Where: Macon, Georgia
Trip Date: 9/23/17
Hey, remember when this blog was about travelling? Yeah, me neither. But finally, after two weeks of going nowhere, I am back to work.
An Afternoon in Macon
On the way to a family gathering last week, my father and I made a quick detour through a historic section of Macon. Once upon a time, Macon was a fairly major hub of activity situated at one end of the Central of Georgia rail line that connected the city to Savannah. Of course, that time is long gone. Macon is now a quieter place, perhaps a bit deteriorated from what it once was. But if you know where to look, there are still many places throughout the city where you can observe pieces of its rich history.
Although the calendar—as well as certain celestial bodies—had recently dictated that fall had technically begun, this news had not yet reached Macon. It was a swelteringly warm afternoon as I exited the car and tried not to collapse from heat stroke before getting my photographs. I decided to forego sketching on location this time around, as the copious amounts of sweat pouring from my face would have rendered any drawing illegible anyway. It has always been hot in Macon, as far as I can remember. I have always attributed this fact to its location in the middle of the state; far enough south to stay warm, but too far from the coast to get much air. But I once heard someone put it much more colorfully than I: “Of course Macon is hot, it was built over Hell.”
Whatever the cause of the heat, I managed to survive it and will be able to give you a bit of history on three of the city’s 19th century homes.
The Cowles-Bond House
Our first stop was by Coleman Hill Park at the Cowles-Bond House. Also known as the Cowles-Woodruff House, this historic home was built in 1836 for Jere Cowles—a man known for helping to make the city of Macon a major rail hub.
The home’s second owner was Joseph Bond, one of Georgia’s wealthiest plantation owners. A few years after purchasing the house, Bond was shot by the overseer of one of his plantations during an altercation concerning the overseer’s harsh treatment of the slaves. While Macon was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War, the house served as the headquarters for General Wilson.
The house itself is Greek Revival style architecture—easily identifiable by the eighteen columns surrounding three sides of the building. The home became a private school in 1960, before Mercer University acquired it some years later.
The Hay House
Only a block away, also situated on Coleman Hill is the Johnston-Felton-Hay House. Locally referred to simply as the Hay House, it was built in the late 1850s by William Butler Johnston. As a stunning example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style, the home is sometimes called “The Palace of the South.” At the time of construction the house was a technological marvel, possessing many amenities that we take for granted today, such as hot and cold running water, central heat, and an elaborate ventilation system.
The 18,000 square foot home is no less impressive today. Operation of the Hay House was transferred to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 1977, and today serves as a museum to the public.
The Sidney Lanier Cottage
A few blocks over on High Street we found the birthplace of one of Georgia’s most notable poets, Sidney Lanier. Lanier was born here—the home of his grandfather—on February 3rd, 1842, and later went on to author such poems as The Marshes of Glenn and The Song of the Chattahoochee.
OUT of the hills of Habersham,
Down the valleys of Hall,
I hurry amain to reach the plain,
Run the rapid and leap the fall,
Split at the rock and together again,
Accept my bed, or narrow or wide,
And flee from folly on every side
With a lover’s pain to attain the plain
Far from the hills of Habersham,
Far from the valleys of Hall.
–The Song of the Chattahoochee
The home was built only two years before Lanier’s birth, and was renovated to its current Gothic Revival style in 1880—note the similarity in the design of the house to the house in this completely accurate and not at all altered rendition of Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
The Sidney Lanier Cottage served as a private residence for many years. In the 1970s the Middle Georgia Historical Society purchased the home. The house is now a museum, and according to the balloons tied to the railing, can also be rented out for private birthday parties.
More Fun Facts
- Sidney Lanier was not the only notable person born in Macon. The city also witnessed the birth of one James McInvale sometime in the 90s.
- There are a lot more things to see in Macon. I am working on another article on the city that I will post in the next few weeks.