‘You are as good as anyone’

Ruth Hartley Mosley always made an impression.

She was tall and beautiful, with piercing eyes. A commanding presence in any setting.

She didn’t have time for trifles. Her mother died when she was 12. Her father, a boot maker, instilled in her a sense of resolve and self-sufficiency that guided her all of her days. 

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She was born in Savannah in 1886, but lived in Macon most of her life, moving here with her first husband, Richard Hartley (Years after his death, she married Fisher Mosley.) She was a successful businesswoman during a time when the odds of such an achievement were squarely against a woman, especially a woman of color.

She owned a funeral home, more than a hundred rental properties and was one of the first women anywhere to earn a mortician’s license.

A nurse by training, Mosley helped teach dozens of black midwives. She also was active in Macon’s civil rights movement. After her death, she was an inductee into the Georgia Women of Achievement. (Authors Margaret Mitchell and Carson McCullers were in the same class.)

Still, many folks have never heard of her. 

“She had a vision, and she knew what she wanted,” said Gerri McCord, executive director of the Ruth Hartley Mosley Memorial Women’s Center. “She believed that if you had the ability to give, it was your responsibility to do so. … Not enough people have been exposed to her throughout the community.”


The Women’s Center is located in Mosley’s former home. It’s a beautiful old building on the short stretch of Spring Street near the Cotton Avenue Historic District. It is a contributing building to the Macon Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Until recently, that district — Macon’s leading black business community at one time — was on Historic Macon’s Fading Five list of endangered properties because of intense commercial development pressure. The district itself has made substantial progress thanks to preservation efforts and the work of such groups as the Cotton Avenue Coalition, but the Women’s Center is not on so firm a footing. It needs structural work. There’s plenty of rotten wood. The plaster walls are deteriorating. (Mark your calendar, though. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 24, you’ll have a chance to vote online to help the center win critical preservation funding. Details are coming soon.) 

“It’s shameful for a place like this to be in our community and not be recognized or preserved,” McCord said this week during a look around the center. “I don’t think we know what we’ve got here.”

 During the turbulent 1950s and ‘60s, Mosley hosted civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, as well as Thurgood Marshall, before he was a Supreme Court justice. Her home was a refuge for them in the Jim Crow South, much like other sites that were featured in the movie “Green Book.”


Mosley cherished Macon, and she wanted the best for its residents. Since it opened its doors to the public in 1978, the nonprofit Women’s Center has provided help in keeping with her wishes: increasing educational opportunities for women and enhancing their life skills, as well as providing services for the community. That has included classes for aspiring nursing assistants.

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Her estate included two trust funds. One provided financial assistance for needy students who wanted to become nurses or other health care providers. It’s been depleted. The other fund established the Women’s Center, but it, too, will soon be exhausted.

“She put her money where her mouth was,” McCord said. “It was very important to her to give back to the  community that gave so much to her. She tried to fulfill needs she saw in the community.

“She lived in her moment. She didn’t know that things would open up and be more inclusive. She left resources to provide for her people.”

Mosley died in Savannah in 1975 at age 89. She is buried in Linwood Cemetery, in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

The next time you’re strolling around Tattnall Square Park, take a moment to stop by the majestic fountain in the middle of the park.

At the base of the fountain wall, you will find words of inspiration and encouragement from influential Macon residents who’ve made a difference over the years.

Ruth Hartley Mosley is among them.

Her message there, set in stone, is as timeless as the values she held dear.

“You are as good as anyone. Never let the fact that you don’t have anything keep you from achieving.”


Here’s what ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ film crew thought about downtown Macon

Flint’s Grocery is gone. So too are Weber’s Cafe, Jay’s Beauty Salon and the Rathman/Lewis drugstore, “where you get what the doctor ordered.”

The Middletown Journal, like hundreds of its latter-day brethren, has also shut down.

They were all part of the filming for “Hillbilly Elegy” along Poplar Street. Now, workers have knocked down scaffolding and repainted storefronts up and down the street.

Photo: Historic Macon

Photo: Historic Macon

It was our latest close-up for a major film, and several members of the small army of women and men working here said Macon should be proud of what it has downtown.

In particular, what it has saved downtown.

“You’ve got great buildings,” said Rick Riggs, the charge scenic artist on the set. “We were very pleasantly surprised at the architecture around town. … You’ve got great little storefronts. … There’s a great opportunity to revitalize the downtown area. We see it.”

Photo: HIstoric Macon

Photo: HIstoric Macon

Riggs was standing outside a row of remade storefronts in the 600 block of Poplar. He described the process of replicating street scenes from Middletown, Ohio, where most of J.D. Vance’s bestseller is set, during three periods: the late 1990s, in 2012 and the late 1940s -- in that order -- for shooting. Workers had to “distress” a site one day, then use historically accurate touches -- appropriate colors, for example -- when they re-created the boom times of post-World War II Middletown. 

In all, at least 20 stores or buildings were transformed for filming across the county, most of them in and around downtown. Ron Howard is directing the Netflix movie, which stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close. The memoir tells the story of Vance’s family in Middletown and their struggles with poverty, alcoholism and abuse.

During the height of filming in Macon, one worker took a break and extolled what he’d seen downtown. Standing on the sidewalk, he noted the old Armory Building at the corner of First and Poplar, which was completed in 1885, then pointed out St. Joseph Catholic Church a little farther up the hill.

He called downtown Macon “a gold mine.” The buildings, by and large, are in good shape, and for movie purposes, you can take a store, add neon signs and you’re back in the 1950s. Then you can take out the neon and add LED lighting for a more modern look. But the sites work equally well for both settings, he said.

