Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, site of the world's largest azalea garden, encompasses more than 14,000 acres and, in addition to the gardens, offers golfing, boating, cycling, and other leisure activities. In the 1950s Cason and Virginia Hand Callaway transformed land left barren from decades of cotton farming into a place of beauty and relaxation. Since it opened to the public, Callaway Gardens, located about seventy miles southwest of Atlanta, has attracted millions of visitors.
While textile manufacturer, and his wife, Virginia, a knowledgeable horticulturist, came upon a bright, orange-red azalea. Virginia Callaway soon identified the flower as a plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium), which is native to a 100-mile area in west Georgia's Harris County. Taken with the beauty and local flora of the place, the Callaways purchased 2,500 acres for a weekend retreat. After retiring from his textile business in 1938, Cason Callaway considered making the lands useful again. His initial idea was to create a place where friends from the business world could build retirement homes. He also envisioned a golf course, so that they would not have to travel all the way to LaGrange or Columbus to enjoy the game.
Callaway cleared fields, moved rocks, and built dams along the creeks to create lakes, and he constructed a nine-hole golf course. Within a few years, the basic patterns of lakes, woodlands, flower trails, and golf courses were laid out. Virginia Callaway worked with the landscape architects Gilmore Clark and John Leon Hoffman to plant more than 20,000 new trees and shrubs, including many native flowering varieties.
Before his death in 1961, Callaway approved designs for a chapel. Built of fieldstone and arched timbers hewn from surrounding fields, the chapel is located beside a natural waterfall at the head of a small lake. The well-known minister and inspirational speaker
After his father's death, Howard
" oversaw the gardens until he launched his failed campaign in 1966 to become the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction (1867-76). He left again in the 1970s to serve as secretary of the army under U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and then to develop Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado. He and his wife, Beth, moved back to Georgia in the 1990s to help with the gardens' operations. Bo " Callaway
The management of Callaway Gardens has gradually been moving the site away from its automobile focus; instead, trolleys are available for touring the gardens, and extensive hiking and biking trails connect the attractions.
Cason Callaway once told a visitor to the gardens, "What I'm trying to do here is hang the picture a little higher on the wall for the people of this region. Every child ought to see something beautiful before he's six years old—something he will remember all his life. And there hasn't been too much beauty in this part of the country in the past."
Media Gallery: Callaway Gardens