If you’ve ever driven from Nashville or Chattanooga to Atlanta, you’ve passed through Cartersville, GA — perhaps without even realizing it. Maybe you’ve looked up at the massive Tellus Science Museum looming over the side of Interstate 75 and wondered What the heck is a Tellus? The answer is: It’s a fantastic natural history and technology museum. But there are plenty of other reasons to pull off the big highway to the smaller roads of Bartow County — especially the historic town of Cartersville and the charming surrounding destinations. Heck, make a weekend of it!
How to Spend a Weekend in Cartersville, GA
Cartersville, GA, isn’t known for luxury lodging unless you’re willing to stay at the opulent Barnsley Resort, about a half-hour northeast, in Adairsville. That’s a fine idea since Barnsley has been a favorite traveler destination for years. This is thanks to luxurious cottages and a new Inn that offers charming accommodations for people who aren’t looking to rent an entire house. The resort also offers a championship golf course, sporting clays, restaurants, pools, and a spa and fitness center, plus the chance to tour the ruins of the massive Barnsley House and Gardens.
If you’re looking to stay in town during your trip to Cartersville, the Hilton Garden Inn is a smart choice, given its proximity to the interstate and downtown. With all the comforts of home, plus ample free parking, it’s a great home base for your weekend of exploration. Drop your bags in your room and head to the historic downtown area of Cartersville to get your bearings.
On your way, you’ll pass the historic Coca Cola mural on the side of the Young Brothers Pharmacy building. Painted in the late 19th century, this is reputedly the first such advertising mural, which later became Coca Cola’s popular marketing strategy all over the South.
You can’t turn a block in Cartersville without stumbling across something with a fascinating history behind it. One stop worth making is Rose Lawn, the house museum that was once home to Samuel Jones, the famous preacher who saved Thomas Ryman at a tent revival in Nashville. This convinced Ryman to build a tabernacle for traveling preachers like Jones, and this building is now known as Music City’s world-famous Ryman Auditorium.
Cartersville has been a center of transportation for years, with a primary railroad line running right through the middle of downtown. (Don’t worry if you get caught by one of the frequent trains while you’re driving. They’ve conveniently built bridges spanning the tracks. More on that later.) Memorial plaques for famous residents run along the fence that separates the tracks from a lovely little park downtown, while another part of the fence is dedicated to rotating galleries of artwork.
The town square features fun little boutiques and shops that are located in historic buildings. There are also all sorts of attractive drinking and dining options, so take some time to stroll the wide sidewalks. For a delightful pit stop, duck into Olive Tree & Vine for an array of treats. The front of the shop boasts imported olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world. Sampling is encouraged! Dip little bits of crunchy bread into flavored oils and vinegars, then choose a few bottles to fill and take home. The middle of the store is focused on wine — you’ll find locals and visitors lounging on sofas (and at tables) enjoying interesting wine flights. The flights can also be accompanied by small bites, many of which are made using Olive Tree & Vine’s products.
Their middle bar is for craft beer lovers, with regional specialty brews on tap to sample and savor. Your journey isn’t over yet, as you continue to the back of the long, narrow building to experience their coffee bar. The Southern Muggs Coffee Shop serves up specialty coffee drinks made by talented baristas, plus baked goods to gobble down with your cup of joe.
For dinner and a show, step down into the City Cellar & Loft subterranean bar and grill, featuring a fantastic combo between a traditional chophouse menu and classic Southern fare. Whether you order one of their gourmet burgers, a surprisingly affordable steak or their signature fried chicken, you’ll be treated to a fine meal with cozy ambiance. A small stage showcases local performers, and guests are seated close enough to throw a fiver in the tip jar without having to leave their tables. The bar serves up a nice selection of custom cocktails and craft beers to enjoy with the show.
Start your Saturday with a trip to the small neighborhood downtown that locals call “Under the Bridge.” By the railroad tracks, you’ll find a plethora of cute shops, as well as some of Cartersville’s best restaurants. There’s also the Bartow History Museum, located inside the oldest of Cartersville’s three courthouses if you’d like to explore more of the history of the region through informative exhibits. Grab a typical diner breakfast at Ross’ Diner, where the waitresses treat you like family and keep your coffee cup full.
For a visit even further back into the past, make the jaunt out to the fascinating Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site. There, the expansive grounds of the park showcase artifacts and structures from the Mississippian Period. This ancient center of native culture was home to several thousand Native Americans from 1000 to 1500 AD, and the largest mound stands over 63 feet high, covering three acres. Beyond the mounds lies the Etowah River, where you can still see original Indian fish traps reconstructed by park staff. You can climb on the mounds, explore the museum, and interact with park representatives, who can answer all your questions and who put on educational presentations.
A little-known piece of American history still exists at George Washington Carver Park (GWCP), named after the famous scientist and inventor. The park was Georgia’s first State Park for African Americans. Atlanta’s prominent black families spent their weekends at “The Beach” for summer gatherings that included lakeside concerts by Little Richard and Ray Charles. Eventually, a portion of the shoreline became Camp Pine Acres in 1956. It was managed by the Girl Scout Council until 2018, when the land lease transferred to Bartow County. Today both GWCP and the new Pine Acres Retreat are operated by the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, with both parks open for public enjoyment. They have both day-use and special events facilities.