Photo: HIstoric Macon

Photo: HIstoric Macon

Most of the folks in town for filming had never been to Macon, and almost all of them are gone now. Matt Sparks, a native of Jefferson, near Athens, is getting to know the city well, though.

He was assistant location manager for “Hillbilly Elegy” and a scout too. He arrived in town about a month before shooting began, and he’d just been in Macon in April for four days of shooting on HBO’s “Watchmen” series. During that filming, workers turned parts of Second and Cherry streets into 1940s Brooklyn.

“There’s a lot of room for opportunity here,” he said. “I look at the buildings and wonder, ‘What did this used to be?” Downtown Macon, he said, “has so much to offer.”

Plenty of forward-thinking Macon residents have reached the same conclusion in recent years as they converted long-dormant buildings into new retail or living space. You need only look at the soon-to-open Kudzu Seafood on Poplar, Famous Mike’s nearby, the Macon Beer Co.’s new taproom, which is nearing completion, or the dozens of other sites breathing new life, thanks to the preservation mind-set.  

When he could, Sparks took walks down alleyways and even paid a visit to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park while he was here.

“There are parts of history that just flash out,” he said of downtown’s buildings. “For me, it brings character to the city.”

In time, one stretch in the 600 block of Poplar that was used for filming will be torn down to make way for the planned Hyatt Place, a six-floor hotel with more than 100 rooms. 

Joe Couch, another member of the “Hillbilly Elegy” crew, saw a good bit of that work during his years as a Savannah resident. But he knows you’ve got to pick your spots carefully.

Couch, a prop maker for more than 40 years, said he marvelled at what he saw downtown.

“These are beautiful,” he said, looking around. “You don’t see this much any more. A lot of places, they’re tearing down everything. You haven’t done that.”

Then he paused.

“You should show a reverence for them,” he said of the old buildings. “If not, they’re long gone.”

Fading Into Full Circle

Gone are the days when Alexander IV Elementary School was steeped in the smell of fresh bread baking during lunchtime. The sound of the spring carnival rides no longer echo out on the lawn, but the humming of construction sets a new tone upon the rhythm of the retired schoolhouse. Though the experiences that occurred in Alex IV’s hallowed halls are now tinged with nostalgia, the building is undergoing a rebirth of its own. 

As someone who was born in Macon in 1998 and was raised in the same house as my father on Alexandria Drive, Alex IV has always seem faded to me. Nestled within Ridge Avenue, Alex IV has remained a figment of family folklore and a tangible relic of my families past. Throughout my life, I have driven down Ridge Avenue as a path to Ingleside Village Pizza, to trick-or-treat on Halloween or to gawk at the craftsman era homes planted there. Alex IV has served as a backdrop, never a destination. 

The only exception is when my father took me and my brother, Hilton, to proudly show off his former elementary school. As I looked upon the barren backfield of the school while my father recalled his fond memories, I envisioned the clamor of children at recess in the now vacant spot. To my father, two uncles and my aunt, Alex IV is not faded but alive within their memory.

“Whenever I go past it, good memories come up,” said my father, Cary Beck, who attended Alex IV from 1960-1967.

Cary Beck and his class, photographed in 1964 (left) and his registration card (right) for that year.

Cary Beck and his class, photographed in 1964 (left) and his registration card (right) for that year.

Alexander IV Elementary School was built in 1932 as the fourth school provided by the Elam Alexander fund. During the first reincarnation of the building in 1948, a lunchroom, additional classrooms and more storage space were included. As the school closed its doors and the dust began to settle, the Historic Macon Foundation adopted the building into it’s Fading Five list in 2015.

Now in 2019, Dover Signature Properties has been working to convert the building into a senior living center for the last two years. According to Rick Dover, the General Manager of Dover Signature Properties, the project is intended to be completed in the spring of next year. 

“We hope to help Alex IV write the next chapter in her story, and preserve and repurpose the building for the public to enjoy while being faithful stewards of her preservation,” said Dover.

Rick Dover photographed in 2017 by Woody Marshall for the Macon Telegraph.

Rick Dover photographed in 2017 by Woody Marshall for the Macon Telegraph.

Dover said that his team is excited to restore Alex IV because of how well designed and constructed the building is. Besides the impressive structure, Dover acknowledges that Alex IV is the bearer of “exceptional stories that are so very important to tell and preserve.”

“We are most definitely restoring the original structure!” said Dover. “Our investment of nearly $12,000,000 will be a nice boost to the surrounding area.”

The namesake of the school, Elam Alexander, has placed more than one mark on his adopted town. Though born in Iredell County, North Carolina in 1796, Alexander planted roots in Macon during 1826. As a firm believer in quality, free education for the Macon community, his educational fund is responsible for three ornate school buildings named after him in Bibb county. 

His school buildings are not the only Macon structures that act as pillars of his legacy. Alexander built the Bibb County Courthouse (1829), the Woodruff House on Bond Street (1836), the first building of the Georgia Female College at Wesleyan (1839), the Holt-Peeler House on Georgia Ave (1840) and the Raines-Miller-Carmichael House on Georgia Ave (1848).  These buildings act as markers to trace his impact within our community.

To my family, the impact of Alexander’s educational fund still reverberates today. My lovely grandmother, Mary Ettien Beck, spent a majority of her days transporting her four children from our family home off Rivioli to Alex IV. My father, Cary Beck, was the first of the four children to attend the school. Then along came Steve, Kyle and Lauren in his footsteps into the large glass doors mounting the front of the Alpine Mountain Village-esque schoolhouse.

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With Alex IV as the backdrop, the memory of the day President John F. Kennedy was shot is seared into my father’s memory. Though this was a poignant day in history, not all his memories there are marked by national tragedy. The smaller details of his caring teachers, intentional principle and winning the county championship in football during seventh grade have not been laid to rest. 

