Named for North Carolina statesman and U.S. senator Nathaniel Macon, the city was established at the point where the Upper Coastal Plain rises to join the Piedmont, above which the Ocmulgee River is no longer navigable. That location makes it one of the South's fall-line cities. While river transport was eventually replaced by rail, which a century later took a backseat to the intersection of two interstate highways, Macon's location at the heart of Georgia's transportation corridors has shaped
As the commercial hub of a productive agricultural region, the city's fortunes were tied to a southern cotton culture that brought substantial wealth, war, and subsequently genteel poverty for its first 100-plus years. Not until the infusion of people and monies that began with military preparations for World War II (1941-45) was the stage set for a stronger, more diversified economy. Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins (sixteen miles south of Macon), the largest industrial complex in the state, drives the region's ongoing growth.
The fifty-square-mile city has a strong-mayor form of government with a fifteen-member legislative council.
With dozens of families already living around Fort Benjamin Hawkins, the 1806 frontier outpost on the east bank that had served as post office, trading "factory," and military supplies distribution point for more than a decade, there was no shortage of bidders when the lots were put up for auction.
As spreading cultivation
Commerce remained the backbone of Macon's economy, but by 1860 manufacturing had gained a foothold: there were several foundries, brickyards, and tellingly, a cotton mill. Its population having grown to 8,132 (15,952 in the county), Macon was the fifth largest city in the state. Real estate was valued at $4,717,551, and personal property (most of it in slaves) at $10,279,574.
While some of Macon's most influential citizens held Unionist views, news of South Carolina's secession from the Union in December 1860 was nevertheless greeted with yells of excitement, firing guns, ringing bells, and a torchlight procession through town; preparations for defense began immediately. Macon-area military action during the Civil War (1861-65), however, was limited to an unsuccessful if dramatic 1864 assault from the east by an inept Yankee general bent on freeing Union prisoners while Union general William T. Sherman attacked Atlanta (just one stray cannonball fell inside the city limits).
Accordingly, Macon's relative safety
Losses from the war were more than military and political. In 1870 real estate values were comparable to what they had been ten years earlier, but personal property—reflecting the emancipation of slaves—totaled only $2,697,590, a drop of 74 percent. More painful, there were 487 new widows and 913 new orphans in the city. Reconstruction saw blacks in new roles as aldermen, legislators, postmaster, and congressman, but that revolution was, to use W. E. B. Du Bois's phrase, "a splendid failure" and did not last. Having won their freedom, the former slaves soon found themselves newly tied to the land by sharecropping and tenancy systems; that, coupled with agriculture's continued dependence on cotton, kept regional per capita income low until the boll weevil brought it even lower after World War I (1917-18). Like the rest of the South, Macon did not have the capital to develop its resources.
Still, the city managed to acquire the trappings of modern urban life: an expanded water system, sanitary sewers, telephones, electricity, streetcars, paved sidewalks, and over many years, paved streets.
Macon's active volunteer militias had joined the battle every time the United States took up arms, even
The long-term impact of these facilities, especially Robins, cannot be overestimated. They led to industrial and demographic changes that, in conjunction with social and technological changes, altered
With non-southerners and blacks moving into the city, and growing numbers of whites moving into adjacent counties, Macon's social homogeneity gave way to greater diversity, a process that was significantly accelerated by the civil rights movement. In accord with the value customarily placed on cordial human relations, the city managed to end de jure segregation without bloodshed or property damage, an achievement in which leaders of both races continue to take pride. The burgeoning contemporary music scene may have helped to facilitate these changes; white youths broke racial barriers by attending City Auditorium concerts by homegrown black artists Little Richard, Otis Redding, and James Brown in the 1960s. Such cultural crossover laid the groundwork for the Macon–Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau's current promotion of the region as the "Song and Soul of the South."
Just as Macon leaders had pushed for railroads in the nineteenth century, they sought good highway connections in the twentieth: the juncture of Interstates 75 and 16 in the 1960s, the Fall Line Freeway in the 1990s.
The end of the twentieth century saw Macon's economic focus shift from agriculture and industry to retail and service, with health care,
The annual Cherry Blossom Festival draws throngs during March, when more than 200,000 trees are in bloom,
As might be expected in a more democratic era, leadership in Macon no longer rests with the business elite or elected officials; numerous citizens groups, organized and ad hoc, make their voices heard on community issues.
General Sherman passed to the east of Macon on his way to Savannah, sparing the city from the destruction that Union soldiers caused on their march to the sea.
Antebellum cotton wealth is still visible in what writer Bret Harte described in 1874 as "lordly houses of the great slave-owners" in the Intown and Vineville historic districts, which provide a sharp contrast to the simple frame "shotgun" houses occupied by blacks in nearby Pleasant Hill. Greek revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne predominate, but there are many other architectural styles as well. Macon's commercial history is written in brick and stone upon its mercantile buildings downtown. Its devotion to religious expression can be seen in the Gothic, neo-Gothic, Romanesque, and even Byzantine-influenced houses of worship located in all sections of the city.
It has been said that Macon has more churches per capita than any other city in the South; clearly, religious life has been an important part of the community from its earliest years, exerting both spiritual and political influence. The Episcopalians were the first denomination to organize (1825), joined shortly by Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians (1826), which entities continue in existence as Christ Church (Episcopal), First Baptist on High Street, Mulberry Methodist, and First Presbyterian. Other faiths followed: Catholics in the 1830s, Jews in the 1840s, the Christian denomination in the 1880s, Christian Scientists in the 1890s, and by the turn of the century, Adventists, Theosophists, Free Methodists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Nazarenes, and Free Will and Primitive Baptists.
