From family fun on the farm to high-speed racing and a unique animal sanctuary, in Henry County, it’s the people who bring these experiences to life.
What do flying in a helicopter, dining on Southern-Cajun delicacies and speeding through laps around a famed 1.54-mile track of a NASCAR speedway have in common? What connects the experience of noshing on famous barbeque to witnessing the relationships between rescue animals–the bear Baloo, tiger Shere Khan, and the rest of the animal residents at Noah’s Ark? All of these experiences are woven into the tapestry of Henry County, Georgia, 30 minutes south of Atlanta, and the perfect stopping point for those en route to Savannah or Orlando. Read on to uncover the treasures and learn why, in Henry County, History Has a Name.
For most children, their first sentence revolves around a simple desire. For Jake Carter, “barn with daddy” would shape his life’s work. Carter grew up watching his dad Jimmy tend to the land, which was passed down from his father and the father before him. The farm looks a bit different than it did back then; instead of being covered with dairy cows, people fill up the 330-acre grounds of Southern Belle Farm. From strawberry pickin’ in the spring, to a pumpkin patch in the fall, this agritourism gem offers family fun throughout the year. Fly high on the jumping pillow, climb aboard the cow train, get lost in the fall corn maze, watch pigs race in steep competition and much more at Southern Belle Farm.
Family roots also run deep in the soil at Gardener Farm. Since 1930, the Gardener family has grown the area’s finest peach trees and vegetable crops. As a kid, Ansley Glenn’s grandfather, “Big Pop,” taught her and her siblings how to run the family business. It was hard work, but when the work was done, there was also lots of laughter. The farm is where most of Ansley’s childhood memories took place–catching lighting bugs in mason jars and even learning to drive. Today, Ansley is passing down those same treasured experiences to her children as they all take part in running the land and peach stand. Stop by in the summer months to select juicy Georgia peaches, berries and vegetables. Before heading home, have a tomato sandwich for lunch or cool off with delicious homemade ice cream.
Eats and Drinks
Shane Thompson was set to move to Florida as part of his job in the medical field, but something didn’t feel right. On his drive back from that trip, he saw a ‘shack’ in Henry County, which spurred a longtime dream into motion–Shane’s Rib Shack was born. Shane and his grandfather had spent summers in the kitchen perfecting their secret barbecue sauce. That sauce is the key ingredient to Shane’s success, now with more than 70 restaurants that bear his name. Pull up a seat on the original screened in porch, chow down on scrumptious pulled pork sandwiches, ribs and smoked chicken while the kids have a blast on the playground at The Original Shane’s Rib Shack.
What happens when a master entertainer from New Orleans and a Georgia girl with an eye for design marry? They create the seamless recipe for a simply elegant Southern-Cajun restaurant. Step into Rick and Lauren Weaver’s French Market & Tavern for a dining experience that perfectly blends bold flavors and an atmosphere with heart. The couple transformed an old 1902 hardware store into a Southern-chic restaurant where intricate details bring the dishes to life. Savor favorites like fried green tomatoes with a spicy caper remoulade, seafood risotto and buttermilk fried chicken. When the feast has ended, venture over to the in-house boutique full of stunning home décor at French Market.
An invite to a home winemaking party changed the career trajectory of Glenn and Melissa Golden. After a bad batch of wine, Glenn wanted to try making his own beer instead…the rest is history. The Goldens transformed the old Hampton Jail into their now popular brew house–The Jailhouse Brewing Company. Sip on suds like the Mugshot IPA, Prison Camp Pils and their simple, but flavorful seasonal ales. Indulge in a tasting tour, Thursdays from 5:30 to 9 p.m., Fridays from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 to 10 p.m. On Thursdays, enjoy a rotating schedule of Open Mic, Comedy, Pub Run and Music Bingo. During Friday night tours, sit back and listen to the vintage sound of vinyl records playing throughout the evening. On Saturdays things kick up a notch with live music from 7-9 p.m. each week.
What goes great with beer? Pizza. Patrick and Katie McHugh serve up some of the best pies in the Peach State at 15th Street Pizza & Pub. This restaurant is a mainstay, as it is the longest locally owned pizza place in all of Henry County. Their secret? Besides using local farm-fresh ingredients, it’s a personal touch. The couple says they know 90% of their customers and have created an environment where friends are family. The McHughs have even watched couples at their tables have first dates that have turned into marriages. Become a part of the family by heading to Henry County’s 15th Street Pizza and Pub for great pies, Georgia brews, big screen TV’s and a patio atmosphere complete with corn hole.
At only four years old, Jama Hedgecoth’s love for animals began to take shape. After rescuing small wildlife throughout her childhood and young adult years, she always dreamed of being able to provide a safe haven for animals of all kinds. In 1990 her dreams became reality with the birth of Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. Noah’s Ark provides a permanent home, a sanctuary, for animals, no matter what their health condition. The sanctuary gives safe haven to over 1,500 animals. Take a tour and get up close to small mammals like prairie dogs, slithering reptiles, and large animals like a bear and tiger–who happen to be the best of friends.
Jim Joyce was drafted into the Army in 1967. The military is where he ended up spending the next 24 years of his life. Being a museum curator was never in Joyce’s retirement plan, but when he was approached to head up a new Henry County facility devoted to veterans, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve once again. The Heritage Park Veterans Museum is dedicated to all veterans, their families and to those who serve now and in the future. The museum houses more than 20,000 vehicles, uniforms, and artifacts, almost all of which were donated by veterans or their families who wanted their service honored and remembered. Ask for a free tour from one of the veteran volunteers for a truly moving experience.
Then, head over to the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. The foundation honors the military’s “Sky Soldiers” by restoring and maintaining vintage aircraft from the Vietnam War. Don’t just look at the impressive flying machines, climb aboard a UH-1H Huey, where a veteran pilot will fly you high you into the clouds aboard this impressive chopper. Adventure-seekers, enjoy a more thrilling ride by taking a seat inside the AH-1F Cobra attack helicopter. The museum is free and open to the public Tuesday to Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and rides can be booked during monthly ride events. The rides last from 6-12 minutes.
The need for speed has always flowed through Ed Clark’s veins. His first tricycle was named “Panch” after American Stock-car driver Marvin Panch. When Clark was eight years old he went to his first race and then dreamed of working in the high-speed industry. For 40 years Clark has made that boyhood dream a reality–serving as the President and General Manager of Atlanta Motor Speedway since 1992. If you’ve ever dreamt of feeling the rush of the racetrack, AMS is in the business of making your dreams come true, as well. Whether you prefer an expert driver to take you around the 1.54-mile quad oval or want to take the wheel yourself at speeds in excess of 150 mph, there is a driving class that will make you feel as if you’re pulling into Victory Lane. For those who want just a taste of that need for speed, book a track tour available Monday-Saturday. The one-hour tour includes three laps around the track in the tour van.
In Henry County, it’s the people who are writing the history of this idyllic slice of Georgia. It’s where dreamers and makers shape the experience for those who call this land home permanently or only for the weekend.
Ready to visit?
Visitors can rest easy, choosing from a variety of lodging options including name brand hotels or sleeping under the stars at one of the beautiful campsites in the area.