My Aunt Lauren, who now resides in Kenly, North Carolina, remembers Alex IV as vividly as  her first-grade teacher’s pretty pink lipstick.“I remember the brown tile floors and big glass windows..and the kitchen always smelled the same. I can still smell it today,” said Lauren Beck Jones, who attended Alex IV from 1965- 1968, then also from 1970-1972. 

My Uncle Kyle, the youngest of the four children, remembers how the building felt as a young child entering into its large corridors. “It was pretty, it had brick and wood. It was intimidating looking, it looked as if it should have gargoyles out front,” said Kyle Beck. 


The aura of the building not only has left a lasting impression on my Uncle Kyle but my Uncle Steve as well. 

“The halls had that small one-inch ceramic tile flooring in which made it noisy when everyone was coming and going,” said Steve Beck, who attended Alexander IV from first grade through the seventh grade in 1964-1970. In the fourth grade, in Mrs. Fanning's class, Steve remembers winning the spelling contest. My Uncle Steve remembers the brick building seeming very large at the time, in the midst of the neighboring homes

Lauren Dixon now inhabits one of those neighboring homes. Dixon has been a resident of Ridge Avenue for the past three years and is no stranger to the Alex IV property. Dixon, who lives directly across from Alex IV, is excited to eventually see the property functioning and no longer deteriorating.

“Pretty much everyone wants to see something done, but we wanted something to move in there so the structure doesn’t become an eyesore,” said Dixon. 

Dixon professed her love for the Ridge Avenue area, with its idealistic location and the young families that create a vibrant area. With the incorporation of the assisted living and memory care center taking over the Alex IV building, Dixon sees the transformation as a positive. When she attended a discussion about the preservation of Alex IV, she recalls a good amount of people who attended Alex IV are now interested in living in the converted schoolhouse once it is completed. 

“It’s funny because it went from little kids, who went to school there, to now seniors who will live there. Probably some of the seniors went to school there,” said Cary Beck. If I could place my bets, my father’s hunch will probably ring true next spring. 

As I heard my family articulate their dear memories of Alexander IV to me, the faded building began to flood with life and color in my mind like a Polaroid photograph slowly taking shape. As construction carves a new path for Alex IV, the bones of the building are not hollowed and gutted out. The legacy lives on its former students, who can still smell the fresh bread pulsating through the halls, and to people like me who are raised on the stories. Now as the school shifts into a senior care facility, the lineage of this building becomes full circle. Alex IV gave its students the gift of learning in the beginning phases of their life, now it will be there to ease their transition in the final stages of life. Without the opportunity for Alex IV to fully evolve, this part of the building’s reincarnation would be left unwritten. This is why preservation matters. This is why Macon is preservation. Because of preservation, the paper is laid for future chapters to be written. 

Revitalization Through Preservation

The middle Georgia city of Macon has long been known for its architecture, natural landmarks, and accessibility by rail and river. More recently, pioneering Southern rockers The Allman Brothers Band helped put Macon on the map in the early 1970s, as did other famed musicians who once called Macon home, including Otis Redding, James Brown, and Little Richard. 

Established in 1976, the Rookery in downtown Macon is one of the longest-standing businesses in the area. | Credit: Visit Macon

Established in 1976, the Rookery in downtown Macon is one of the longest-standing businesses in the area. | Credit: Visit Macon

By the mid-’70s, though, downtown Macon had lost its splendor and begun slipping into obsolescence. Macon Mall, one of the largest malls in the state when it opened in 1975, siphoned off downtown’s vitality. A dormancy seemed to envelop the town. If you walked the downtown streets in 2008, you would have found more than half of the storefronts empty and boarded up. Stately historic buildings, some dating to the late 1800s and ranging in architectural style from Greek Revival to Colonial Revival, sat unused, slowly decaying. They were a bittersweet reminder of the splendor that once graced downtown. For nearly two generations, the once-vibrant commercial presence in downtown Macon waned. 

Macon’s Rebirth

The transformation of Macon’s downtown didn’t happen overnight. Scores of dreamers, many risk-takers, dozens of failures, thousands of hours, millions of dollars, and several years of transition created this renaissance. 

It is impossible to pinpoint the precise moment when downtown Macon’s fortunes began to improve, but the turning point came soon after the Great Recession. Attitudes started changing. Macon and Bibb County leaders came forward with bold ideas, some of them tied to preservation efforts. One by one, entrepreneurs began to reimagine the streets and seek ways to realize their visions. In October 2015 the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority released the Macon Action Plan, developed by Interface Studio and a steering committee composed of local stakeholders. This plan helped fuel the inspiration, and a combination of hard work, strong leadership, and community support moved the plan forward.

The Lawrence Mayer building, home to a florist on the ground floor and lofts above, has taken advantage of HMF’s HTC consulting. | Credit: Visit Macon

The Lawrence Mayer building, home to a florist on the ground floor and lofts above, has taken advantage of HMF’s HTC consulting. | Credit: Visit Macon

In 2011 voters approved a $190 million special purpose sales tax, $8 million of its proceeds earmarked to help turn the Second Street Corridor, once an ill-paved thoroughfare, into a vibrant multimodal corridor with many new shops and restaurants. Early work included adding bike lanes, facilitating reverse-angle parking, creating new parks, and improving sidewalks. In response, utilities upgraded their systems to meet growth. Today nearly 70 percent of downtown commercial space is occupied, and that percentage grows year by year. 

The Role of Historic Macon Foundation

Preservation work was at the heart of Macon’s second wind, and incentives offered by both state and federal historic tax credits (HTCs) have been key to the city’s success. Acting as a consultant, Historic Macon Foundation (HMF) guides developers through the complex and detailed process that accompanies HTC applications. In the last five years, HMF has led the state of Georgia in applications, a large portion of which involve downtown Macon commercial projects. 

