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Dana Ford

Explore must-visit museums and historical sites on a weekend getaway to Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery, AL
National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Photograph courtesy of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB

There’s a street in Montgomery that locals say is one of the most historic in America. A large fountain sits at the western end, the site of the city’s once-booming slave market. At the eastern end is the Alabama State Capitol, where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy. In between is Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor in the late 1950s. The street is also home to the spot where Rosa Parks boarded the bus on which she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.

That roughly half-mile street, Dexter Avenue, tells the story of Montgomery as both the birthplace of the Confederacy and the city where the modern civil rights movement took off. The history here is complicated, crowded, and occasionally competing, and it’s on full display this year as Alabama gears up for its bicentennial celebration. Alabama became a state on December 14, 1819; Montgomery was founded the same year along the banks of the Alabama River.

Montgomery, AL
Alabama State Capitol

Photograph courtesy of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB

The capital city is ready to celebrate the anniversary. Its latest and greatest draw is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first U.S. memorial dedicated to the victims of lynching and racial terror. When it opened in April 2018, the country took notice, with everyone from Gloria Steinem and Al Gore to The Roots turning up in support. About the memorial, the New York Times said: “There is nothing like it in the country. Which is the point.”

Set on a small hilltop overlooking Montgomery, the memorial contains more than 800 weathered steel slabs. Each represents a county where a lynching has taken place and includes the name or names, when known, of those killed. The slabs are hung from the roof, but the floor is sloped, making them appear at eye level at the start of the memorial and rise above people’s heads toward the end. Along the way, visitors may read purported justifications for the killings: “For voting.” “For asking a white woman for a drink of water.” “For organizing local sharecroppers.” The six-acre site is a powerful reminder of the past, but it also serves as a call to action. An identical set of steel slabs rests on the ground nearby; they are meant to be claimed and installed by the counties they represent. So far, none have moved. But the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization behind the memorial, is in talks with dozens of communities interested in erecting their monuments.

Montgomery, AL
Legacy Museum

Photograph courtesy of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB

The provocative memorial opened at the same time as downtown’s Legacy Museum, which sits on the site of a former slave warehouse. The 11,000-square-foot museum helps put the memorial into context, tracing the history of racial inequality from slavery and segregation to present-day mass incarceration.

Montgomery, AL
Rosa Parks Museum

Photograph courtesy of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB

Montgomery, AL
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

Photograph courtesy of Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB

While downtown, don’t miss several other spots significant to Montgomery’s history. The Rosa Parks Museum puts visitors directly outside a replica of her bus to watch a reenactment of her arrest. By design, the room is dark and cold, much like the evening of December 1, 1955. It was this event that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the success of which electrified the civil rights movement and catapulted a young King into the national spotlight. See where MLK preached at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, which offers tours of his office and the sanctuary. If you go on a Sunday, note that the organist King hired still plays services. From there, visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum, the simple clapboard house where King lived with his family.

For a look inside another historic home, this one from the Civil War era, head to the First White House of the Confederacy, once the residence of Jefferson Davis and his family. Tour his bedroom and see a variety of keepsakes, such as his pipe, a lock of his hair, and flowers from his grave. Nearby is the Alabama State Capitol. It’s here that Southern delegates met to organize the Confederate States of America and swore in Davis as their president in 1861. The Senate room is restored to look like it did that year, complete with replica desks and light fixtures. A monument to Davis sits outside the capitol building not far from where King stood to deliver his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech at the end of the historic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965.

The capitol steps are the perfect place to pause and reflect on the various histories contained within Montgomery, and to think about the city’s future. King similarly took the long view when he addressed marchers that day. “How long?” he asked in unison with the crowd: “Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

More to Explore: Taste of Montgomery

So fiercely does Montgomery love its food, it named its Minor League Baseball team the Montgomery Biscuits. (The team’s mascot? A biscuit-eating beast named Big Mo.) Begin your culinary tour of the capital at Cahawba House, a cozy breakfast and lunch spot known for—you guessed it—biscuits. The restaurant also makes a pretty mean cinnamon beignet.

If you prefer a quick in-and-out lunch, try Derk’s Filet and Vine, a restaurant and market in one. Make a plate at the hot bar, which is always stocked with Southern favorites, such as pulled pork, fried chicken, and vegetables cooked into submission. The jalapeño cornbread is perfection. Wash it all down with some sweet tea, and pick up a six-pack of Imperial Stout from Alabama’s Blue Pants Brewery to go. Speaking of beer, Montgomery recently welcomed its first production brewery: Common Bond. Its industrial downtown taproom doesn’t serve food—just good beer, including crowd-friendly American ales—but you can call Bibb Street Pizza next door and have a pie delivered.

Montgomery, AL
Fett sow fries at Central

Photograph courtesy of Carter Photography & Design, LLC

For a more upscale experience, try Central. The restaurant, set in an 1890s warehouse space, is Montgomery’s go-to place for creative cocktails and well-made classics. Order the fett sow fries to start. (They look like fries, but they’re pork belly.) Mains are made in the open kitchen using fresh and local ingredients. To pick up some of those basics, head to Montgomery Curb Market, which offers everything from flowers and produce to homemade soups and pies several mornings a week. Not ready for the day to end? Top it off with a nightcap at the downtown Aviator Bar, so named for its over-the-top airplane kitsch and wartime memorabilia.

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Southbound.

Vintage Vacations: The Southeast’s most legendary and long-standing attractions

Long before a mouse named Mickey showed up in central Florida, the South was dotted with roadside attractions and family-owned amusements. Rock formations, natural springs, botanical gardens, and menageries of animals were the mainstays of vacation fun. And while some of these beloved spots live on only in memory, many continue to welcome visitors—and have even experienced a recent surge in interest and attendance. So come along as we pay a visit to some of the region’s most legendary and long-standing attractions.

Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Rock City

Photograph courtesy of Rock City

Rock City
Lookout Mountain, Georgia

Real estate developer Garnet Carter hit it big as the creator of the nation’s first miniature golf course in 1928. Set atop Lookout Mountain, Georgia, it was part of his planned community, Fairyland—the name a nod to his wife Frieda’s love of European folklore. The game caught on, and he franchised the concept nationwide as Tom Thumb Golf. But as the Depression spread gloom across the country, the venture foundered, and Carter began casting about for a new business opportunity. He didn’t have to look far: Frieda had begun planting a rock garden to end all rock gardens on a portion of their development known as Rock City. At this natural collection of massive boulders, the stones are set in such a way as to create streets and alleys in between them.

Rock City

Using string, Frieda had marked a trail that wound through the rock formations and ended at an outcropping known as Lover’s Leap, which offered stunning views of the countryside and glimpses of seven states. She’d planted wildflowers and other plants along the path and populated it with German statues of gnomes and other fairytale characters. In May 1932, the Carters opened Rock City Gardens to the paying public.

But the anticipated crowds failed to appear. Trouble was, unlike the popular roadside attractions of the day, Rock City’s mountaintop location failed to catch the attention of travelers. So Carter hatched a plan to get the word out. In 1936, he hired a young artist, Clark Byers, to travel the nation and paint three words—See Rock City—on the barns of willing farmers. (In exchange, he painted the rest of the barn for free.) The idea worked, and vacationers began ascending Lookout Mountain in droves.

Rock City

In 1947, with the Baby Boom underway, the Carters looked to add some child-friendly appeal. They put a roof over one of the rock crevices and filled the resulting cave with glowing sculptures of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Fairyland Caverns was such a hit, Rock City opened a similar fairytale-themed attraction, Mother Goose Village, in 1964.

In the ensuing decades, shops and restaurants were added to the park, but few changes were made to Frieda’s path. In fact, to this day, Rock City’s original layout remains almost entirely intact. From Fat Man’s Squeeze, a narrow fissure along the trail through which guests hold their breath and pass, to the colorful gnomes one encounters along the way, the elements that first wowed guests more than eight decades ago continue to delight those who heed the call to see Rock City. —K.B.

Fountain of Youth
Fountain of Youth

Photograph courtesy of Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth
St. Augustine, Florida

A woman turns to her friend after taking a swig of water from what looks like an oversized shot glass. “Do I look younger?” she asks. Both women laugh. The drink might not have done the trick, but their smiles do.

Welcome to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, which promises eternal youth—or at least the dream of it. Today’s drinkers are the latest in a long string of hopefuls, supposedly starting with Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Legend holds that he was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he arrived in present-day St. Augustine in 1513, lured by rumors of a nearby spring with waters that erased the effects of aging.

Fountain of youth

Visitors to the park can see purported evidence of Ponce de Leon’s visit to the area, including a coquina cross fifteen stones high and thirteen stones across on display next to the fountain. A small silver container, also on display, is a replica of one that held an affidavit stating that Ponce de Leon made the cross to commemorate the year of his arrival, 1513.

(Quick side note: The historical accuracy of Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth has eroded over the years. There is, in fact, little evidence to suggest he set out to find such a mythical fount. No matter. The legend lives on, as does the spring.)

Fountain of Youth

In the late nineteenth century, the Fountain of Youth became a bona fide attraction. In fact, its guest books date to 1868, making it Florida’s oldest tourist destination. In 1900, owner Henry H. Williams sold it to Luella Day McConnell, aka Diamond Lil, who aggressively promoted “Ponce’s Famous Spring!” After she passed in 1927, the park was sold to state senator Walter B. Fraser and has remained in his family ever since.

Fountain of Youth

Over the decades, the Frasers have worked to turn the property into a manicured waterfront park filled with peacocks and plenty of exhibits on Florida’s early history. Visitors can explore a recreation of a Timucuan village, which shows what Native American life was like here before the arrival of the Spanish. They can also see a statue of Pedro Menendez, who established the first successful European settlement in North America at St. Augustine, exactly where the park is now. There’s a replica of a mission church, a blacksmith shop, and a Spanish watchtower. There’s even a planetarium that explains how explorers used the stars to navigate the sea. But the main attraction at the Fountain of Youth is—and will likely always be—the spring and its supposedly miraculous water. (Small cups are provided, but you may bring your own containers, too, if you suspect it might take more than a sip to do the trick.) True, it might not help us live forever, but it’s a good reminder to make the most of the time we have left. —D.F.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock

Photograph courtesy of Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock
Western North Carolina

Before May 1949, the trek to the top of granite monolith Chimney Rock was a calf-burning pilgrimage. After following a staircase up 1,965 feet, visitors would have to climb a system of stairs and ladders 315 feet higher to reach the peak of an outcropping. If the day was clear, they’d be rewarded with panoramic views of the western North Carolina countryside and Hickory Nut Gorge. Then came the modern era. In 1947, eight tons of dynamite and eighteen months of hard labor bore an elevator shaft into a nearby cliff, thereby transforming the Chimney into one of the South’s most accessible sky-high destinations.

Chimney Rock

If the elevator’s twenty-six-story ascent transcends the vision of Chimney Rock’s early proprietors, then it isn’t by much—all puns aside, farsightedness has always been a driver of the Chimney’s success. The first stairs to the peak were built by owner Jerome Freeman, who’d bought the Chimney and its surrounding acres from a speculation company in the 1890s; however, Freeman’s successor, Dr. Lucius Morse, was the attraction’s true visionary. A former physician, Morse had moved to the mountains after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. To take in the area’s healthful climate, he often rode on horseback through the valley, admiring the Chimney from below. Morse eventually paid a man twenty-five cents to take him by donkey to the peak. There, atop the “Land of the Sky,” he conceived the idea for a sprawling park, a dam and lake, and a year-round resort town. In 1902, with help from his brothers, he bought the sixty-four-acre Chimney Rock Mountain for $5,000.

