Guest Road Tripper and award winning author Kathy Witt takes us to LaGrange, Georgia in her latest travel piece.
Hidden away in southwest Georgia, LaGrange is a small town with Southern heart and French-laced history. A textile town founded in 1828, LaGrange’s moneyed roots show up in the stately manses and architecturally significant buildings surrounding Lafayette Square, the city centerpiece named for the Marquis de Lafayette, and its countless cultural assets.
The town itself takes its name from an estate belonging to the Marquis and it is a statue in the French nobleman’s likeness that tops the tiered water fountain anchoring Lafayette Square. Ringed by flowers, trees and greenspace, it is a gorgeous place to sit, stroll and take in the picture postcard setting of downtown with its boutiques, restaurants and museums.
Nearby, the free-admission Legacy Museum on Main is tucked into a 1917 bank building, the steward of a section of steel from a structural column from one of the World Trade Center Twin Towers destroyed on September 11, 2001.
Learn about the Nancy Harts, a women’s militia named for the American Revolution heroine from Georgia that defended LaGrange during the Civil War. On the quirkier side, see the world’s oldest cotton bale. “Hitting the Road: Shifting Through Automobile History,” runs through June 16, 2023, and goes full throttle into America’s love of the car and car culture.
Also downtown is the free-admission LaGrange Art Museum, housed in an 1892 Victorian building that was originally the county jail. The museum’s permanent collection was established in the early 1960s when one of the most influential Georgia artists of his generation and a pioneer of arts education donated a painting. That was Lamar Dodd (1909-1996), who grew up in LaGrange and at one point worked as an official NASA artist for rocket launchings, including Apollo 11.
Three floors of gallery exhibits, both permanent and rotating, showcase the works of local and national artists across a range of mediums—painting, photography, print, sculpture.
The Lamar Dodd Art Center, located on the campus of LaGrange College—the oldest private college in Georgia—hosts everchanging art collections in an enormous three-story facility that is open to visitors when classes are in session. Also here is Price Theatre, which produces high quality student productions throughout the year, also open to the public.
Enjoy the artistry of Mother Nature with a stroll on The Thread, a 12-foot wide multi-purpose trail wending through picturesque neighborhoods and marked by pocket parks, historic cemeteries and boardwalks. It is accessible downtown at Southbend Park, a new park with playgrounds and skatepark, and Sweetland Amphitheater, which hosts a variety of entertainers, including comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who will perform on April 29, and the Southern rock band, 38 Special, appearing on May 4
The Lafayette Loft (www.visitlagrange.com/things-to-do/the-lafayette-loft), rented through Airbnb with Superhosts Lisa and Leon, is located on the second floor of the 1875 Historic Davis Pharmacy Building, overlooking Lafayette Square. Comfortable with a modern edge, the Loft has plenty of cushy seating warmed up with wood flooring, plus equipped kitchen, king bedroom and queen bunkbeds. Outside, two seating groups on the public pavilion are perfect for watching the goings-on at Lafayette Square.
Warm, crusty bread and herby olive oil dipping sauce are a prelude to a memorable meal at Venucci’s (www.venuccis.com), a small, upscale restaurant located on Lafayette Square. Venucci’s is known for heaping portions of authentic traditional Italian fare, a cozy setting with soft lighting and distressed brick wall and impeccable service, all in an atmosphere that feels like Sunday dinner with family.
Chef Tulla White is a fourth-generation restaurant owner who says cooking is in his blood. From washing dishes to making desserts to bussing then waiting tables to attending culinary school and eventually opening his own restaurant, White’s path eventually led to his opening what has become a favorite evening out for locals and visitors alike. Reservations are strongly suggested.
What began as a small plot nearly two centuries grew to encompass gardens arranged in a formal Italian design of boxwood patterns on descending terraces. The themed gardens of Hills & Dales Estate, the historic home of textile magnate Fuller E. Callaway and his wife Ida Cason Callaway, date back to 1832. Considered among the best preserved 19th century gardens in the Southeast, it is filled with fountains and statuary, all selected to enhance the Italianate character.
The centerpiece of Hills & Dales Estate is the classically designed Georgian Italian villa, its white columns and stucco and terra-cotta roof tiles in sharp contrast to the lush green gardens and surrounding countryside it overlooks. Containing more than 30 rooms, the house is furnished with family heirlooms and antiques, including a mid-18th century Chinese export porcelain punch bowl and a circa 1800 sarcophagus-shaped tea caddy made of yew wood with inlaid boxwood lines.
Hills & Dales Estate offers a guided house tour and self-guided tours of the gardens, where something is abloom year-round. In March the gardens rouse from winter slumber with azaleas, camellias, forsythia, pansies, redbuds and other plants, each adding a splash of color to the landscape. April brings more showy shades with Carolina silverbell, Spanish bluebells, candytuft, rhododendron, roses, dogwood and more.
What it was like in biblical times in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the streets of Jerusalem? Book an Empty Tomb Tour with the Biblical History Center (www.biblicalhistorycenter.com) and take a walk into history and Holy Week with guides dressed in period attire and learn about the day-to-day lives of the people as well as historical and archaeological details of the events that transpired. As part of the experience, see over 250 ancient relics—tools, pottery, farming equipment, coins, oil lamps and more.
Ninety-minute tours take place Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 8, 2023. The Center’s Biblical Meal Experience is an add-on option—and well worth the time and money. Recline like the Romans did at a triclinium (three-sided table) for a 4-course meal that includes soup, salad, fruit, main course and dessert—15 different food items—in a first century-style dining room. This tour lasts two and a half hours. Visit the website or call 706-885-0363 for details, ticket prices and reservations.
For more information about planning a trip to LaGrange, GA, visit www.visitlagrange.com or stop by the Visit LaGrange Visitors Center, which features artwork from the LaGrange Art Museum.
Chef Tulla White’s Shrimp and Scallop Fra Diavolo
Makes 2 servings.
The owner and chef of Venucci’s Restaurant in LaGrange, GA, shares a seafood recipe with a spicy tomato wine sauce—a favorite recipe of his and his customers.
- 10 (16/20 count) white shrimp
- 6 (10/20 count) sea scallops
- 1 small can whole peeled tomatoes
- 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1 TBSP fresh ground garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/3 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp ground oregano
- 4 oz butter
- 3 cups Carlo Rossi Chablis
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Coat shrimp and scallops with flour.
In sauté pan heat olive oil.
Sear shrimp and scallops on both sides and remove from oil. Coat half the butter with flour and add to pan, add all spices and stir. Add white wine and whole peeled tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp and scallops back to sauce till finished cooking. Serve over linguine pasta. Top with chopped parsley and pecorino Romano cheese if desired.
About Kathy Witt
Writer and author Kathy Witt is a member of SATW Society of American Travel Writers and the Authors Guild
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