Between 2017 and 2018 alone, HMF consulted on seven income-producing projects in downtown Macon that used HTCs. Through those projects, developers leveraged nearly $3.7 million in HTCs to rehabilitate more than 32,000 square feet at a total cost of almost $9.4 million.

Ocmulgee Brewpub, named for Macon’s river, was established in 2016 on historic Macon’s Second Street. | Credit: Matt Odom

Ocmulgee Brewpub, named for Macon’s river, was established in 2016 on historic Macon’s Second Street. | Credit: Matt Odom

Several of these downtown buildings had sat unoccupied for decades; some retained their original architectural details. Many spaces had rotting floors, crumbling ceilings, and holes in the walls. Without HTCs, they likely would have remained vacant. They now house businesses including a new coffee shop, a craft brewery, and a law firm. Other old buildings were converted into loft apartments with retail or office space on the first floor. HTCs allow developers to afford rehabilitation projects, thus re-energizing entire cities.

Among other positive economic impacts, reusing the historic structures attracts visitors to the city. According to Steven Fulbright of Visit Macon, tourism directly generated $364.5 million in the city last year. Events such as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon Film Fest, Bragg Jam Concert Crawl, and Macon Beer Fest—most of which are based downtown—also help draw visitors. 

Revolving Fund Summit panelists—from left, author and researcher James Fallows, Lindsey Wallace of the National Main Street Center, Alex Morrison of the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, and Melissa Jest of the Georgia Historic Preservation Division—discuss downtown development and potential growth. | Credit: Rachelle Wilson

Revolving Fund Summit panelists—from left, author and researcher James Fallows, Lindsey Wallace of the National Main Street Center, Alex Morrison of the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority, and Melissa Jest of the Georgia Historic Preservation Division—discuss downtown development and potential growth. | Credit: Rachelle Wilson

But consulting on HTCs is just part of the story. HMF partners with other downtown advocates like NewTown Macon, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, the Urban Development Authority, and Visit Macon, among others. HMF’s work is propelling development and creative initiatives on every corner.

As James Fallows and Deborah Fallows wrote in Our Towns, a thriving downtown is a tell-tale sign that a city will succeed. During his visit to Macon earlier this year for the Revolving Fund Summit, which was hosted by HMF and generously funded by the 1772 Foundation, Fallows offered a keynote address and participated in a panel that discussed his research about cities of various sizes solving their own challenges instead of waiting for outside help. Strong private-public partnerships, the presence of research institutions like Mercer University, and even craft breweries are indicators of a strong community in Macon. The city is a prime example of that can-do spirit, and it is drawing national attention for its reinvention initiatives, preservation priorities, and smart development. 

It is undeniable. Macon is on the rise, and preservation efforts are helping the city succeed. 

This post originally appeared on Preservation Leadership Forum. Preservation Leadership Forum is the network of preservation professionals brought together by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Hidden History: Macon's Tybee Neighborhood

When you hear the word Tybee, you probably think of the beach. I did too. That is until my friend Nancy told me about Macon’s Tybee neighborhood.

“My family is from Macon. They lived in Tybee. My mom was born there. So, I’m a Maconite by birth.”

As I listened to her, it was clear I was missing something. Tybee in Macon? Having transplanted to Macon when I was young but having no real roots here, I feel like a Maconite on some days and an outsider on others. At that moment, Nancy was clearly more Macon than I was.


Lunch that day was the beginning of an ongoing conversation about this neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown in Macon’s past that has vanished from the map and, in many cases, from the narrative.
It didn’t take much digging to find an award-winning Telegraph feature from 2005 by S. Heather Duncan. In it, Duncan interviewed Maconites who once called the neighborhood home. The Sunday morning cover story spanned a full five pages and included a map, historic and present-day photos, and chronicled the deconstruction of the neighborhood. (It’s still available to view at the Washington Memorial Library!)

So how could an entire neighborhood just disappear? Well if you haven’t guessed, Tybee’s residents were African-American. One look in the rearview mirror of U.S. history shows us it is not uncommon for non-white neighborhoods to be targets of systematic oppression in one form or another. Duncan reports that “Tybee was likely one of Macon’s first black settlements, probably founded between 1820 and 1850.”  As a reminder, slavery was not legally abolished until 1865 when the 13th amendment was ratified. 100 years after which, the U.S. operated under segregation. Tybee was considered an entry point to the city for those leaving the farms and plantations that had once considered them part of the estate. The founders of Tybee were building something from nothing in the swampland on the other side of the tracks.


As I continued my pursuit to understand what really happened to Tybee, I met with Alice Bailey. Having spent time with her cousins in the neighborhood as a child, she generously shared stories of her girlhood on front porches there. Today we associate the area in and around Bay and Hazel Streets as the downtown industrial district, but during its formation, it was a residential area. “The people were there first,” Alice told me, “the industries sprung up over there because it was near their target work-force. Transportation wouldn’t be an issue.”


Under the banner of urban renewal, the neighborhood was deconstructed during the 1960s, displacing its residents throughout Macon. Considering the buses didn’t run to Tybee, this often meant that Tybee residents were losing their homes and their jobs. Cycling through the area last week, I saw neglected structures, skeleton foundations that had clearly suffered a fire, empty fields, and a single house on Elm Street. If you don’t know about Tybee, you would never suspect this had once been the lands of a thriving community.    

Often times, preservation is strictly thought of in terms of brick and mortar. But what about when the buildings are gone?  As we began planning Preservation Month activities for this year, it was clear to me something should be done to highlight the hidden history of Tybee. A history that is at risk of being lost from Macon’s memory. Though only one lone house remains from Tybee, the stories endure. Stories of commerce and kinship and craft. Stories of family and loss and fear. Stories worth preserving. Stories worth hearing. Stories worth sharing.