In the years that followed, the Morse family would continue to shepherd the park’s growth, expanding its footprint to 1,000 acres and adding paved roads and trails. The town of Lake Lure, which was named by Morse’s wife, was incorporated in 1927.

Chimney Rock

The ensuing decades brought more visitors and acclaim to the bustling valley. Beyond the Chimney itself, park-goers sought attractions like the 404-foot-tall Hickory Nut Falls (featured in the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans), impressive views from the park’s aptly named Opera Box overlook, and abundant hiking. In the midst of stock car racing’s early heyday, there was even a two-mile road race that slung drivers around the mountain’s hairpin turns. The Chimney Rock Hillclimb, as it was called, was a beloved local tradition for almost forty years.

What kept people coming back year after year, though, was the view from the top of the 535-million-year-old granite landmark. When the historic elevator closed in 2012 for renovations, floods of visitors still braved the attraction’s 499 steps to share in one of the South’s natural wonders.

Chimney Rock

Today Chimney Rock, a state park since 2007, spans 5,700 acres and has six trails, including the park’s newest addition, the Skyline Trail, which opened in September 2017 and leads to the upper cascades of Hickory Nut Falls. Rock climbers, stair-running fitness fanatics, leaf peepers, even newlyweds—yes, you can get married on top of Chimney Rock—make up the 250,000 visitors the park sees each year.

As for the elevator?  It reopened in 2018 and lifts visitors to the peak in just thirty-two seconds. Although it’s not the same one from the 1940s, it’s still a straight shot to the heavens. —B.C.

Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs

Photograph courtesy of Weeki Wachee Springs

Weeki Wachee Springs
West central Florida

Alongside U.S. 19 in west central Florida, about an hour north of Tampa, visitors descend into a concrete bunker set on a cerulean spring-fed pool. They’re not here to spy on alligators or manatees; they’ve come to see something altogether different, creatures more fabulous and rare. Since October 1947, when the first show opened at the Weeki Wachee Springs underwater theater, this natural spring—the deepest in the United States—has been the home of mermaids.

Navy frogman Newton Perry was the theater’s mastermind. After returning home from World War II, he was looking for a business opportunity. When he came upon a spring at the head of a river the Seminole Indians called Weeki Wachee (meaning “little spring” or “winding river”), he bought it, clearing the rusted appliances and wrecked cars that had been abandoned there over the decades. He perfected an underwater breathing method that allowed swimmers to take in oxygen from an air hose connected to a compressor. He then went in search of attractive local girls, who would become the park’s first mermaids.

Weeki Wachee Springs

In the early days, swimmers wore one-piece bathing suits and performed aquatic ballets or enjoyed underwater picnics, eating fruit and drinking bottled sodas while turtles and fish swam by. In 1959, the small roadside attraction made it to the big leagues: ABC purchased the park, replaced Perry’s fifty-seat theater with the current 400-seat one, and began producing elaborate circus- and pirate-themed shows, as well as underwater adaptations of classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Snow White.

Weeki Wachee Springs

The crowds went wild. In the 1960s, more attractions were added to satisfy their curiosity, including glass-bottomed boats, a jungle cruise with live animals, and a tram ride to a recreated Native American camp touted as “Florida’s only authentic Seminole Indian ghost village.” Promotional literature with endorsements from the likes of Roy Rogers, Bob Hope, and even rocket scientist Wernher von Braun flooded the country. Elvis Presley visited the park. And the mermaids became international stars, with young women arriving from as far as Tokyo to audition for the coveted roles.

In the years following the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World, Weeki Wachee Springs, like many Florida roadside attractions, struggled to tread water. But the park held on, and in 2008 it became a Florida state park. In recent years, it’s seen a surge in attendance (from 151,000 guests in 2010 to almost 400,000 last year—a whopping 165 percent increase), thanks in part to the current pop culture obsession with mythical creatures. In addition to the mermaid shows—which include patriotic performances set to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA and an adaptation of (what else?) The Little Mermaid—visitors may take in wildlife demonstrations or board a pontoon boat for a twenty-five-minute cruise on the Weeki Wachee River. And should any guests find it impossible to resist the siren call to don a Lycra tail and take the plunge, the park also offers weekend mermaid camps, where participants learn underwater ballet moves and get behind-the-scenes access to the show. —K.B.

Lost Sea
The Lost Sea

Photograph courtesy of the Lost Sea

The Lost Sea
Sweetwater, Tennessee

Many have attempted to explore the depths and distance of the Lost Sea, an underground lake within Craighead Caverns, but to little avail. Divers in the seventies found several water-filled rooms deep below the surface, but the conditions were too dangerous for them to explore further. The full extent of the Lost Sea—the largest underground lake in the country and the second largest in the world—remains, well, lost to mankind.

Thanks to fossils, we do know a few things about the history of the caverns: Its earliest known inhabitant was a Pleistocene jaguar from around 20,000 years ago. Many millennia later, Cherokee Indians, led by Chief Craighead (the cave’s namesake), used the murky depths as a council chamber. Confederate soldiers mined here for saltpeter to create gunpowder. Moonshiners used parts of the spacious cave to distill their potent product. Later, the cave system housed everything from dance floors to a mushroom farm to a cockfighting ring to a fallout shelter.

Lost Sea

In 1965, the Lost Sea found a new calling as a tourist attraction. Each year, thousands navigate the mile-long path through the caves with the help of a tour guide, then step aboard glass-bottomed boats that ferry them around the clear blue lake hidden inside the cavern. Peering into the water, it’s easy to spot rainbow trout, most of them blind. The first such trout were placed in the lake in the sixties to see if they could find a way out of the Lost Sea. They didn’t—but they proved to be such an intriguing attraction in their own right, they are now restocked every few years. (They can’t naturally reproduce in the lake.)

