October 30, 2018 — Last week we reported on the retirement towns we visited in Western North Carolina. This second installment continues the trip down into northwestern Georgia. Don’t forget to see links to our other road trip articles in the “Further Reading” section at bottom.
The Planning Begins
We planned the trip by going through the Topretirements State Directories, looking for potential retirement towns to explore in the western parts of Georgia.
As we describe the route we travelled and venture opinions based on our short visits, please remember that first impressions can be misleading. The best advice is don’t take our word for it, go visit these places yourself and have some fun doing it! Two quick observations about what you can learn about an area from our recent travels:
– When you see that the major retail outlet in a town or area is a Dollar General or Family Dollar, you are probably in an area that is struggling economically.
– Traveling during a political campaign tells you a whole lot about the political environment of an area. As we crossed towns and rural areas in North Carolina and Georgia yard signs for Democratic candidates were extremely rare.
After spending the night in the beautiful town of Highlands, North Carolina, we headed down the mountain into northwestern Georgia. The scenery was spectacular; definitely some of the most impressive of our entire trip. The challenge anyone faces in exploring northern Georgia’s potential retirement spots is that this is a big state, and it is not easy to visit them all on a short trip. As a result we were only able to visit a small sample of towns. For example we missed the mountain town of Blue Ridge up by the Tennessee border, (=Lake Hartswell, Gainesville (giant Lake Lanier), and the college town of Suwannee. Until we come back for another visit, you will have to use the links above to find out more about these towns. But we hope some of our Members with experience in this region will use the Comments section below to help fill in the blanks!
Dahlonega. We had heard many positive things about this former gold mining town in northern Georgia as a place for baby boomers to retire. As we came into town on a Saturday in October, we wondered what was going on here! Traffic was blocked off to the downtown and people were streaming along the sidewalks. After waiting in a long line to park the car, a friendly student/soldier from the University of North Georgia informed us that this was Gold Rush Days, a weekend festival that can attract over 200,000 people. Joining the throng, we found Dahlonega more than matched its billing as a cute town with a lot going on. For starters, the homes we passed (see sample below) were beautiful and well maintained Victorians. Entering the center of town, we found one of the most classic public squares in the country. Cute shops, restaurants, and public buildings are joined in the center of this 19th century public square by the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which used to be the Lumpkin County courthouse and a beautiful building in its own right. There was a huge crowd in town for the festiveal, with old time bands playing on a stage, a giant food court, and various entertainments.
Dahlonega has a lot more going for it for retirees than just a charming downtown and residential streets, or its history as a gold mining town and former U.S. mint. The Appalachian Trail starts just out of town. Dahlonega and Lumpkin County have been recognized as “the heart of the North Georgia Wine Country”, with 5 licensed wineries that attract tourists. The Holly Theatre puts on regular productions; a revival of Annie is currently playing.
Where to live. Some retirees are living in the restored homes in the walkable downtown area. There are also several active adult and 55+ communities: Achasta and Chestatee are two of the largest (see GA Directory for Dahlonega).
Who would like to live here. Our contact at the Visitors Center said that retirees are coming here from all over the country. Many are former military who are either familiar with the U. of North Georgia are attended the Ranger training school here. Others come for the small town ambience and accessibility to the outdoors.
After touring Dahlonega we drove on. It didn’t take long to see some of rural Georgia that might be off-putting to many northern suburbanites (young men in camo coveralls in huge pickups at the gas station seemed a little ominous to our Yankee sensibilities). One town we passed through was Waleska, which is a tiny crossroads in Cherokee County. It does have a college (Reinhardt College), an active adult community, Lake Arrowhead, and the Funk Heritage Center, a museum about native Americans and the Trail of Tears.
Driving to the west led us into Rome, Ga. Like its Italian namesake, Rome is built in a beautiful location on seven hills and along the curves of two rivers. It is located very far west in the state, almost in Alabama. We had heard a lot about this small city but wondered what it would be like. The main street in the downtown is Broad Street, which is very wide. On a recent Saturday afternoon it had many people patronizing its shops and restaurants. Rome does not seem affluent, but is not rundown either. We got a good impression when we stopped at a coffee house and all of the inhabitants seemed under 30. Rome is home to several colleges, including Berry College. It is located just a few miles to the north, and at 26,000 acres is one of the largest college campuses in the world. There were many nice homes in the hills just above Broad Street where retirees could live, and at least two active adult communities in the area. The cost of housing is about half the U.S. median.
Who might like to retire in Rome. It was more appealing than we expected it to be. If you are looking for a very large small town or a very small city, where there is always something going on, it might be appealing. Politically speaking, this part of Georgia is predominately red; the city voted 70% Republican in 2016. Racially, Rome is fairly diverse: about 51% white, 28% African-American, 17% Hispanic, and the remaining are from other races. About half the population identifies as evangelical Christian.
From Rome we headed due south out of the hills and away from the mountains. After a few hours we reached Peachtree City, the huge master planned, new urban development south of Atlanta. Similar in some ways to Florida’s The Villages, it has central areas (mostly shopping centers), recreational facilities like golf courses and a tennis center, schools, and many different recreational opportunities. Peachtree City could be the golf cart capital of the world; almost everyone has at least one, and they use to go everywhere (there are trails beside almost every street). It is so big that you really need a tour guide to understand it. One difference from The Villages is that more families live in Peachtree City than retired people, although there are many of the latter. The Avenue Peachtree City, which features all kinds of retailers and restaurants, is a shopping area which is also the de-facto center of the town. There is also a regularly scheduled farmers market by the lake.
Who might like to retire in Peachtree City. Whether you are looking for an all ages community or one that is 55+, there are many choices in Peachtree City. A 55+ community featured on Topretirements is Cresswind Peachtree City. Young people refer to Peachtree City as “the bubble”, meaning that it isn’t a real place, but something special apart from the real world. If you want to live in a golf cart community with built in recreational opportunities, this is the place; but it is not a traditional or walkable town.
Pine Mountain area
Leaving Peachtree City we spent the night at a lovely B & B in Hamilton, a cute little hamlet just south of Callaway Gardens in the Pine Mountain area, definitely one of the more charming parts of Georgia. Drawn by the appeal of Callaway Gardens, which has its own all-ages residential development, many people from the cities are buying homes here as a place to spend the weekend, or for retirement. The Pine Mountain area also also includes the town of Warm Springs. Warm Springs is home to FDR’s Little White House and a very interesting museum.
Who would want to live here? It is a beautiful area and Calloway Gardens makes it even more interesting. It is rural and mountainous but somewhat upscale. We could see a lot of people who might be attracted to the area.
A day for Presidents
Continuing on from the Pine Mountain area we completed a day full of commemorating American Presidents with a stop in Plains, GA. The town is so small most people would not want to retire here (although the former President and Rosalyn do so right downtown), but it is cute. You can visit an interesting museum about the Carters at the school that both of them attended through the 11th grade (the end of high school for Georgians in that era), as well as the home where Jimmy grew up.
Concluding the day we drove into southern Georgia and passed through Albany and Thomasville, GA. Albany seemed depressed and is probably not a place most people would want to retire. Thomasville is an interesting town that might, or might not, be a retirement destination in the making. This is horse country and the countryside is beautiful with graceful forests of pecans and live oaks. Parts of the town are pretty and others seem rundown. Thomasville is near the Florida border and could be considered part of the Tallahassee Metro.
Our trip through Georgia proved to us that you really have to see a place to get a better picture of what it is really like. Some of the towns we visited seem like great places to retire, like Dahlonega, while others could go either way. But as always, if you are interested in the area, go visit and form your own impression. Georgia is a big state and there are differences within the regions.
More Retirement Travelogues
Michigan is a Great Place to Retire (2 parts)
Flo’s North Carolina Retirement Trip
Hop on the Jay Michael Retirement Bus (Virginia and more)
What Sandy Learned after 8 Years of Visiting Active Adult Communities
Comments? Have you visited western Georgia looking for a place to retire, or do you live there already? Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.