While now the county seat of Baldwin County, Milledgeville Georgia was founded in 1804 as the state’s new capital.
It was built on land cleared of its native American population and largely constructed using slave labor. This perhaps explains why it was stripped of its status as state capital in 1868 during the post-civil war Reconstruction period.
Although temporarily occupied by General Sherman during the civil war, the 200-year-old city survived largely unscathed.
With a motto of ‘capitols, columns and culture,’ you know you can expect plenty of historic southern-style architecture and a great array of attractions, from museums to hiking trails.
Here are the 15 best things to do in and around Milledgeville, Georgia.
1. Milledgeville Historic District
Milledgeville Historic District roughly equates to the area laid out during the founding of the city in the early 1800s.
Its streets cover an area of approximately 3,200 acres, with a large number of homes and other structures demonstrating the traditional southern architectural styles favored before the American Civil War.
Listed on the United States’ National Register of Historic Places, the classical Greek Revival style is particularly prominent here. Atkinson Hall at the heart of the Georgia College campus is just one example of around 40 historic structures worth exploring.
2. Old Governor’s Mansion
With an appearance not unlike a peach-colored version of the White House in Washington DC, the Old Governor’s Mansion is hard to miss.
The official residence of the state governor for most of the 64 years that Milledgeville was the Georgia capital, today this mansion has been converted into a historic house museum.
Tours lead through the restored original rooms, which have also born witness to General Sherman. He headquartered himself here in 1864 during the Union army’s March to the Sea.
Its interiors help tell the story of all Georgia’s residents, from the governor down to its enslaved population.
3. Lockerly Arboretum
Dating to 1852, the similarly grand structure of Rose Hill at Lockerly Arboretum is another important Milledgeville structure worth checking out.
Inside, original features include its hardwood floors, plaster walls and marble fireplaces. Externally, the house is surrounded by around 50 acres of garden.
Perfectly symmetrical ponds immediately in front of Rose Hill spread out into a landscape of rhododendrons, camellias, shrubs and trees that make the perfect spot for a summer picnic.
More recent additions include several greenhouses able to house species that otherwise wouldn’t survive the Georgia climate, including around 60 different types of orchid.
4. Lake Sinclair
Around 10 miles north of downtown Milledgeville is Lake Sinclair, a body of water with three thin main fingers that work their way through the Georgia countryside.
Edged by native trees, Lake Sinclair was created in 1953 by the damming of the Oconee River. Its more than 15,000 acres of area allow a huge number of leisure activities to take place along its shores and on its surface.
Those who enjoy more tranquil pastimes will relish the chance to relax amid extraordinary vistas, perhaps with a fishing rod in hand. But the adrenaline seekers don’t have to miss out. Boats can be rented from Sinclair marina, and jet skis are also available.
5. William P Wall Museum of Natural History
First opening its doors to the public in 2004, the William P Wall Museum of Natural History soon made a name for itself as one of the best museums in the middle Georgia region.
Part of Georgia College, its 2,500 square foot exhibition area covers the long history of life on Earth. Besides more unusual geology specimens are also a diverse range of fossils from mammoth bones to early mammal species.
Next door, visitors will also find a state-of-the-art planetarium, which expands the museum’s remit to the creation of the universe itself.
6. St Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Not only was St Stephen’s Episcopal Church built during the heyday of Milledgeville as the Georgia state capital, but it also plays a central part in the city’s civil war history.
Located in Statehouse Square, the church was constructed in 1843 in the Rural Gothic style, meaning it is rich with woodwork inside and out. It also contains some beautiful stained glass put in place after the civil war.
Had it been in place beforehand, it probably wouldn’t have survived. The church was used as a stable for General Sherman’s horses, while its pews were broken up for firewood. In another deliberate act, its organ pipes were damaged with molasses.
7. Oconee River
The Oconee River flows along the eastern edge of Milledgeville. It offers a great escape just a few minutes from the city’s downtown districts.
One of the best ways to discover its riverine landscape is by taking advantage of the Oconee River Greenway.
Running for around three miles, the greenway is made up of a combination of wide paths, narrower nature trails and wooden boardwalks.
And if strolling or cycling through the dappled shade of the river banks isn’t enough, the river also provides a playground for kayakers, as well as anglers.
