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Georgia's answer to Eden; Callaway Gardens.

It could easily have been admired in passing but not remembered. It might have been missed altogether or perhaps even trampled upon during that walk through the deep Georgia woods in the fullness of summer. Instead, the coral-red azalea, discovered by the industrialist Cason J. Callaway, was destined to blossom into the 2,500-acre nursery, vine-yard, park and playground that today is luxuriant Callaway Gardens.

For a flower that at the time (1930) bordered on extinction, the rare azalea could have fallen into no better hands--though Cason Callaway's sensitivity to nature's beauty was yet to be demonstrated. Military school, college, a stint at bookkeeping, founding the Valley Waste Mills and rising to a position on the board of his father's Callaway Mills, a leader in Georgia's burgeoning textile industry, had left Cason little time to smell the flowers.

As president of the American Manufacturers Association, then as director of the Cotton Textile Institute in New York and finally as director of the Cotton Price Stabilization Board in Washington, D.C., he lived cotton, thought, dreamed and talked cotton, it was said. It took a heart attack to bring about a drastic change in Callaway's lifestyle--a change that would be a boon to nature lovers, sports buffs, vacationing families and conventioneers the world over.

Those who have been to Blue Springs agree it is unforgettable. Small wonder then that nine years after picnicking on the banks of this deep, 25-foot-wide spring of indescribably blue water, Callaway remembered it, too. Secluded, primeval, situated at the foot of a flint cliff 30 miles from industrial La Grange, the enchanting forest stirred responsive chords in Cason Callaway's nature. Where better to take life a little easier and indulge his passion for the outdoor life?

Purchasing a 2,500-acre tract that embraced both the Blue Springs and the Barnes Creek watersheds, he had workmen cut timber and form an earthen dam for the creation of Lake Ida (named for his mother). Here he escaped the cares of the industrial world and settled down to experimental farming, from strawberries and ducks to blueberries and turkeys. Here he planted and grew his exciting horticultural discovery, Azalea prunifolium, and eventually cultivated more than 20,000 varieties.

To Blue Springs came everyone in Georgia interested in better farming--then visitors from all over the world: the great, the lowly, the small farmer, the rich landowner, the agricultural student, the county extension agent, the soil conservationist. They came by bus, by train, in old Fords and in Cadillacs.

And still they come. Mostly on I-75 to Macon, then west; or on I-85 to I-185 and then east on Georgia 18. Some come by plane to Atlanta and take the shuttle service to Callaway Gardens/Harris County Airport, only five minutes away from this 2,500-acre tract that has become a complete vacationing spa.

No longer do the crowds come just to study farming. The hoe has been replaced by the tennis racket, the Ferguson tractor by the riding horse. The crowds come to enrich their lives and elevate their spirits around 13 lakes bordered by thick stands of azalea (at least one million of 700 varieties blossom in April and May), laurel, rhododendron, dogwood, chrysanthemums and thousands of other species of flowers and shrubs. They come to stroll the Laurel Springs Area and listen to the meadowlark at sunrise. And they come to this boundless greenhouse to flat out have the time of their lives.

What's your pleasure?--Callaway Gardens has it.

Tennis? You'll find both soft and hard surfaces--11 Plexipave and 8 Rubico courts. Your game is an embarrassment? No sweat. Professional instructors await your asking.

Golf? Four impeccably maintained courses offer a variety of challenges. The names of the courses proclaim their scenic beauty: Lake View, Garden View, Mountain View and Sky View. Need help with your putting? PGA and LPGA instructors are there to give it.

Fishing? Bass and bream on the 175-acre Mountain Creek Lake continually break the surface, so eager are they to get out of that cold water into a nice, warm boat.

If you prefer to saddle up and savor the beauty of Callaway Gardens' unending season from the back of a horse, there are miles of winding woodland trails to roam.

Should your forte be trap-and-skeet shooting, the fields are ready. After a few tips on marksmanship here, you'll want to explore the thousand-acre hunting preserve, where covey after covey of quail rises from October through March.