We can all be a part of expanding Macon’s narrative. We can all be keepers of this history. By listening to the stories of those from Tybee, you become a part of preservation.

If you want to learn more about Tybee and what once was, join us this Preservation Month for Wrong Side of the Tracks: Panel on Macon’s Tybee Neighborhood. The panel consists of former residents, individuals connected to the community, and historians.

Wrong Side of the Tracks

Panel on Macon’s Tybee Neighborhood

May 19

5:00 - 7:00 pm

Elaine Lucas Senior Center

132 Willie Smokie Glover Dr

Faces of Preservation

When Nancy Cleveland moved to Macon in 2014 to get to know her family, she did not anticipate staying long-term. Despite having been born in “the heart of Georgia,” she grew up in New York City and had been long disconnected from her Macon roots. She made the move south but, anticipating a quick exit, kept her distance. However, after a few years of living withdrawn she decided it was time to engage with her community. By enrolling in Historic Macon’s Neighborhood Leadership Institute (NLI), Nancy began to understand how preservation can grow and shape a community. Upon finishing the program, Nancy joined HMF’s Engagement Committee initially to lend her marketing skills to the organization but ended up finding much more than she bargained for.

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“My connections with Rachelle and Lauren created a feeling that Macon was home,” she says. “I was learning about different communities. By the time I joined the Engagement Committee, I really understood what the events are about and the fundraising goals attached to them. When I went to the Brunch at the Grotto, being behind the scenes changed things. Seeing all that went into a fundraiser- the catering, drinks, and flowers- and then also adding the educational component… that was fascinating. It just started building my feelings of connectedness with Macon.”

Before long, Nancy found herself envisioning a future rooted in this central Georgia town. Her big-city energy had been redirected into a place where her passion could make a meaningful difference and she couldn’t imagine leaving. Now she serves as the Communications and Development Associate at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and is in the market for the perfect historic house to make into her permanent home.

And though Nancy didn’t discover the impact of preservation until later in her life, for Katie Griffis, her exposure was quite the inverse.

“Preservation has been a part of my life ever since I can remember,” Katie says. “One of my first memories is of the Flea Market. My dad brought me down there to visit my mom and grandmother, who were volunteering. I remember being so upset that I couldn’t stay and help with the Flea Market.”

But once she was old enough, Katie and her brother joined the rest of their family by volunteering with this long-standing fundraiser to support historic preservation within the Macon community. Her grandmother, Gloria Wynn, served at the first ever Flea Market and it has been a family tradition ever since. Next time there’s an HMF Flea Market, three generations can be spotted volunteering in the various roles. Gloria, Kathy, and Katie all agree that Macon’s history is worth preserving, evidenced by their lifelong (and multi-generational) commitment to supporting preservation efforts in Macon.


For so many, the commitment to preservation is birthed out of love for one specific house. This was the case with James Caldwell, who volunteers with HMF weekly and serves on the board.

“I live in a historic area,” he says. “I adore anything that has historical significance. My home is a 1900 craftsman bungalow with a porch that has a bit of Tudor influence.”

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In 2017, James joined HMF’s Neighborhood Leadership Institute as a representative of Napier Heights and continues to advocate for the preservation of the houses there. Napier Heights has recently been approved by the Georgia National Register Review Board, resulting in the district being listed on the Georgia Register of Historic Places and is in the process of being sent to the National Park Service for review to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. James’ passion for preserving his community is coming to fruition on a national level; made possible with his involvement and advocacy.

When James began volunteering with the Flea Market over ten years ago, it was because he wanted to take his membership to the next level. He knew that supporting a cause can take many different forms, and membership was just the beginning. James’ adoration of Macon’s historic charm is expressed through the care of his home, his advocacy for the Napier Heights neighborhood, and his support of HMF. “Historic Macon embodies the concept of preserving the culture and history of my neighborhood,” he says. “I’m so happy to be involved!”

For some, volunteering at the Flea Market has been just the beginning. Oby Brown began helping with the fundraiser over five years ago but more recently started lending his expertise to the organization in a whole new way. A writer and editor by profession, Oby contributes by writing features for HMF’s blog and offering editorial guidance for other content. It may be a non-traditional form of volunteerism, but its one that brings joy to everyone involved.


“I like volunteering for Historic Macon because its work produces tangible results all over the city,” he says. “The people there are smart, creative and care about this town. They are making a real difference in Macon’s renaissance, and I like being a small part of that effort.”

His features on this Second Street Facade and Macon’s Green Book generated quite the buzz in Macon and beyond! But Oby still loves the Flea Market and can be found moving furniture from here to there to here again at our Saturday Brew Crews and on sale weekends.


Flea Market Sale weekends are a wonderful showcase for the multitude of ways to engage. You’ll find HMF staff, volunteers, and board members all serving side-by-side to execute this annual fundraiser. Board member Larry Brumley enjoys joining the organization by serving during the sale. He says, “By volunteering, people extend the reach and effectiveness of the organization; they augment the staff and those who are already involved with their volunteer service.” A long-time member and board member of two years, Larry has gotten better acquainted with HMF through his engagement. “I’ve long had high regard for HMF. For more than 20 years I’ve observed their work in the community and the good things they have done to advance preservation and to foster economic development with restoring historic neighborhoods,” Larry says. “The most visible work that HMF does is preservation, restoring historic structures of a building and putting them back into service. But when I came on the board, I learned there’s a lot more that HMF does in terms of education, advocacy, and partnering with other organizations and entities in the community. It all works together to make Macon a better place to live, work, and play.”

