GEORGIA Macon a rich mix of history, music, charm
A few generations removed from its rock 'n' roll roots, this Georgia town now embraces a laid-back attitude.
By MARY ANN ANDERSON
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
MACON, Ga. -- For all its reputation as a rock 'n' roll city, Macon is actually pretty darned quiet and laid back.
Not that it should be, mind you, because it became a lightning rod, either by birth, chance or purpose, for a smattering of great Southern, soulful musicians not exactly known for their low-key music, including Little Richard (who, by the way, is Macon's Goodwill Ambassador), the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, James Brown and Lena Horne.
Let's face it. Little Richard belting out "A-Wop-bop-a-loo-lop a-lop-bam-boo, Tutti Frutti, all over rootie!" or James Brown shrieking "Wo! I feel good ... so good, so good!" just doesn't quite convey the image of the syrupy slow drawl that is a hallmark of Macon and Middle Georgia.
And Phil Walden began Capricorn Records in Macon, thus unofficially launching a new breed of Southern rockers with the likes of the Allmans, Wet Willie and the Marshall Tucker Band, none of whom can be considered synonymous with mellowness, either.
But for the most part, Macon is pretty much quiet, even despite its background as a musical mecca -- its nickname is "Song & amp; Soul of the South" -- and with its bustling population of only a hundred thousand or so, it really is just a small town at heart.
Located in the geographic bull's-eye of Georgia, Macon has a slow-moving rhythm and cadence all its own that is unlike any other city in the state. Atlanta, just an hour to the north, is big, fast, garish and loud. Savannah, three hours' drive southeast, is Junior League-snooty in its isolation and culture. Athens is young and upbeat, while similarly sized Valdosta, Columbus and Gainesville are fairly typical mid-sized cities that don't have quite the individuality that Macon holds.
Macon is different, in part because it relies on its past for a good portion of its livelihood. That's not to say this tranquil place of moonlight, magnolias and mint juleps is trapped in another time and place, because it isn't, not quite. It simply melds together old customs with modern ideas.
History and its counterpart of architecture, for example, have given Macon many gifts. The resulting factor is that the city's skyline is etched with spires and minarets of churches, antebellum homes, plantations and historic buildings, including the venerable towers of Mercer University, one of the finest private universities in the South.
The true gift, though, is that Macon's architecture allows you to step into another century without really leaving this one. More than 5,500 individual structures scattered among 11 historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For the truest taste of Macon's Southernism, though, stay at the 1842 Inn, a Greek Revival antebellum mansion built by former mayor, cotton merchant, lawyer and judge John Gresham that is now the city's only bed-and-breakfast inn.
The 1842 Inn exemplifies Macon to perfection. Framed by original, massive Corinthian columns, fragrant magnolias and even a wraparound veranda perfect for not much more than enjoying lazy, slow, sun-splashed afternoons of curling up your feet in a rocking chair, pulling out a good book and then relaxing while sipping a glass of iced tea or even a mint julep.
That laid-back style of the 1842 Inn is what Macon is all about, but there's more than architecture and Southern belles in this place originally dredged from the ancient waters of the Ocmulgee River, one of Georgia's main rivers that meanders lazily through downtown on its way to the coast via the Altamaha River. The city's history actually begins at the Indian earthen lodges of the Ocmulgee National Monument, one of the earliest public buildings in North America.
From there, Macon grew to become incorporated as a city in 1823, and then it served as a transportation hub during the War. During and after Reconstruction, manufacturing and industry replaced King Cotton and agriculture as a way of life, and modern-day Macon was launched.
Museums open windows to the past, and the story of Macon -- and Georgia itself -- is more thoroughly told through the Museum of Arts and Sciences, with four galleries of changing exhibits; the Tubman African-American Museum, housing a dozen galleries retracing the saga of Africans in America; the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, which tells the stories of Georgia sports stars; and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, honoring great Peach State-born singers like Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, the B-52s, Alan Jackson and Gladys Knight.
Macon's grand architecture, museums and beauty are complemented by thousands of extravagantly pretty Yoshino cherry trees, and its International Cherry Blossom Festival, held in the spring, rivals even that of Washington, D.C. Another popular festival is the Ocmulgee Indian Festival in the fall that includes ceremonial dances, storytellers and Native American foods such as roasted corn and even buffalo burgers, if you're that, um, "brave" to try them.
While Macon clings like kudzu to its past, that's a good thing.
Sometimes a dose of old-fashioned Southern-fried hospitality is just the cure for whatever ails you.
XFor more information on Macon, contact the Macon-Bibb County Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau at (800) 768-3401 or visit www.maconga.org. For more information on the 1842 Inn, call toll-free (877) 452-6599 or visit www.1842inn.com.