Near the geographic center of the state, the city of Macon (pop. 153,095) was founded along the Ocmulgee (pronounced “oak-MUL-gee”) River in 1823, and flourished with the cotton trade. The downtown area was energized by the opening of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which stood alongside dozens of well-preserved historically significant public buildings, including the more than 130-year-old Grand Opera House (651 Mulberry St.) and the turn-of-the-20th-century Douglass Theater (355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) west of Mulberry Street, where such Macon-born music legends as Lena Horne, Otis Redding, and Little Richard got their start. A generation later, the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” was “born in the back seat of a Greyhound Bus, rolling down Highway 41.” Old US-41 is now home to the Allman Brothers Big House Museum (2321 Vineville Ave., 478/741-5551, Thurs.-Sat. 11am-6pm, Sun. 11am-4pm, $10), a mile (1.6 km) west of downtown Macon, where a museum and memorial occupy the same 16-bedroom mansion the innovative bluesy, jazzy rock-and-roll band called home during their 1970s heyday. Band members Greg Allman, Duane Allman, and Berry Oakley are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, off Riverside Drive. Oakley’s epitaph (and the wrought iron front gate of the Big House Museum) reads “and the road goes on forever.”
Another aspect of Macon heritage, the city’s collection of well-preserved antebellum mansions, stands on a low hill at the north end of downtown, having survived the Civil War unscathed apart from one brief battle: While most of Sherman’s troops skirted by to the north, a band of Union soldiers engaged young Confederate soldiers at the city limits and fired a cannonball that landed in the foyer of a stately residence, now known as the Cannonball House (856 Mulberry St., 478/745-5982, Mon.-Sat., $8). A small museum behind the house displays the usual barrage of Confederate memorabilia, and inside the house you can see the dented floor and original cannonball. A few blocks away, the stunning Hay House (934 Georgia Ave., 478/742-8155, daily, $11) is among the most beautiful antebellum houses in the state. You can see these two and many more on a meandering walk led by a Macon tour guide posing as Sidney Lanier, the city’s famous 19th-century poet; call the visitors bureau (478/743-1074 or 800/768-3401) for details.
Where to Eat and Stay in Macon
One of the nation’s oldest fast-food restaurants is a Macon institution: the original Nu-Way Weiners, with six locations, has been in business since 1916.
For a place to stay, choose from the many motels lining Riverside Drive north of town along the I-75 frontage, or splurge a little on the comfortable 1842 Inn (353 College St., 877/452-6599 or 478/741-1842, $189 and up), a white-columned antebellum mansion converted into a bed-and-breakfast with tons of historical ambience.