Which Georgia city can make these claims? An ornate train station designed by Alfred Fellheimer of
New York Grand Central station fame, a 2600 seat auditorium with a breathtaking mural by Don Carlos
Dubois and Wilbur Kurtz over the stage, and a collection of early 20 the century buildings that rival any city
in Georgia? If you guessed Macon, you are right.
Macon is a hidden gem in Georgia, and I-75 and I-475 do the city a great disservice by diverting visitors
around the city center. And while I-16, which begins in Macon, terminates in downtown Savannah’s
historic district providing much exposure there, the best of Macon is missed when you stay on the
If you haven’t taken an afternoon to explore Macon, there is so much to see and learn. The city is
museum rich—from sports to black history to famed “Ocmulgee Mounds.” The Greater Macon
Chamber, led by Jessica Walden and her team, work every day to serve their members, bring new
business to town, and help school kids find jobs and careers in the area. As they should, because Macon
has a lot to be proud of.
Macon was founded in 1823 just next to the Ocmulgee River and had been a frontier outpost since
1806. Before that, Native Americans built many flat-topped earthen mounds, council chambers, and defensive structures in town just across the Ocmulgee River. This site, now the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, was at one point the largest archaeological dig in American history. Amazingly, over 800 workers discovered 3 million artifacts on that very busy site. And very soon, this site may become the first National Park in the state of Georgia.
But it is the buildings, schools and churches built in and around 1900 that will wow you now. Macon
leaders moved Heaven and Earth to see the Lloyd Shoals Dam built in 1911 to power Macon’s industries,
along with Forsyth and Griffin. This Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the nation at the time, was
financed in part by the Bank of Scotland and was so pivotal to Macon’s prosperity during that time. It
gave the city electricity and with it, prosperity. Macon continues to be the home of industry like Irving
Tissue, YKK, Kumho Tire, GEICO and Georgia Farm Bureau.
The other technology that made Macon so popular was the railroad—coming to fruition before even the
Civil War. Being in the middle of the state, Macon was the perfect city for trains to connect through.
Imagine more than 100 arrivals per day at the union station for 15 railroads operating in Macon. Those
people, their money, spending time in Macon made it the Georgia city to see in the 1920s and 1930s.
Macon was the Grand Central Station of Georgia. And many companies are discovering that Macon’s
central location is ideal for logistics and a cheaper cost of living.
And there was plenty to do and see back “in the day”—just as it is now. The Grand Opera House sat
2400 people and had the largest stage in the South. The City Auditorium sat 2700 people with a
magnificent copper dome and a Doric-style limestone colonnade. The churches on the hill were ornate
and stained glass to rival any city. Macon’s original design with wide streets and paved sidewalks was
pedestrian-friendly, and even today 14 historic districts have been preserved with over 6000 properties.
Today, that Opera House hosts plays, concerts and musicals, and the even larger Coliseum is convention-
central and hosts larger sporting and cultural events. And wait until you see the new amphitheater
being constructed today!
The grand limestone Terminal Station building completed in 1916 had a 14,000 square foot lobby with
pink Tennessee marble walls and floor. Add to it the gilt molding and long wooden benches, and it must
have been glorious. While the Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah stations were demolished in the 1960s,
Macon’s Terminal Station still sits on the original three acres, now fully restored, and a monument to a
time when Macon was a star-studded City. Macon built things to last, and they built it big. That facility
can be rented as a special events venue today.
Macon became the home to Southern Rock through Capricorn Sound Studios, created by a Mercer
University student. Add to that the Soul impact of Little Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and others
and the city started to look like a mini-Nashville. The Allman Brothers lived in Macon in the Big House,
and Chuck Leavell of Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones fame still lives near Macon today. Music is in
Macon has a vibrant community today, and leaders are working hard to restore the grandeur of
yesteryear. Mercer University is playing such a significant role in the city’s rebound, and the main
campus is pristine. You owe it to yourself to get off the interstate and see what the city has to offer. It is
an easy day trip from Atlanta or just about anywhere in Georgia.
Commissioner Tim Echols
Vice-Chair, GA PSC
Founder, Clean Energy Roadshow
Hear and subscribe to Energy Matters with Commissioner Echols here: