by Mary Catherine Gaston
There are nearly 90 miles of four-lane, black-top state highway 520 between Columbus and Albany, so if you ever find yourself in need of a pit stop between the two, we’ve got a few ideas for you in rural Terrell County.
A Stop-over in Sasser
Boasting a population of less than 300, there is more to this little dot on the map than meets the eye, starting with the biggest little farm stand in southwest Georgia, Mark's Melon Patch. Mark’s is a treasure trove of things to see, eat and do year-round, and lucky for the weary traveler, this rural oasis is open from 8 AM to 7 PM seven days a week. From spring-time strawberry picking to pumpkins galore and an enormous corn maze every fall, there is always something entertaining happening at Mark’s Melon Patch. A shady picnic area, playground and plenty of parking right off the highway add up to the perfect, old-fashioned, rural roadside attraction. Don’t skip their homemade, soft-serve strawberry ice cream during the dog days of summer, or grab a bag of hot, boiled peanuts to warm you up on a chilly winter day. But watch for traffic as you come and go! For a humble farm stand, Mark’s Melon Patch can cause congestion on the busy four-lane during peak seasons.
If you happen to be in the area on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you must make time to stop and browse the enormous twin warehouses of Sasser Flea Market and Antique Mall. Just northwest of Mark’s Melon Patch, the market sits just off 520 and also has ample parking. While one warehouse is devoted to consignor’s booths containing everything from delicate figurines to handmade, solid wood furniture, the second warehouse is predominantly packed with antiques sourced throughout the eastern US. Area decorators and collectors alike know this little gem and have come to rely on finding quality and variety in the inventory of both warehouses, whether antique or brand new.
Locals also know that they can get a hot, delicious, country-style meal Monday through Saturday at Come-N-Get It Family Restaurant in the back of Sasser Flea Market and Antique Mall. Lunch is served daily from 11 AM to 2 PM, and supper from 5 to 9 PM every Friday and Saturday. Call before you arrive to place your order if you’d like, and dine in or carry it out. The restaurant is the only part of the market that is air conditioned, so plan to sit a spell. Or just grab an ice cold sweet tea and enjoy it in the “bought air” before you head back out to find a treasure.
You can’t leave town on a Saturday without stopping on Main Street at A&B Antiques. Located in the midst of a row of beautifully maintained buildings that make up the National Register-listed Sasser Commercial Historic District, A&B Antiques features a lovely selection of antiques curated by a cheerful and civic-minded local couple. Whether you buy or just browse at A&B, take a few moments to relax on one of the benches outside on Main Street. You will feel as if you’ve taken a trip back in time.
Down-time in Dawson
Just a hop, skip and a jump to the north on 520, you’ll find yourself smack-dab in the heart—or maybe the brain—of the US peanut industry. Modest Dawson might escape travelers’ attention as they roll through on their way to someplace else. But this unassuming little town is home to the National Peanut Research Laboratory, where some of the world’s top peanut scientists spend their days (and some nights, we’re sure) improving the “Perfectly Powerful” legume in an effort to feed more of the world’s people and provide a better living the 7,000 American peanut farmers and tens of thousands of others worldwide. While the lab might not exactly be a tourist attraction, the droves of beach-goers who pass through Dawson on their way to Florida’s beautiful beaches every year have learned the little town is a great place to stretch sleepy legs while grabbing lunch, beachwear and a home furnishing or two.
Located right off the highway just over the railroad tracks and in the shadow of Golden Peanut’s processing facility is The Farmhouse. This locally-owned and operated barbecue restaurant is also locally famous for just about everything on the menu, including fried frog legs—though most folks come in for the multitude of smoked pork offerings. With just a few tables inside, The Farmhouse can be filled to overflowing in the summer months, with a line extending out the front door and into the parking lot. Additional parking is available in an adjacent lot as well as behind the restaurant, and with locations in Cuthbert and Americus now, you can visit The Farmhouse in multiple rural communities.
If the line at Farmhouse looks lengthy when you arrive, give it a minute to clear out while you stroll through The Warehouse next door. Another consignment-style establishment, The Warehouse also offers a range of architectural salvage pieces and specializes in furniture refinishing, recovering and general revamping. The proprietors are respected throughout the region for their creative, quality work. The two-sister team are also earning a name for themselves as wedding planners and decorators, and you can check out some of their work and décor collection in the air-conditioned portion of the building. A second location down the road in Colquitt has become quite popular as well.
Beach-bound drivers, commuters and locals can all find something they need (or simply want) at Knight's Apparel and Gifts, located at the corner of 520 and US-82. Carrying a slew of activewear brands including AFTCO, Columbia and HUK, Knight’s also offers Bogg bags, Swig cooler cups and Dude footwear. In addition, half the store is a ladies’ wear boutique, while the back room holds a variety of boots and shoes for all ages. Whether it’s a cute outfit, a beach bag, t-shirt, jewelry or whatever you might need for the beach or back-to-school, Knight’s in Dawson is a great place to find it. A second location down the road in Leesburg is a go-to in that community also.
As always, when you’re traveling in rural Georgia, whether you’re passing through or purposefully paying a visit, keep in mind that your dollars spent at locally-owned businesses make a tremendous difference to that community and the people who live there. When you shop, stay or just snack in rural places, you make a contribution to the continuation of the way of life rural people know and love, not to mention helping support local schools and vital infrastructure. So get out and enjoy rural Georgia this week or weekend and help rural economies grow and rural people thrive!
Click on the links in this story to visit the websites or Facebook pages of these great rural businesses! Have a favorite rural Georgia place you'd love for the Rural Center to feature here? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.