Cedartown, Georgia: Fleeing Irma, Finding Southern Hospitality

The Polk County Courthouse is one of Cedartown’s major structures. | Photo provided by City of Cedartown

We always try to plan our trips well in advance. We have found that it pays to do our homework and research the best places to stay and learn about our destination’s attractions and culture.

However, long-term advance planning is not always possible.

That is the situation we faced at our Sarasota, Fla., home as Category 5 Hurricane Irma churned toward us, days away. The official message was clear: Get out if you can, or go to a shelter if you cannot.

The Exodus Begins

We heeded the advice and fled north. But planning and preparation still proved to be valuable and made our evacuation less stressful.

After poring over TV weather reports and downloading the Florida Storms app for our phones, we filled our gas tank, loaded our precious computers in the trunk, packed appropriate clothes and a few necessities and decided that Northwest Georgia seemed to be a good place to evacuate to, given the storm’s predicted path.

Knowing Atlanta would be mobbed by evacuees, we decided on Cedartown, Ga., a town 60 miles to the west of Atlanta. We made a reservation for two nights at the Cedartown Best Western and hit the road four days before the storm was scheduled to hit.

We figured — and soon verified — that the highways would be clogged. So we got on our phones and started to call hotels along the way since it became obvious that we would not make Cedartown in the normal drive time of nine hours.

After getting a lot of “Sorry, we are full” responses, we found one in Tallahassee and arrived there after a 10-and-a-half-hour drive (normally about five-and-a-half), mostly on secondary roads because Interstate 75 became a parking lot.

Southern Hospitality

The next morning, we set off from Tallahassee on U.S. 27 toward Cedartown and arrived there mid-afternoon. After checking in to the hotel, the front desk suggested that we go to Jefferson’s Restaurant across the street for dinner since they were offering free food to Florida evacuees.

That was our first taste of Southern hospitality. What wonderful and generous people. We tried to pay but they would not accept it.

The hotel filled up fast and, by the next morning, there were people sleeping in campers in the parking lot (provided gratis by people in the town) and the hotel even opened a room for showering for evacuees without a hotel room. Even though we had reservations for two nights, the hotel accommodated us and extended our stay for four nights.

The lobby of the hotel began to fill up with huge quantities of food of all kinds, bottled water, diapers, pet supplies, toiletries and so forth, all donated by private citizens, stores and local churches, and all available for the taking, no questions asked.

The local volunteer fire department showed up and made provisions to set up a huge tent, if needed. Fortunately, it was not needed since the hotel allowed people to stay in the lobby and in the campers in the parking lot.

Soon, grills appeared on the lawn and the townspeople began grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue and urging evacuees to take their fill. They kept it up every day until two days after the storm, when we left to return home. Nobody would take money for anything.

To put it mildly, the people of Cedartown stepped up and showed what hospitality is all about.

Since we had a car, a room, credit cards and adequate provisions, we decided to make the best of a bad situation and explore the region. Cedartown, the county seat of Polk County, is a picturesque town with a population of 9,750.

The town was named for its red cedar trees and its downtown, full of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its 1890s architecture. Although the town was ravaged by the Union Army during the Civil War, the coming of the railroad and U.S. 27 helped it recover in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Postscript: We arrived back home to no damage. Irma had largely spared our town. Unfortunately, other places were not so fortunate. Thanks for everything, Cedartown.

Before You Go, Check Out

Getting There

  • Cedartown can be reached by car.
  • By air, the nearest major airport is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).
  • By train, Atlanta is the nearest Amtrak stop. Birmingham, Ala., is 120 miles away.
  • By car, Cedartown is located on U.S. 27, 27 miles north of Interstate 20 and 60 miles from Atlanta and its interstate highway connections.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:

  • Historic Cedartown downtown
  • Big Spring, the largest natural limestone spring in the South
  • A stroll on the Silver Comet Trail that runs through town

If You Have Two or Three Days:

Recommended for a slightly longer stay are:

  • A drive to the restaurants and antique shops at nearby Cave Spring
  • Visit the still-open West Cinema Theater’s art-deco architecture

If You Have Several Days:

  • Exploring the gorgeous campus of Berry College in Rome, Ga.
  • Wandering through the Cedartown Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Hurricane Evacuation: Dress comfortably for being in the car for a long time and for the expected weather. Forget fashion. If you are evacuating a natural disaster, put your emphasis on clothing that will help you survive.

This Destination at a Glance

Over 50 Advantage: Small-town Georgia oozes history and hospitality. Cedartown’s historic downtown is walkable and welcoming.

Mobility Level: Public and commercial buildings are accessible. There is no public transit system. The terrain is flat-to-rolling, and most places have convenient on-street parking. A car is a necessity.

When to Go: When you need to, in time to beat the throngs of last-minute hurricane escapees. Hurricane season is June through November. Georgia summers are hot, and autumn turns cool to cold.

Where to Stay: Before you leave, make hotel reservations. Plan on slow driving since you are not the only one with plans to escape.   

Special Travel Interests: Safety and a place to be comfortable. While you are away, be sure to explore your surroundings and enjoy its hospitality, history and charms.

Jewish Cedartown and Jewish Georgia

A typical street scene in Cedartown | Photo provided by City of Cedartown

If being with fellow Jews and having access to Jewish institutions is important to you when you are evacuating from a hurricane or another disaster, you will find Jewish comfort in most big cities in the U.S. and Canada.

However, since it is likely that you will be staying or at least eating in smaller towns during your evacuation, it is advisable to take kosher food with you if you observe dietary laws.

We found no Jewish institutions in Cedartown, but the local Christian community was welcoming in their demonstration of true Southern hospitality. They graciously provided aid and comfort to everyone and asked no questions about religion, color or creed.

If an authentic Jewish community is what you seek when in Cedartown and the vicinity, you will find it in nearby Rome, 20 miles north. It has a fairly significant, albeit small, Jewish community.

Although local Jews were Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War, the town’s Jews survived Reconstruction and today constitute about 1.3 percent of the population. Its first temple, Rodeph Sholom Congregation, has had its own building since 1938. It practices Reform Judaism.

Atlanta, of course, is a major center of Georgia Jewish life, harboring 92 percent of the state’s Jews. It has about 40 Jewish congregations, with observance practices across the spectrum in the greater Atlanta urban area and numerous Jewish institutions including the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.


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