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Getting to know Georgia: Americus

POSTED: March 14, 2009 11:52 a.m.
My wife and I recently had the opportunity to travel to the southwestern corner of the state to attend a wedding.
A former college roommate of hers got married one Saturday last fall, so we drove across the state to a small town named Americus, north of Albany and a few miles west of Cordele. It was about a four-hour drive.
We traveled some on the interstate but mostly went by back roads, so we got to see parts of the state one doesn’t normally get a chance to see most of it rural areas or small towns with not much to them.
It’s always an eye-opener, seeing how limited the opportunities in some places really are. We take so much for granted here.
We’d been through Americus once before, about seven or eight years ago, on the way back from a weekend at Callaway Gardens, northwest of Columbus, near the Alabama line. It’s home to Georgia Southwest State University, and is the nearest “big city” to Plains, about 17 miles west, where Jimmy Carter grew up and now lives.
We’d gone through Plains on the way home from Callaway, that earlier weekend, and also stopped by the Carter Museum, which was once the old Plains High School, with various memorabilia in it.
It’s amazing to think that someone from a small town like that would eventually go on to become both governor and president.
Americus is the next town on the way east of Plains to Cordele, which is south of Macon, off I-75. It has two parallel main streets, one-way each way. Going east through town on Lamar Street, we saw the old 1921 Rylander Theatre on the south side of the street, and the 1892 Windsor Hotel across the street on the next block. The latter is an amazing old castle of a building, recently restored and reopened, and we had to stop long enough to have a look inside the lobby. I’d thought at the time, the next time we were down that way, we’d HAVE to stay there, just to see what it was like.
The wedding gave us the perfect opportunity to do so, as the wedding and reception both were at the Rylander, just one block over. Most of the wedding guests from out-of-town, like us, stayed at the Windsor overnight. The two buildings are marvelous pieces of architecture from a bygone era, and I’m glad they have both been restored. It would be a shame to lose them.
The Windsor Hotel had numerous photos on the walls, showing some of the older homes and buildings from the late 1890s and early 1900s, some of which no longer exist. That was really interesting to see.
I remember reading, in one of Jimmy Carter’s books about growing up in Plains in the 1930s, how he and a young friend of his would go to the Rylander Theatre to watch westerns on an occasional Saturday after they’d finished morning chores and had managed to save a few nickels and dimes. Money was hard to come by in those days.
At the time, the only way to get there was to hop a slow-moving freight train, both ways. So he’d tell his folks that he and his friend were going fishing or something and they’d sneak off to Americus on the train to catch a movie. Imagine doing that at 11 or 12 years old! His parents would have killed him if they’d ever found out what was really going on.

Semmes lives in Woodland Lakes in Liberty County and works in Savannah.
 

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