When I tried to explain to my friends my desire to go to Westville, in Lumpkin, Georgia [Stewart County], I told them it seems like it is a place that, much like Helen, Georgia is to Germany, it is to our state 150 years ago. That description is only mostly accurate, Helen is much more touristy with restaurants, shopping centers, and its ilk. Westville is simply what it claims to be a working pre-civil war Georgia town, you be hard pressed to find a fine dining experience in the vicinity, but there’s some nearby good BBQ.
I hesitate to call it a hike, but you should wear comfortable shoes because you’ll walk along dirt roads for about two miles during your visit. What you see is quite interesting, you walk along and see over thirty pioneer Georgia buildings. From Churches to a General Store to a Doctor’s office; from the rich Singer’s home to poor farmers Cabins; from blacksmiths to potters to bootmakers shops; its all there in this well thought out open Air Museum.
When you arrive you have to pay admission at the gift shop, which is $10 for adults, $8 for college students, and $4 dollars for K-12 ($1 off coupon here), and exchange your money for scrip which is used throughout the venue. In case you want some lemonade or some cornbread (50 Cents each), or take a tour of the land in a mule drawn wagon ($1 a person), you need a little scrip (2 bucks each should suffice). There is a restaurant serving simple food in one of the houses and I believe that group takes cash.
Inside you see a town at work. Workers in period gear ply their trades and educate you about what Georgia once was like. Unlike other reproductions I’ve seen, they let the characters be themselves, there's no pre planned script. We met a blacksmith who was complaining about the youths they hired not paying attention as he was trying to teach one how to make a nail. We met a very authentic heavy set black man making “sweetnin” and telling us it was good (making good a two syllable word). This sugar cane syrup was pretty disgusting to my palate, but as he explained it was all they had in the day. There was also a nice older lady who showed us how the loom worked, and as she pointed out all the drapes and linens on the site were made by that loom.
The highlight of the trip was watching a cotton gin actually at work. They had two field hands working the gin. One would run the gin and speak to the visitors, the other tended to the mules which served as its engine. I’ve seen cotton before, and I’ve seen gins before, but I never saw one at work. It was truly fascinating, Most gins of the time used bulls, and they explained that the last bull died some twenty years before, and they switched to mules. There was a giant bailing machine next to the gin, but unfortunately (for me not them) they weren’t bailing that day.
We went during the harvest festival, and they have several festivals and events throughout the year. On that day, there were singers and musicians in the courthouse, and you could sit a spell and enjoy some tunes. The Courthouse was from Cherokee County and I believe it is the oldest courthouse still standing in this state.
The whole concept is a monument to Colonel John West, a former professor from North Georgia College in Dahlonega. The idea was to save old historic buildings and put them all in one place for future generations to see. All the buildings are real and have come from all corners of the state. I’m glad some folks have the foresight to preserve that which would otherwise fall by the wayside.
If you have kids, I’d say its worth a special trip, seeing it’s a clear two and a half hours outside of Atlanta. For adults, I would say you would be remiss if you were in the area and didn’t stop by. Or could be easily combined with a gorgeous nature walk at Providence Canyon State Park 5 miles away. If you like photography, they actually encourage you to take pictures, unlike most other museums. This is a gem of a place in Southwest Georgia and a pleasant gateway to a world that has passed us by.