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Why bother with the suburbs when the main city is spectacular? Cultural Heritage TravelingMom tested that question, skipping over Atlanta to seek the vibe in Roswell, Georgia, 20 miles to the north. Her results were solid, with day trips into the metro still possible. And, she found an incredible first-ever-heard history tale.
5 Ways To Explore Roswell, GA, Atlanta’s Northern Suburb
Atlanta’s northern suburb, Roswell tells stories of the South in ways visitors can walk right in. That means historic homes to tour, river waters to paddle, boardwalks to stroll over fragile wetlands, and paved paths to follow toward ghostly accounts.
One Roswell story happened only here: women and children charged with treason for working in the fabric mills and sent away as Prisoners of War.
Restaurants figure in the Roswell experience too, balancing traditional Southern foods and spirits with modern twists.
Single-subject travel – like Civil War trails in the South – can provide vacation focus, but bunches of different activities keep me interested longer. That’s how Roswell, Georgia became an enticing way to be near Atlanta.
Easy access to everything helps, but the depth and diversity of experiences are the main reasons I like what I encountered north of Atlanta, in Roswell:
- The Lost Women of Roswell
- Chattahoochee Nature Center
- Old Mill Park
- Southern Trilogy: Bulloch Hall, Barrington Hall, Smith Plantation
- Among 200 Unique Restaurants: Table & Main, Mill Kitchen & Bar, Peachtree Diner
Gasp At The Roswell Lost Women Story
Roswell shares an astonishing story, one I missed in history classes and Civil War reading. Seems at least 400 women and children making highly-prized Roswell Gray cloth in the mills for Confederate uniforms were hustled off to the North, charged with treason.
Very few returned, and historians speculate poverty was the main reason they settled where they landed, largely Indiana and Kentucky. When eventually released from Prisoner of War status, they received no provisions or assistance to go home.
The reality is horrifying, but the details triggering their forced migration are interesting. This might be an “only in Roswell” story.
Gen. Tecumseh Sherman, busy in Atlanta, sent Gen. Kenner Garrard to Roswell to secure the covered bridge, not knowing retreating Confederate troops had burned it. Their second surprise? The mill was still operating and under a French flag.
French meant neutrality, but within two days Union troops figured out they’d been duped because fabric in the making was labeled CSA and mill records showed the Confederate Quarter Master in Atlanta received all that was produced.
TravelingMom Tip: Discover this story multiple ways: Heritage Center inside the Roswell Visitors Center, signage at Old Mill Park and in front of mill worker homes now repurposed and on the fireplace mantle in Table & Main restaurant with a volume of “The Roswell Women,” a fictional story based on the facts and written by Frances Statham.
Chattahoochee Nature Center Invites Roswell Outdoors
Roswell’s nature center on the Chattahoochee River is so robust a fulltime staff of 25 is needed. In the summer, another 50 are added in.
Activities are family-friendly and sometimes romantic, like moonlight kayak and canoe paddling.
Ease into wetlands and woodlands to simply stroll or intentionally seek native plants —700 Southern natives is a worthy goal. This is a National Park Service partnership where rooting out invasive plants matters.
Sustainability extends to the river too, where brown trout, once in danger, are now reliably at home.
These are calm waters, good for novice paddlers. The reason? This river meanders in its channel instead of rushing because of the Brevard fault line.
Some geologists and historians say the Brevard is significant for Civil War history too for the terrain it created.
Choose walking trails to gardens or ponds, near wildlife living naturally and among raptors rescued to heal from injuries. Kids will love getting up close to bald eagles and all sorts of hawks with artistic, entertaining signage.
The path’s a bit steep to the Unity Garden but the rewards are immense. On this quarter-acre space, volunteers grow more vegetables to give to charities than anywhere in Atlanta.
That’s 11,400 pounds of sharing. Thoughtful planting too, matching fruits, herbs and vegetables to the taste buds of immigrant residents from India, China, South and Central America.
