BY VICTORIA HENLEY
As the host of Backstage Pass on iHeart and FCB Radio Network, I recently sat down with representatives of a couple of lesser known tourist attractions in Georgia to get an inside look at how they tick.
Albeit less publicized than Georgia tourist draws such as Atlanta and Savannah, LaGrange, Ga. — founded in 1828 by James Oglethorpe — is a treasure trove of art galleries, upscale shops, gourmet restaurants, a gemstone mine and many more interesting attractions.
Perhaps the most notable of the attractions are Hills and Dales, one of the finest historic estates in America, and the Biblical History Center, a cultural museum which explains the Bible and the ancient world with artifacts, live events, and archeology.
HILLS & DALES ESTATE:
Created by Nancy Ferrell in 1832 and expanded by her daughter Sarah Coleman Ferrell, Hills & Dales Estate boasts a variety of boxwood plantings, an herb garden, and varieties of sculptures and statues — many with religious and symbolic references.
The centerpiece of the sprawling 35 acre property is a breathtaking Italian villa, designed by acclaimed architects, Neel Reed and Hal Hentz, which was completed in 1916.
Fuller Callaway (of the famous Callaway lineage of entrepreneurs who also spearheaded Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.) and his wife, Ida Cason, purchased the estate from Judge Blount and Sarah Ferrell in 1912, and the legacy of the gardens continued at the hand of Alice Callaway, wife of Fuller Callaway Jr, who, as the last resident of the mansion, personally tended to the vast gardens, orchestrated events and was actively involved in community philanthropy.
Alice Hand Callaway nurtured and tended to the garden for 62 years, as long as Sarah Ferrell herself. Following Mrs. Callaway’s passing in 1998, the gardens were eventually opened for the enjoyment and education of the public and community.
Horticulturist, Jo Phillips, the only Hills & Dales staff member to work directly under Alice Callaway, provided in depth information about the hard work and patience that goes into cultivating and maintaining the gardens on our tour. Knowledgeable, studied staff members stood by to assist visitors in learning more about the garden and its history.
Carleton B. Wood, executive director of the estate, gave an informative and educational tour of the home, complete with intriguing details on the personal and professional lives about the individuals who once inhabited the estate.
Guests are invited to enrich themselves in a legacy spanning over 175 years throughout the seasons, and the visitor’s center is now proudly featuring an exclusive documentary, over one year in the making, “The Seasons of Hills and Dales.” It was produced in turnkey by Mad Hat Creative and it illustrates a powerful story navigating the rich history of the estate and its residents, all so ardently committed to the estate’s preservation.
Hillsanddales.org, (706) 822-3242, 1916 Hills & Dales Drive, LaGrange, Ga.
BIBLICAL HISTORY CENTER:
The Biblical History Center, allows people to experience everyday life in ancient times through authentic archeological replicas, daily life artifacts in the Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery, and lectures, as well as live events.
The center, which opened its doors in 2006, thanks to the generous donors and support from the Callaway Foundation, has since hosted well over 75,000 visitors and entertains guests spanning the globe with archeological digs (a great activity for kids), a 12 food item Biblical Meal (including traditional Middle Eastern foods such as hummus and lentil soup, which can be added to any tour) and an archeological replica garden.
Led by a well-informed tour guide, the archeological garden replica is arguably the highlight of any tour, featuring a full-scale reconstruction of structures relevant to daily life in Biblical times. Our tour guide, Carol Cain, a theatrical actor and storyteller, acclaimed for her portrayal of “Rose the Riveter,” gave a powerful and emotionally charged presentation of “The Easter Story” as we walked through replicas of various landmark locations at which Jesus prophesied, as well as the crucifixion and resurrection sites.
The Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery features some 250 artifacts on permanent loan from the National Treasures of Israel, which is on long-term loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority. One of only eight museums in the world to feature such a collection, the Biblical History Center was named by USA Today as one of the top biblical history museums in the entire world.
The museum offers seasonal tours, including special guided walks for Easter, Christmas and more, so guests can visit several times to enjoy completely different experiences at each visit.
Biblicalhistorycenter.com, 706-885-0363, 130 Gordon Commercial Drive, LaGrange, Ga. 30240.
Victoria Henley is a host for iHeart Radio and FCB Radio Network. She also is the organizer of Magnifique Showcases. She also is a former contestant of “America’s Next Top Model.”