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October 2017
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Simply Smart Travel
by Jeff Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein
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Cedartown, Georgia — Fleeing Irma, Finding Southern Hospitality 

Jeff Orenstein
Decorative streetscapes can be found in many places in Cedartown. Credit: Aimee Madden, Public Information Officer, Cedartown

We always try to plan our Simply Smart Travel trips well in advance. We have found that it pays to do our homework and research the best places to stay and learn about our destination's attractions and culture. However, longterm advance planning is not always possible. That is the situation we faced at our Sarasota, Florida home as category 5 hurricane Irma churned toward us, days away. The official message was clear: get out if you can or go to a shelter if you cannot.

The Exodus Begins

We heeded the advice and fled north. But planning and preparation still proved to be valuable and made our evacuation less stressful. After poring over TV weather reports and downloading the Florida Storms app for our phones, we filled our gas tank, loaded our precious computers in the trunk, packed appropriate clothes and a few necessities and decided that Northwest Georgia seemed to be a good place to evacuate to, given the storm's predicted path. Knowing Atlanta would be mobbed by evacuees, we decided on Cedartown Georgia, a town 60 miles west of Atlanta. We made a reservation for two nights at the Cedartown Best Western and hit the road four days before the storm was scheduled to hit. We figured and soon verified that the highways would be clogged. So we got on our phones and started to call hotels along the way since it became obvious that we would not make Cedartown in the normal drive time of nine hours. After getting a lot of “Sorry, we are full” responses, we found one in Tallahassee and arrived there after a ten and a half hour drive (normally about five and a half), mostly on secondary roads because I-75 became a parking lot.

Southern Hospitality

The next morning, we set off from Tallahassee on U.S. 27 toward Cedartown and arrived there in midafternoon. After checking in to the hotel, the front desk suggested that we go to Jefferson's restaurant across the street for dinner since they were offering free food to Florida evacuees. That was our first taste of southern hospitality. What wonderful and generous people. We tried to pay but they would not accept it.

The hotel filled up fast and by the next morning, there were people sleeping in campers in the parking lot (provided gratis by people in the town) and the hotel even opened a room for evacuees without a hotel room for showering. Even though we had reservations for two nights, the hotel accommodated us and extended our stay for four nights.

The lobby of the hotel began to fill up with huge quantities of food of all kinds, bottled water, diapers, pet supplies, the taking, no questions asked.

The local volunteer fire department showed up and made provisions to set up a huge tent if needed. Fortunately, it was not needed since the hotel allowed people to stay in the lobby and in the campers in the parking lot.

Soon, grills appeared on the lawn and the townspeople began grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and bar-b-que and urging evacuees to take their fill. They kept it up every day until two days after the storm, when we left to return home. Nobody would take any money for anything.

To put it mildly, the people of Cedartown stepped up and showed what hospitality is all about.

Since we had a car, a room, credit cards and adequate provisions, we decided to make the best of a bad situation and explore the region. Cedartown, the county seat of Polk County, is a picturesque town with a population of 9,750.

The town was named for its Red Cedar trees and its downtown is full of historical buildings and listed is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its 1890s architecture. Although the town was ravaged by the Union Army during the civil war, the coming of the railroad and U.S. 27 helped it recover in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Before You Go, Check out:

Getting There:

Cedartown can be reached by car.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Reach them at or