Just a short ride up Interstate 75 north of Atlanta and visitors will find the quintessential Southern town of Cartersville, complete with iconic courthouse, train depot and city square. This town known for movie backgrounds offers great dining opportunities, attractions, historic sites and much more, but it’s also the place to enjoy four outstanding, world-class museums.
Each museum is a destination in its own right, so plan amble time to explore. All four — Booth Western Art Museum, Tellus Science Museum, Bartow History Museum and the Savoy Automobile Museum — serve under the umbrella of Georgia Museums, Inc.
Booth Western Art Museum
Visitors will know they’re in for a treat when viewing the impressive outdoor sculptures surrounding the 120,000-square-foot museum. The building, too, makes one pause, Bulgarian limestone designed to resemble a modern pueblo.
Inside the Booth Western Art Museum lies the world’s largest permanent exhibition space for Western art, filled with paintings, sculptures, photography, and artifacts and ranging from Civil War paintings and old West artwork to modern art and the Millar Presidential Gallery which displays a portrait and original hand-signed letter from each U.S. president. The goal of the Smithsonian Affiliate museum is to allow visitors to “See America’s Story” and understand what drove the last 300 years of establishment.
The museum began by a Cartersville family who collected Western art for years. It’s named for Sam Booth, a friend and mentor to the museum founders. Since opening, the museum has collected a number of accolades, including the 2016 Escape to the Southeast Travel Attraction of the Year by the Southeast Tourism Society, 2016 Reader’s Choice “Best Western Museum” in America by True West Magazine and being listed among “The South’s Best Museums” by Southern Living magazine.
Sagebrush Ranch, a hands-on experience and interactive children’s gallery, and features events throughout the year.
Tellus Science Museum
Another Smithsonian Affiliate and the 2021 People’s Choice Award winner for “Best Attraction” in Georgia is the Tellus Science Museum. Visitors can spend an hour here in one of its many offerings — from the observatory or one of several galleries — or an entire day exploring it all. The permanent exhibits include impressive dinosaur skeletons and fossils, gorgeous rocks and minerals, the “Science in Motion” gallery that showcases the fascinating history of transportation, the solar house and more. Exploratory galleries allow visitors of all ages to dig for fossils and discover what’s in their own backyards.
Tellus also includes a planetarium within the museum and an observatory on the expansive campus gives visitors a view of the night sky through its telescope.
In addition, Tellus offers special exhibits in three galleries, plus events and lectures throughout the year. Best of all, it’s located right off I-75 so an easy stop between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Bartow History Museum
Stop and enjoy lunch in quaint downtown Cartersville, then head over to the Bartow History Museum located in the refurbished 1869 Courthouse. Note: the iconic courthouse that peeks above downtown was built later and is located a few blocks away.
Visitors will learn about 200 years of Georgia’s Bartow County history, from its pioneering settlers to today, plus the Cherokees who lived in the region before and during European settlement. There are photo exhibits, items from early residents and interactive displays for children.
In addition, the Bartow History Museum offers temporary exhibits, such as the “Thread by Thread: Northwest Georgia’s Tufted Textile Heritage,” on view through Jan. 31, 2022.
The museum has been the recipient of Georgia Historical Society’s 2020 Affiliate of the Year Award and the 2020 Friend of Agriculture award by the Bartow County Farm Bureau and Bartow County Extension Service.
Savoy Automobile Museum
New to the Georgia Museums collection of Cartersville is the Savoy Automobile Museum, also conveniently located right off I-75. The Frank Bergman-designed building houses dozens of antique cars in tip-top, shiny condition, spanning the decades from early models until today, from leisure vehicles to NASCAR racecars.
Galleries includes American classics, “woodies” or wood-bodied cars, specialty cars such as NASCAR and autos doubling as pick-ups and orphans, what museum operators call the automobiles “that didn’t quite make it.” In addition, there are rotating exhibits, and future car shows are planned for the 35-acre campus.
“It’s really special to share this collection with the world,” said Tom Chenault, director of development at the museum’s opening on Dec. 8, 2021. “It’s a world class automobile museum. We are not just a collection, we’re much more than that.”
The museum, which takes its name from a 1954 P. Savoy car unearthed during construction, also features a state-of-the-art theater, available for private events and public lectures and workshops.
“That is our namesake,” Chenault said. “It’s part of the story, because every car is a story.”
Visitors can view that car in all its rusted glory upon arrival at the museum, as well as the “Spirit of Speed” sculpture by artist Linda Burnstree of Spain, her rendition of a car ornament.
Want to learn more about Cartersville? This link can help.
Article written by Cheré Dastugue Coen, an award-winning food and travel writer living in Georgia. She writes about quirky Southern places and people in her Weird, Wacky and Wild South blog at WeirdSouth.com. A native of New Orleans, Cheré also writes popular fiction under the pen name of Cherie Claire.