Unlike it’s Nevada namesake, Roswell, Georgia isn’t known for UFO sightings. However, it is home to the famous Chattahoochee River. We spoke with Andy Williams of Roswell, GA’s CVB to learn all about the place “way down yonder.” The historic architecture of Roswell’s charming Town Square is where this small town’s story begins. Andy guides us through an award-winning park system, Canton Street, and, of course, the Chattahoochee River.
00:12 ANNA BELL: Hello and welcome to this episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m your host, Anna Bell, and today I’m really excited to have with this Andy Williams, the Executive Director for Visit Roswell in Roswell, Georgia. Andy, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.
00:28 ANDY WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about our city, so I’m glad to be here.
00:34 ANNA BELL: And we’re excited to learn all about Roswell and kind of let you be our virtual tour guide to explore the area today, so we’re excited. For our listeners who have not yet had the opportunity to come visit you in Roswell, can you really tell us where you are located in the state of Georgia?
00:55 ANDY WILLIAMS: So we’re a suburban community north of the city of Atlanta, so if you were to kinda shoot right up through the main veins of the city, 75 north to Highway 400, which is pretty widely utilized, we’re about 20 minutes north of the city. We’re just outside considered OTP outside the perimeter of 285, just by a couple of miles. So just work with the city of Atlanta.
ANNA BELL: That’s great, that’s great. So if you wanted to, you can stay in this really awesome suburban area, but be bop over to Atlanta if you wanted to… That’s really cool.
ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, hub and spoke option either way. We’ve got folks that come up to Roswell from Atlanta, whether they’re staying for a convention or its leisure travel, but then on the flip side, we’ve got folks that can stay in Roswell then shoot down to see the attractions downtown and be right back up in no time.
01:44 ANNA BELL: That’s awesome. And are you from the area? Have you lived in Georgia long?
01:49 ANDY WILLIAMS: I am a Georgia-born peach. Yes, so I grew up in east of Atlanta, about 40 miles, went up to college for a couple of years up in the North Georgia Mountains and down after that down in Statesboro, Georgia at Georgia Southern, kind of near the coastal area. So I feel like I’ve kind of spanned every inch of the state pretty much.
02:10 ANNA BELL: That’s awesome. That’s great, that’s great. So we’re really excited about to learn all about Roswell, and I’ve heard it’s a really interesting place to visit if you’re a history buff. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about Roswell’s History and as a mill town and maybe some of the ways that we can really explore that history when we come to visit.
02:32 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, sure. So it’s an interesting community because we have a lot of just rooted history, and a lot of it was really relevant to to really success of the State of Georgia, particularly during the Civil War era, and then it really… From there, we just progressed into this dining Mecca with great parks and great other attractions and things to do, so it’s been really cool, I think, to watch the progression of the city, but… Yeah, at the end of the day, back in the 1800s, it really all came down to the Civil War, and we had a gentleman by the name of Roswell King, which is where he’s our namesake, where we get our name from, and essentially, he was in the banking industry, and he was working his way north up into the North Georgia Mountains where there was a big push to find gold, and as a part of that, that journey, he landed in Roswell and recognized a number of the different resources that we had here, and at that time during the Civil War, a lot of the actual manufacturing of cotton and the actual wool, that was done up in the North East, and so Roswell King recognized this could be an actual economic driver for the State of Georgia in the South, and that’s essentially where he kind of planted roots here with a number of other families, and that’s where the actual mills were established, and it obviously became…
03:56 ANNA BELL: Are any of those mills still standing today Andy?
03:58 ANDY WILLIAMS: Well, there you can see the ruins, yeah. Old Mill Park, which is just down from the town square area, has a nice little network of trails and some good good history and ways to learn about it, and it hooks up to Vickery Creek Falls, which is highly sought after and visited and really at all points throughout the year, but you can… Either room, if they were burned during the March to the Sea, and obviously with the Union troops coming in, they didn’t wanna do anything that would aid the Confederacy, so they were burned, but you can see a lot of the good, the ruins that still stand today.
04:32 ANNA BELL: Wow, that is so interesting. And I bet there’s some walking tours probably, you might can go and visit and do and some historic homes maybe in the area.
04:41 ANDY WILLIAMS: You’re… Absolutely, yeah, we have three historic homes. One is Smith Plantation, that obviously has a good bit of Civil War heritage and information. It’s actually on the campus of City Hall, which is right in our downtown area, and then we have Bullock Hall and Barrington Hall. Barrington Hall was actually the home of Roswell King’s son, Barrington, and then Bullock Hall, Greek revival architecture, a great history to it. And one of the things we like to be up front about is we’ve got relevant history, positive history, but then we’ve also got some history that has a little bit of a tarnished image in regard to the slave history and things that took place, but it was all very, very much a part of how Roswell developed, and we try to make sure we tell that story as accurately and truthfully as we can.
05:34 ANNA BELL: Absolutely, absolutely. A lot to learn when we come to visit with you, right.
05:39 ANDY WILLIAMS: Absolutely, in several different ways to see the grounds. The grounds themselves are actually park spaces, so if you don’t wanna go in and take a tour, you can access the grounds. We find that a lot of folks come in and have picnics and stroll just because obviously with right now, everyone wants to be outside.
ANNA BELL: That’s so true. Yes.
ANDY WILLIAMS: But then yeah, there are certainly audio tours, there are self-guided tours, there are tours with notes, so a number of different ways to experience the history of those homes.
06:05 ANNA BELL: Oh, that’s wonderful. Kinda continuing on with outdoor adventures, let’s talk about the Chattahoochee River for a little bit. So that just isn’t a lyric in Allen Jackson’s song. There really is a beautiful Chattahoochee River.
ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, and the Chattahoochee River runs all the way from North Georgia, southwest really into the southwestern part of the state, and Roswell has a… anyway you look at at 7 to 9 mile stretch. And it’s just a total catalyst for tourism for us, and it’s particularly a staple, because what we find is that we have a lot of folks that wanna come out and whether they’re bird watching or just taking a stroll on the river walk, progressing all the way into doing stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking or simply just floatin’ the river. We’re very fortunate to have outfitters in Nantahala Outdoor Center that operate a number of different services on the river, and then when you think about that, not only the private sector, we also have a series of trails connected to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Center, which is managed by the National Park System, and that actually hooks up to Old Mill Park, which we were just talking about, so recreation opportunities are plentiful in Roswell for sure.
07:21 ANNA BELL: Yeah, I’d love to learn a little more about your trails. You were starting to touch on that for a minute. Is that you know, a good opportunity for people to get out and really see that amazing scenery and wildlife?
07:33 ANDY WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, yeah. And I think what’s so cool and what we hear so often from individuals that travel up here is, like I mentioned, we’re close to the city, so it’s easy to get to us, but once you get on those trails, and especially once you get on the river, you feel like your miles and miles away from the city, so we hear that comment often it’s that… Yeah, I didn’t realize you guys had 10 miles of trails and a nine-mile stretch floatin’ the river. It doesn’t even feel like we’re a 20-minute drive from downtown Atlanta, which as you know, is hundreds of thousands of people, so it’s quite an escape. Honestly, that leads into even other aspects of our city. We’re often referred to such a small town feel that we have. We’re still a population of 96,000. We’re the eighth largest city in the state of Georgia. When you come into town, when you’re hiking the trails, out on the river, the dining and restaurants, doesn’t feel like that at all.
08:29 ANNA BELL: That’s kind of what Main and Mulberry is about. You know talking with these small towns that hang on to that small town charm, while they continue to grow. And you know, honestly, if you take a second and look at the visit Roswell website, you have a great saying, it’s “visit Roswell at your natural pace.” As the ED for Visit Rosswell, can you kinda explain that meaning behind that campaign?
08:52 ANDY WILLIAMS: Thank you for asking that question because we just went through an entire rebrand and as a part of that new logo, new website and a new way of messaging and telling our story. What we did…
09:04 ANNA BELL: It’s important. It’s important to do that, right?
09:06 ANDY WILLIAMS: Big time. Yeah, and what we did was we started taking a lot of feedback from travelers and as a part of that with combining our experience, the experience of our residents, the feedback from professionals that came in from the brand standpoint and really kind of guided us throughout this process, the common consensus was you had people coming from all over the place, all demographics, all income levels, races, ethnicities, and one of the common things was these people are all doing everything in Roswell that you want them to do as a convention and visitors bureau. They’re taking advantage of all the different attractions, the activities, the food, the dining scene, the brew pubs and the breweries, but they’re all doing them in a way that fits kind of their pace, and so I use the example, it’s not uncommon for a couple in their 50s to come and grab it early dinner and early cocktail, they want a low key night, they might wanna take a stroll downtown, but then they’re back in the hotel room relatively early planning for their next day. Well, on the flip side of that, you might have somebody that’s out on the river all day long and they’ve had a great time, and when myself I would be exhausted from that, they were raring to go coming off the river. They’ve been to a brewery, now they’re getting a little bit of a later dinner at one of the restaurants, and then they’re gonna pop over and see a live band, and then the pub crawl continues after that. Really what it came down to is the recognition that we have all these incredible natural amenities, with the trails, the river, an award-winning park system, plenty of green space to spread out on, and we kind of work that in to being able to do Roswell however you’d like. So at your natural pace is a play and a nod to the natural amenities, but also a way of saying, Hey, you can do Roswell at your natural pace.