There are many faces of preservation and many ways to express your passion for the Macon community. In the words of Nancy, “When you volunteer with HMF, you’ll meet great people but you’ll also find out something new about yourself that you didn’t know... Many times in Macon, people get to know an organization through one event and think that that is all that they do. But I would encourage people to really explore HMF. Stop by the office, they’re so friendly and find out all that they’re involved in. It is so many things, not just the Flea Market or Meet & Greets… go lift up the curtain.”

Nancy, Katie, Kathy, Gloria, James, Oby, and Larry are all the faces of preservation. And there are so many more! Be the face of preservation by volunteering, joining a committee or the board, attending our events and fundraisers, lending your expertise, following us online, subscribing to our monthly updates, becoming a member or preservation partner, and sharing our mission with your friends and family! Macon is preservation. And so are you.

The Matriarchs of Macon

When you’re getting acquainted with Macon, it doesn’t take much time to discover the abundance of our historic houses and the richness and variety of their design. Many times, our efforts to preserve a house reach beyond the value of the contributing design to include the fascinating stories of those who lived in them or those who designed them. This March, we are happy to highlight a few female architects from Macon who have helped shape the designs we have grown to know and love.


Despite the home often being considered “a woman’s place” in the early 1900s, women’s input on the design of said home had been minimal. Architectural work was one of many fields that men monopolized. In fact, Georgia Tech (the primary spot for architectural study in Georgia) didn’t allow women into its program until 1952. This forced Macon-born architect Leila Ross Wilburn to forge a different path. After mixing college courses and an apprenticeship to learn the trade, Wilburn became one of the first female architects in Georgia. She opened her own practice in 1908 in Atlanta. Forsaking an office among fellow architects, Wilburn established herself in a building with real estate agents and developers, using those connections to expand her reach and grow her network. Her focus was exclusively residential, and she promoted the design of houses that were accessible to the average family.

“I feel that, being a woman, I know just the little things that should go in a house to make living in it a pleasure to the entire family.” (1).png

Wilburn was passionate about “small domestic architecture,” evidenced by the distribution of her designs through plan books.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia puts it this way,

Her stock plans were featured in such publications as Ideal Homes of Today and Southern Homes and Bungalows. They were available to carpenters, bricklayers, developers, and builders, who purchased working drawings and erected bungalows, cottages, and ranch houses—in general, as the title of one of her plan books described them, "small low-cost homes" for the South. Wilburn-designed houses proliferated throughout neighborhoods and suburbs of Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia, where there are more houses by Wilburn than by any other architect from any period.

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By making her designs accessible to all, they became part of the Georgia fabric. And while Wilburn revolutionized the layman’s accessibility to house plans, Ellamae Ellis League was hot on her heels in Macon, pushing the boundaries even further. Like the other women of the time aiming to pursue architecture as a career, League was forced to take an unconventional path to her certification. After the required 10 years of serving as an apprentice, she passed the weeklong exam and officially opened her own practice in 1934. Besides planning residential properties, League made her mark in every type of design environment imaginable.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia,

In 1934 only 2 percent of American architects were women, and women who were principals in their own firms were practically nonexistent. Most women architects specialized almost exclusively in domestic architecture—they were considered to have a better "feel" for house design. League, in contrast, took on a variety of jobs, including Public Works Administration commissions. She designed many churches, schools, and hospitals, which were her favorite projects because they were so complex, and because they were buildings in which people were helped. Her firm did not attempt to establish its own distinctive design style but followed the Ecole des Beaux-Arts philosophy that buildings should fulfill the functional requirements of the owner and be aesthetically pleasing both to the owner and to the public.  

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Her designs have proven integral to our community. Maconites still pass her work on a daily basis. The Medical Center, Mulberry United Methodist Church, and numerous homes in the Shirley Hills neighborhood are all fine examples of her work. Some of her notable designs, such as the old Ballard-Hudson High School, are no longer standing, but they remain strong in the memories of those who grew up in Macon. We are happy to claim League as a fellow preservationist too! After the threat of demolition, she advocated to save the Grand Opera House and undertook the restoration design herself from 1968-1970. In 1968 League became the fourth woman in the U.S. to be elected a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) and was the only woman fellow in Georgia upon her death in 1991.

“I feel that, being a woman, I know just the little things that should go in a house to make living in it a pleasure to the entire family.” (2).png

The work of both Wilburn and League have shaped the fabric of Southern life and living. They are shining examples of the benefits of having an inclusive culture in the field of architecture. At HMF, we are happy to boast the talents of our own female architect, Shannon Fickling. Earning a master of architecture from Georgia Tech, she is a registered architect and member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Currently serving as our Preservation Project Manager, Fickling joins the ranks of those before her as a pioneer in the field, as an architect whose work is making a difference in our community.

what the ‘Green Book’ says about macon

If you’ve seen the movie “Green Book,” you perked up when the film showed pianist Donald Shirley stopping in Macon during a concert tour of the Deep South in 1962.

Wow. Aren’t those beautiful shots of the Grand Opera House, you sat there thinking. Wish I had known when the film crew was in town. Maybe I could have caught a glimpse of Mahershala Ali or his co-star, Viggo Mortensen, who played Tony Vallelonga, Shirley’s driver and bodyguard during the tour.


The thing is, that brief performance scene was filmed at The Orpheum Theater in New Orleans, where the film made its local premiere during the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival. (Which created an odd moment for festival-goers, who watched the movie on a screen set up on the same stage where Ali’s character was performing in the movie.)


But we digress. The faux Grand Opera House scene did make us wonder, though, if there were any real connections to Macon associated with the “Green Book,” which was actually known as “The Negro Motorist Green Book” when it was first published in 1936. And the answer is yes.

