Fort Benning Community
THE CHATTAHOOCHEE VALLEY
Fort Benning lies smack dab in the lap of the Chattahoochee Valley, embraced by a 10-county sprawl that includes Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Stewart, Taylor, Talbot, Harris, Troup and Marion in Georgia and Lee, Russell and Barbour in East Alabama.
According to the 2010 census, the population of the valley’s Columbus Metropolitan Area, which includes Fort Benning and Phenix City, is roughly 300,000. Columbus remains Georgia’s third largest city. The communities of Phenix City, Smiths Station and Fort Mitchell have grown quickly over the past two years, as more and more military families are taking advantage of the favorable tax rates in Alabama.
The Soldiers and families of Fort Benning, those who live on post and off, enjoy the support of their civilian neighbors, who appreciate the sacrifices made by the American Armed Forces and the fiscal contribution of an installation that pumps more than $100 million dollars into local economies each year.
The admiration is mutual. Army families consistently rank Fort Benning as one of the best PCS destinations due largely to Southern hospitality, the temperate climate and local attractions.
Those who need the occasional big city experience will find plenty to see and do in Atlanta and Birmingham, two and three hours away, respectively. The Gulf Coast is three and a half hours to the South, and the North Georgia mountains are two hours away.
But there’s plenty to do much closer to home.
The region’s most popular attractions include Callaway Gardens, a natural preserve which covers 13,000 acres of beautiful countryside in the Appalachian foothills of Pine Mountain, Ga. Callaway is home to the world’s largest azalea garden, one of North America’s largest butterfly conservatories, a popular birds of prey free-flight show, the annual hot air balloon festival and Fantasy In Lights, the Southeast’s most spectacular holiday light and sound show, with more than eight million twinkling lights. Callaway is popular with golfers, hikers, fisherman and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Callaway regularly offers military discounts and specials. For more information, go to www.callawaygardens.com or call 800-CALLAWAY.
Like Callaway Gardens, the village of Warm Springs and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House are located in Pine Mountain, Ga. Spend the morning touring the town and the afternoon touring the home FDR built in 1932 after discovering the 88-degree, buoyant spring waters of Warm Springs offered some relief from the polio that had struck him in 1924. FDR suffered a stroke while posing for his portrait at the Little White House in 1945. The Unfinished Portrait is featured in a museum on the grounds of the home, which is one of the state’s most popular historic sites. You will find more information at www.warmspringsga.com.
Less than 45 minutes south of Fort Benning off Highway 27 in Lumpkin, Ga., is the historic town of Westville, “where it’s always 1850.” Westville is a living history museum, with authentic period buildings and artifacts. Guests enjoy demonstrations of traditional skills, including cooking, weaving, soap making, caning, leatherworks and more. Westville hosts a number of holiday and seasonal events, with Victorian games, crafts and food. For more information, go to www.westville.org or call 229-838-6310.
Providence Canyon State Park
Just seven miles west of Lumpkin is Providence Canyon State Park, home of Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.” The canyon is a network of massive gullies, as deep as 150 feet, caused by poor farming practices during the 1800s. Hikers come from around the Southeast to enjoy the various trails, including the three-mile rim trail, which dips to the canyon floor then back up the rim and past breathtaking views of the canyon’s striated peaks of multicolored clay. For more information about Providence Canyon, go to www.gastateparks.org or call 229-838-6870.
Museums and Entertainment
There are a number of museums in Columbus, including the National Infantry Museum (see page 48) the Columbus Museum, the second largest art museum in the state (with a children’s interactive gallery), and the Port Columbus Civil War Naval Museum, which features Confederate warships, like the CSS Jackson and the CSS Chattahoochee, and hundreds of artifacts. For more information about area museums, go to www.columbusga.com.
The Chattahoochee Riverwalk starts on Fort Benning on Baltzell Avenue and continues for 15 miles, past Oxbow Meadows and all along the river in Columbus and Phenix City. It is very popular with cyclists, but pedestrians are always permitted the right of way. Motorized vehicles are not allowed, and pets must be on leashes. You will find a map and access points along the Riverwalk at www.columbusga.org.
Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center, located in the heart of uptown Columbus on Front Avenue, specializes in education in space science, physics and astronomy. It houses a Challenger Learning Center, the Omnisphere Theater, the Mead Observatory and interactive displays, including space flight simulators. For more information, call 706-649-1470.
The historic Springer Opera House is the State Theater of Georgia and a leading Southern cultural institution for 141 years. The Springer opened in 1871 and soon became nationally known as the finest opera house between Washington and New Orleans, showcasing such talents as Ma Rainey, Oscar Wilde, Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes Booth), John Philip Sousa, Will Rogers, Ethel Barrymore and many more.
