The Rails of Macon

Where: Macon, Georgia

Trip Date: 9/23/17

If you remember several weeks ago I wrote an article on some of the historic homes of Macon, Georgia. That same day I explored a couple of other historic areas of the city, and I am finally getting around to posting the second Macon installment.

 

A History on the Rails

By the mid 1800s rail travel and transport was becoming a major industry in the south, and nowhere quite so much as Georgia. At one time the state could claim more miles of track than any other state in the Deep South. By the 1880s Macon saw more freight traffic than all other Georgia cities. It sat at one end of the Central of Georgia Railroad, the main connector from the Port of Savannah to the rest of the state. Although most of the rail business died out by the 1960s and 70s, there are still reminders of its heyday scattered around the city.

Terminal Station

Downtown on 5th Street is the old Terminal Station, completed in 1916. The building served as the city’s rail hub, serving 15 lines at one point. None other than Alfred T. Fellheimer—the architect behind Grand Central Terminal in New York City—designed the beautiful limestone building. The station encompasses about thirteen acres, and sports a Pink Tennessee Marble interior.

Terminal Station

Macon’s Terminal Station.

At its height, the station saw as many as 100 arrivals and departures daily. Sadly, after the decline of the rail industry, the station closed in 1975. Georgia Power later purchased the building (Georgia Power seems to come up a lot in Georgia history). As of the early 2000s, however, the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority maintains Terminal Station.

The Rail Yards

Not far away, behind 5th Street, are the remains of the Central of Georgia rail yards. Dating back to the 1850s, the yards were once a center of commerce with several blocks of rail lines, warehouses, foundries, and mechanic shops. Now, however, little remains. A few of the old buildings sit empty, their painted facades fading.

Coal Tower from Life

Coal Tower, Macon

An old coal tower rusting in the empty rail yards.

At the opposite end of the Central of Georgia rail line is Savannah. The old roundhouse and many of the warehouses and workshops there are much better preserved (read: they still exist) and the complex has been turned into a rather impressive museum. I have visited it a few times, but long before this blog was ever an idea. The next time I am in Savannah I will make a point to check it out again and provide a more complete history of Georgia railroads.

One thing that has survived in Macon, on the other hand, is the Central of Georgia Locomotive 509. Built in Philadelphia in 1906 by Baldwin Locomotive Works, the engine served the C of G line for 47 years. It is a type 2-8-0 locomotive. This number referred to the wheel arrangement of the locomotive: in this case it has two leading wheels on one axle, followed by eight powered driving wheels, and no trailing wheels.

Locomotive

Central of Georgia Locomotive 509.

The 509 was retired in 1953. In 1959 it was placed in Central City Park as a testament to Macon’s rich rail history.

And speaking of Central City Park…

Macon Central City Park

Although not entirely related to the railroads, Central City Park is only a few blocks away, and itself has a fairly lengthy and interesting history. The park sits along an embankment at the edge of the Ocmulgee River on a long flat field, making it the perfect location for events, festivals, and—at one time—even a mile long horse-racing track. The park was officially established in 1828 “for the health of the community,” according to the original pitch.

During the Civil War the park was used as a prison camp for Union Officers known as Camp Oglethorpe. After the end of the war, the park returned to its original function, and between 1871 and 1876 (the American Centennial celebration) many other structures were built, including ornate wooden entry gates and several exhibit halls. The only currently surviving structure from this time is the 1871 bandstand.

Macon Bandstand

Central City Park Bandstand.

One of only a few of its kind left in the country, this bandstand was once used for events and concerts. In 1887, Jefferson Davis—former president of the Confederacy—gave a speech to Confederate veterans from this bandstand.

Next to the bandstand is a building referred to as “The Historic Round Building.” And that is about as specific as I can be with its history. I could find no source that elaborates in any way on “historic.” It may have been constructed around the Centennial, or maybe later. Photographic records tell me it existed at least as early as the 1930s or 40s. If anyone has more concrete information—or really, any information at all—feel free to let me know.

Round Building

The mysterious Round Building.

What I can say with certainty is that the building is, indeed, somewhat round, and it has been renovated and restored within the last year. The Round Building currently serves as an exhibit hall for events.

For many years Central City Park was host to the Georgia State Fair. More recently, the park has been a central location for the city’s annual International Cherry Blossom Festival.

Central City Park is also home to the historic Luther Williams Field, the second oldest minor league baseball stadium in the country. But that is a post for another day.

 

In Other News

For anyone who has posted comments on one of my posts in the past and received an error message, the comments did go through, I don’t know what the issue was. But I think I have finally resolved it, so you can now enjoy comment-posting without fear of strange error screens.

And in other-other news, I am still lounging around Barbados enjoying some tropical air. The next three weeks I will be uploading the remaining posts from my trip to Wilmington, North Carolina earlier this month, but after that you can expect the history of some more exotic locations here in the Caribbean. Now, excuse me while I return to vacation.

By | 2017-10-25T22:07:39+00:00 October 27th, 2017|Georgia, History|5 Comments

About the Author:

James is an artist and illustrator currently working in Georgia.

5 Comments

  1. Morton McInvale October 27, 2017 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Incisive and entertaining

  2. Patty October 28, 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Vacation from what, might I ask? 😉

    • James McInvale October 28, 2017 at 11:15 am - Reply

      Vacation from a constant coating of cat and dog hair.

  3. Gil McBride October 30, 2017 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    I am enjoying your commentary on Macon, where both of my parents were born and raised. During the heyday of the American circus, Central City Park (and the round building) did a brisk seasonal business as winter headquarters to circus companies that lacked permanent facilities. My grandfather worked as a boiler make for Southern Ry in Macon’s Brosnan Yards. His brother, my uncle, was an engineer on the Central of Georgia Nancy Hanks II streamlined passenger train between Macon and Atlanta. My great grandfather, your great, great grandfather, was a section foreman for the Southern between Jenkinsburg and Jackson. Georgia railroading has deep roots in our family.

    • James McInvale October 30, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Thank you! I always love hearing about things like this. I had heard bits and pieces about the family’s connection to the railroads, but it is nice to get some details.

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