The guidebook, written by postal worker Victor Hugo Green, helped black travelers find motels, restaurants, filling stations and more that were safe or even welcoming for them on the road during the Jim Crow South. As Green explained, the guide was meant “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties (or) embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” And maybe avoid injury — or worse — in so-called “sundown towns,” which banned the presence of black people after dark.

Early on, there were four main categories in the guide: hotels, motels, “tourist homes” (private residences) and restaurants. The listings were arranged by state and subdivided by city. They gave the name and address of each home or business. (For an extra payment, businesses could have their listing in bold type or have a star next to it. That meant they were “recommended.”


In the 1938 guide, two hotels and four homes were listed under the Macon heading, according to a copy of the guide in the New York Public Library’s digital collection:

— Douglass Hotel, 361 Broadway. (Yes, Charles Douglass founded this hotel in 1908, four years before the Douglass Theatre was built.)

— Richmond Hotel, 319 Broadway.

— Mrs. M. Clemons, 104 Spring St.

— Mrs. E.C. Moore, 122 Spring St.

— Mrs. F.W. Henndon, 139 First Ave.

— Mrs. C.A. Monroe, 108 Spring St.

As the guide grew, with more and more information provided to Green, the number — and types — of locales increased. In time you could find beauty salons, nightclubs and country clubs.

By 1949, the Douglass and Richmond hotels still were listed, as well as the homes of Moore and Henndon. But there were also four restaurants:  Mable’s on Main Street; Red Front, 417 Wall St.; Jean’s, 429 Cotton Ave.; and West Side, 961 Dempsey Ave. You also found a service station (Anderson’s at Pursley and Pond streets) and two tailors (Huschel’s, 264 Broadway; and Community, 550 Third Ave.) And there were four beauty parlors: Marquiata, 554 New St.; La Bonita, 455 Cotton Ave.; Carrie’s, 133 Forest Ave.; and Lula Life, 425 E. Second St.

“If you’re traveling you don’t have to worry about accommodations — whether this place will take you in or that place will sell you food. That is if you’re white and gentile. If you’re not, you have to travel a careful route like seeking oases in a desert,” an ad in that edition said.

The 1966-67 edition — Green’s last — contained just four listings for Macon: the Douglass and Richmond hotels; Mabell’s Place, 247 Fifth St. (“Home Cooked Meals — Best in Town)”; and Jean’s Restaurant, which apparently had moved to 545 Cotton Ave. By then, the landmark Civil Rights Act — which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin — had been the law of the land for almost three years. That made the travel guide less and less necessary.

Sadly, many of the homes and buildings in the guide are gone now, victims of change, expansion or “progress.” And that’s not counting such losses as Tremont Temple Baptist Church and the historic Douglass House, two notable structures in the black community that were torn down in 2014 to make room for new development.


In recent years, Macon residents have banded together to preserve, revitalize and celebrate the Cotton Avenue District, long known as downtown’s black business district. The Cotton Avenue Coalition is trying to gain historic district status for the avenue, which would halt such demolition.

We also think of gems across the city that have been close to the wrecking ball, including the Douglass Theatre, which closed in 1972 before reopening to renewed splendor in 1997, and yes, even the Grand Opera House, which was saved from demolition nearly 50 years ago for more downtown parking.

And then there’s the little yellow cottage that used to sit on Fifth Street. To some folks, it was just an old ramshakle house. But it was the childhood home of one “Little Richard” Penniman. It was saved, and it has been renovated and relocated to Craft Street, where it will be a resource center for the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

All of this is why the Historic Macon Foundation has taken the lead and bolstered its oversight of such historic structures. Its Fading Five program began in 2015, spurred by the Tremont Temple and Douglass losses. Among its aims is to advocate for an inclusive approach to preservation.

We couldn’t help but call to mind Otis Redding’s cover of an old William Bell song that says in part: “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”

Restoration, One Brick at a Time

A grande dame in downtown Macon is getting her second wind.

The next time you’re downtown, take a minute to go by 458 Second St. If you look closely, you’ll see the words “Independent Laundry Co.” in a blue-and-white tile mosaic across the building’s facade. The building -- more than 100 years old -- has been vacant for decades, but it is coming back to life thanks to Yash Patel and his father, Ashok. If restoration work continues on schedule, the site will open as Macon’s newest brewpub by spring, providing Yash a retail setting for the beer he crafts at his Macon Beer Co.

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But there is plenty to do before then. It took almost a month to remove bricks -- many of them one by one -- that were covering historic beauty beneath, including the tile mosaic and a steel beam that runs horizontally across the front (look for the rivets). But that kind of care is important to the Patels.

“We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the building as it was designed,” Yash said. “Historic preservation is something I really enjoy.”

Added his father, “It’s going to look like the original building” when work is finished.

Key to their efforts since they closed on the building in August 2017 has been guidance from the Historic Macon Foundation.

“They’ve helped with the rules and regulations,” Yash said, as well as plenty of other particulars, including possible tax credits for the project.

“They have been very, very helpful,” added Ashok, whose company, Kunj Construction, is handling the rehab work. “It’s one of the best buildings in downtown.”

Most of the building’s brick was in good shape. In fact, Yash said he was most surprised at “how intact the entire facade was even in its current state.”


Once the facade work is done -- with windows restored or replaced and marble or granite touches in place -- that will be it. No paint for this facade, as has been the case at other renovated downtown buildings. At one time there was -- you guessed it -- a commercial laundry and dry cleaner in the left side of the building. (Old-timers will remember an orange Volkswagen van that drove around town to pick up laundry.) A Sherwin-Williams paint store once occupied the right side of the building.