8. Old State Capitol
The Georgia state legislature first met in the Old State Capitol building in Milledgeville in 1807, when the building was still incomplete.
Once finished, it took the form of one of the best examples of Gothic architecture anywhere in the United States, with details recognizable from Europe’s medieval castles and cathedrals.
When the state capital was moved to Atlanta, the building became a court house, before becoming a part of Georgia College. Visitors are able to stroll its grounds, as well as enter a building that has had more than $10 million spent on its renovation.
9. John Marlor Arts Center
Part of the Allied Arts Center, the John Marlor occupies one of Milledgeville’s oldest buildings, which dates back to the 1830s.
It lies within a part of town once known as the Strip, which was the focal point for Milledgeville’s African-American community as recently as the 1980s.
Step inside, and you’ll find a small gallery space with a regularly rotating series of exhibitions and artworks which changes every couple of months.
The three buildings that make up the Allied Arts Center also host a long list of workshops and seminars open to all.
10. Memory Hill Cemetery
Part of Milledgeville Historic District, Memory Hill Cemetery is filled with impressive Victorian memorials from the grand dames of the city’s past.
Within its 20-acre landscaping are some of the city’s most important names, including the author Flannery O’Connor, enslaved African-Americans from the pre-war period, and soldiers who died fighting that same war.
This burial place is of such significance that its self-guided walking tour counts 47 different points of interest, and is recommended to last at least an hour.
However, even the shortest stop to Memory Hill Cemetery as part of a larger sightseeing visit to historic Milledgeville will be a worthwhile experience for first-time visitors to the city.
11. Andalusia Farm
This relatively simple structure was the home of Flannery O’Connor for more than a decade, from 1951 to 1964.
Dating back to around 1814, the farm began life as a cotton plantation, worked by slaves. The author moved here after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Lupus.
Despite this, it was during her thirteen years at Andalusia Farm that O’Connor wrote the major of her work, with the farm clearly playing at part in her literary world.
Now a museum, the farmhouse helps to tell O’Connor’s life story, including that of her two novels. The first, Wise Blood, was adapted into a movie directed by John Huston.
12. Brown-Stetson-Sanford House
This woodboard structure is typical of the Milledgeville Federal style of architecture. It was constructed in 1825, and was designed by local architect John Marlor, after whom the arts center is named.
Retaining much of its original look in spite of the passage of almost 200 years, its main staircase is particularly majestic, and considered a tell-tale sign of Marlor’s work. In the parlor, visitors can also see the original hand-worked wood.
Brown-Stetson-Sanford House makes an excellent addition to the city’s historic trolley tours, which make use of a vintage trolleybus known by the name of Milly in exploring the likes of Rose Hill, the Old State Capitol and Sallie-Ellis Davis House.
13. Bartram Forest
On the southern edge of the city about five miles from Statehouse Square, Bartram Forest contains several looping trails for anyone eager to get out on a bike.
Its routes range from beginner friendly 5.5 mile trails to a trickier 10.3 mile track that should only be tackled by those with some experience on a mountain bike.
Two wheels is a great way of discovering all Georgia’s native habitats, including the remains of a vast sea that covered the area around 100 million years ago. The forest also has a plethora of local species of wildlife, while the forest was considered native American territory right up until 1794.
14. Tubman Museum
This museum in Macon is named after prominent African-American Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she became a key figure in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape the southern states. She will soon be honored with a portrait on the new $20 bill.
Forty minutes northwest of Milledgeville, the museum is perfectly named, as it is one of Georgia’s major gallery spaces for African-American art and culture.
Its collection of artifacts range from historic objects to stunningly contemporary pieces of sculpture. Its displays aim to highlight the role of African-Americans in the development of the United States, such as the work of agricultural scientist George Washington Carver.
15. Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge
A similar distance due west is the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. It has provided a space for Georgia’s native species since at least 1939, when it was first declared a protected area.
A region of forest interspersed with shallow streams, its ridges are dominated by pines while its beaver-inhabited creeks provide the perfect base for a variety of hardwoods.
Among its rarer species, visitors should look out for the red-cockaded woodpecker, among 200 other bird species and around 50 different types of mammal including the bobcat.
An orientation video can be enjoyed at the visitor center before you head out along the various trails that make the refuge such a delight.