Today, the Springer is one of America’s most vibrant professional theatre companies with its popular Mainstage Series, an innovative second-space series called Studio II and one of the nation’s finest training schools for young actors, the Springer Theatre Academy. You will find the schedule of productions at www.springeroperahouse.org.
The Chattahoochee Valley is rich in history, heritage and culture. Those who enjoy history will find plenty to see and do in the Chattahoochee Valley. The Creek Indians inhabited the valley for hundreds of years before Europeans settled here. Fort Benning’s Main Post was KasitaTown, a peaceful Creek village from whence the town of Cusseta derives its name. A marker on Richardson Circle commemorates the Kashita, or KasitaTown.
The land was distributed to white settlers in the lottery of 1827. John Woolfolk acquired 5,000 acres along the Chattahoochee River and built an estate he called Cusseta Plantation. After the Civil War, the plantation was divided into parcels and sold. Martha Hatcher purchased 1,780 acres in 1883 and sold them to a Columbus businessman named Arthur Bussey in 1909. Bussey built a summer home for his family and named it Riverside. He sold the home and the property to the Army for the establishment of Fort Benning in 1919. Riverside has been the home of every Fort Benning commanding general since then. You can download a self guided tour of historic Main Post at www.benningmwr.com.
Long before there was a Fort Benning, there was a Fort Mitchell, just across the river in what is now Fort Mitchell, Al. The original military installation was built on that site in 1813. It served as an important post during the Creek War of 1813-1814 and the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. The first fort was replaced by a second, smaller stockade during the 1820s. This second Fort Mitchell was an important base during the Creek War of 1836 and became the starting point of the Creek Trail of Tears.
The Fort Mitchell Historic Site features a reconstruction of the 1813 fort, historic burial grounds, a museum housing a fascinating collection of historic carriages, a restored 19th century log home and a visitor center that offers exhibits, a film and a walk through the history of the site.
The Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center, which features an impressive ceremonial flame memorial, is located adjacent to the Fort Mitchell Historic Site. Panels at the memorial recount the Creek Census taken shortly before the tragic events of the Creek War of 1836 and the Creek Trail of Tears. Fort Mitchell is located 10 miles south of Phenix City on Highway 165.
Before Las Vegas was known as Sin City, Phenix City held the title. Its colorful history was documented in the film The Phenix City Story and the book The Tragedy and the Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama, by Margaret Anne Barnes. The book and the movie chronicle the city’s steamy history, mired in gambling, bootlegging, prostitution and organized crime, culminating in the 1954 assassination of Alabama attorney general candidate Albert Patterson and the subsequent imposition of martial law. The book, and many others on local history, can be found at local book stores.
On a lighter note, it is said that the spelling of the city’s name is the result of a newspaper editor’s decision to drop the “useless o” from the traditional spelling of Phenix. Others say early town folk decided to distinguish their city from its namesake in Arizona.
The Chattahoochee Valley’s colorful history naturally produced many distinguished characters. Columbus claims among its inheritance:
Novelist Carson McCullers
“Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey
Blind Tom Wiggins, a slave and a musical savant, whose talents as a pianist took him around the world
Eugene Bullard, the first black fighter pilot
Dr. John Pemberton, who invented the formula for Coca-Cola
Professional athletes Reggie Abercrombie, Tim Hudson, Edwin Jackson, Sam Mitchell, Colby Rasmus, Cleo Walker, Frank Thomas
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives
Gospel music greats Jake Hess and Bebo Norman,
Singers Justin Guarini, Keni Thomas, Tim Wilson, Rozonda Thomas.
Columbus Heritage Tours offers a variety of historic tours, including one dedicated to African American history in this area. For more information, go to www.historiccolumbus.com
National Infantry Museum
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center honors the oldest and largest branch of the U.S. Army. The $100 million facility built in 2009 traces Infantry history from the Colonial period to the desert wars of today. Two galleries highlight the training of an Infantryman and the special sacrifices made by Army families. There is a five-acre parade field which hosts Infantry School graduations each week, and an authentically recreated World War II Company Street where visitors can see what life was like in the Army during the 1940s.
Soldier Center features the area’s only 3D IMAX Theatre, the Fife and Drum Restaurant and the Soldier Store, a gift store operated by iconic military supplier Ranger Joe’s. A rifle range simulator and a combat simulator featuring a real Humvee and replica Black Hawk helicopter give visitors a chance to test their weapons skills.
The museum is located at 1775 Legacy Way, just off Fort Benning Road and before the post’s security checkpoint. There is ample parking and admission is free, however a $5 per person donation is requested. Galleries are open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Fife and Drum restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The museum is closed Monday, except for federal holidays. The museum is also closed on New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
For more information, visit www.nationalinfantrymuseum.com or call 706-685-5800.