10:58 ANNA BELL: Oh, I love it, I love hearing that. And that makes me think about Roswell is a bike-friendly community, is that right? You host events for your cyclists, kinda talking about pace, that’s something that brings to mind.
11:11 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think we do a pretty good job of that. We were on the first community in Georgia that became a bike-friendly community, and then from that, we have a network of parks that actually specifically have mountain biking trails, even. Big Creek Park on our eastern side of town is known for that, and visitors come in from all over to participate in those bike trails. They’re constantly being revamped and reworked, and they’re just Rambo, which is the Rosewell Alpharetta Mountain Bike Organization, does a great job of kinda mixing it up and keeping things new. So several weeks pass and the trail system might look totally different, but.
11:53 ANNA BELL: Note to self, make sure to bring my bike, right?
11:56 ANDY WILLIAMS: Absolutely, and then, you know, road biking too. We’ve got a network of trails and areas for those folks to enjoy the city and move around, so I would say the active lifestyle in conjunction with the river amenities is something that we definitely take seriously, and it’s honestly one of the reasons that people seek out Roswell to relocate to.
12:17 ANNA BELL: Yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. Andy, what’s one of your favorite things to do in Roswell?
12:23 ANDY WILLIAMS: So we’re outdoorsy. My wife and I, we have two small children, and we like to be outdoors, camping and hiking as much as possible, so we ever have the opportunity to get out of the river, we’ve got a couple of kayaks that, and we’ll get out on the river and enjoy the weather and just kind of bask in the sun…
12:41 ANNA BELL: That’s awesome. I know, like you said earlier, after this year, just one thing after the next. It’s so nice to have those outdoor amenities to really go out and enjoy.
12:52 ANDY WILLIAMS: It’s where it’s at right now. What that does is instills confidence, I think, in people returning to travel. Obviously, we feel more comfortable spreading out and getting out and about and doing things where they can kind of not be around, open. Yeah, exactly. And I think as people, more and more people start doing that and do a little bit more comfortable and then see what our restaurants and other businesses are safely doing and going above and beyond, particularly related to COVID, I think it’s just gonna help with consumer confidence and travel confidence.
13:21 ANNA BELL: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve been told to check out the Roswell Arts Fund, can you tell us a little bit more about those visual arts and galleries?
13:31 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, so the Roswell Arts Fund is a non-profit organization here in Roswell, and they’re a partner organization through the city of Roswell, similar to how the Convention and Visitors Bureau as a partner organization, and their mission is connecting people with art. And they do that in a number of different ways. Most notably, they manage what we call the Art around Roswell Sculpture Tour. It’s an annual tour, some of those actual exhibits are permanent that have been purchased and installed permanently, and some rotate on an annual basis, and it’s a bid process. Different artists come together, submit their proposals, and then a selection committee and…
14:12 ANNA BELL: Are some of those from local artists?
14:14 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, it’s really… They’ve got a pretty nice database of local artists, not only throughout Roswell, but also kind of the greater multi-county area, and into Atlanta. It’s a great network of artists that they typically work with, and obviously those other artists try to take advantage of the situations that the Arts Fund presents to them. They’re all vetted out, they all have to follow a certain criteria in order to submit, but really for us, again, it goes back in to moving people around throughout the community, taking in those visuals, obviously supporting the Arts Fund and the arts movement in general. But then our hope from a tourism perspective is, Hey, now they’ve done the sculpture tour, they’ve visited the galleries, they’ve seen it for particular exhibit, maybe now they catch, grab a beer at one of the breweries and grab dinner, and then maybe it influences them to even come back for a multi-night stay, which that’s sucess in our book, if that happens.
15:14 ANNA BELL: That’s right. It’s just kind of one step forward. Keep going. Find something else new and something else cool that makes you just wanna stay, right? That’s the name of the game. Kinda keeping in the same area though, I know our listeners are anxious to know more about your historic district in downtown area. Andy, can you really bring that area to life for us using all the senses and of what we can expect to see and experience when we come and visit you in Roswell, Georgia?
