Stephen C. Foster State Park is a state park located in White County, some thirty miles (50km) south of Atlanta, Georgia. The park was named after the famed composer and former resident of Brookhaven, Georgia, who wrote songs such as “Old Folks At Home,” “Way Down Upon the Suwannee River” and “More Than A Thousand.”
Tours are no longer given, but visitors may enter the tower to see if there is a bell inside. There used to be a bell, but it broke while being rung during a thunderstorm. Now there is only a siren that goes off every half hour, Monday through Friday, 10am – 4pm. The park features hiking trails, mountain bike routes, campgrounds, group campsites, boat rentals, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and equestrian facilities. The park hosts events like Folk Festival, Mountain Bike Jam, Christmas in the City, Movie on the Green, and more.
The park’s museum houses exhibits about the history and culture of the Cherokee people, Sesqui-Centennial History, natural and cultural history, music, and other topics. Exhibits include the composer’s personal artifacts, photographs, sheet music, books, and instruments, plus a scale model of the composer’s boyhood home and studio. Outside, there are monuments to Foster’s songs, including two large bronze statues. One depicts Foster sitting at his piano composing, with a cigar sticking out of his mouth and a cup of coffee in his hand; the other statue shows him standing next to a riverbank, fishing, with a guitar slung across his shoulders.
Stephen C. is known for having written the words to the song “Old Folks at Home.” This song, often referred to by its first line (“Folks back home”), is one of the most popular American folk songs of all time; it has been recorded by numerous artists including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Odetta, Taj Mahal, Emmylou Harris, and many others. It was introduced into the public domain in 1945 when Foster’s heirs failed to pay his debts. After his death, the state took over his property and began granting rights-of-way for what would become Stephen C. Foster State Park. In 1952, Foster’s old house burned down and was not replaced. Instead, the state built an administrative building similar to a church or monastery belfry.