Finding a pitcher plant delights me on any hike; approaching the Unity Garden I saw hundreds! Guess that’s why I also learned a new word: bogfather. Seems a world-respected bog plant specialist is here – Henning von Schmeling, senior operations director at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Picnic In Old Mill Park In Roswell, Georgia
Lean on the railing of restored covered bridge in a park designed for hanging out. Patterns of light as the creek flows by are mesmerizing, saying “linger here.”
The walk from the covered bridge to the waterfall reveals the inner workings of the mills which fueled Roswell’s pre-Civil War economy. Mechanical mill parts appear artistic nestled in the woods without any walls.
Pack a picnic to eat at a proper table or perched on a big rock watching the waterfall. Paths to stroll allow adult daydreaming and children’s frolicking.
TravelingMom Tip: Order your picnic from Fickle Pickle. It’s on the edge of the interesting downtown and hearty sandwiches are robust for a day outdoors.
Historic Homes Create A Southern Trilogy
The City of Roswell owns and operates all three homes in what they call A Southern Trilogy. I like finding public support for history as I travel. Restoration’s expensive, and appreciated.
A fourth heritage property is already purchased to join the trilogy in late 2018. What does a “trilogy” become then?
Stories shared in the three historic homes, and on a walking ghost tour, introduce people – not just things – living here a century and a half ago.
Docents well-schooled in Roswell history guided me through the beautifully restored and fully furnished homes. Each experience feels and looks uniquely different from the other.
That’s not what I find everywhere. Sometimes too many historic homes tours feel ho-hum. Different in Roswell.
Wander the grounds on your own, gathering information at specific points via cell phone. Brochures on each front porch spell out the details.
TravelingMom Tip: Purchase a Southern Trilogy pass and go inside with skilled storytellers to access the full story.
Secret Stories of Roswell
Here’s how the storytelling so cleverly reflects the original residents, and the Roswell restoration.
Barrington Hall 1842 Original furnishings fill the home since generations of the same family lived here for 160 years. Even little items are family artifacts, and clothing is too. Original possessions to this extent gave me deep reasons to muse about the everyday life of the people who called Barrington Hall home.
Bulloch Hall 1839 Letters and diaries of the residents inform the descriptions of lives lived here. Authentic is the mood with each story.
Smith Plantation 1845 First cousins married (had four babies!) and built this home, more a simple farmhouse than grand mansion. Ninety percent of the furnishings are original and at Smith Plantation that means eclectic, reflecting all its years and residents.
Roswell Dining Stretches Expectations of Atlanta Suburb
Do expect fine dining, fancy if you like to dress up, but actually unpretentious and divinely delicious. For some magical reason, Roswell has more than 200 independently owned restaurants and businesses.
I was unable to determine how a city of 96,000 people supports so much appealing dining.
Here are my eating experiences.
Table & Main
Friends and neighbors eat here, so the mood is convivial and buzzing with conversation.
“The food’s like you might have at home, but couldn’t,” suggests proprietor Ryan Pernice. He left restaurant excellence in New York City with Chef Danny Meyer to return to his childhood community.
Think bacon-wrapped meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes with veggies grown nearby.
Pernice loves his extensive bourbon bar, and I did too. Savor the Brown Eyed Susan mixed with Elijah Craig, elderflower liqueur and grapefruit.
Mill Kitchen & Bar
Across the street from a pocket park abounding with public art, Chef Daniel Marteny locally sources his ingredients. The patio with its large fireplace offers views of the park.
My cornmeal-fried okra was delicate whole pods, not chopped, with green chili aioli on the side. Smoked ham with Dijon mornay sauce and an over-easy egg distinguished the Croque Madame sandwich.
TravelingMom Tip: order pimento cheese fritters with bacon vinaigrette even if you don’t usually load up on appetizers.
This is a big space very suitable for families with squirmy kids and also tables separated enough for date-night dinners.
The menu’s enormous, and so is the array of desserts on display at the front door. Penne Siciliano was my entrée with spicy sausage, diced eggplant and tomato pomodoro. Big steaks were popular at nearby tables.
TravelingMoms in the know about Atlanta have some tips to share too. Here’s what TravelingMom of Many Maria Smith says about the city south of Roswell.
Long Weekend Traveling Mom Kendra Pierson shares this insight.