15:44 ANDY WILLIAMS: Sure, yeah, so I would say that the primary area of our historic district really encompasses our town square area, and that was where the mill and the Roswell mill ruins are located, and it’s actually where The Bricks are located as well, which… That’s where a lot of the actual mill workers lived, and matter of fact, it’s actually the first really documented apartments ever in the United States of America.
16:10 ANNA BELL: Wow. Wow, that’s a big deal.
16:11 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, it’s really interesting. Those have now been converted to homes, so they are, they’re private home owners, but there’s a nice marker outside that kind of explains the history of them, and what it really does is establishes the story of the mill workers who lived in those and then directly separated by the town square, that’s where the wealth was. So that’s where the actual mill owners, the folks that had the money in the city that were influential, they were on that side, the mills on the other side, and it’s really, that’s where the mill offices were located in the town square area, but that’s where you’re gonna get your mill village homes, your attractions, your old cemeteries, and it really ties in that history. That’s where that old architecture is going to be, for example. I would say that’s where the experience of Roswell starts, and then from there, when you work your way up from Town Square, you head into our most notable street that really has become regionally known, that’s Canton Street. Canton Street is just loaded with dining opportunities, retail, boutiques and galleries. So that’s what I would say It anchors our tourism product here within the city of Roswell, and you get folks that obviously day trippers that wanna come up and grab a bite to eat, craft beer followers that wanna come into town and experience that with either Gate City or Variant. And then obviously, we’ve actually become an extremely successful wedding destination with a number of different venues in that area as well, so when you take a combination of the history, the architecture, and then the small town feel, again of Canton Street, you lure a lot of brides in and wedding parties. That’s the perfect setting for tying the not.
18:01 ANNA BELL: Oh yeah, absolutely, I bet. I bet it’s so beautiful too, and especially now we’re kind of getting into cooler temperatures, the leaves are starting to change a little bit. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of brides wanting to come in and make that their spot. Kind of switching gears a little bit after enjoying ourselves around town, you’ve mentioned a time or two about your craft breweries. I wanna hear a little more about that.
18:24 ANDY WILLIAMS: Got it. Yeah, so several years ago, there was local legislation that really kind of paved the way for craft breweries to establish businesses throughout Roswell, and as a part of that actually there was even further legislation that allowed for open carry on the sidewalks and certain carry districts is what we call them, so what’s awesome about that is we have Gate City Brewing is one of our largest, I would say our largest brewery for sure. Highly successful, and they’re just doing a fantastic job, tucked right behind Canton Street off Magnolia Street, which is another well-known street, and they just do a fantastic job, offering a different variety of beer. Great tap room, private event venue, plenty of room to spread out, just a really cool atmosphere. And then Variant came along, and Variant is just located right off Norcross Street, kind of in the same general area. Definitely walking distance from Gate City, and they do a fantastic job, and they were actually Beer Guys Radio, which is a follower, their followers actually voted Variant the number one craft brewery in the State of Georgia.
19:37 ANNA BELL: Wow, that’s a big deal. That’s very cool.
19:39 ANDY WILLIAMS: That was recently 2019, so that they just do a fantastic job. And they do a lot of different varieties of beer, hence the name Variant. They’re always trying new things and having a fantastic tap room as well, that’s highly visited, but I think the fact that you can come in there, all of our brew pubs, including From the Earth on the east side, which can actually serve food and is allowed to have a full bar because they are brew pub, they’re all authentically different from another. I think they all have different audiences, which is awesome for us because we love a diverse mix of travelers, but the fact that you can grab a beer at Variant and Gate City and then walk down the sidewalk and then pop in and see a live performance, guitarist or grab a dinner. It moves people throughout the community, and I think that’s what people love most about our downtown.
20:28 ANNA BELL: And that’s so unique. Not a lot of towns have that luxury of being able to offer that to their visitors and locals alike. That’s really unique. And as our tour guide now you’ve got to share a couple of good places for us to grab a bite and maybe even a sweet treat.
20:46 ANDY WILLIAMS: Got it. Yeah, well, I would say one of my go-tos is a restaurant called Table and Main. It’s located on Canton Street, has a fantastic patio and outdoor chimney and fireplace, and they are just… So everything they do on the menu is awesome. Chef Woody just does an amazing job. My go-to dish there is their fried chicken. It is known throughout the greater metro Atlanta area, constantly receiving accolades and.
21:14 ANNA BELL: You can’t beat that. Yeah, good fried chicken. Yeah, you can’t beat that.