In the late twentieth century came Evangelicals, Church of God, Holiness, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Mormons, Muslims, and Baha'i. African Americans worshiped in their masters' churches during slavery but broke into separate congregations after the Civil War and now represent numerous denominations, many of which are independent. Of the more than 250 congregations in Macon, by far the greatest number has been Baptist, with Methodist a distant second, but increasing numbers are non- or interdenominational.
People who seek their fortunes in frontier towns may have a particular interest in improving the next generation; for whatever reason Macon embarked on a substantial number of educational ventures that have left significant marks on the city.
One of the earliest was the desire to establish a college "to burst the shackles of ignorance and superstition
In 1852 subscriptions were raised to launch a school to educate blind children, after which the state was petitioned to charter and endow what continues to be the Georgia Academy for the Blind. A Negro Division, opened in 1882, was integrated into the Vineville branch in 1965, at which time the mission was expanded to include training for multidisabled children. The only residential school for the visually impaired in Georgia, the academy receives funds from the state and federal governments.
Other institutions founded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries no longer exist but illustrate the trend: an eclectic medical college located in Macon in midcentury is credited with graduating Georgia's first female doctor before moving to Atlanta in 1881. Pio Nono College, named for Pope Pius the Ninth, was founded by the Catholic Church in 1874 but became St. Stanislaus in 1889 when Jesuits acquired the school to train initiates for the Jesuit priesthood; it burned in 1921 and was never rebuilt.
The Georgia-Alabama Business College was established in 1889, graduating tens of thousands of stenographers, secretaries, bookkeepers, auditors, accountants, and linotype operators during its sixty-year life. Central City College was organized by the Missionary Baptist denomination in 1899 on 235 acres in east Macon, providing the only academic higher education for blacks in Macon throughout its existence. Destroyed by fire in 1921, the college was rebuilt and continued until the 1950s, when, known at the time as Georgia Baptist College, it closed due to financial problems. Minnie L. Smith used her own financial resources to open Beda-Etta College in 1921, erecting a three-story brick building in Pleasant Hill; its course of study was primarily business and commercial.
After the Civil War, the city competed with
Central Georgia Technical College was founded as Macon Area Vocational-Technical School by the Bibb Board of Education in 1962 and later became part of the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education (later the Technical College System of Georgia). Central Georgia Tech offers technical studies designed to meet the needs of employers in the seven-county area that the school serves.
Macon leaders had sought a unit of the University System of Georgia for half a century before succeeding, via a bond issue, in opening Macon State College in 1968. Originally a two-year community college, the school grew rapidly while serving a part-time commuter student body, many of whom went on to attend a four-year institution within the University System. In 1997 the college was authorized to offer a number of critically needed four-year programs. Classes are also taught in Warner Robins and at Robins Air Force Base.
Macon has a variety of historical attractions, whose current offerings and hours of operation or visitation are best accessed through links at the city or convention bureau Web sites.
Several house museums provide glimpses of Macon's architectural and cultural past: the Cannonball House
Just fifteen minutes north of the city in Jones County, the
Thirty minutes south of Macon the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base features more than ninety aircraft and exhibitions that span a century of flight.
Macon has two active community theaters. Macon Little Theater, founded in the 1930s, and Theatre Macon, established in the 1980s, offer full seasons of theatrical productions, as well as youth companies. The Macon Symphony also presents a full season and sponsors numerous outreach activities. A number of other venues offer additional cultural programming: the late-nineteenth-century Grand Opera House, restored in the 1970s, seats more than 1,000; the 400-seat Douglass Theatre, established by African American entrepreneur Charles Douglass in the 1920s and restored in the 1990s, has 70mm film capability; the Macon Centreplex, consisting of the 9,252-seat Macon Coliseum, the 2,688-seat City Auditorium (with reportedly the largest copper dome in the world), and the Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center, is the state's largest convention complex outside of metropolitan Atlanta.
Current Business and Industry
In 2006 the Royal Danish Consulate opened in Macon, the first foreign consulate in the city. A year later the Principality of Liechtenstein Consulate also opened in Macon.
Nancy Anderson, Macon: A Pictorial History (Virginia Beach, Va.: Donning, 1979).
John C. Butler, Historical Record of Macon and Central Georgia (1879; reprint, Macon, Ga.: Middle Georgia Historical Society, 1969).
Candace Dyer, Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon (Macon, Ga.: Indigo Publishing Group, 2008).
Macon: An Architectural Historical Guide (Macon, Ga.: Middle Georgia Historical Society, 1996).
Macon's Black Heritage: The Untold Story (Macon, Ga.: Tubman African American Museum, 1997).
Andrew M. Manis, Macon Black and White: An Unutterable Separation in the American Century (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2004).
Tracy Maurer, Macon Celebrates the Millennium (Montgomery, Ala.: Community Communications, 2001).
Kristina Simms, Macon, Georgia's Central City: An Illustrated History (Chatsworth, Calif.: Windsor, 1989).
Ida Young, Julius Gholson, and Clara Nell Hargrove, History of Macon, Georgia (Macon, Ga.: Lyon, Marshall & Brooks, 1950).
Nancy Briska Anderson, Museum of Arts and Sciences
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.