We didn’t know much about the place, other than the fact that it was a quirky attraction, and it was located about 7 miles south of the New Echota Historic Site.
We probably wouldn’t have gone out of our way to check it out, but it seemed like a cool little stop to end our vacation.
When we got to the Calhoun Rock Garden, we were totally blown away by the ingenuity of the folk art on display.
Nestled alongside a slow-moving creek, we found 50+ miniature castles, cathedrals, and other historic landmarks artfully cobbled together from small stones, cement, mosaic tiles, glass, and other bric-a-brac.
Read on for our guide to the Rock Garden in Calhoun GA, including general info, driving directions, the history of the attraction, and a photo gallery of its most impressive elements.
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Info for The Rock Garden in Calhoun GA
ADDRESS: Calhoun Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 1411 Rome Rd SW, Calhoun GA 30701
HOURS OF OPERATION: Daily 8:00AM-7:00PM
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: https://calhounsda.com/rock-garden
ADMISSION: Free (Donations Appreciated)
DIRECTIONS FROM ATLANTA GA
From intown Atlanta, head north on I-75 and go 63.2 miles to exit 310. Keep left to continue toward Union Grove Rd SE.
In 4 miles, take a slight left onto S Calhoun Bypass. Turn right onto Hwy 53 E and go 1 mile.
Make a U-turn at Liberty Rd SW. The Rock Garden is located behind the Calhoun Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Park in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church parking lot.
DIRECTIONS FROM ELLIJAY GA
From downtown Ellijay, take S Main St/Old Hwy 5 for 4.4 miles, then take the first exit on the traffic circle onto GA-382. Turn right onto GA-136 W and follow it for 10 miles, then turn right on GA 136-W.
Go 15.6 miles, then turn left onto GA-225 S. In about 7.3 miles you’ll make a slight left onto US-41 S, go 2.1 miles, then turn right onto Court St.
In 0.3 miles it continues onto Oothcalooga St, and 0.9 miles that turns into the GA-53 Spur. Take that for 1.7 miles and merge onto Hwy 53 W. In just over a 1/2-mile, you’ll see the Calhoun Seventh-Day Adventist Church on the right. Park in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church parking lot.
History of the Calhoun Rock Garden
Boyd, who prefers to be called Old Dog because he’s “a bit of a scoundrel” and building the garden keeps him out of trouble, started out making villages of tiny houses for his 8 children to play with.
He used rocks, seashells, broken china, and other bits and bobs that caught his fancy. Each child had their own alter-ego porcelain figure to play with. Interestingly, Old Dog selected Genghis Khan as his own alter-ego.
In 2007, after his kids had grown up, Boyd got permission from the Calhoun Seventh-Day Adventist Church (where he was a member) to begin building a much larger village next to a stream at the back of the church property.
The construction process, which uses cement and wire to reinforce the elaborate structures, is extremely slow and labor-intensive.
For example, his miniature version of the Notre Dame Cathedral took 27 months to build, and includes intricate details that practically insist visitors slow down and notice the little things.
Look closely and you may notice artfully arranged bits of mosaic tile and stained glass here, and a whimsical figurine of a samurai or kissing couple there.
Over time Boyd’s children and grandchildren began to get involved, and the Rock Garden gradually grew to more than 50 miniature castles, cathedrals, and other historic landmarks from all around the world.
And though Boyd got married and moved away from the state of Georgia a few years back, local volunteers continue to add new structures to the garden year after year.
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Exploring the Calhoun Rock Garden
There are shaded swings, benches, a gazebo (where weddings, including Boyd’s, are often held), and even a 1-mile nature trail that crosses over the creek and into the small forest behind the church.
But we’d also love to visit in autumn, when the vivid fall colors in Georgia frame the miniature world wonders in crimson and gold.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting towns, villages, cathedrals, and other landmarks you’ll see when you visit the Rock Garden in Calhoun.
The first structure you’ll see when you first enter the Rock Garden is named for the classic Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
It’s a massive piece depicting the Palestinian town, which is located south of Jerusalem in the West Bank and is the biblical birthplace of Jesus.
The intricate detail of Old Dog’s construction is truly breathtaking, with blue-domed buildings, mosaic tile terraces, and countless windows in the rocks (some of which reveal figurines inside).