21:18 ANDY WILLIAMS: It’s your upscale southern cooking, basically. Shrip and grits, pork chop, pork tenderloin, a number of different things, that’s a great, great place for dinner, and then I would say, my wife and I in particular, we love working our way down Canton Street. We’ve got a number of different restaurants. Little Alley is a fantastic steakhouse. It’s highly rated throughout the city of Atlanta, the Greater Atlanta area. Menu items are wet aged and dry aged steak. Sides are a la carte. Fantastic bourbon bar, if you’re into that.
21:51 ANNA BELL: Andy, you’ve got my mouth watering. Okay, now I’m getting hungry.
21:55 ANDY WILLIAMS: I’ll tell you, you know, we’ve got over 200 chef-driven restaurants. We have really become a regionally known destination, simply for our dining scene, so I mean it’s a cliche to say there’s something for everybody, but truly, you could walk down Canton Street, you can go over to the East side, where From the Earth is and Foundation, and then go over over to the west side where Houck’s and VG Bistro exists, and you’ve got plenty of opportunities to pick from, but answer your question about getting a sweet treat, a number of different chocolatiers. One thing I’d love to point out is we have a fantastic wine bar and market called Deep Roots, which is tucked away off Plum Street, which is directly ties into Canton Street too, so it’s a great way to end up after a night or to start your night.
22:47 ANNA BELL: Now you’re right up my alley too, because I’ve got two kids and I’m definitely planning on bringing them with us. We gotta bring the whole family, you know, and would you say it’s a family-friendly place, Roswell?
22:59 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, there really is something for everybody. Pre-COVID you know there were a number of different festivals that took place throughout the year too. And many of those are family-friendly, and I think that there’s really a feeling around Roswell that we are very hospitality-driven, but also very welcoming, and it’s not uncommon to drive down Canton Street or other areas of the community see a number of different strollers and even to see strollers in the breweries, to be honest with you, I… Big stackable, life size, Jenga blocks and things like that. We’ve got a number of different places that are very welcoming to all different family members, but also we’re extremely dog-friendly too. I think one of the most dog-friendly communities probably in the state of Georgia. We actually have a campaign called Patios for Paws, which is geared towards promoting the outdoors to folks who wanna bring their dogs and so…
23:54 ANNA BELL: That’s so cute, I love that.
23:56 ANDY WILLIAMS: One of the struggles I myself, even as a parent with young children, it’s like, Oh, where are my kids gonna be welcome, where can I bring our dog Beckett, and a number of different establishments in Roswell allow both of those.
24:09 ANNA BELL: That is so cool. That’s another really unique thing, ’cause a lot of towns again, don’t really welcome our four-legged kiddos too, fur babies I guess we should say. That’s awesome. Well, Andy, as we kind of wrap things up, where is the best place for our listeners to go and really prepare to map out their visit to Roswell with you?
24:34 ANDY WILLIAMS: Yeah, thank you for asking that. So our website is visitRoswellGA.com, that’s where you can get a number of different ideas on things to do outside, dining establishments, hotels to book at, wedding venues, other special event venues. At the Convention and Visitors Bureau, we focus on a number of different markets, and we have a team dedicated in place to really help guide that conversation, and one of our new initiatives is we just launched a series of itineraries. If there’s one thing we’ve learned is people are getting the point where they just wanna be told what to do. They want things simplified for them.
25:11 ANNA BELL: Yes. Don’t have to question or ask, you’re right, right.
25:13 ANDY WILLIAMS: Right. And we’re continuing to work on that and really kind of fine-tune that, but we do have a number of different itineraries that are available on the website. We’re very active on social media with Facebook, and that’s Visit Roswell, Georgia spelled out. We’re active on Instagram, it’s a visitRoswellGA, and then now we’re on tiktok. And that’s an area I never knew we would tackle, but Kendall, our marketing coordinator, has done a fantastic job of getting us established on that.
25:40 ANNA BELL: That’s awesome, awesome. When you’ve got something good to share, you gotta share it, right?
25:46 ANDY WILLIAMS: That’s right. And then, you know, traditionally, visitRoswellGA.com. My email address is awilliams@visitRoswellGA.com. I’ll talk to anybody and help anybody out that I can.
25:58 ANNA BELL: Andy, we sincerely appreciate your time and your insight today, sharing all the wonderful things that Roswell, Georgia has to offer. We really do appreciate you.
26:08 ANDY WILLIAMS: I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you for having me.
26:11 ANNA BELL: Yeah. Thanks. All right, guys. We hope you enjoyed this episode of Main and Mulberry. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.