We ate lunch at Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking Restaurant – where the locals eat and where you walk up the counter, give your order, and watch them ladle up mashed potatoes and gravy, home-made cornbread or biscuits, fresh veggies, fried chicken, cubed steak, beef tips over rice. etc. – and wonder where in the world you will put all that food! Then you miraculously find a table and join all the other customers who go there day after day for breakfast and lunch. I mean that literally. Every time we set foot in Pearly’s we see the same people, and I’m not talking about five or six of the same people. I’m talking 20-30 of the same people. Pearly’s is busy and somewhat chaotic – but the food is WORTH IT!
After sopping up the last drop of gravy with the last crumb of biscuit, and good Lord have mercy, eating dessert on top of that (who turns down homemade banana pudding – tell me who?), we rolled ourselves out the door and headed for Radium Springs on the east side of Albany.
When I was growing up in Sylvester and only came to Albany to occasionally shop, the neighborhood of Radium Springs was the premiere place to live. That was before the mall was built in the Northwest part of Albany and the city’s growth pattern changed forever.
In my early teens, my parents would sometimes ride over to Radium on a Sunday afternoon, and I’d wade around (I couldn’t then and still can’t swim) in the coldest water I’d ever put my toes in – until many, many years later when I first waded out a few feet into Lake Huron. Radium Springs (the neighborhood) was named after Radium Springs (the springs) – the 7th Natural Wonder of Georgia, which pours out 70,000 gallons of clear, fresh, 68 degrees year-round water per minute.
Radium Springs was well known to both prehistoric and later Creek Indians, who lived and hunted in the surrounding area while fishing in the crystal clear water. By the time English settlers arrived in South Carolina and Georgia, the area around Albany was controlled by the Lower Creeks, and early accounts mention the springs. Explorers and later settlers marveled at the depth and clarity of the water. Large fish could be seen swimming far below the surface and a large population of wild animals lived in the area around the spring.
Despite its long history as a local spot for fishing and swimming, it was an unexpected discovery in the early 20th century that made it a prominent resort. Testing revealed that the water flowing from the spring contained traces of radium, a chemical element discovered in 1898 in France by Marie and Pierre Curie. Radium is 1,000 more times radioactive than uranium. It occurs naturally in certain types of earth and is extremely rare. Uniquely, it is luminescent and glows in a faint blue color.
Bathing in mineral waters was believed in the 19th and early 20th centuries to be a way of improving the health of people suffering a variety of illnesses. Warm Springs, located 100 miles or so to the north on the slopes of Pine Mountain, was already a popular health resort by the early 1900s. Blue Springs was renamed Radium Springs as the first step in its development as a major resort.
The resort, which included a casino and bathhouses overlooking the spring, a hotel named the Skywater, cottages, riding and walking trails and one of the finest golf courses in the South opened in 1927 and was an instant success. Guests came by train to Albany from across the country to soak in the waters and enjoy the other amenities.
The Great Depression led to the closure of Radium Springs in 1939 and over the years it opened and closed several times.
The park is located on Radium Springs Road and is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. It is closed on Monday.
There are gardens, walkways, interpretive panels, spectacular natural beauty and the ruins of the historic resort. The park is free to visit.
Next up on our road trip was a little plaza downtown named after one of Albany’s most famous sons . . .
The life-size sculpture sits on the banks of the Flint River, and as you approach the music of Charles welcomes you to this memorial.
In Charles’ later years, he contributed $3,000,000 to Albany State University. He was the commencement speaker at the University in 2002 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy Degree.
As we climbed back in Ted’s truck one more time, we debated whether we were too tired to make our last planned stop. But what the heck – it was right on our way home, so why not!
As long as I can remember there has been a Chehaw Wild Animal Park (no relation to Chehaw Village from yesterday’s blog except it’s named after the Chehaw Indians.
Do you remember Jim Fowler from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? Well, he is also an Albany native, and Chehaw Park was originally laid out by the noted naturalist. Although I never met Jim, both Ted and I worked for years in education with his brother, Big Bob Fowler.
Chehaw is a great place to spend the afternoon with kids and grandchildren, but what I enjoyed most about our afternoon there was photographing the animals. My new camera’s BIG lens got quite a workout!
I’m sure this was way more history than you wanted to absorb on a Friday evening, but I just couldn’t stop once I got going!
One personal note before I close this long road trip: Ted took me to Chehaw Wild Animal Park on our second date back in 1988. We spent a Saturday afternoon walking the paths, laughing at the animals, and, if memory serves, eating sno-cones. Somewhere between the Emu and the Cheetah exhibits, I fell in love with Mr. Horton . . . . and the rest is history. Hmmmm . . . maybe it was between the Bears and the Tortoises.
Resource for history on Radium Springs: exploresouthernhistory.com.