Last Updated on December 21, 2023
So often Roswell, Georgia is considered just another part of Atlanta. That’s a big mistake. Roswell has much to offer visitors in history, nature, and more. Its 640-acre Historic District has a trio of house museums that exhibit the city’s 19th-century roots. There’s also the Chattahoochee River, woodland trails, marsh boardwalks, and bicycling for lovers of the outdoors.
Recently, Roswell has become a foodie hotspot. Canton Street is home to over 20 independent restaurants. Plus, the city is very dog friendly. You will see dog water bowls outside many stores.
Roswell is near enough to Atlanta to also be a good base for exploring its larger neighbor. Roswell ranked 76 on the CNN list of the Top 100 Places to Live in the US in 2010. It was also named one of the Top Three Cities in the Nation to Raise Your Family in the Frommer’s book, Best Places to Raise Your Family. It was the first city in Georgia to win the National Recreation and Parks Association’s (NRPA) Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management.
Throughout the year it has numerous festivals including the earlier mentioned Lavender Festival, Roswell Roots: A Festival of Black History & Culture in February, and the unique Keep Roswell Beautiful Duck Race in October.
Old Mill Park
When Roswell King, a surveyor from Darien, Georgia, first saw Vickery Creek in the 1830s he knew he had found a perfect base for his milling empire. Remnants of his mill remain today. You’ll see an 1854 machine shop and an 1882 mill. The old dam and raceway are also still there. There is a covered bridge leading across Vickery Creek.
You can stroll along the creek and see markers indicating what was once there. The Visitor Center has exhibits explaining more about the mill and how it operated.
Roswell’s son, Barrington, built his Greek Revival mansion in 1842 on the highest point in town. King’s descendants lived here until 2003. The home is filled with portraits of the family and their clothing and furnishings. There are no ropes to separate you from the furniture. It’s easy to visualize the King’s children playing here.
If the children stepped outside and looked down the hill at the mill homes, they might have glimpsed children returning from a day’s work in the cotton mill that funded their lavish lifestyle.
In later years, the family turned to other sources for income. One interesting item is a Literary Digest magazine from January 1919 showing a WWI soldier drinking a cup of Barrington Hall Coffee. The ad mixes patriotism and commercialism to tout the brand new idea of instant coffee. They also produced tea and you can see one of the old tea or coffee cans.
Outside, the garden is filled with beautiful plants including lavender. Evelyn Simpson became known as the Lavender Queen, and an annual festival is held in Roswell to celebrate the many uses of the plant from culinary to medicinal.
When Roswell King came with his family, he invited a few friends. One, James Stephens Bulloch, partnered with the Kings in the cotton mill and factories. James Bulloch, wealthy before the move to Roswell, built Bulloch Hall in 1839 to showcase his wealth. It had a lasting impact on American history.
There are many stories, but the one that reached out to me was the unlikely romance of a pretty southern belle and a young New York aristocrat. Martha “Mittie” Bulloch was James’ youngest daughter. She married Theodore “Thee” Roosevelt, Sr. on December 22, 1853. Few northerners attended the wedding, perhaps foreseeing the coming war between north and south. Only the groom’s parents, Cornelius Van Schaack “C.V.S.” Roosevelt and his wife, Margaret, attended.
Mittie and Thee went to New York to live in a home gifted to them by Cornelius. It was there that their son, Theodore Roosevelt, was born. Their second son, Elliot Bulloch Roosevelt, fathered Eleanor Roosevelt who became the wife of her cousin, our 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt.
When the Civil War erupted, Mittie’s two brothers, Irvine and James, enlisted in the Confederate forces. James was the Confederacy’s highest-ranking secret service agent in Great Britain and operated blockade runners. Thee paid a substitute to serve in the Union Army. Mittie remained a staunch Confederate sympathizer throughout her life.
If James sounds like the fictional Gone with the Wind character Rhett Butler and Mittie like Scarlett, it may not be a coincidence. Margaret Mitchell interviewed Mittie’s good friend and last living bridesmaid, Evelyn King Baker, then owner of Barrington Hall. Her story showed Mittie as a spirited girl who defied tradition.
When Mittie left to go north with Thee she left behind her lifelong companion, the young slave Lavina. Bulloch Hall has a reconstructed slave quarters dedicated to the role of African Americans in Roswell’s history.
Archibald Smith, another of Roswell King’s friends, built Smith Plantation in 1845. Smith opted for a more agrarian way of life on a 300-acre homestead. This home tells more than white history; it traces the history of its enslaved people after emancipation. Two of the sons fought in the Civil War. The youngest boy survived; he married and had three children.
Smith’s grandson Arthur married in 1940 at 60. His bride, Mary, was 50. It was the first marriage for both. They redid the home and added electricity. Descendants remained in possession of the home until 1986 when the family sold the home to the city of Roswell as a museum.
The home tells the story of African Americans from slavery to freedom. The last remaining family member, Mary Smith, willed that her cook, Mamie Cotton, be allowed to remain in the house until her death. Mamie died in 1994. A historic interview with Mamie is available on audiotape.
The other thing that is different here is the rooms reflect different eras. In one room there’s a vintage sewing machine circa late 1870s and an antebellum dress; in another, a rotary phone, electric table lamps, and a boxy television with a rabbit-ear antenna. Mamie’s kitchen with porcelain sink, range, and old-fashioned refrigerator would have fitted in the 1960s.
The oldest building is the slave quarter containing a genealogy of the Smith family’s enslaved people and what happened to them after emancipation.
Chattahoochee Nature Center
History isn’t Roswell’s only attraction. There’s a secret natural treasure near Roswell that most Georgians don’t know exists. The Chattahoochee Nature Center is 127 acres of forest, wetland, and river habitat.
