You Don't Have to Go West to Experience the West
The Booth Museum of Western History is one of Georgia's hidden gems that will surprise and amaze you.
My daughter had never heard of the Booth Museum, but this was no surprise. I hadn’t heard of it either, until I started researching places for us to meet.
She lives in Rome, Georgia, and the Booth Museum in Cartersville is only 30 minutes from her house. It’s an hour’s drive from where I live near Atlanta, so the museum seemed like a good meeting point.
I didn’t realize when I planned our rendezvous that we were about to discover a hidden gem; a world-class Western history museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, nestled in the quiet, rolling hills of Cartersville.
We were impressed before we even got inside. Exterior art, including a 2,300 pound 37-foot Totem Pole and sculptures that rivaled what I have seen in the sculpture gardens of Europe, dotted the lawn surrounding the museum.
These bronze monuments were the beginning of our glimpse into America’s story. Inside, we were able to glimpse more of the story, told through Western artwork, Presidential portraits, Native American artifacts, and Civil War art.
The building itself is nothing short of spectacular. At 120,00 square feet, it is designed to resemble a modern pueblo and constructed from Bulgarian limestone.
After parking in an almost-empty parking lot and strolling through the museum’s sculpture garden, we discovered we were practically alone in the museum. Only a few other visitors drifted through during our entire two-and-a-half-hour visit.
It was a Tuesday, and maybe Tuesday is a slow time. But a friend later told me she had experienced the same thing. She had the museum practically to herself.
But lack of people doesn’t indicate lack of quality. The variety and quality of art is stunning. We discovered that The Booth Museum is the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the United States and the second largest museum in Georgia. In addition to art, there are over 200 Native American artifacts.
Even my husband, who does not generally like museums, was impressed. “This is some of the most amazing art I’ve ever seen,” he remarked as we strolled through the Civil War art gallery that chronicled a history of the war.
My six-year-old granddaughter was enthralled with the sculptures in the two-story sculpture court, and with the authentic stagecoach.
But when she spotted the presidential gallery, she was even more enthralled. “There’s the president!” She exclaimed, running ahead of us into a gallery that features a sweeping mural with presidential portraits and handwritten letters by the presidents.
After a stroll through the Presidential Gallery, we ducked into the museum café for lunch. Since we were a small group with varied tastes, we were pleased to discover the cafe featured a decent selection of sandwiches and salads; everything from quesadillas to hot dogs and cheeseburgers.
We could have eaten outside but opted for air conditioning and a table overlooking the sculpture garden.
After lunch, we took a glass elevator to the basement floor so our six-year-old could spend time in Sagebrush Ranch, an area filled with interactive and educational exhibits related to art and Western culture.
Although we couldn’t coax my reluctant granddaughter into sitting on the life-size horse, she enjoyed the other activities. We were alone in the children’s area, so she was free to dash from station to station. She had so much fun that getting her to leave was a challenge.
I would like to have spent more time browsing the art gallery, with examples of work by George Catlin, Charles Russell, Frederic Remington, and many more. The artwork is exactly as described on the museum’s website. It depicts America’s Story, “the land, people, struggles, dreams, and legends in paintings, sculpture, photography and artifacts.”
One friend described the museum as “a real jewel in the desert.” None of us expected a town with a population of 20,000 to house such a first-class museum with such a vast selection of quality work.
When I read up on its history, I discovered the museum was started by a family in Cartersville who had been Western art collectors for many years. They prefer to remain anonymous, but it was their wish to share their expansive collection of Western art with the community.
The museum, which opened in 2003, is named for Sam Booth, a mentor of the founders. It is a 501 (c) (3) public charity funded by donations, foundations and sponsorships, as well as through memberships, admissions, and merchandise sales.
Speaking of merchandise sales, the gift shop is one part of the museum I didn’t have time to visit, but it had an enticing display of items that makes we want to shop there when I go back.
It only cost us $32 to get in, which included admission for two seniors, one child, and one adult. Children under 12 were admitted free.
In addition to seeing the galleries, shopping in the gift shop, eating in the café and touring the sculpture garden, visitors can attend several recurring events.
According to the museum docents and the website, there are annual live and silent auctions, and every March the Southeastern Cowboy Gathering features traditional Cowboy food, music, and poetry.
I think I’ll plan another trip to the museum in October for the Southeastern Cowboy Festival and Symposium with Native American dancing, gun fight reenactments, and a Western marketplace.
To say The Booth Museum is a real local gem is an understatement. It is a perfect place to take kids, out of town guests, or to return by myself. As one visitor said, “I didn’t know I loved western art so much, but with the well-constructed exhibits, you can immerse yourself in this genre all day long.”