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LaGrange retains its allure and appeal

Features Columnist

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Coming here allows for a respite at Lafayette Square, which brings one to conclude that LaGrange can lay claim to having the prettiest town square in Georgia-one that has history, tradition and beauty. Lafayette Square is downright becoming.

Park benches await those who want to rest and relax. What it does is make you think about how treasured life is when we let it slow down.

The Square’s focal point is a statue of the French general, Marquis de LaFayette, which sits atop a perpetual fountain with water spraying the flowers and the general’s feet. Lafayette, who helped George Washington win the Revolutionary War, has at least 20 towns, cities, parishes, home-rule municipalities, or census tracts named for him in the United States.

He also has a bridge, a horse race, a hotel, at least three businesses, two train stations, two subway stations, a fort, and several ships bearing his name. In north Georgia they say “Lay Fayette” as they do just twenty miles west of here in Alabama. In Louisiana they pronounce it “Laugh-e-ette.” Redneck French, perhaps? A plaque states that the general crossed the Chattahoochee near here in March of 1825.

During the Civil War, LaGrange was defended by a volunteer women’s auxiliary group, known as the Nancy Harts. It was a Union colonel, Oscar LaGrange, who refused to burn the city. One of the homes spared was Bellevue, the home of Sen. Benjamin Harvey Hill. Seems that a niece of Sen. Hill’s cared for the colonel’s wounds when he was a Confederate prisoner of war. He refused to allow total destruction of the city, although he looked the other way in the face of indiscriminate looting by federal troops.

LaGrange has tree-lined streets, flower baskets hanging from lamp posts, trash bins with decorative cupolas on top and the fleur de lis on the sides, no parking meters, and two museums. A brochure says that the LaGrange Art Museum is “known as one of Georgia’s best regional museums.” You might find the art of Andy Warhol or Elizabeth Catlett. Or that of native son, Lamar Dodd, the revered former head of the University of Georgia’s art department.

Then there is the Legacy Museum where you can observe the oldest bale of cotton in the United States. The 612-pound bale was grown in 1870. You gaze at that bale of cotton and think about how many hands it took to produce it in the days before technology took all the back-breaking labor out of the cotton industry. Technology took jobs, too. Cotton and industrialist Fuller Callaway would make LaGrange a thriving textile center for almost a century. When the textile industry fell on hard times, LaGrange suffered heavily but found a savior when the Korean auto giant Kia located a manufacturing plant less than ten miles down the road.

Dr. Pat Hunnicutt; his wife, Gail, and banker Jake Jones gathered with friends at C’Sons, a restaurant with charm, ambience, and atmosphere. Good food, however, is what owner Chase Hudson is staking his dining reputation on. I’d say he is succeeding.

A college town (LaGrange College is the oldest private college in Georgia), LaGrange makes visitors take on a chamber of commerce stance. You feel good about suggesting to your friends that they should spend time here. There is an interesting attraction — the Explorations in Antiquity Center — which is a living museum of life in Bible times. You get a close-up view of what life was like 2,000 years ago. Tour buses flock to LaGrange, bringing visitors from a variety of addresses to see this enlightening exhibition. Bass fishermen are drawn to this area to fish on West Point Lake, which leads you to conclude that LaGrange may have undergone transition, but it has retained its allure and appeal. In terms of finding things to do that inspire intellectual stimulation, LaGrange can be likened to a geyser at Yellowstone. It never will run dry.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.