When the Patels are finished, the new taproom (“Our lab,” Yash said, laughing) and restaurant will occupy the building’s right side, beside Bearfoot Tavern, and about 20 new lofts will eventually open on the left side. But that work will take another 18 months or so to finish. (You can follow the renovation progress on social media by following Macon Beer Co.)


The tile mosaic is among the most fetching features uncovered so far. An Italian immigrant skilled in the craft completed it in 1918, Ashok said. He’s trying to learn more about the building’s history and details as he can. And there’s an added touch of serendipity: The tile colors match those of Macon Beer Co.’s logo.

Second Street Corridor improvements have drawn plenty of attention -- and funding -- in recent years, and now a lot of energy is pouring into Poplar Street, with several new shops opening in recent months.

That’s an added incentive for the Patels: to take part in the downtown renaissance.

“We’ve always wanted to be part of the downtown scene, … the night scene,” Yash said. “It’s going to be good.”

We concur. How could a marriage of history and beer not be?

2018 Preservation Picks

When someone mentions the Historic Macon Foundation, many folks think of old homes or long-abandoned buildings that have been restored to their former glory, thanks in large measure to the foundation’s help and leadership. But we all know that preservation and revitalization come in many different forms, in all walks of life.

Each year the members of our staff, partners with their own areas of expertise and skill, share efforts in their particular field (or an area of interest) that have caught their eye -- or ear -- that they’d like others to know about.

This list, our second Preservation Picks, will give you a sampling of reading and listening options -- and much more -- during a busy holiday season of road trips and family visits. Not that you’d want a little time away from Aunt Martha.

Here goes:

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt


For my Preservation Pick this year I've selected “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Admittedly, I should have read this book years ago, but no one ever told me that historic preservation played such a key role in the story.  I had seen the movie when it came out, which likely turned me off the book. Needless to say, the book was entertaining -- riveting -- and is certainly worthy of my Preservation Pick for 2018, albeit 24 years too late.

Ethiel Garlington, Executive Director

“Blueberry Hill” by Louis Armstrong

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More than 13 years ago, my grandmother in Alaska mailed this CD to me for my 16th birthday. Arguably my favorite album of all time, it has been in heavy rotation ever since. It’s a live recording with multiple singers, and Armstrong leads his band and the listener through an amazing journey of jazz. From a female singer's take of  “Georgia On My Mind” to instrumental odysseys in “Jazz Me Blues” to my adolescent favorite, “Jeepers Creepers,” this album has everything a jazz lover could ever want. How wonderful that we can preserve the genius of this man and talented crew through live recordings!

P.S. It's available on Spotify

Rachelle Wilson, Director of Engagement


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There’s plenty to love about Instagram, the social networking app made for sharing photos and videos. Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts for photos of historic architecture and beautiful gardens.  

  • oldgeorgiahomes

  • thefrontdoorproject

  • the.preservationist

  • oakspringgardenfoundation

  • Mcalpinehouse

  • archi_ologie

  • Oldhouselove

These accounts have local connections:

  • quincy hammond

  • robinson_home

  • marypinsonflowers

  • canaanmarshall

Shannon Fickling, Preservation Project Manager

Shopping in Downtown Macon


My Preservation Pick is all the great downtown Macon shopping options! Travis Jean Emporium, Macon Arts Gallery, WEAR, the Pink Chief, Blair Furniture, Kaybee (and its super awesome upstairs shoe room!). Talk about a hidden gem. Not to mention all the fabulous restaurants that offer cool swag, T-shirts and hats. You can find something for almost everyone when you shop in historic downtown Macon.

Trish Whitley, Director of Development

“The Devil in the White City,” by Eric Larson


If you're like me and love all things architecture, but you also enjoy listening to a true crime podcast, this is the book for you. Taking readers back to 1890s Chicago, we meet the man behind the 1893 Chicago's World Fair architecture and design: Daniel Hudson Burnham (also credited for New York's Flat Iron Building). While Burnham is anxiously building the World's Fair under a tight deadline, a sinister serial killer, Henry Holmes, is slowly building his own murder palace just blocks away.  

I could go on and on about all the intriguing facts revealed throughout this book -- one part architectural history and another part true crime -- but what was most interesting was the impact the World's Fair had not only on architecture, but also on food, society, and popular culture for decades.

Lauren Mauldin, Director of Neighborhood Revitalization

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”


Sometimes preservation can simply mean keeping a family tradition alive. This year, my Preservation Pick is just that! As a child, I grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every Christmas Eve with my parents and siblings. Now a mother, this is a tradition I enjoy doing with my daughter during the holidays. Each year, we cuddle up with our blankets, just like Linus, make hot chocolate, and watch this special film that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas.

Latachia Clay, Business Manager  

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps


Sanborn Maps, found at the Washington Memorial Library, are unbelievably beneficial to my work. These fire insurance maps, dating back as early as 1884 in Bibb County, document how buildings evolve over time in ways that photographs can’t. Beyond that, they are little works of art! The detail and care that go into each one of these are amazing. It requires what would be considered today a superhuman level of patience. They are a lost art form.

Matt Chalfa, Director of Preservation Field Services

The Telegraph of old

Ever wonder what The Telegraph looked like 100 years ago? Or, for that matter, what the newspaper covered in those days and how it chose to display those stories? Well, there’s an easy way to do that, and it’s fascinating. There is a NewsBank site (easily accessible through the library) where you can search for old Telegraph pages -- or any of thousands of other newspapers across the country -- that have been preserved. You can visit the library to gain access or register and set up your own account. If you are curious or want to do serious research, this is an invaluable way to do so. (Remember: The Telegraph has been known by slightly different names over the years since it began as a weekly newspaper in 1826.) That’s right: It just turned 192 years old.

Happy reading.

Oby Brown, HMF Editor at Large