Having grown up on Oak Hill outside Rome, Georgia, Martha Berry taught students for the first time in a small cabin in the woods.
That humble cabin, a counterpoint to Martha Berry’s grand manor home Oak Hill, is part of the Berry College campus at Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum.
It sits along a nature trail that takes a sinuous route through woodland gardens to reach the grand manor atop the bluff.
As Martha Berry’s fortunes rose, so did her investment in her childhood home. Among the renovations to Oak Hill were a series of landscaped gardens.
Starting in 1927, Berry commissioned landscape architect Robert Cridland to come up with a plan for Oak Hill.
The result today is a collection of formal garden rooms balancing the beauty of the surrounding woodlands ablaze in spring blossoms.
Plan Your Visit
Location: Rome, Georgia
Address: 24 Veterans Memorial Hwy NE, Rome, GA 30165
Hours: Mon-Sat 10-5.
Fee: $8 adults, $7 ages 55+, $5 students, free for those affiliated with Berry College. Military and AAA discounts honored.
While you can ramble the woodland gardens on your own by following the pathway past the Berry Cabin, we suggest taking the guided tour of Oak Hill to start with the formal gardens and work your way back to the museum.
Tours are included with general admission to the museum and grounds. You’ll ride a tram up to the top of the hill, which will shorten your walk.
Tours are given Mon-Sat at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM. Alternate times can be arranged with advanced reservation. Call 706-368-2876 to schedule a tour.
From downtown Rome, follow US 27 (Martha Berry Blvd NE) north to GA 1, the Veterans Memorial Highway. Turn right, and make an immediate right through the gates. Follow the narrow road through the estate to the parking area in front of the Martha Berry Museum. Access to Oak Hill from here is by foot or on a guided tour.
Inside the Gardens
Robert Cridland’s original design called for three formal garden spaces at Oak Hill: the formal garden, goldfish garden, and sundial garden.
He envisioned gardens in the style made popular by the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, which in turn were patterned on English gardens.
In addition, noting the wooded bluff behind the home that slopes down to the Oostanaula River, he planned a woodland garden to accent its natural beauty.
Over time, Martha expanded on his original plans for the gardens to grow to the size they are today. Additions have also been made since her passing.
As you walk through the gardens, take note of the interpretive signs that provide a little history about each garden along with photos of Martha Berry.
Also look for tree identification tags and some wildflower identification markers in the woodlands as well.
Nicely shaded by the surrounding trees, the Goldfish Garden has a square goldfish pond with a bubbling fountain at its heart.
This garden room is defined by a stone wall, and planted seasonally for blooms.
The arbor on its north end is a relaxing place to sit and look across the gardens. It was one of Martha Berry’s favorite places to rest and work outdoors.
Martha Freeman, a servant at Oak Hill who lived in a small cottage behind the manor after she was widowed, looked after the goldfish.
As her eyesight failed, she would follow a rope from the cottage to the pond to feed the goldfish.
The original rose garden for Oak Hill, the Sundial Garden has a sundial as its centerpiece in a room edged with boxwood.
The stone walkway bisects this garden in a direct line from the dining room window of the Oak Hill mansion to the Sunken Garden, with the sundial breaking up its flow.
As the trees around it grew, this garden became too shady for the roses that it once had, so it is now planted seasonally, with daffodils blooming in spring.
The formal garden has an open lawn defined as a garden room by boxwood hedges. What is planted around the lawn varies by season, but always guarantees splashy color.
The fountain pool in the middle is the centerpiece of this garden, moved here in 1927 from the college campus.
Off the main room is a secondary room where the Rose Garden was moved, thriving nicely in the sunshine.
While the Sunken Garden has an Italianate feel, it was inspired by an amphitheater that Martha Berry encountered in 1933 in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
She told Robert Cridland that she would like to have a similar outdoor space for entertainment.
While the terraces originally were planned to hold iris beds, they included day lilies as well for a number of years, and are now planted seasonally.
The Kwansan cherry trees that bloom so beautifully each spring were a gift from the Emperor of Japan in the late 1930s, his way of giving thanks for Martha’s educational work.
The Butterfly Garden is one of the newer garden spaces, established in 2000. It has feeders hanging as well as flowers and flowering shrubs to attract pollinators.
This formal walkway is the most popular spot in the gardens for a wedding. Many Berry College students have gotten married here.
A rustic chapel adjoins the upper end of the walk.
Lined by iris and peonies in spring, the walkway has archways defining it as the flagstones lead downhill to a gazebo topped with a pyramid-shaped roof.
This gazebo mirrors others found throughout this part of the gardens, behind the manor house.
Beneath a natural canopy of hardwoods, the Hillside Garden adds color that is most evident in springtime, when the azaleas and the dogwoods are in bloom.
Stone walls, natural footpaths, and stone steps guide you downhill to the level of the river floodplain, where the pathway is adjoined by a little-used access road.
It is possible to loop back up to the Bridal Walk from the north end of the Hillside Garden.
You can also take a mile-long walk through another set of woodland gardens back to the museum parking area by continuing along this path.
Where the Hillside Garden path ends at a vast open green space, aim for the trail into the woods that you see on the far side.
It provides the choice of following The Gloria Trail, a nature trail deeper into the woods, or walking through the woodland gardens.
On Martha Berry’s Walkway of Life, the footpath circles a large pond with a fountain and passes by a small cascade on the way to a fernery.
Climbing uphill, this woodland path leads you across the entrance road and past the Berry Cabin to return to the museum parking area.
Oak Hill Tour
If you join the tour, you’ll visit the Oak Hill mansion first after a tram or golf cart ride up from the museum.
Built in the 1880s, Oak Hill is a Greek Revival mansion. As an adult, Martha oversaw its expansion and alterations.
Walking through the mansion with student docents, you’ll see how the dining area provided a grand view of the gardens outside, and its lovely botanical wall coverings.
A ramble through the formal gardens is part of the tour. Your docent will explain the historical significance of each garden.
Also included in the tour is a peek inside Martha Freedman’s quarters and the garage.
The Ford tractor and Model T were gifts from Henry Ford, who was very supportive of Martha Berry’s efforts to educate rural students.
Martha Berry Museum
Many visitors browse the museum before taking the tour. Doing so will help you learn about the significance of Martha Berry’s achievements with bringing education to Appalachia.
In an era when women had just won the right to vote, Martha opening a school for rural students was a giant step for a single female from teaching Sunday school in the small cabin here at Oak Hill.
She felt strongly about instilling a work ethic in students, so the school has always incorporated vocational elements such as a dairy and a woodworking shop.
The history of Martha’s work towards this dream and of how Berry College has grown is illustrated through artifacts and exhibits, along with insights into Martha’s personal life.
One gallery is devoted to rotating exhibits, typically showcasing an artist with a connection to the college.
Take a virtual tour through Oak Hill with us by viewing our photographs from our visit. Click to open the gallery.