My top 3 excuses for visiting Rockmart’s historic downtown
Find out what you’ll like about this small northwest Georgia city’s historic downtown (with 25 photos)
Are you a bicyclist, runner or walker who enjoys greenways that run alongside scenic bodies of water?
Do you like to visit old downtowns just to see the historic streetscapes? Are you a baby boomer who enjoys nostalgic scenes that stir up childhood memories?
Do you like to discover unique cafes and shops in walkable historic districts?
I answer yes to all those questions, so it’s easy to use one or more of them as an excuse for putting off my chores a few times a year to take a roadtrip to Rockmart.
I’m a cyclist, a historic streetscape fan and a baby boomer. I enjoy dining at new places. So the city is a place I would love to visit more often. And if you answer yes to at least one of those questions, I believe you would enjoy a visit to downtown Rockmart, too.
Go for the Silver Comet Trail
This is my top excuse for going to downtown Rockmart. Like a large number of other tourists, bicycling on the Silver Comet Trail has been the main purpose of each of my visits. The popular concrete path passes through the city at Euharlee Creek just two blocks from the main historic commercial street.
When the weather is good, you will almost always see cyclists enjoying the park and the half dozen or so restaurants that are found within a couple of blocks of the bike path. Rockmart is a popular turnaround point for long-distance cyclists from the Atlanta metro area, or for those coming from the other direction like my riding buddies and me.
The setting makes it easy to recommend Rockmart as a starting point for cyclists coming from other states or south Georgia to enjoy the trail, or the ideal place for a planned break for those that are passing through.
See also: Biking the Silver Comet Trail and the Chief Ladiga Trail (with over 30 photos)
Here’s some of the sights you’ll enjoy on the Rockmart portion of the Silver Comet Trail.
Go for the historic streetscapes and nostalgic scenes
If this is your reason for going to downtown Rockmart, it’s easy to take a sidewalk tour that includes seeing the primary historic commercial strip and other late 19th-century buildings, along with the adjacent creek and park area.
The direction of Euharlee Creek determined how the town was originally laid out. Marble Street, the railroad track, Water Street and the park are all parallel to the water.
Marble Street is the main historic commercial street. Other historic buildings are found along East Church Street, West Church Street and Elm Street forming three sides of a public square. They surround the c. 1921 red brick building that was originally a city hall but now is home to a museum and the chamber of commerce. The first railroad depot once stood at that spot.
Just across the tracks, a veteran’s memorial is found at the Silver Comet trailhead building.
Take a look at some of the scenes you’ll enjoy along Marble Street:
While there, keep in mind that the Rockmart Downtown Historic District was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The district includes that building with white columns and most of the other commercial structures built in the era between the 1880s to 1920s. It also includes the rail line, the c. 1929 water treatment plant, and the churches that were built in that era.
Pictured, from top left, are the c.1914 Methodist Episcopal Church, the c.1882 Presbyterian Church; the c.1891 First Baptist Church and the Church of Christ.
The Church of Christ was not included in the national historic district application, but it shares a similar architectural style with the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. The stacked rock you see in the siding of those three churches is from the local slate mines that were responsible for “rock” being used in the town’s name. A few other buildings also feature the slate.
In the 1850s, Welsh miners settled in the area to establish the slate mines. The name of Rock Market was chosen when lots were plotted for the town in 1871. The name was shortened to Rockmart when it was chartered with the state in 1872.
Colonel Seaborn Jones, the primary slate mine operator during the 1870s and 1880s, led the development of the community in anticipation that rail tracks would run through part of his property. The railroad was completed in 1879.
The nationally registered district also includes some buildings related to the cotton industry. It included two former gas stations, but those have been remodeled. One of them has been used as a restaurant for the past several years.
In 2002, the old park near the historic downtown was renamed in honor of Seaborn Jones. Bridges for auto traffic are found on each side of the park that has some really big hardwood trees. A small foot bridge makes it easy to walk directly from the historic commercial area to the park, and a small Silver Comet Trail bridge provides cyclists, walkers and joggers another way to cross the creek.
What’s now the city’s event venue known as The Depot at Richardson Field is located near the Silver Comet bridge. It may have been Rockmart’s third railroad depot. Perhaps it was the second and it was moved to the present location in recent years. Or, maybe it was just built to look like a railroad depot.
For now, I’m going with choice number one. Here’s a look at The Depot at Richardson Field, along with a couple of snapshots of Seaborn Jones Park:
Go for the unique shops and cafes
As is the case for most small towns in America, four-lane highways and shopping trends caused a devastating commercial downturn in historic downtown Rockmart between the 1970s and the 1990s. But these days, the city’s historic buildings are mostly occupied by small businesses, and a good deal of the parking spaces are occupied by vehicles during business hours.
People come to the old downtown by both bicycle and automobile in relatively large numbers to dine at places like Franki’s Italian Restaurant, Soli’s, Knucklehead Cafe, the South Marble Coffee House and Exotic Que.
On my most recent trip, cyclists were lined up to get inside Hometown Pizza. I saw people going in and out of stores that sell clothing, antiques, jewelry, hardware and more. The historic district may be experiencing its busiest commercial times since the 1970s.
If you enjoy small-town festivals, events in Rockmart include:
Rockmart Heritage Days & Welshfest
Polk County Homespun Arts & Craft Festival
Each festival was canceled for 2020 due to the pandemic. Welshfest was also canceled for 2021, but they have set a date of March 19, 2022 for the next one. Plans for 2021 may not be settled for the other two, but all should be back to normal in 2022.
For folks traveling from the Atlanta area, downtown Rockmart is only about 39 miles from the Brave’s new stadium. It’s about 80 miles from metro Chattanooga, and 62 miles from Gadsden, Alabama.
I believe an ideal weekend roadtrip to the region would include visits to two or three historic downtowns in one day. Maybe Rockmart, Rome and Cave Spring. Or, Rockmart and Cartersville. Perhaps Rockmart and Dallas.
Downtown Rockmart and downtown Cedartown is a combination I have enjoyed many times from the saddle of my bike thanks to the Silver Comet Trail.
Check out my articles featuring nearby historic downtowns
Historic downtown Rome: A fine Southern destination
The historic Main Street business district steals the show in Cedartown
A walking tour of Cave Spring’s historic places
Polk County Chamber of Commerce
The Polk County Standard Journal