By Mary Catherine Gaston
Interstate 75 will carry you right through the heart of Georgia and some of the prettiest parts of the state. One beautiful county I-75 traverses is Turner County, home to the little town of Ashburn. If traveling that long stretch of highway ever wears you out, Ashburn is a lovely place to take a break.
Founded in 1888 as Marion, the city now known as Ashburn is home to about 3,700 residents as well as an annual Fire Ant Festival that takes place every March. Featuring art and craft vendors, a giant fire ant maze, fireworks and more, the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020, though it did not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Look for the fire ant fun to return the fourth weekend of March 2022.
You don’t have to wait for the annual festival to enjoy all that Ashburn has to offer, of course. Carroll’s Sausage, just off exit 82, is a great place to start your tour. Though the World's Largest Peanut monument was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018, Carroll’s is still hard to miss, with its enormous sign and billboards for miles both north and south on 75. In addition to a huge variety of sausage, Carroll’s sells Georgia-made jams, jellies, candies, sauces, spice mixes and more and is one of three Georgia Grown Trail 41 stops in Turner County.
A new addition to Carroll’s offerings (and a great spot to grab some Southern cooking) is Rudy T’s Smokehouse and Grill. Located in one end of the Carroll’s complex, Rudy T’s has quickly become a local favorite, featuring steaks, ribs, burgers, brisket, barbecue pork and chicken with all your favorite Southern sides. Rudy T’s serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday and lunch only on Sunday.
Don’t let your time in Ashburn end at the exit. Instead, drive back out to Georgia Highway 112 and take a left to visit picturesque downtown. Established on the Interstate’s predecessor, U.S. Highway 41, downtown Ashburn boasts three separate National Register historic districts as well as three additional stand-alone structures that are National Register listed. Take a step back in time as you enjoy a stroll through downtown or ride through the Shingler Heights Historic District just north of downtown on Main Street.
Park the car while you’re downtown and stretch your legs as you browse the booths at The French Market, a consignment boutique. Folks from the area also know this as a fantastic place to find formal dresses for proms or pageants. Across Washington Avenue from The French Market, choose from Brown’s Seafood restaurant or Keith-A-Que barbecue if it’s close to meal time. Both are recommended by locals, as is the bakery inside Gardenia’s Marketplace just around the corner on North Gordon Street. Browse clothing, jewelry, home décor and more, but don’t leave Gardenia’s without trying their baked goods and coffee! And don't leave downtown without stepping into ToCocha Designs on Main to check out their selection of ladies' clothing, jewelry, designer handbags, perfumes and more.
If you have a little more time to wander off the beaten path, you must make your way to Calhoun Produce. Located about 10 miles northeast of downtown, Calhoun Produce is a family-owned and operated agricultural experience. From strawberry picking in the spring to a corn maize in the fall and year-round activities like a honeybee house where you can watch live honeybees making their famously sweet treat, there is always a multitude of activities to keep an entire family busy. Stop in at the farm store to find out all there is to do, enjoy a delicious lunch or strawberry ice cream and pick up goodies for the road. But bring a cooler, because you will not want to pass up the Calhoun family’s fresh or frozen peas and other produce.
On the other hand, if you happen to be heading south on 75, enjoy Ashburn but be sure not to miss Bell’s Daylily Garden. Only a mile and a half off the Interstate, the garden features a picnic pavilion, but is open by appointment only. During peak bloom times, the Bell’s garden is quite breath-taking, and in fall an event known as the Daylily Spectacular draws daylily enthusiasts from far and wide to bid on and buy the more than 900 daylily varieties the Bells personally grow on their property.
Next time you’re headed north or south on 75, take the time to travel off the beaten path and discover these and more Turner County treasures. Learn more by visiting the links in this post or the Ashburn-Turner County Chamber's Facebook page.
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