If you stay in summer, you'll want to swim or to water-ski. In July, it's a cinch you'll be cheering the pros at the annual Masters Water Ski Tournament.

As if this were not enough, Florida State University's famous Flying High Circus performs daily under the big top at Robin Lake Beach. Circus acrobats are a highlight of this greatest collegiate show on earth, and counselors even teach these exotic skills--where else can a ten-year-old safely master the fine art of juggling or hanging by her heels from a flying trapeze?

Sun lovers will find Robin Lake to be a circus in more ways than one. At the world's larget man-made inland beach families gather to swim, canoe, paddle boat, water-ski and play tennis and miniature golf. When the body wearies, the lake is a lovely place to picnic or to take a lazy tour aboard the riverboat.

For those with ambition left, it's a pleasant walk to the 200-year-old pioneer log cabin in the Meadowlark arboretum. The costumed hostesses are eager to explain the 19th-century furnishings and to tell how forebears survived in the days when the natural world was the only world.

Learning plays an important role in the Gardens' program for vacationing families. Nature trails attract bird watchers as well as flower fanciers. Artisans teach cornhusk crafts. A field trip may focus on the night sounds of the forest. Workshop leaders demonstrate the preservation of dried materials for arrangements. There are seminars in pruning, transplanting and landscaping. Discovery programs cover a wide range of topics, from natural dyes to edible plants.

The heart of Callaway Gardens remains nothing less than the most productive 7-1/2 acres in the entire United States. Cason Callaway devoted much time and energy to agricultural experiments aimed at improving the lot of the Georgia farmer. In so doing he came up with the idea of developing a garden where people might learn techniques useful in their own backyard patch. Here they could study ways to increase productivity; here their children could learn that a cabbage doesn't grow inside a plastic wrapper. And out of his wide variety of fruits and vegetables--everything from okra to muscadine grapes--visitors could select the kinds best suited for their own gardens.

If all this makes you hungry, it's off to the Country Store to shop for Southern crafts, gifts or specialty foods, including muscadine preserves made from Callaway-grown grapes.

Outdoor appetites are catered to at a number of dining facilities. The Gardens restaurant offers a fine view of the lake and the golf course during lunch and of singing waiters and waitresses on summer evenings. The intimate atmosphere of the Quiet Place, its cozy comfort and easy chairs, invites relaxing conversations. And you won't want to miss the ambience of bamboo, wicker and hanging plants in the Vineyeard Green, an airy spot for an evening of dancing to live entertainment.

Visitors are encouraged to take nourishment for the sould as well as the body. The Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel can be found tucked among the trees at the far end of Falls Creek Lake. Made from native fieldstone and red-oak beams, the chapel ends itself to meditation as well as to organ concerts and small weddings.

When, finally, it's time to give up the sights and scents, the sports and the splendor of another day, Callaway Gardens offers a choice of accommodations: Callaway Gardens Inn, a woodland cottage, a luxury villa or the exclusive Executive Lodge. Or you may want to treat yourself to the Gardens' newest lodgings, the luxurious Mountain Creek Villas--nestled in a natural setting, handsomely appointed, with sun decks and screened porches. The prices by today's standards are quite affordable, possibly because Callaway Gardens is a nonprofit foundation, chartered by the state as an educational, scientific, religious and charitable institution.

The foundation also owns Gardens Services, a subsidiary company that operates the Gardens' recreation, lodging and retail facilities. The activities of Gardens Services support the main purpose of the foundation, and its after-tax profits are used to maintain the high standards of horticultural and educational excellence for which the Gardens are known. These funds, together with gate admissions, charitable donations and earnings of the foundation's endowments, help keep entry fees to Callaway Gardens within the reach of everyone.

So, if it's been awhile since you took time to smell the flowers, the azaleas and much more are here--thanks to a farsighted man of business who loved nature--at Callaway Gardens to enjoy.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1985
Words:1492
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