble statue of a Confederate soldier filling a pipe.

Published: August 2016
Written by: Kate Abney