This Just In ...
A Visit to Albany, Georgia
For such a quiet town, Albany is making a lot of noise these days. Tucked into the southwest corner of Georgia, Albany has long been connected with the Civil Rights legacy, Southern history encompassing plantations, African-Americans and Native Americans, and outdoor adventure — but these treasures have been treated like best kept secrets. Lately, with many Albany attractions getting a spit shine, the city is getting downright noisy about sharing its unique story.
Ray Charles TributeAlbany recently unveiled a tribute to its most famous native son, Ray Charles. Located on the banks of the Flint River, the new Ray Charles Plaza commemorates the life and legacy of Ray Charles Robinson with a splash. Holding court in the center of the Plaza is a life-size sculpture of the pioneering soul musician seated at a baby Grand piano which rests on a rotating pedestal. While Charles' beloved melodies play at timed intervals, water flows over the pedestal and spills into a reflecting pool at its base.
With its covered seating, paved piano key walkway and musical note accents, the Plaza is a harmonious extension of Albany’s beautiful RiverFront Park that includes an animated water fountain, Turtle Grove Play Park, a three-mile Greenways Trail System and peaceful Riverwalk.
Albany Civil Right Institute and Mt. Zion Baptist ChurchAfter a multimillion dollar expansion, the Albany Civil Rights Institute, the repository for Albany’s African American civil and human rights legacy, is opening the doors of its beautiful glass-enclosed, state-of-the-art museum adjacent to the 1906 Mt. Zion Baptist Church — one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s main speaking locations. Presenting Albany’s role in the Civil Rights Movement in a local, regional and national context, the museum features many locals—“everyday citizens” who changed history with their deeds, courage and strength and who lived through the era—“on the wall.” Their images are on the walls and in the halls and their stories are told through exhibits, recordings of their oral histories and in-person appearances. Permanent exhibits will be supplemented by traveling exhibits, including a planned exhibition on black cowboys.
At the Church, visitors can hear the authentic songs of the Civil Rights era performed by one of the original singers: Rutha Harris. Harris is an Albany native and active participant of the freedom movement and through her songs brings to life the trials, tribulations and traditions of the times. On the second Saturday of each month, the Institute hosts the SNCC Freedom Singers. Formed originally in 1962 and including Rutha Harris, a soprano from Albany who still sings with the group, the Freedom Singers share the songs that reflected the political aims of the Civil Rights Movement: Freedom songs, “come and meet” hymns or spirituals familiar to the southern black community, such as “This Little Light of Mine,” continue to share the black choral tradition today.
Executive Director Danielle Blackwell also plans to hold productions in the Church for the new Curtain Call Theatre, including “Saving White Face,” by Dr. Maisha S. Akbar, an adaptation of Bebe Moore Campbell's “Your Blues Aint Like Mine.” The museum complex also has an indoor classroom and an outdoor courtyard called the Freedom Garden, a beautiful space for quiet reflection, as well as gatherings, meetings and weddings.
A Lovely WelcomeThe Historic Bridge House, now home to the Albany Welcome Center, has been fully and beautifully restored. In 1858, Albany founder Nelson Tift hired African American bridge builder Horace King to build a covered bridge and bridge house to span the Flint River. King’s 150-year-old brick bridge house still stands today and is the place for visitors to stop for brochures and information, as well as Albany souvenirs, including stuffed turtles (the signature painted turtle statues are found throughout downtown Albany) and kitchen and cooking items inspired by Albany native and queen of southern cuisine, Paula Deen.
Adventures in DiningMeal time has become a noisy affair in Albany, with many of the guests chewing with their mouths open and making other rude noises. That’s because, with advance reservations, visitors to the 100-acre Parks at Chehaw have the opportunity to sit down to breakfast with the cheetahs or dinner with the rhinos. Poor table manners aside, the sleek cheetahs and prehistoric-looking rhinos, as well as the stunning African Crowned Cranes and beautiful chestnut-colored bongos, are part of the menagerie at one of Albany’s favorite family attractions that also includes natural ecosystem, recreational vehicle park, nature area and the largest kids’ playground in southwest Georgia.
Albany has a lively downtown dining landscape that includes the American Grill Café located in the Hilton Garden Inn, the Brown Bean Coffee Company, the Cookie Shoppe and Riverfront Barbecue plating up Southern favorites pulled pork, smoked ribs or chicken with cheese grits, fried okra and sweet potato fries and washed down with fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Other Albany area favorites are Carter’s Grill & Restaurant—famous throughout the region for its soul food and barbecue: collards, chitterlings, ox tails and barbecue ribs, black-eyed peas and butter beans and okra—and Mrs. Bea’s Soul Food Restaurant, known for its chicken wing and catfish dinners.
And MoreSeveral attractions give visitors new reasons to explore the area set upon the banks of the Flint River. At Thronateeska Heritage Center, visitors may explore the Wetherbee Planetarium with its 40-foot dome and digital projection (opening December). Also at the Center is Heritage Plaza with its historic buildings and the only brick street remaining in Albany. A Science Discovery Center (also opening December) offers archeology, paleontology, geology and water science sections, along with an interactive weather center. The History Museum is housed in the Union Depot, built in 1912, and focuses on South Georgia history. Inside the restored railroad baggage car is a model railroad exhibit.
The Flint RiverQuarium tells the story of the Flint River and the blue hole springs that helped create it. Visitors experience the unique ecosystems of the Flint River watershed through a variety of interactive exhibits featuring more than 100 species of native aquatic life. A recent aviary addition gives visitors an up-close look at a wide variety of birds found in the surrounding wetland habitat. Several shows, including “Whales: An Unforgettable Journey,” bring adventure right to your seat in the new three-story screened Imagination Theater. Ongoing programming like dive shows, alligator feedings and animal presentations keep things lively.
The Albany Museum of Art, Southwest Georgia's only fully accredited art museum, has six galleries presenting more than 200 works at any given time from a 2,400-piece permanent collection that comprises African, European and American art. One of its most famous collections is found in the Miller Gallery: The Stella Davis Collection, AFRIcultures, features art and artifacts from the museum’s Sub-Saharan African collection—one of the largest of its kind in the Southeastern United States—and includes an impressive array of masks, sculpture, pottery, baskets, textiles, jewelry and gold weights.
Theatre Albany, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is a top-notch company performing in a beautiful, historic theatre that is the largest playhouse outside of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. The theatre presents five shows each season, including a holiday production.
A quiet town tucked in the southwest corner of Georgia, Albany has a lot to shout about, from its favorite native children, Ray Charles and Paula Deen, to a rich blend of unique southern heritage to a thriving cultural community to natural beauty that holds a number of recreational possibilities. It may not be one of Georgia’s best kept secrets much longer. Come visit to see what all the noise is about.