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This North-Georgia/Upcountry South Carolina weekend had the perfect blend of things huge, strong, delicious, floral and educational for one man and his 9-year-old son.
We roared across Georgia looking for tranquility in Toccoa. And, in South Carolina, we climbed into Clemson, wanting to bathe in the beauty of botanical gardens.
Ultimately, on a weekend trip that started on Saturday and stretched into Tuesday, we could only sigh as South Carolina’s Greenville faded into our rear-view mirror with the rays of the setting sun.
On a hot afternoon, my 9-year-old son splashed into the Doyle Street Pool at the center of Toccoa, Georgia. This municipal waterhole overlooks the mountainous horizon of a place that innkeeper Todd Cusato calls “one of the most interesting, little towns in the South.”
Cusato operates the Simmons-Bond Bed & Breakfast in this Stephens County courthouse town. And, for a night, he’s our host while on an extended weekend along the Georgia-South Carolina border.
In town, we feast on hamburgers and fries at Bell’s, a family diner on Big A Road. Then we discover tales of the late Paul Anderson, a world-traveling legend, touted in Toccoa as “The World’s Strongest Man.” Anderson could pick up thousands of pounds, on a routine basis, while the rest of us might struggle to bring in the groceries from the car.
“Strongest man that ever lived,” Cusato says. “They called Paul ‘a wonder of nature,’ and he truly was something quite unique. Paul was not from this planet.”
Anderson is gone, but his friendly likeness remains at the Paul Anderson Park—with a big, bronze and powerful-looking statue in Toccoa.
At dusk, along Doyle Street, we witnessed a street concert by Craig Waters & the Flood, a rockin’ blues band, as part of Toccoa’s Ida Cox Music Series. Then, for a succulent supper, we savored chicken and fish at the X-Factor Grill & Cornerstone Restaurant within sight of the stage.
On Sunday, Todd Cusato served a three-course, gourmet breakfast—with eggs, fruit and freshly-roasted coffee—at the Simmons-Bond Bed & Breakfast. Cusato has operated this 20-room mansion as an inn with his wife, Joy, since coming to Toccoa in 1999. Their well-preserved house was built in 1903.
“A lot of stuff has happened here,” Todd Cusato says. “Lots of famous people are from here.”
Besides Paul Anderson, Toccoa also claims a “Band of Brothers.”
During World War II, more than 18,000 paratroopers trained at Camp Toccoa on Currahee Mountain. These brave and colorful men went on to inspire movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Today, their story is told inside a restored train station at the Stephens County Local History Museum and Currahee Military Museum—a place recommended by Cusato as “the best small-town museum in the South.”
Here, you can walk through the actual stable that housed these soldiers while they were stationed at Aldbourne, England. This wooden building was shipped to Toccoa in 2004 to be preserved.
Visitors—especially veterans—are surprised to find this tribute, says museum volunteer Lynn Rachwel. “And when you get the guys who come through and they get emotional, it just draws me closer to them. And when I go through there? I’m just in awe.”