ALBANY, GA (WALB) - When you have visitors from out of town and they ask you what there is to do in Albany, do you draw a blank? Well, if you've run out of ideas on what to do here, here are some places that you may have forgotten about, but have plenty to offer. In the latest installment in our series One Tank Trips, Jay Polk takes us to Albany.
Admit it, if you've lived in Albany for any length of time you've heard this phrase before:
"There's nothing to do here"
But there are things to do in Albany, you just have to know where to look. To prove it, we started our tour downtown, with a place that showcases the city's past, the Thronateeska Heritage Center.
While Albany was founded where it is because of its location on the Flint River there was a time when this was a railroading town. Tommy Gregors from the heritage center said: "We were very rich in our resources here. Very large farming community, a lot of natural resources, timber, all of those things. We needed a way to ship those out and the rail station became a very important part of that."
Part of the heritage center is located in the old train depot on Roosevelt St., built in 1913. So it's no surprise that there is a good display on the railroading history of the city. But it's not just pictures, there are actual trains here both big....and small. Albany's train depot was not much different from many others in the South, especially in one important way...
Said Gregors, "at the time this depot was built...it was built during the separate but equal period. Where there was a separate side for whites and for, at that time, coloreds and this was actually the white side of the depot."
That was part of the social fabric of the day, but by the 1950s and '60s there were those who wanted to weave a new fabric. To see their struggle for equality, we travel a few blocks to the Mt. Zion Civil Rights Museum. Both Mt. Zion and the Shiloh Baptist Church across the street were two of the primary gathering points for civil rights marchers who made their way to the old city hall. Some of the most famous figures in the movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, came to town to speak, march...and be arrested. Housed inside of the Mt. Zion church is a collection of pictures and other artifacts from the movement. Outside of the church is a special sidewalk. Danielle Blackwell from the museum tells us what the bricks symbolize: "this is our freedom walk, we call this Freedom plaza. The white marbles are our movement marbles."
And among the red bricks is a tribute to a special man. Said Blackwell, "commemorated on this brick, as you can see, we have attorney C. B. King and Carol King. Attorney King was one of the major players of the movement. He represented the students that were jailed."
By the 1970s, most of the old set of segregationist laws had been stricken from the books. At about the same time, another major shift was occurring in Albany. Many of the old businesses that had made the downtown area a thriving place to visit were moving to the northwest side of the city. But some city leaders had a vision on how to make downtown thrive again. And they turned to the one thing that had attracted the first settlers to the area: the river.
The centerpiece of the revitalization of Albany's downtown riverfront is this statue of the late singer Ray Charles who was born in Albany back in 1930. The sidewalk leading up to the statue is actually done in the shape of piano notes and you can hear the man's music playing in the plaza itself.
The statue, which was dedicated in December 2007, is just one of several things that the city is trying to do to bring people downtown again. Another is only a few steps away...the Flint RiverQuarium. The RiverQuarium is actually two buildings, one is the main aquarium and the other is a building that houses an IMAX theater and a revolving exhibit. The most interesting feature of the aquarium is: "right now we have a female octopus that just laid eggs so... she's everybody's favorite right now because she's a mom taking care of her babies," according to Richard Brown, the Curator of the RiverQuarium.
If you come at just the right time, you can even see them feed the fish. On the day that we visited, our diver Kelly had to be careful to avoid losing her diving glove. All that swimming around the blue hole can make a fish hungry, after all.
After seeing the sights at the RiverQuarium, we now travel down Gillionville Road to the Albany Museum of Art. Located on the campus of Darton College the museum has quite a diverse collection, from traditional west African masks to 20th century American art. There is a gallery that features several different displays during the year and there's even an area for children to explore their creative side.
Finally no stop in Albany would be complete without a visit to a place with so much stuff that you have to use the plural when you refer to it. That place is The Parks at Chehaw. Doug Porter, the Director of the Parks at Chehaw said: "we're a 700 acre park, formerly a state park, that happens to have a nice zoo in it. So we have quite a range of activities for people to do out here. We have a catfish pond, stays pretty busy all through the Summer even on a hot day like this we'll see people at the catfish pond enjoying some fishing. The playground, almost always has people at the playground, and then our campground."
The zoo is one of only two accredited zoos in the state and draws school groups from as far away as North Florida. Here you can see monkeys and cheetahs and bears, oh my. One of the most popular attractions at the zoo is the alligator pond. It's a good example of how the zoo has tried to showcase its animals in a natural habitat.
With fierce competition for the tourist dollar, all of the places that we visited know that they have to continue to re-invent themselves to keep you coming back. And all of them are looking ahead to the future. At Chehaw, they're looking to develop some of the areas on the waterfront. At the RiverQuarium, they're almost finished with a new aviary. At the Civil Rights museum, a new addition will enhance what is already a powerful story about the struggles faced by African Americans and at Thronateeska a much larger planetarium is part of an overall expansion which will bring the grandest sights in the universe to life. So as all of these attractions look towards the future, they can definitely tell you that there IS something to do in Albany after all.
To get to Albany from I-75, get off at U.S. Highway 82 - Exit 62 - and go west for about 40 miles Or you can get off at Highway 300 in Cordele - Exit 99 - and go southwest for about 35 miles. Of course, Jay's trip only included a partial list of all of the things that there are to see in Albany.
The Thronateeska Heritage Center, Civil Rights Museum, Ray Charles Plaza and the Flint RiverQuarium are all within a few blocks of each other in Downtown Albany, The Albany Museum of Art is at Darton College a few minutes west of downtown and The Parks at Chehaw is about 20 minutes northeast of downtown.