By Mary Catherine Gaston
A short trip up the scenic Fall Line Freeway (GA 540) from Macon, or down the Traditions Highway (GA 15) from Athens, Washington County (or WACO to those in the know) boasts enough historic sites, shops, events and restaurants to fill any weekend…and any empty stomach.
The ninth county created in the 13th colony in 1784, Washington County was the first in the nation to be named in honor of General George Washington. Established for the purpose of making land grants to Revolutionary War soldiers, Washington County’s seat in Sandersville is a great place for descendants of those first American heroes to trace their family origins. The Washington County Historical Society’s Genealogy Research Center, located on the northwest corner of the courthouse square, houses a vast collection of genealogical files and is open to the public Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons from 2 to 5 and Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM. The Victorian structure was constructed in 1891 to house the sheriff and his family. Tour the home and the adjacent Old Jail Museum during the research center’s operating hours.
Speaking of the courthouse, the imposing red brick structure that dominates downtown Sandersville is the third to stand in this same spot. Both preceding structures were destroyed by fire—one in 1855 and, more notoriously, the second by General William T. Sherman during his infamous, incendiary March to the Sea in 1864. The Union leader made his headquarters at the antebellum Brown House, just a block north of the square on N. Harris St. Now a museum of Washington County history, the Brown House keeps the same hours as the Genealogy Research Center and is a “must-stop” downtown. While you’re there, pick up a historic guide to Sandersville and drive or walk the town’s beautiful, tree-lined streets to see more than 30 historic homes, churches and other structures. You’ll also want to check out the several unique, locally owned shops in downtown Sandersville, including Cotton Ave. Market, Geo’s Quarters, Owl’s Nest at 116 and Refinishing on FAITH.
All this site-seeing is bound to make you hungry. Ask anyone who knows Sandersville where to stop for lunch or supper, and they’re likely to recommend The Dairy Lane, just a couple of miles from downtown on S. Harris St. The old-fashioned diner with the bright yellow roof originally opened in 1953, and today serves up some of the best cheeseburgers, shakes and barbecue you’ll find anywhere.
Keep heading south on GA 15/S. Harris St. from The Dairy Lane and explore the quaint railroad town of Tennille. Quite a bit of revitalization has taken place in tiny Tennille recently, including the opening of a number of shops and a brand new brick oven pizzeria, the Trackside Deli and Pub. Make time to visit The Market on Central and Deep River Outfitters, to name just a couple of Tennille must-sees.
If you really want to get off the beaten path, check out Washington County’s five other incorporated municipalities. Oconee, for example, is home to what just might be the world’s only monument to a pig. Just off GA 272 and marked with a green directional sign, the Pig Monument commemorates a time during the Great Depression when this community came together to save a local farmer’s pig when the unfortunate beast fell down a dry well. According to the well-known story, friends and neighbors worked together to fill the deep hole with dirt until the pig could be reached and rescued.
If you decide to take in the Pig Monument on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, save time to stop in for supper just down GA 272 at Herb’s Fish Place. Try anything on the menu, just know that the locals rave about the catfish.
With its lovely location on the southeastern edge of the Piedmont Plateau, Washington County would be a fantastic place to visit in autumn. Lucky for you, one great excuse to visit while the foliage is at its peak is the annual Kaolin Festival. Held the second weekend of every October, the festival celebrates the huge impact a humble, white clay has made on the local, regional and state economy for the past three centuries. Plan to take in a tour of a working kaolin mine, a parade, concerts, art and craft vendors and more during the county’s biggest annual event.
While there’s more to do and see in Washington County than this brief blog post can cover, you can find out more and plan your trip by visiting the Washington County Historical Society online. Another helpful and welcoming source of information is the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. Situated on S. Harris St. between downtown Sandersville and The Dairy Lane, the chamber office is a good place to begin your visit to WACO. While you’re there, enjoy an exhibit of local artists’ work in the Chamber's event space.
Our best advice? If you’re heading to Washington County, give yourself a couple of days at least. Plan an itinerary or just fly by the seat of your pants. Either way, we are sure you will be pleasantly surprised by all this rural Georgia county has to offer!
Washington County natives, tell us YOUR favorite spots to see. Visit us on Facebook and leave your comments on our post!