Lost Sea

The lake and cave system is also home to significant geological structures, including anthodites—or “cave flowers”—one of the rarest cave formations in the world. The nationally registered natural landmark holds half of all known formations of the icy-looking crystals.

But besides these ever-evolving “flowers,” you’ll find only remnants of the cave’s past lives: black carbon on the cave’s roof from the smoke of the Cherokees’ fires; a leaching vat from Confederate soldiers; a moonshine still; dilapidated boxes of rations from a 1960s bomb shelter. Forget rooms of artifacts tucked neatly behind glass enclosures: At the Lost Sea Adventure, you can get up close and personal with the cave’s wonders. Dip your hand into the lake, rub a bear claw–shaped stalagmite for good luck, or get a “cave kiss” from the overhanging stalactites.

Lost Sea

Choose from several tour options: an hour-and-fifteen-minute daily tour that takes you around the cavern and lake; an overnight Wild Cave Tour, where you’ll spend the night in the cave and get dirty while crawling through nooks and crannies (groups of twelve or more only); or the Super Saturday Adventure, a three-hour daytime version of the Wild Cave Tour. While you’re there, stop by the Lost Sea Village (open spring and summer), which includes a restaurant, general store, gem mine, and glass blower.

With no identified end to the lake and the water-filled rooms beneath it, there’s still much to be discovered in Craighead Caverns. Will we ever know the full scope of the Lost Sea? Perhaps not for another millennium—a mere moment in the cave system’s long and storied lifetime. —E.H.

More to Explore

Towering Achievements
One of the South’s most beautiful towers, commonly known as Bok Tower, was built in 1929 in Lake Wales, Florida. The 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower (so named for the sixty-bell carillon it houses) rises over a 250-acre woodland garden designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. And while visitors may not climb to the top, the tower certainly sends spirits soaring during twice-daily live bell concerts.

Another sky-high Sunshine State structure, the Citrus Tower in Clermont, began whisking visitors 226 feet up to its observation deck in 1956. During its early days, more than half a million guests a year took in the bird’s-eye views of glittering spring-fed lakes and orange groves stretching to the horizon. Today, most of the trees have given way to strip malls and single-family homes, but the nostalgic appeal—and a small display with early renderings, archival photos, and newspaper clippings—remains intact.

Unlike the Citrus Tower, the 407-foot Space Needle in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, affords views largely unchanged since its 1970 opening. One of many towers that sprung up across the country in the sixties following the construction of Seattle’s Space Needle for the 1962 World’s Fair, the attraction continues to sell tickets to its open-air observation deck that are good for twenty-four hours after purchase, allowing guests to ride the glass elevators to the top and take in the Great Smoky Mountains by day and night.


Sea Change
Aquatic attractions have evolved alongside our understanding of ocean life. Case in point, Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine, Florida. Some time after it opened in 1938, its namesake stars jumped through hoops; today, they delight visitors by showcasing their natural behaviors, such as blowing bubbles. Also in vogue? Interactive experiences. At Marineland, which is owned by the Georgia Aquarium, visitors can get in the water with dolphins—the same is true at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, Florida. Theater of the Sea opened in 1946 and is the country’s second-oldest sea attraction, after Marineland. 


Believe it or Not
If it’s shocking, strange, or just plain weird, it likely has a home at one of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. The first temporary Odditorium premiered at the World’s Fair in 1933, followed by appearances at other expositions; the first permanent one opened in 1950 in St. Augustine, Florida, inside a circa-1887 Moorish-style castle that was once the home of William G. Warden, of Standard Oil Company fame. Each Odditorium (there are thirty) is housed in an unusual building (a cruise ship run aground, a toppled Empire State Building) and features between 400 and 700 exhibits showcasing everything from a six-legged cow to a shrunken human head. Ripley’s operates additional locations in Florida, as well as ones in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Nearer, My God, to Thee
Behind many a monument is man’s search for meaning. Sometimes the tribute is oversized, as it is at Fields of the Wood in Murphy, North Carolina. This biblical theme park includes a rendering of the Ten Commandments so large it can be seen from 5,000 feet in the air. Another awe-inspiring memorial, the Great Cross, can be spotted along the banks of the Matanzas River in St. Augustine, Florida. Standing 208 feet tall, it’s reportedly the country’s largest cross.

Other times, tributes are small in scale. Take, for example, the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, where visitors can see miniature replicas of the world’s great religious structures, such as St. Peter’s Basilica, made by a Benedictine monk. Using stone, concrete, and donated materials (marbles, shells, costume jewelry), Brother Joseph Zoettl created 125 tiny buildings over a nearly fifty-year period. In a similar vein, a minister in Lucedale, Mississippi, built Palestine Gardens, a scale model of the Holy Land, featuring Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the River Jordan.

Lastly, tributes may be true to size, as is the case at Christ in the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Visitors here can see more than 130 figures in fourteen life-size dioramas depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

Gators Galore
Is there an animal more primal, more quintessentially Southern, than the alligator? See more than 2,000 of the snapping, prehistoric-looking reptiles, including two rare leucistic, or white, alligators (there are only twelve in the world), at Orlando’s Gatorland, which opened in 1949. Also in Florida, don’t miss the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, founded in 1893. It boasts a bird rookery (alligators help keep avian predators at bay) and is the only place in the world with all twenty-four recognized species of crocodilian.

Where the Lion is King
As the nation’s first drive-through safari park, Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida, debuted the notion of a “cageless” zoo when it opened in 1967. Cruise through at eight miles an hour and spot giraffes, zebras, lions, and more. No convertibles allowed!

