Southern small towns are rich in history. Rome, Georgia has a plethora of stories from its beginnings as a manufacturing hub to its influence on a U.S. president. These stories are not just told in history books and online, they are depicted throughout the town in monuments and breathtakingly beautiful places. Two great starting points for beginning your tour are Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism and the Rome Area History Center, which is where we began our journey. We have picked out a few stories and sites to share with you here. We know this is not a complete list so feel free to share some of your favorite places.
Rome and a quest for gold
Hernando de Soto’s fame is well documented in Florida, where he is credited with landing near what is now known as Tampa Bay. Whether he came through Rome on a four-year quest for gold continues to be discussed but many say he was in the area around August 31, 1540. If you want to know more about de Soto’s journeys then drive up to Jackson Hill. You will find a monument with more information. Rome’s DeSoto Theater is named for the explorer.
You can find this monument documenting Hernando de Soto’s journey through the South at Jackson Hill
Rome’s Native American history
Native American tribes were already here when de Soto made his journey through the South. The Rome Area History Center has a display depicting the history of Native Americans until the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
You will find more information on the history of Native Americans in Georgia at the Rome Area History Center
Major Ridge, an esteemed leader of the Cherokee Tribe, made his home in Rome, Ga. That home is the current site of Chieftain’s Museum where visitors can learn more about the area’s Native American history.
The Chieftains Museum is located just a short drive from downtown on Riverside Parkway.
Drive about 20 minutes outside of Rome and you will find the Chief Vann Cabin in Cave Spring. The cabin was hidden in an old hotel and was found in 2009 when the hotel was being demolished. The structure was built by Avery Vann Jr., brother to Cherokee Chief James Vann. It is on the National Trail of Tears Historic Trail and is one of the oldest two-story Native American residences in the U.S.
The Chief Vann Cabin in Cave Spring
Rome’s international tie
Rome was founded in 1834 and its name was actually drawn out of a hat that contained several other choices. Rome was fitting because the city mirrors Rome, Italy with its seven hills.
In 1929 then-Italian premier Benito Mussolini and the Italian government gave Rome, Ga. a statue of Romulus and Remus that city leaders placed in front of the Rome City Auditorium. Rome officials removed the statue and replaced it with an American flag between the years of 1940 to 1952 before restoring it to its original spot.
The Romulus and Remus statue outside of Rome City Hall
A key manufacturing hub of the South
Rome’s location on the Coosa River made it a perfect location for commerce. Steamboats carried cotton to places to New Orleans. The construction of rail lines helped move more goods. James R. Noble Sr. began Noble Foundry in the late 1950s. You can read more about the foundry and see one of the lathes on Jackson Hill near the Rome Civic Center. There is also a cotton gin.
Equipment from the Noble Foundry is displayed at Jackson Hill.
In 1896, Massachusetts Mills opened a textile mill in Lindale, just a few minutes outside of Rome. It was renamed Pepperell Mill after it was purchased by the company in 1926. The mill closed in 2001 but local residents are keeping its history alive with special events. Each year a Christmas star is placed between the stacks. Part of the old mill is used for special events. If you are a Divergent fan, look closely as a portion of Allegiant was shot there. Be sure to go across the street and feed the ducks and geese while you are there.
The remaining stacks of the Lindale Mill.
The Civil War
Noble Foundry was a key supplier of ironworks to the Confederate Army during the Civil War, making the town a target for the Union. Col. Abel Streight had plans to raid the town in May of 1863 and disrupt the supply of iron moving through. Streight’s plans were thwarted by John Wisdom, who warned Rome about the attack. He is known as the “Paul Revere” of the Confederacy because of his 67-mile horseback ride from Gadsden, Ala. to Rome.
A monument at the Myrtle Hill Cemetery honors John Wisdom’s famous ride
In 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman stopped in Rome and began his infamous “March to the Sea.” On Nov. 10, the town was burned by Union soldiers acting on Sherman’s orders.
Rome and the presidents
Plains and Warm Springs are not the only Georgia towns with presidential history. First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson grew up in Rome and met her future husband, President Woodrow Wilson when he was visiting Rome. Her husband was elected in 1912 but sadly, Ellen died in 1814 while at the White House. She is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetry. A bronze statue of her is located on the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge just off West Third Street.
The statue of Ellen Axson Wilson near the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge
A former president also visited Rome on Oct. 8 of 1910. Theodore Roosevelt stayed in a cabin on the campus of Berry College. That cabin is now named after him.
The cemetery on a hill
You could probably spend an entire day at Rome’s Myrtle Hill Cemetery. As mentioned above, former First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson is buried there. You will also find several markers commemorating historical events in the area.
One of the most interesting stories is about Rosalind Gammon, knowns as “The Lady who Saved Georgia Football.” Her 18-year-old son died of a head injury while playing for the University of Georgia, which was competing at the University of Virginia. Some state lawmakers wanted to banish the game but Gammon wrote a letter to one, asking him not to, thus “saving football in Georgia.”
You will find more information on the founder of Rome at Myrtle Hill and you can visit the Tomb of the Known Soldier near Veterans Plaza. Make sure to take a ride to the top. The views of the city are spectacular from there.
Veterans Plaza at Myrtle Hill Cemetery
Rome and the Civil Rights movement
The old-fashioned soda fountain in Rome is not just a homage to the past. It tells the story of 62 African American students that walked from the town’s Main High School to downtown Rome and sat at downtown lunch counters, which was illegal for African Americans at the time. The students, ages 15-18, were arrested in the incident, which occurred on March 28, 1963.
You can find a replica of a 1960s snack bar at the Rome History Center.
Rome’s education history
Rome is home to the largest contiguous college campus in the world. Berry College is a tourist destination in itself with 27,000 acres that includes an old mill with a water wheel and a retreat with a gorgeous view. The Ford Complex is one of the most photographed areas of the campus. The school’s founder, Martha Berry was friends with automaker Henry Ford and he had a hand in designing them
The Ford Complex at Berry College
You can learn more about Berry’s life by touring her home, Oak Hill and the nearby Martha Berry Museum. If any of the sites look familiar to you, they have been used in some movies. (I will let you guess which ones).
You can also get a rare glimpse into the history of education at the Fairview School, located in Cave Spring. The school educated African Americans during the Jim Crow era from 1925-1954 and is one of many schools funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The school is one of the few left and has been restored. Because of the pandemic, the school is not open to tours right now. If you are interested in learning more, you can follow this link.
The Fairview School in Cave Spring
See the “father of naval aviation”
Rome is the birthplace of Admiral John Henry Towers who is known as the father of naval aviation. He received a host of medals during his service in World War II. He is remembered with a statue located near the Rome City Auditorium on Broad Street.
The statue honoring Admiral John Henry Towers
A historic downtown
You can’t leave Rome without exploring its downtown area. You will find plenty of modern shops and restaurants but if you look closer you will see the detail in the historic buildings. You can find a detailed guide outside the Rome Area History Center.
Walk just a few blocks away from Broad Street to see Rome’s most recognized icon, the Clock Tower. If you are visiting on the first Saturday of the month between April and September, you can walk up to the top and experience the amazing views.
Rome’s Clock Tower
A quick note on visiting Rome
You will find a plethora of hotels in Rome and some listings on vacation rental sites. Courtyard by Marriott provides you with a beautiful view of the river and is just a short walk across the river to downtown Rome.
This is not a comprehensive list of all of the historical sites. The Greater Rome Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has a great list of tours you can customize and make your own. And don’t forget to stop by the Rome Area History Museum. They have standing and rotating exhibits that will give you a glimpse into the area’s past.