Washington–Wilkes

2016 THRILL LIST: JUNE
SOJOURN TO A SMALL TOWN.

written by CARL DANBURY, JR.

I grew up in a town of about 3,000 people and this urban sprawl causes me to bawl. This year, I’m setting out to discover some of the small-town ambiance and familiarity I miss. The first stop on my tour is 45 minutes east of Athens in Washington, Ga. Although it is said to be the first hamlet to take the name of George Washington in the 1780 New World, locals prefer the name Washington-Wilkes. Today, it is a town of approximately 4,500.

Washington-Wilkes, once a hub in the Piedmont cotton trade and the site of Eli Whitney’s first working cotton gin in 1795, had its economy nearly ruined by the boll weevil in the early 1920s. The Fitzpatrick Hotel, formerly the crown jewel of hotels east of Atlanta, was abandoned for nearly 50 years and reopened in June 2004, featuring 17 finely appointed guest rooms with private baths and guest accommodations reminiscent of The Gilded Age, with modern amenities.

I plan to stay here, have breakfast at Southern Scratch, grab a leisurely lunch at Talk of the Town and later in the day, a relaxing dinner at the Washington Jockey Club. In between, I’ll dive into the town’s rich history.

The first woman editor of a Georgia newspaper, Sally Hillhouse, took over the Monitor here in 1803, a Revolutionary War battle, Kettle Creek, was fought nearby, and the last cabinet meeting of the Confederacy was held here on May 5, 1865. Maybe I’ll search for the lost Confederate gold, which was said to be buried nearby, and visit Callaway Plantation, the Washington- Wilkes Historical Museum and the Robert Toombs Home while I am at it.

That is what I shall seek while in Washington, along with a lot less traffic, unhurried conversation and maybe a glass of sweet tea. I reckon’ you should come along. washingtonwilkes.org