In Memoriam
While many of the South’s favorite attractions have stood the test of time, some live on only in snapshots, souvenirs, and memories.

Cypress Gardens: This Winter Haven attraction was once one of central Florida’s biggest tourist draws. It began life as a botanical garden in 1936, and during its heyday in the fifties and sixties, it was well-known for its water ski shows and hoop-skirted Southern belles strolling the grounds. Though it hung on for decades, adding thrill rides and a water park in the early 2000s, it was ultimately shuttered in 2009. Today, it is the site of Legoland Florida, and while the belles are gone with the wind, visitors may still stroll the historic gardens and take in a ski show performed by Lego pirates.

Frontier Land: Opened in 1965 in Cherokee, North Carolina, this Old West–themed park entertained visitors with train rides, a gondola, several carnival-type rides, and, according to a park press release, “an Indian attack on the pioneers and soldiers every hour throughout the day.” Converted into a waterpark in 1983, it was finally razed in the mid-nineties to make way for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.

Magic World: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has seen many an attraction come and go. Among the most unusual was this mashup of dinosaurs, thrill rides, UFOs, even an Arabian village complete with a magic carpet ride. The park lasted from the mid-sixties until 1995; only the volcano, which served as the park’s centerpiece, remains. (It’s now the focal point of Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.)

Porpoise Island: Another bygone Pigeon Forge destination, this Polynesian-themed attraction offered visitors in the seventies and eighties a taste of the South Pacific in the Smokies. Today, the dolphin lagoons and hula dancers have given way to a shopping and entertainment complex dubbed The Island. Instead of the nightly luau, visitors can book a table at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen or Margaritaville.

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Southbound.

Ask the Expert: Where to raise a glass in New Orleans

New Orleans
Bourbon Street in the French Quarter


Elizabeth Pearce

Our Expert
Elizabeth Pearce is the author of Drink Dat New Orleans: A Guide to the Best Cocktail Bars, Neighborhood Pubs, and All-Night Dives. She’s the founder and owner of Drink & Learn, which offers cocktail tours of the French Quarter.


Let’s talk about some of New Orleans’ famous drinks, starting with the Sazerac. Where should we get one?
The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans. Most of its ingredients, like Herbsaint and Peychaud’s bitters, were either invented in this city or find a home here. The obvious place to go is the Sazerac Bar. Start there and then hit Tujague’s, one of the oldest watering holes in the city. Ask for bartender Paul Gustings—he’s really, really talented.

New Orleans

Courtesy of Arnaud's

How did the Hurricane come to be? Where should we get one?
It was invented by the team at Pat O’Brien’s during World War II, when whiskey was hard to get and rum was in abundance. I tell people to go to Pat O’Brien’s because it’s an amazing bar. They have dueling pianos; they have a fountain with fire in it. But if you want a really good Hurricane, go to [Beachbum Berry’s] Latitude 29, one of the premier tiki bars in America.

New Orleans
Pat O’Brien’s

Courtesy of Pat O'Brien's

What’s your all-time favorite place to go for a cocktail in New Orleans?
I love French 75 at Arnaud’s. They just won the James Beard Award for best bar program. It’s a beautiful place half a block off Bourbon Street, but it might as well be miles and miles away. Chris Hannah is a really brilliant bartender there, very respected in this town.

What about a local dive? Is there one you’d recommend?
I like the Erin Rose for day drinking, especially because they have a happy hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s a long, skinny bar without a lot of room. People love it for the friendly staff, and you’ll often see bartenders drinking there on their days off. At night, go to the Chart Room. It’s cash only, which is always a good sign. It’s one of those places where the bartenders aren’t young; most grew up in New Orleans and have strong opinions. Ain’t nothing fancy in the Chart Room, but the drinks are usually pretty cheap, and the jukebox is great.

New Orleans
Absinthe exhibit at the Museum of the American Cocktail

Courtesy of Stephen Binns/Museum of the American Cocktail

Besides going to bars, what other ways can people experience or learn about the city’s drinking culture?
Be a New Orleanian: Get a drink in your hand and go for a walk by the Mississippi. Sit in a park and listen to musicians. Stroll and sip. You should also visit the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which houses the Museum of the American Cocktail. One more thing: All along Royal Street, there are really great stores that have 1940s and ’50s barware. Vintage 329 has sets of Tom Collins and rocks glasses, and lots of stores carry vintage hip flasks. That’d be a great souvenir.

This article appears in our Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Southbound.

Extraordinary Escapes: 16 unexpected accommodations to book in the South

Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta tree house

Jeremy Harwell

Branch Out
Tree House  Atlanta, Georgia

This tree house is everything you wanted as a kid, updated for your grown-up tastes. Comprising three houses, or rooms, it’s interconnected by rope bridges strung with twinkling lights. In the sitting room, find furnishings plucked from fairy tales, such as a plaster cast of a Siberian tiger paw. The bedroom has a double bed with luxury linens and wheels; on clear nights, roll it onto a platform that overlooks a stream. The third room is the deck, which surrounds a 165-year-old shortleaf pine—one of seven trees that make up this magical hideaway just minutes from downtown. Guests are an easy drive from some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, but most stay at the tree house to soak up the quiet and calm of the woods. Want to go? Act now. This backyard oasis, which was recently ranked as Airbnb’s most wished-for listing, is booked months in advance. airbnb.com/rooms/1415908

All Aboard
Buffalo Creek Vacations  Clyde, North Carolina

What do you get when you cross bison with a caboose? Buffalo Creek Vacations, a unique getaway spot in the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville. The site spans seventy-two acres and includes five log cabins and two retired cabooses. Each remodeled caboose has loft beds, a full kitchen with granite countertops, even heated bathroom floors. But their most distinctive feature is their view: a large herd of bison feeding and frolicking nearby. buffalocreekvacationsnc.com

Hobbit hut
A Hobbit hut at Forest Gully Farms in Santa Fe, Tennessee

Jon Giffin/Forest Gully Farms

Sleep in the Shire
Forest Gully Farms  Santa Fe, Tennessee

Experience a night in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth at this farm just outside Nashville. You’ll sleep like a Hobbit in an underground hut tucked into the hillside; a nearby cavern contains a tiny kitchen and dining room. Your Shire-inspired stay includes access to a bathhouse, laundry room, and the full fifteen-acre farm. Don’t miss the foraging tours offered by the owners, who’ll show you around the property before leaving you to explore the trails on your own. (Well, their dogs, Jedi and Trooper, might tag along.) Hike to small waterfalls, relax by a fire pit, gather fresh eggs, and—depending on the season—pick wildflowers and blackberries. Pro tip: If you spot a gold ring, do not, under any circumstances, pick it up. forestgullyfarms.com

Mugdock Castle on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina

Taylor Gates/Stay Duvet

Crash in a Castle
Mugdock Castle Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Be queen for a day (or twenty-eight days, as that’s the minimum stay) at this castle on the western end of Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor. The original building, the Winter Hall, was constructed in the 1890s and has served as a church, a fort chapel, and a private home. In the heart of the grand hall, a twenty-seven-foot vaulted ceiling, exposed beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, and Gothic-style arched windows set the stage for a regal stay. An adjoining Romanesque addition, the Summer Hall, houses most of the castle’s seven bedrooms and features a rooftop terrace with stunning views of Charleston. castlemugdock.com

A giraffe walks around outside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Photo courtesy of Disney

Walk on the Wild Side
Royal Asante Suite at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge • Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Imagine waking up in a hand-carved canopy bed so large, it had to be constructed in your hotel suite. Now imagine strolling from that bed onto a private balcony to watch giraffes graze. Turn that dream into reality at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where the Royal Asante Suite stands as Walt Disney World’s most extravagant (and yes, most expensive) room. The 2,115-square-foot suite (the largest on Walt Disney World property) starts at $2,708 a night, and offers many of the comforts of home: a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room (though this one is fashioned like a circular hut complete with a soaring thatched ceiling). Museum-quality African art—masks, sculptures, beadwork, and textiles—is displayed throughout the suite, as it is elsewhere on the property, which is home to more than thirty species of African wildlife, including gazelles, zebras, and blue wildebeests. Guests of the lodge may also indulge in cuisine from the continent, such as Zulu-style samp and beans and West African koki corn. Not even Simba had it so good. disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/animal-kingdom-lodge

River Revival
Edisto River Tree Houses • St. George, South Carolina

Sometimes a trip is more about the journey than the destination; this particular trip is about both. Your adventure begins with a shuttle ride up the Edisto, the country’s longest free-flowing blackwater river. After paddling ten miles, you’ll arrive at the halfway point of your journey, where you’ll see your home for the night—one of three tree houses tucked near the river’s edge. Each comes equipped with candles, futons, and a furnished kitchen; you pack a cooler. The next morning, continue downriver to wind up back at your car, as you spot egrets, great blue herons, and wood storks along the way. These self-guided trips may be only twenty miles in total, but they take you light years away from the workaday world. canoesc.com/treehouses.html

Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia

Photo courtesy of GDEcD

Feed Your Soul
Monastery of the Holy Spirit • Conyers, Georgia

Rest. Reflect. Repeat. That’s what the Monastery of the Holy Spirit encourages guests to do during individual and group retreats at this Trappist community southeast of Atlanta. Rooms are simple but have everything you need: a bed, desk, and reading chair. Optional prayer services are held seven times a day, starting at four in the morning. During meals, retreatants are expected to observe the same silence as the monks. You might find it easy to let go of life’s stresses on the monastery’s peaceful grounds, which include walking trails, lakes, and expansive lawns, as well as one of the South’s oldest bonsai nurseries. trappist.net

The King’s Suite at the Guest House at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee

Jeffrey Jacobs

Fit for the King
King’s Suite at the Guest House at Graceland • Memphis, Tennessee

Sleep in a suite inspired by the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Steps from Elvis Presley’s former home, the Guest House at Graceland is a 450-room resort that includes some twenty suites with designs overseen by Priscilla, Elvis’s former wife. One of the rooms was made to loosely resemble the King’s master bedroom, thanks to its gold tufted paneling, red velvet drapery, and silver shag carpet. It even has a TV on the ceiling above a canopy bed—just like Elvis’s room did. Order a slice of peanut butter and banana pound cake (inspired by his favorite sandwich), and tune into one of the closed-circuit channels running loops of Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special or his 1973 Aloha From Hawaii concert. guesthousegraceland.com

See You Later, Alligator
Wildlife Gardens  Gibson, Louisiana

Experience true Cajun culture at Wildlife Gardens Bed and Breakfast. Its four rustic cabins are built over a swamp teeming with bullfrogs, birds, and of course, alligators. Walk a nature trail and check out the trappers cabin museum, which tells the story of bayou residents that spent winters here capturing raccoons, muskrats, and otters for the fur trade. No stay would be complete without a visit to the alligator farm to meet thirteen-foot Troy and his mate of twenty years, Helen. At night, relax on your cabin’s screen porch before falling asleep to the symphonic sounds of the surrounding cypress swamp. wildlifegardens.com

The Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Michael Harding

Beat the Blues
Shack Up Inn • Clarksdale, Mississippi

You want luxury? Keep it moving. But if you want an authentic Delta experience, book a stay at the Shack Up Inn. The inn sits on the grounds of the former Hopson Plantation, south of downtown Clarksdale, a city synonymous with the blues. Crash for the night in grain bins that have been converted to cottages or sleep in one of the dozen or so sharecropper shacks on the property, which looks a bit like an artist’s junkyard. The restored shacks offer some creature comforts—indoor bathrooms, Wi-Fi, air conditioning—but their beat-up cypress wood walls, corrugated tin roofs, and modest furnishings evoke their storied pasts. You’ll no doubt spend some time in the old cotton gin, now a lobby, gift shop, and beer bar, which hosts live blues performances. shackupinn.com

Asheville Glamping
Asheville Glamping in North Carolina

Jessica Flinchum Photography

Camping 2.0
Asheville Glamping • Asheville, North Carolina

Whether you prefer to spend the night in a teepee, a safari tent, a vintage Airstream trailer, or a geodesic dome, Asheville Glamping has you—and your sleeping bag—covered. The most popular offerings on the fifteen-acre property (less than half an hour north of downtown) are those igloo-like domes. Perched on rolling green hills, they offer stunning views—especially at night, when you can count stars from the climate-controlled comfort of your bed. Choose a cozy dome for two or a huge hemisphere that sleeps eight and features a loft connected to the main floor by a nine-foot slide. ashevilleglamping.com

Puttin’ on the Fitz
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum • Montgomery, Alabama

If walls could talk, the former abode of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, would surely have a lot to say. This two-story, Craftsman-style house is the last home they shared as a family; now a museum, the upstairs residence was recently opened to overnight guests. Fans of the Jazz Age writers will love checking out the room’s period pieces, including a sleigh bed, record player, and copies of the couple’s books. Guests also receive a complimentary tour of the museum, which showcases Zelda’s art and first editions of Scott’s novels. thefitzgeraldmuseum.org

The Inn at Christmas Place
The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Sleigh Bells Ring
The Inn at Christmas Place • Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

If you’re one of those people who start counting down the days till Christmas in June, you’ll love the Inn at Christmas Place. The Bavarian-themed hotel celebrates the most wonderful time of the year all year long with nutcrackers, wreaths, stockings, and decorated trees in every room. Get in the spirit with visits from Mr. and Mrs. Claus and other holiday characters, such as Rudolph and Frosty, or join Santa for storytelling and Christmas carol sing-alongs in the lower lobby. Go all-in and book the Santa Suite, which has a fireplace and decorated mantle. innatchristmasplace.com

Sleep with the Fishes
Jules’ Undersea Lodge • Key Largo, Florida

This lodge has all the typical amenities you’d expect from an inn: comfy beds, hot showers, and a well-stocked kitchen. But there’s one big difference: It’s twenty-one feet below the water’s surface. To reach Jules’ Undersea Lodge in the protected mangrove lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park, you must be a certified scuba diver or take a course upon arrival. The lodge has a wet room, where you leave your gear, a common room, and two private bedrooms with big windows that afford guests views of the marine life outside. Pizza (yes, pizza!) delivery is included. It arrives piping hot, safely encased in a waterproof box. jul.com

The Rock, Georgia
Conestoga wagon camping at The Rock Ranch

Photograph courtesy of GDEcD

Home on the Range
Conestoga wagon camping at The Rock Ranch • The Rock, Georgia

You don’t have to go west for a taste of life on the prairie; just head to The Rock Ranch, a family-friendly farm about an hour south of Atlanta. Here, you can camp in a Conestoga wagon, a vehicle that nineteenth-century settlers relied upon for its large wheels and protective canvas top. Each of The Rock Ranch’s eight wagons is outfitted with four sets of bunk beds and comes with lanterns and fire-starting materials. For a small fee, The Rock Ranch will also provide all the fixings for a hot dog dinner and s’mores, including skewers for cooking over an open fire. Whether the experience conjures Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie or brings to mind the popular 1980s computer game Oregon Trail, you’re sure to experience a bit of nostalgia at this pioneering destination. therockranch.com/conestoga-wagon-camping

Big Cypress Lodge
Big Cypress Lodge in Memphis, Tennessee

Pyramid Scheme
Big Cypress Lodge • Memphis, Tennessee

Can’t decide between a campsite and a hotel? Head to Big Cypress Lodge, which offers the best of both. Located inside the Pyramid, a former arena that’s now the site of the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops superstore, the lodge is something of an indoor terrarium. Tree house rooms are tucked among hundred-foot cypress trees overlooking alligator ponds. You may also opt to stay in a vintage duck-hunting cabin, a fly-fishing lodge, or the impressive Governor’s Suite, which includes a wraparound indoor balcony with captivating views of the swamp below. big-cypress.com/lodging

This article appears in our Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Southbound.

Where to Stay: Spotlight on Tennessee’s Urban Cowboy

Shortly after arriving at Urban Cowboy, my boyfriend and I passed a couple on their way home. We asked for advice on what to do around the bed and breakfast, and they rattled off a list of nearby restaurants and watering holes. “But honestly,” the man said, “I just liked hanging out and imagining the rest of my life is as hip as here.”

For context, the couple looked pretty hip. But there’s hip, and then there’s Urban Cowboy hip.

Everything about this bed and breakfast screams cool—from its location, East Nashville, to the complimentary Belle Meade bourbon it offers at check-in. Mosaics by local artists hang on the walls and a music room is filled with instruments just waiting to be picked up and played.

Fittingly, I first heard about Urban Cowboy from Instagram, the social-media platform for trendy photos. Some of the images on the inn’s feed show the outside of the house, a stately Queen Anne Victorian mansion. Others depict the inside, which is composed of seven suites, each with its own name (such as Midnight Rider), unique style (burnt-wood paneling, antler chandeliers), and claw-foot tub. Out back, there is another suite, plus a small restaurant and bar that is open to the public.

