The Heart of Georgia: Macon

The Sun Belt has seen substantial population growth since the 1960s from an influx of people seeking a warm and sunny climate, a surge in retiring baby boomers, and growing economic opportunities.

Macon lies near the geographic center of Georgia, approximately 85 miles south of Atlanta. It is one of the South’s fall-line cities, due to being in a location where the Upper Coastal Plain meets the Piedmont. Also, known as the “the Heart of Georgia,” with a population of 152,663, the city became the state’s 4th largest when it officially merged with Bibb County on January 1, 2014.

Macon was incorporated on December 8, 1923 and named for Nathaniel Macon, a North Carolina statesman and US Senator. Envisioned as “a city within a park,” it was designed with a grid of wide boulevards alternating with narrow streets and parks. Macon quickly became a central hub for agriculture and southern cotton culture with the arrival of the Macon and Western Railroad in 1846. During the Civil War the city served as the official arsenal of the Confederacy. Due to fears that Confederate forces were preparing a unified attack at Macon, Union General William Techmseh Sherman bypassed the city during his destructive march to the sea in 1865. By the turn of the century, Macon had been dubbed “The Central City” due to being a textile factory and railroad hub for the entire state of Georgia. By the mid 1920s, an estimated 100 trains were being dispatched at Macon’s Terminal Station.

Macon’s fortunes changed after the end of World War II, as rail travel and manufacturing employment declined and new highways like I-75, I-16, and I-475 bypassed the city’s center. While cities across the Sunbelt thrived, leading to massive urban renewal projects and a significant loss of historic building stock, Macon’s economic situation forced the local market to adapt its existing building stock. Thus, being economically spurned in the later half of the 20th century has preserved much of its late 19th and early 20th century architectural heritage and sense of place.

In 1996, NewTown Macon, a non-profit, public-private partnership, was established restore the city’s core back to its original beauty. Combining community input with best practices from similar cities, several redevelopment initiatives were identified that would serve as catalysts for the core city’s renaissance. Since that time, over $350 million have been invested into improving downtown. Today, the district is home to 613 businesses, 396 lofts, 38 restaurants and eateries, and 28 music venues and bars.

However, what really stands out and should be cherished is its large preserved collection of 5,500 historic structures situated along park-lined streets. Combined, Macon has in its possession, a built urban setting and sense of place that can’t be replicated by 21st century building material and construction practices. Here’s a photographic look at a city the Sunbelt left behind.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at