Just behind the miniature version of this epic mountain town is a circular prayer garden made of rocks, with a large cross on the wall and chairs and benches inside for meditation and reflection.
Although most of the historic landmarks depicted at the Rock Garden are of European origin, this sprawling masterpiece is Himeji Castle, a hilltop complex located in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered the finest example of early 17th century Japanese architecture, with 83 buildings designed for defense that date back to the beginning of the Shogun era.
The artist’s attention to detail in this miniature is truly mind-boggling, from the epic size of the base of the structure to the intricacies of the multiple roof layers.
Look closely and you’ll see a samurai warrior, prepared to defend his sacred home against any and all invaders!
NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
Built long before the devastating 2019 fire that destroyed the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral’s roof and spire, DeWitt Boyd’s miniature version of the historic Paris attraction is truly jaw-dropping in its complexity.
From the North and South bell towers to the stained glass of the West Rose window, Old Dog’s take on the famed French cathedral is nothing short of an architectural marvel.
The real thing, which survived World Wars I and II completely unscathed, is currently being rebuilt at a projected cost of over $1 billion (mostly funded by private donors), with officials promising it will reopen in 2024.
Until then, the Calhoun version of Notre Dame is a noteworthy landmark in its own right.
THE ROMAN COLOSSEUM
I first fell in love with travel at the age of 11, when I went on a 3-week, 16-city tour of Italy with the Atlanta Boy Choir. I turned 12 in Rome, just a few days before we sang for Pope John Paul II in Vatican City.
Getting blessed by the Pope is obviously my favorite memory from that life-changing trip.
But singing in the Roman Colosseum, the largest amphitheater built during the Roman Empire, was a close second.
So seeing Boyd’s remarkably faithful interpretation of the iconic Italian landmark brought back some wonderful memories of jubilant voices reverberating off of the ancient stone walls.
Not all of the Calhoun Rock Garden’s attractions are so iconic in scale.
Old Dog obviously has an affection for the down-home charm of quaint little villages, as seen in this lovely interpretation of the historic village of Nottingham (which was made famous by the legend of Robin Hood).
The English town’s roots date back to the 6th century, with Nottingham Castle built on a sandstone outcrop by the River Leen in 1068.
One of the tallest structures at the Rock Garden, this massive miniature was inspired by Dover Castle in Kent, England.
The medieval British castle was constructed in the 11th century, and has been described as the “Key to England” due to its significance as a defensive stalwart throughout the country’s history.
Built by Old Dog and his wife, Lady Joyce, the castle’s central tower is nearly 6 feet tall, with a variety of spires all around the historic fortress.
The opening is large enough for kids to fit inside, which makes this a great spot for family photos.
MARTIN LUTHER MONASTERY & CASTLE OF MY HEART
From small structures such as Martin Luther’s Monastery (which looks nothing like St. Augustine’s Monastery in Erfurt, where Luther started) to larger ones like the Castle Of My Heart, the Rock Garden feels a bit higgledy-piggledy.
Not all of the miniatures are based on real-life structures, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the approximately 1-acre area is laid out.
But if anything, the lack of a unifying sense of organization only makes the attraction all the more impressive in its diversity and scope.
There are storybook castles that seemingly sprung straight from the artist’s imagination, a lighthouse that towers over the creek just before a series of small waterfalls, and the massive (and aptly-named) “Susan’s Bridge to Nowhere,” which was still under construction over the creek when we visited.
It is a refreshing example of pure child-like creativity, with absolutely no thought of commercial appeal.
Although Old Dog and Lady Joyce have moved on, the Rock Garden in Calhoun GA remains a testament to their diligence and passion for creating this quirky North Georgia attraction.
The team of volunteers DeWitt Boyd took time to train before his departure continue to add to his visionary masterpiece, including this work-in-progress miniature of the city of Jerusalem.
The unusual roadside attraction remains totally free to all visitors, though donations to fund the garden’s maintenance (including construction supplies and colorful flowers planted every spring) are appreciated.
And while it may be located on the grounds of a church, you don’t have to be religious to be welcomed.
All you need is a healthy respect for the beauty of nature and imaginative creation. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted