What do musicians Otis Redding and Little Richard, former NBA player Norm Nixon, tabloid TV host Nancy Grace, and the Allman Brothers Band have in common? Macon, Georgia!
Located a little over an hour’s drive north from Atlanta, Macon is a boutique town (approximately 90,000 people in the entire county) that offers a bigger city punch.
The earliest cultures that lived here were the Native Americans who were thought to have occupied the territory during the Ice Age, followed by the Mississippian culture. The life and times of these two groups, punctuated by close to 1000 ceremonial mounds, can be seen at Ocmulgee National Monument.
Antebellum culture and history dating back to the city’s official founding in 1823 are strong here as well, and today Macon represents the last of seven historic communities located along Georgia’s 100-mile-long Antebellum Trail, which starts in Athens.
African-American history, which we will explore in a coming feature, runs deep and ties into a great deal of the overall history and musical landscape here.
For a city this size, Macon has a great deal to offer, peppered throughout 14 historical districts, each of which offers its own flavor and flair of the city.
For starters, Macon is home to an estimated 6,000 historic structures. These buildings include the Cannonball House, an authentic Greek Revival planter’s townhouse built in 1853, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and featuring a wide array of artifacts reflecting Georgia’s heritage from the antebellum through reconstruction eras; St. Joseph Catholic Church, built in the Romanesque Neo-Gothic style with an awe-inspiring 1,000 pipe organ, 60 stained glass windows, white Carrara marbled alter and pulpit, and 200-foot high twin spires; and the Sidney Lanier Cottage House Museum, the birthplace of noted poet, musician and soldier Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) .
Wesleyan College, chartered as the Georgia Female College in 1836, is still the world’s oldest women’s college. In addition to exploring the gorgeous campus, residents and visitors alike can stroll through the Wesleyan College Arboretum, a picturesque 100 acre expanse encompassing a wildlife refuge, five acre lake, streams, more than two miles of trails, and a verdant mix of pine and hardwood forest.
Other fascinating sites and attractions include the Museum of Arts and Sciences focusing on world-class art, science and humanities collections, interactive exhibits and activities including live performances, a mini zoo, and a planetarium; the Johnston-Felton Hay House, a stunning 18,000 square foot, four-level mansion crowned by a three-story cupola built from 1855 to 1859 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and named after three of Macon’s early prominent families; and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the country’s largest state sports museum, among others. The last, encompassing 43,000 square feet and resembling a turn of the century ballpark, is home to an estimated 3,000 artifacts and features a wide array of exhibits honoring more than 300 inductees, a 205-seat theater, and extensive research library and the gift shop.
THE BUTCHER, BAKER AND CANDLESTICK MAKER
The proverbial glue that ties Macon’s past with its present and future is the College Hill Alliance.
The alliance is the guiding body of the College Hill Corridor, a two-square mile area comprising of several historic city neighborhoods located between Mercer University (one of the five colleges and universities here) and Macon’s downtown business district. A great way to enjoy many of the historic homes set in these neighborhoods is by embarking upon the self-guided Lights on Macon, an Illuminated Tour taking place after dusk featuring 112 Italian Renaissance Revival, Classic Revival, Mediterranean Villa, Late Victorian and other architectural styles.
The College Hill Alliance’s work is significant in that it has been instrumental in creating a nationally recognized, comprehensive Master Plan dedicated to helping both up-and-coming and seasoned entrepreneurs establish and/or expand their enterprises in and around the area, as well as forge resident-driven structural and organizational revitalization.
One of the biggest examples of this is Mercer Village, a retail and restaurant destination located within the College Hill Corridor and a collaborative effort with Mercer University that also encompasses The Lofts at Mercer Village, a $10 million mixed-use development situated on campus.
A great deal of the success here has been accomplished through what they lovingly refer to as “Macon Made,” a conglomeration of a wide array of local businesses that have branded themselves in support of each other as well as the city.
A good way to grasp a bit of the flavor and flair of Macon is through any number of its annual events and festivals, such as the international Cherry Blossom Festival, when the city transforms into a “pink, cotton-spun paradise” featuring more than 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees (with reportedly more cherry trees than in Washington DC); Bragg Jam, similar to the popular South By Southwest Festival and featuring some 40 bands and nine stages; and Macon Octoberfest, where craft beers from breweries around the state takes center stage.
Our next Macon adventure will delve into the city’s historic music heritage and learn how Macon earned its moniker as the “Song and Soul of the South.”
Lysa Allman Baldwin is the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades: Adventures for the Mind Bod and Belly (www.amazingescapades.com).