Jubilant students on TV rushed to ring a chapel bell as Georgia beat Alabama in the college football national championship game. A few weeks later, we find ourselves standing at that same bell hanging from within a white trussed tower.
A student marches eagerly up to ring the bell with vigor, a tradition first recorded after a tough football game triumph against Auburn in 1894. Today, the landmark Chapel Bell is rung by students after celebrating a Bulldog victory or acing a test.
To simply be “passing through” the University of Georgia in Athens is not likely, but that’s what I was doing with my family. Most routes heading toward Atlanta, Georgia, from the University of South Carolina in Columbia follow Interstate-20.
But once we crossed the state border in Augusta, Georgia, we took a detour.
Highway 78 travels through the backwoods of Georgia, through what feels eerily isolated within a deciduous forest, along a narrow road frequently slowing to 25 mph through remote towns. Unfortunately, we had to bypass the historic town of Washington and only admire the Callaway Plantation from the road just beyond it. We finally arrived at what felt like a haven among the trees—after all, forestry now supports Georgia’s economy.
The University of Georgia, one of the oldest public universities in the United States, was founded in 1785 in the foothills south of the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the UGA campus spans 760 acres in Athens, Georgia. After their national championship, the light shines particularly brightly over the Bulldogs’ football home at Samford Stadium, located at the campus core. Football (American, that is) is not only a great source of pride but also of revenue.
Our walk to the field starts in old town Athens at the historic City Hall, identified by its clock tower cupola topped by a copper-clad dome and eagle weathervane. This historic town, named for the ancient academic city in Greece, is adjacent to campus and known for its restaurants, nightlife, and alternative music scene.
A couple of blocks away, an iconic 160-year-old iron gate marks the campus entrance, which we pass through into an oasis in the hills.
Striking white neoclassical buildings line the entrance of the outer park-like Horseshoe. First is the stately Holmes-Hunter Academic Building with a huge white colonnade adorning the building portico, a building named after the university’s first black students who were finally admitted in 1961. Within the front colonnade are the balustrades of a double staircase and two levels of balconies. Next is the chapel with a Greek Revival front facade and that famous Belltower around the back.
Brick dominates much of the rest of the campus with white molding, columns, and pediments in the neoclassical style, maintaining uniformity and a sense of prestige, such as at the Main Library, Park Hall, the Law School, and the Miller Learning Center. With a modern approach to the style, the Tate Student Center houses a food court and lounge, a 500-seat movie theater, dance studios, and a student-run radio station. The campus is like a town within a town.
Across the street is Sanford Stadium where visitors can overlook the stadium surrounded by seats rising out of a bowl. The field within this nearly 93,000-seat stadium uses completely natural bermudagrass, unlike many that use artificial turf. Inspired by the rose hedge around Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, this field is surrounded by trimmed privet hedges—more suitable to Georgia’s climate (but also invasive to its forests). Games have been famously played “between the hedges” since the Sanford Stadium’s first game against Yale in 1929.
On our walk, we sense that many have been inspired by this impressive collegiate environment—as we are. There is so much history, tradition, and grandeur on this campus. The University of Georgia is certainly a diamond in the hills. As we continue on our journey the next day, though only an hour’s drive, Atlanta feels like a world away.
From nationally recognized historic landmarks to modern, cutting-edge research facilities, UGA’s campus is the centerpiece of our mission to inspire those who will lead, discover and serve in an effort to improve the world.Visit the University of Georgia
- We stayed at the Graduate Athens, an affordable option with a classic motel vibe a few blocks from the old town blocks, although the walk to get there and on to the UGA campus was a bit awkward.
- The Hyatt House is in the middle of the old town blocks of Athens, very close to the campus entrance.
- South Kitchen + Bar serves a creative take on southern cuisine. I especially enjoyed the warm butternut squash with arugula, candied bacon, pecans, and goat cheese, followed by the low country shrimp and grits.
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© 2020 Photos by Ali Giaudrone
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