Sharing the Land: Callaway Gardens

Words by Rachel Ishee

The year is 1952. The average cost of a new home comes in below $10,000. The Korean War is more than halfway over. And Callaway Resort & Gardens has opened its doors to the public.

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Decades have passed since then, and this 2,500-acre attraction continues to bring in thousands of visitors each year. If you grew up in the South, you likely visited the Gardens as part of a school field trip or on a family vacation.

Because the Gardens have been a popular destination spot for families for generations, its staff is constantly looking for new, innovative ways to ensure that everyone has a great experience. And if there’s one person who could speak to the vast number of changes that Callaway Resort & Gardens has experienced throughout the years, that person would be Patricia Collins, who began her career with the Gardens in 1962 as a summer intern.

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Callaway Resort & Gardens was the creation of Cason J. Callaway and his wife Virginia Hand Callaway, originally as a retreat for their closest friends and family, away from the hustle and bustle of the roaring 1920s. But as years passed, Cason started to wonder what it would look like to share with others the land that he and his family had come to love so much.

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“In 1952 he realized that his rich friends could afford to travel anywhere in the world but that so many people in a 200-mile radius could not afford to go anywhere,” Patricia says. “So he decided to open up the Gardens.”

On opening day, there were only woodlands, lakes, and a few planted azaleas sprinkled throughout the property. The Gardens almost immediately became a go-to destination spot for many families in the area. Because of its quick popularity, the Callaways decided it was time to add more engaging experiences throughout the property. In 1953, they imported tons of sand to make the new Robin Lake beach as beautiful and natural looking as possible, and since then the renovations have not ceased.

“You can be as active as you want, or as laid back and relaxed as you want,” Patricia says.

For those with a more adventurous spirit, there is the Treetop Adventure, zip lining, biking, fishing, boating, and so much more. And for those who prefer to keep their heart rate a little lower, the butterfly garden, spa, and bird shows will do the trick without leaving you feeling underwhelmed.

With all the beauty that the property boasts, it’s no surprise that some people love Callaway Resort & Gardens so much that they want to move to the vacation destination. “For the past 20-something years or so, people can actually purchase homes here on site,” Patricia says. These houses vary in price range and feature stunning surrounding properties. All of their homes were created with sustainable living in mind, and residents have access to all of the amenities that the Gardens have to offer.

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If moving is not in your plan, the Gardens offer plenty of award-winning short-term stay options on the property, including modern suites that feature balcony views of lakes and woodlands, and cozy cottages that have a neighborhood feel. The Callaway staff will even help visitors select the best plants for their personal garden so they will always have a little bit of Callaway in their own homes.

Although people typically imagine visiting a garden in the spring and summer, one cannot mention Callaway Resort & Gardens without talking about its world-renowned Fantasy In Lights holiday display. Begun in 1992 as a five-scene light display, this attraction has morphed into a larger than life holiday family tradition. Since the original light show, it has grown to now boast about a dozen displays, requiring approximately 3,900 hours to install and 1,780 hours to maintain throughout the season.