I dare you to find another town the size and population of Rome, Georgia with such a storied past and a solid impetus for the future. Rome, with its 36,000 lucky residents, is ideally located between Birmingham, Atlanta, and Chattanooga. Since Georgia is one of the original thirteen colonies, Rome’s past runs deep, but with construction underway right now, Rome is poised to grow and attract tourists for many years to come.
The History of Rome, Georgia
History whispers that there were Native Americans in the area as far back as 1000 A.D. That is undocumented but likely, considering the fact that journals record Hernando de Soto’s arrival on June 4, 1540, finding plenty of inhabitants already firmly planted. The first known people to live in this part of northwest Georgia were the Cherokee Indians, who lived peaceful lives until gold was discovered in nearby Dahlonega in 1828, and people from the coast swarmed in. Rome maintains the home of Chief John Ridge and the Chieftains Museum which are associated with the Trail of Tears.
During the Civil War, Rome was a medical center for both the Rebel and the Union troops. Many of the buildings on what is now Broad Street, plus area churches, served as hospitals for the injured soldiers. When General William Tecumseh Sherman began his famous March to the Sea, he ordered everything in Rome to be burned that could be used for fighting the war. But all of the buildings being used for tending the wounded were spared.
Rome, like its much larger sister city Rome, Italy, is built on seven hills. One of those hills was chosen as the site for Myrtle Hill Cemetery, built in 1857. Over 300 Civil War soldiers from both sides are buried there, as well as Ellen Axson Wilson, first wife of Woodrow Wilson and the only U.S. First Lady buried in Georgia, The Known Soldier from WWI, the founders of Rome, and many more, now totaling 20,000.
A devastating flood heavily damaged Rome in 1886. The three rivers which merge in the city – Coosa, Etowah, and Oostanaula – overran their banks when seasonal rains began in early spring and were unrelenting. According to Mike Goodson, in an article in The Gadsden Times on January 31, 2010, “As the water crested above the 12-foot mark, the streets were so inundated that a steamboat actually traveled down Broad Street in Rome. The water destroyed bridges, railroads, and buildings, causing a devastating long-term effect.”
Later in the late 1890s, according to Wikipedia, flood control regulations were put into place, “including raising the height of Broad Street by about 15 feet. As a result, many of the current basements of Rome’s historic buildings were originally ground-level entrances.” Today’s shop owners can point out the telltale signs of that process.
Rome, Georgia today
Broad Street – which is the 2nd widest main street in the state of Georgia – is today a thriving center for unique and upscale shops and eateries. Some of the fun names include Whistle Britches, Ginger’s Dollings, and Cattywags, Elysium Inc., Abral’s Classy and Sassy, Honeymoon Bakery and Harvest Moon Café.
Rome also thrives today because of its commitment to education with Berry College, Shorter University, and Darlington School – all prestigious and highly respected. Berry College started as a boys’ school in 1902 by Martha Berry, but quickly expanded and is now the world’s largest contiguous college campus with 27,000 acres. Just recently, Berry was also named the Most Beautiful College Campus in the World. Shorter University began in 1873 as Cherokee Baptist Female College but was renamed in 1877. It remained a women’s college until the 1950s. Darlington School has 781 students, grades kindergarten through 12. Tuition in the upper grades is over $19,000 annually and there is a WAITING LIST!!! It must be good.
The focus that is bringing attention to Rome today is TENNIS. Construction is underway at the Rome Tennis Center of Georgia which will have 51 standard-size courts. According to romegeorgia.org, all of the courts will be lighted with shade cabanas for players. Sammy Rich, Rome’s City Manager, says “We are a big tennis community about to become even bigger.” The first phase is scheduled for completion in June of 2016. Rome is bracing itself and anticipating economic expansion. According to the locals, Rome vibrates with people and activities during the 10 months of the year when tennis tournaments come to town, utilizing the present facilities. They are eager to see how that excitement will multiply in the very near future. To help with this expansion, two new hotels are in the works.
If you enjoy historic B & B’s, then I can heartily recommend The Claremont House, an elegant example of Victorian Gothic architecture built in 1882. The rooms are spaciously and comfortably appointed. The Claremont has been entertaining guests for 125 years. The owners know how to treat you royally. (Sadly, since this was posted the Claremont House closed and is now being sold.)
Oh, did I mention that both “Sweet Home Alabama“ and “Remember the Titans” were filmed at least partially in Rome?
If you love history, go to Rome. If you enjoy shopping and eating, go to Rome. If you love the outdoors and miles of natural beauty, go to Rome. If you just want to play a rousing game of tennis, grab your racket and head to Rome. The people of Rome, Georgia will be waiting to greet you with Southern hospitality and a glass of sweet tea.