Step into the Discovery Center and you are inside the secret world of the Chattahoochee River. You meet the animals that live in and around the river; see what is under the roots of an old oak tree; meet the birds that call the tree home like a barred owl and a red-tailed hawk. There are countless specimens of butterflies and insects and also nature artwork. Outside you meet some resident animals who have been rescued and cannot be returned to the wild.
There are 2.5 miles of great hiking trails ranging from the Wildlife Walk, a paved path where you see native wildlife up close, to the Stone Cabin Trail, a loop that takes you past the Unity Garden, the Screaming Eagle Zipline and Adventure Course, and the remnants of a stone cabin once part of the 1960s Camp Chattahoochee. Some of the other trails connect. For example, the Homestead Trail ties into the Forest Trail and Kingfisher Pond Trail for a longer hike. The River Boardwalk Trail is the longest trail and takes you through two different wetland habitats, a marsh and a swamp along the Chattahoochee River.
You can get to know the river better with a river canoe trip led by a CNC naturalist.
If you are adventurous, take an Eco Zipline Canopy Tour or Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure Course and explore nature from the treetops.
The gardens at Chattahoochee Nature Center play a big role in teaching conservation. Originally just a tiny patch near the Discovery Center, they have grown to cover almost three acres and are filled with over 600 native plants from Georgia. The Unity Garden is my favorite. It’s just a quarter acre but it generates 11,000 pounds of food that is donated to North Fulton community charities. You can learn so much about home gardening here just seeing how the produce is grown, tended, and spaced.
Teaching Museum North
The Teaching Museum North is a cross between classrooms and a museum.
The Presidential Exhibit is a room filled with life-size cutout portraits by artist Mary Jane Warren-Stone of almost all of our presidents and first ladies. A crowd of them ranging for George and Martha Washington to the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, Jimmy and Roslyn Carter, and dozens more are clustered on a stage with no regard to timeframe. Others like the Bush family and Michelle and Barack Obama stand off the stage to either side. Presidential china and other artifacts flesh out the story along with pictures from the National Archives. The exhibit also explores the role of the first lady.
Another moving exhibit there is the hideout of Anne Frank and her family. It is recreated so well you feel like you are there with her. There is even a stuffed Mouschi, the cat who belonged to Peter, the teenage boy also in hiding with Anne, lying on his bed. Anne had had to leave her own cat, Moortje, behind when the family was forced into hiding.
It’s interesting for adults as well as a great learning resource for kids.
Roswell Ghost Tour
It’s only natural that a town with as much history as Roswell will have a ghost tour. Your guide will lead you on a two-and-a-half-hour tour through the historic district of Roswell. Ben Glaizer was our guide and was very knowledgeable. One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to Founders Cemetery, the burial site of the founder of Roswell, Roswell King. Bodies are buried beneath modern streets and houses. Grand Greek Revival mansions and humble mill worker’s apartments are some of the haunted sites you’ll see on this mile of easy walking. Roswell Ghost Tours are real paranormal investigators so there’s no fake stuff. Anything you see will be authentic.
One incident you hear about is a rocking chair in Bullock Hall that often rocks by itself. If a person sits in the chair people claim they feel someone staring right into their face. Our guide told us about things that happen at the annual reenactment of Mittie’s wedding. Candles often go out for no reason. People are often seen in the attic and the light is on when no one is there.
However, there are no guarantees that you will be lucky enough to experience a ghostly event.
Art is not neglected in Roswell. Judie Raiford is a master metalsmith with 50 years’ experience in the industry. Her jewelry studio has been located on-site since 1996, so we got to see her actually at work. The building resembles a large Amish barn. The gallery has work from about 400 artists ranging from jewelry to furniture and crafts. I mentioned that Roswell is dog friendly. Judie’s dogs are the rulers there. They are adorable.
Her workstation is a well-equipped tool room. I counted 16 hammers of different sorts while the number and variety of beads is beyond counting. She creates some beautiful pieces.
It might be hard to choose where to dine. But since you’re in the south, what’s more southern than fried chicken?
That makes the choice easier. Try Table & Main. Eater Atlanta readers voted it as number one for fried chicken: “Table & Main offers huge, crispy portions with classic Southern sides like potato salad, collard greens, and fried green tomatoes.” They also awarded them the title of “best outdoor patio”. Unsurprising then that Table & Main is ranked number two on Zagat’s list of best places to eat in Roswell.
We tried “hogs ‘n quilts” which is a barbeque pork shoulder wrapped in a chive crepe with home-style slaw and a Georgia vinegar sauce. Desserts don’t disappoint either. I had their Praline Bread Pudding.
The only restaurant to outrank them is Osteria Mattone, an Italian bistro owned by the same man, Ryan Pernice. It is inside a small bungalow that was once a home.
No matter your preference of cuisine, you will find it here. There’s Plum Café if you want vegan or gluten-free. Adel’s on Canton for seafood. And just about any other type of restaurant.
Gate City Brewing Company
You can enjoy a cold one at Roswell’s first craft brewery. The brewery name is the nickname of the city; after the Civil War, the city pitched itself as the Gate City to the new south. It represented new beginnings for Gate City owners, Brian Borngesser and Pat Rains. They were both in corporate jobs but loved making beer. They took the leap in 2013 and began brewing.
They went from 30 gallons per batch when they were homebrewing to 1000 gallons a batch. They moved to the current building in 2015, an old Ford dealership that they renovated. They have a tap room that is over 2000 square feet with a nice bar feel. There is music on weekends. They do paint and pints events where you paint and sip on a brew. They have yoga some nights. It’s a different kind of brewery.