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Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
Macon, Georgia has strong musical roots. The town’s official "Goodwill Ambassador," is Little Richard, "the Architect of Rock and Roll." Little Richard’s face appears on the town’s promotional literature. Call the Convention and Visitors Bureau and it is Little Richard’s voice you hear touting his hometown. Though Macon is quite happy to name Little Richard as one of its own today, it wasn’t always so. At the time, the late 1950's, the town did not embrace Mr. Penniman and his Rock and Roll aspirations.
The moderately-sized city in the heart of Georgia has several attractions for the traveler. Some of those are: the Cherry Blossom Festival in early spring; the Georgia Music Hall of Fame; the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame; the fine architecture of old mansions and the Lights on Macon in town walking tour; and Ocmulgee National Monument.
At the heart of Macon is the Historic District, filled with lovely white-columned mansions from a romantic, bygone era of Southern grandeur. Each night at dusk, 365 days each year, the mansions participating in the Lights on Macon program are dramatically illuminated for the public’s viewing pleasure. Evening finds folks strolling the downtown streets, thanks to a major renovation and revitalization plan implemented a few years ago. The Lights on Macon program is an outgrowth of the ongoing renovation. Much of downtown Macon is part of the National Historic District, in which forty-eight structures have been cited for architectural excellence and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The many mansions reflect the prosperous past of this river port city. Romantically strolling arm in arm in the cool of dusk, couples enjoy taking in the dramatically lit structures.
The Hay House is one of the most grand houses on display. The house is only a few years younger than Macon, which had its start as an 1806 frontier trading center founded on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. The town was incorporated in 1823. Construction began on the Hay House in 1855. In 1860 it was referred to as "the palace of the South." The Italian Renaissance Revival structure is an unexpected beauty from a land and time when Greek Revival was the preferred architectural style. Designed by a New York architect, the home would have been more at home in New York or Philadelphia, but stood in stark contrast to other Southern structures. The house, built by railroad magnate William Butler, features unparalleled technological advances for private residences of her day. There were three bathrooms, each featuring hot and cold running water; a 15-room sound-powered speaker system allowed for communication throughout the structure; and an elaborate ventilation system set this structure apart. Never mind that it covers 18,000 square feet of floor space. It is well worth the time to take the tour of this elaborate structure.
The Ocmulgee National Monument tells the story of 10,000 years of Southeastern Native American habitation. The monument features a Native American cornfield mound, funeral mound, greater and lesser temple mounds, a rebuilt earth-lodge, and the visitor center. Here one may enter the rebuilt earth-lodge from a thousand years ago. The lodge is a reconstructed ceremonial lodge used by the Native American Mississippians. Since the roof of the original structure was wooden, none of it remains. However, the clay floor, sealed off by glass panels, is the actual floor of the original lodge.
The visitor center tells the habitation story from early archeological evidence and historic records, covering a time period from earliest known habitation through the 1700's. Emphasis is placed on the Mississippians, a group of Native Americans whose lifestyle developed along the Mississippi River Valley. A Mississippian village existed on the site from 900 A.D. to 1100 A.D. The Mississippians were sedentary farmers who settled into the area, as opposed to other hunter/gatherer Native Americans that passed through the region. Thus, the Mississippians receive the greatest coverage in monument displays. They stayed around long enough to leave a pretty good archeological record of themselves.
All the monument sites are connected by hiking trails. One can arrange a good day hike, just by looping the various trails together. The top of the Greater Temple Mound offers an excellent skyline view of Macon.
The Georgia Music Hall of Fame opened in September 1996. The hall is an interactive music museum. The "Tune Town" layout is an interesting concept, taking on the appearance of a Georgia village at dusk. Storefronts in "town" have such names as "Rhythm & Blues Revue," "Gospel Chapel," and the "Skillet Licker Café." Inside each "store," visitors find facts, figures, performance costumes and of course, music of the genre related in the store name. Folks stroll through the mock village, dropping in the various stores.
The museum focuses on Georgia natives and their contributions to the music industry. Macon was chosen as the location for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame for several reasons. One reason being Macon’s central location, another being the many musical greats this city has produced, such as: Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, and of course, Little Richard. The museum is not only about history. It covers current Georgia music stars as well. Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Collective Soul, and R.E.M. all receive coverage. A total of 83 groups and individuals have now been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
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Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS