Macon Georgia taught me how to explore beyond the obvious in a destination my family hadn’t stayed awake nights planning to visit. Know any highway signs declaring a city with historic sites and natural areas that you always drive past en route to somewhere else? Then these 4 tips might help you uncover the essence of any place where you travel.
The richness and depth of experiences I discovered stopping there with intention might belong only to Macon, but try engaging these ways other places and let me know.
Friendly People – Why?
You know that smiles extract smiles and good cheer generally brings about more, but don’t you prefer a holiday in places where workers seem happy to be there, too?
Macon people seem happy in specific ways: offering detailed tips of where to eat and what to do with reasons to back them up. Wait staff in eateries and housekeeping or desk clerks in hotels clearly are people who participate in community themselves.
There’s a reason, and it’s a two-square mile corridor named College Hill. The ideas of local folks shaped it, not declarations pronounced in stuffy boardrooms.
Wonder why there’s a 60-foot slide built into a hill in a spacious public park named Coleman Hill across from the 1859 oh-so-fancy Hay House? Because somebody thought it was a good idea and deep-pocket funders believe in Macon.
Once I learned this from a proud member of the community, I looked for more examples, and for the source.
Mercer University seniors spearheaded the notion of revitalizing neighborhoods with community members driving the ideas.
An infusion of $250,000 fueled the ideas. Little grants, and big ones, from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation keep on igniting creativity in Macon.
Make this a scavenger hunt of sorts when you visit and have the kids ask around “Who’s idea was this cool thing?” and there’s a good chance somebody will know the name. A cousin. Neighbor. ‘Round the corner friend.
Art Indicating Something Special
Wayfinding confounds lots of our travels with signs that confuse and complicate. College Hill in Macon posts two signage designs building trust and confidence.
One’s a simple orange and black square with four curly circles. I noticed it, liked it, assumed a graphic art student fulfilled an assignment. The story is richer than that.
Next time you’re exploring a new destination, peer deeper into logo designs and ask why. Or at least keep your eyes open to figure out the bigger story.
I noticed a design stamped in the sidewalk of the McCaw-Massee home during an historic neighborhood tour. They are abundant in Macon.
The etched brick looked a bit like the signs everywhere in College Hill. Turns out homeowners in the late 1800s had to install their own burned-brick sidewalks and they liked etchings to prevent slipping as they walked.
Meaningful sign design, eh? Get carried away with your research and learn the swirl represents a prehistoric design seen on local indigenous pottery because life in Macon goes way back.
Bears standing tall on their hind feet mean something too so get out of the car and walk up to the ones you see. The art work covering all 11 six-foot sculptures tell stories of Macon’s musical history and more.
Chicago was first with the cows but lots of cities have sculpture-commissioned fundraiser art animals. Macon’s are wayfinding signage as well.
I recommend as we travel we ask, ” Why the repetitive images? What do they tell visitor me about this place?”
Cemeteries for Picnics
Visiting the dearly departed deserves sacred respect; it also means scholarly research and in many cultures, times of gathering at the grave for music, storytelling and sharing culinary favorites of the deceased.
Ever made a journey of Day of the Dead in Mexico? Worth your while in pursuit of cultural heritage understanding.
In Macon and perhaps other cities you might explore—cemeteries also mean picnics.
I delved into two cemetery experiences and heartily recommend both. Rose Hill and Riverside are their names. Check their websites for specific special events.
Riverside is also a conservancy and raises funds to preserve and share the 128-year-old cemetery with a signature theatrical autumn event called Spirits in October.
Costumed actors bring to life the stories of a dozen people buried here, guided by a docent who shares tales of other famous “residents” while strolling from one gravesite to the next.
Perhaps you listen to the Allman Brothers and know that monuments in Rose Hill Cemetery inspired several of their songs. Maybe you visit graves of the famous. Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried here.
For the rest of us, traveling and curious about cemetery significance, strolling the grounds connects stories of local interest.
Rose Hill is technically a 70-acre public park, inviting visitors. Join a formal tour called a Rose Hill Ramble the Sunday afternoons before Halloween and after Easter.
A particularly welcoming picnic spot seemed to me to be the gravesite of Jordan Massee Jr. who was a good friend of playwright Tennessee Williams. Remember the Victorian-era etched sidewalks in the College Hill Corridor?
Walk or drive by Massee’s house and make the connection.
Music as Intentional Tours
Good idea to follow the music trails with Rock Candy Tour because the stories are big and surprising.
Sure, by yourself you could find the Otis Redding Gateway Park on the Ocmulgee River in downtown Macon and listen to “Dock of the Bay” and other Otis tunes, plus DJ narrative, but the tour will tell so much more about his family’s involvement in music education today and the astonishing crowds who attended his funeral.
You might remember Capricorn Records headquartered in Macon beginning in the 1960s, but the tour will connect you top Jessica Lanier Walden, daughter and niece of Alan and Phil Walden who founded Capricorn and facilitated the discovery of so many Southern rock artists.
Breakfast and lunch at H & H Restaurant might not make your list without the tour which starts there on Saturday mornings at 10:30, but it should because this is soul food keeping the Allman Brothers nourished way before fame took over.
Perhaps you’ll book a room at the 1842 Inn in the College Hill Corridor, but the music history will be richer if you hear the choirboy backstory about violinist Robert McDuffie and his Center for Strings next door.