We had a delicious late-night meal (skirt steak and an old-fashioned for me, chicken tacos and beer for him) and sat by the fire. At the bar, I ran into Lyon Porter, who opened Urban Cowboy Nashville with Jersey Banks in 2016, two years after they launched the successful Urban Cowboy Brooklyn.

As the story goes, they found the historic mansion within hours of landing in Music City. It was already a bed and breakfast, but Porter and Banks made it their own, stripping it down to the studs and adopting a chic Southwest aesthetic.

After dinner, my boyfriend and I explored our room, appropriately called the Captain. The bed was nestled into an alcove beneath a porthole. There was a machine that projected stars on the ceiling and another that made white noise, resembling waves.

Breakfast the next morning was a simple, serve-yourself affair in one of the communal rooms downstairs. I tucked into some fresh fruit and cheese while lazily reading the newspaper. In the next room, two women took advantage of the light and picture-perfect backdrop to take photographs.

Sure, real life is rarely so hip. But it can feel really good to pretend.

1603 Woodland Street, Nashville, Tennessee • (347) 840-0525 • urbancowboybnb.com/nashville

While You’re There

Shop East Nashville
East Nashville is home to many of Music City’s artists and musicians, so it makes sense that it’s also home to some of the city’s best shops. The delightfully unpretentious Fanny’s House of Music sells guitars, amps, and vintage clothes to rock on stage. Around the corner is the popular Art & Invention Gallery, which offers a variety of unique works, including bowls that sing. Its IDEA Hatchery showcases (and sells) the creations of local artists at eight tiny start-up boutiques just outside the gallery.

This article appears in our Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Southbound.

John C. Campbell Folk School helps campers connect with their creative side

Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

There I stood on stage, palms sweating, sheet music in front of me. I’d spent a long weekend studying songwriting, and the days of practicing and planning had come down to this. I took a deep breath, lifted my violin to my chin, and began to play. There’s a part in the piece that repeats, and as I moved through it the second time, I became less aware of my nerves and more in tune with how audience members were responding, tapping their feet and nodding their heads. I melted into the music.

This performance was supposed to be the culmination of my time at the John C. Campbell Folk School and, in many ways, it was. But, as I later learned, the experience resonated well beyond the weekend.

The folk school was founded in 1925 in the Danish tradition of noncompetitive education. (“Process not production.”) Located in Brasstown, North Carolina, it aims to preserve Appalachian arts and crafts traditions and offers weeklong and weekend classes in disciplines ranging from blacksmithing and woodworking to weaving, painting, and songwriting. The 300-acre campus also has a retail craft shop and hosts concerts and dances for people who just want to drop in for a few hours.

Visiting can make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. There are no phones or TVs in the rooms, which are sparsely furnished and range from singles to dormitory-style quarters with shared baths. A bell calls everyone to meals, which begin with a blessing or a song and are served family style. You spend all day learning new skills or making things by hand. Life at the school feels simple, connected, pure.

I signed up for songwriting in hopes of reconnecting with my past. I grew up playing violin, but stopped halfway through college. Lately, I’d begun to miss it, and I thought the folk school might be able to help me get back in touch with my musical side.

Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

I must admit, I had my doubts the first day of class. The instructor, Dawn Davis, lived in Wyoming for years and looked the part of a seasoned cowgirl, equally comfortable on a horse or piano bench. She took one look at me and decided what I needed to do to get my creative juices flowing: “Go for a walk and think about colors.”

Right. What kind of hippie-dippy weekend was I in for?

Lacking a better idea, I plunked myself down in one of the practice rooms and just started to play. I came up with a short riff—and it was terrible. So I tried again. And again, and again, until finally I had something I felt comfortable playing for Dawn. From that inkling of an idea, she coaxed the rest of the song out of me. She grew more and more excited the further in the piece we got. She made songwriting feel like a sensory scavenger hunt, and me like I had found the treasure.

As good as Dawn was, the best part of the class was the other students. We were a motley bunch, with wildly different backgrounds. There was a former choral teacher with a ukulele, a mom who dreams of starting a family band, a banjo player who’d made his own instrument, and a young classical flautist who wants to be a librarian.

The initial awkwardness of being in a small group of strangers quickly fell away. Despite the differences in our ages and walks of life, we had something in common: music. We talked about our hometowns, families, and almost ad nauseam about the pieces we were writing. The conversation and songs flowed.

Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School

By the time the weekend was over and we climbed that stage for our performance in front of the rest of the school, I was our class’s biggest cheerleader. When the fiddle player nailed the tricky passage in her song, I stifled a shout. This is why I came here, I thought. This moment. Right now.

But I was wrong.

As much as I enjoyed rooting for my new friends and playing my own song on stage, the full benefit of my time at the folk school became apparent after I left. In the weeks since, I’ve noticed an ever-so-subtle shift. I find myself seeking out shows. I’m playing music more. I’m scribbling ideas in a notebook.

And herein, I believe, lies the folk school’s greatest gift.

It’s not just about having a great week or weekend away from the ordinary. It’s about connecting—or reconnecting—with your creative side and making it a part of your everyday life.

Get Crafty
Unleash your inner artist at these acclaimed art education centers

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts
Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Set in the heart of Gatlinburg, Arrowmont offers weekend and one- and two-week workshops in textiles, ceramics, woodworking, and more. It’s the oldest craft school in Tennessee, but don’t let that fool you: The school embraces innovation with contemporary class offerings, including mixed media, jewelry making, and photography. arrowmont.org

Penland School of Crafts
Penland, North Carolina

Looking to get far, far away from it all? Penland School spans an impressive 420 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains; the picturesque campus alone is worth a trip. Each year, some 1,400 people attend one-, two-, and eight-week workshops on printmaking, sculpture, metalworking, and other crafts. Many more—some 14,000—pass through as visitors. penland.org

This article appears in our Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Southbound.

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