Cartersville prides itself as a great museum city. The jewel in the town’s crown is the spectacular Booth Western Art Museum, a massive complex housing one of the nation’s premier collections of modern Western art. Through the end of 2019, the Booth is host to a fantastic exhibition of art from the famous American artist, Andy Warhol. The museum owns a full collection of Warhol’s final major series of prints, titled “Cowboys and Indians.” However, they have never displayed them all together until now. In addition to these striking, colorful depictions of icons of the American West, the museum has collected other Warhol works and artifacts that demonstrate his fascination with Western culture. You’ll see a display of Warhol’s favorite boots, some stained with paint from his studio. There are clips from two avant-garde Western movies that he created. You can even see his childhood scrapbook, with pages dedicated to his heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. In addition to the Warhol exhibition, the Booth features all sorts of extraordinary photography, paintings and sculptures dedicated to the West.
Another fun destination stretches the definition of “museum,” but Old Car City U.S.A. is undoubtedly worth a visit — especially for fans of vintage automobiles. Before you dive into Old Car City, stop for lunch across the street at Wes-Man’s Restaurant, a funky little Southern diner that serves up fantastic down-home fare. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see an old truck covered with hundreds of layers of paint in the parking lot. The owners paint messages on the side of the vehicle to commemorate customer birthdays or special events, or simply as their own billboard. Eventually, so many layers have built up that the paint slides off the side of the truck under its own weight, refreshing the palette for new artwork. The interior decor of Wes-Man’s is another blur of color, with walls covered with all sorts of bric-a-brac. The collection includes almost a dozen Woody dolls from “Toy Story” that will keep you searching for them like you’re looking at a Where’s Waldo book.
Be careful crossing the busy highway on your way to Old Car City, U.S.A., lest your vehicle become another exhibit in the 34-acre junkyard. It serves as a resting place for more than 4,000 cars spread along miles of walking paths. These aren’t restored classics — they are sitting there in all their rusted glory — but they still incite memories for car nuts, who might find the automobile in which they learned to drive back in the ’50s. Some of them have been in place for so long that trees have actually grown through their chassis, creating a beautiful artistic blend of natural and mechanical. In the lobby of Old Car City, U.S.A., be sure to head upstairs to discover another of the owner’s odd, artistic obsessions: You’ll find a hidden loft filled with hundreds of styrofoam cups that he has turned into pieces of art, by using ballpoint pens or sculpting them into intricate structures.
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Head back downtown for drinks and dinner — there are many choices of excellent Cartersville eateries! Perhaps the best known is Appalachian Grill, a local favorite since 2001. The restaurant’s Black Bear Lounge exudes a mountain chalet vibe and is a fine spot for a glass of wine or a crafty cocktail before settling down to dinner. Cartersville is located in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, so it’s not that big of a stretch to feature a menu of Appalachian cuisine. The restaurant features dishes like a delicate pan-fried trout, topped with a smoked bacon and pecan sage crust and lemon butter, or their popular pecan sage-crusted chicken breast served over chipotle mashed sweet potatoes and a rich bing cherry sauce.
Another intriguing downtown dining option is Maine Street Coastal Cuisine, whose name is not a typo despite the fact that the restaurant is indeed located on Main Street. The Maine in the name refers to the seafood-rich state, and ocean fare is the specialty of the house. Sourcing their ingredients from sustainable fisheries, the kitchen creates some of the best seafood you’ll find in a landlocked state. They serve impressive steaks and chops as well.
Sleep in a little bit before taking one last walk around downtown before brunch. Your ultimate destination is Swheat Market and Deli, where the name is pronounced “sweet,” just like the house-candied pecans, cranberries and fresh pear slices on their fall salad. The menu also features a popular black bean burger, as well as other sandwiches made using fresh local and seasonal ingredients. The relaxed atmosphere in the airy café is the perfect spot to reflect on the fun you’ve had in Cartersville and to plan your next trip.
On the way out of town, you can finally discover what Tellus is all about with a visit to this world-class 120,000-square-foot museum. The enormous space is divided into several galleries that concentrate on particular aspects of science. Especially popular with kids is the gem-panning and fossil-digging exhibits, where children can have fun combing through the sand while they learn about geology and paleontology. “Science in Motion” houses real and replicated automobiles, aircraft and artifacts from the space program, in educational exhibits accompanied by multimedia presentations. The Weinman Mineral Gallery showcases exotic rocks and minerals from across the globe, and a modern planetarium presents star shows throughout the day. After a visit to Tellus, you’ll never again travel that stretch of Interstate 75 without remembering how much you learned at that exit and around the rest of Bartow County!
Now, start planning that trip to Cartersville. Get started at cityofcartersville.org.
All photos by Chris Chamberlain.
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