In a 2012 referendum, voters approved the consolidation of the governments of the City of Macon and Bibb County, and Macon became Georgia's fourth-largest city (just after Columbus). The two governments officially merged on January 1, 2014.
Macon is served by three interstate highways: I-16 (connecting the city to Savannah and coastal Georgia), I-75 (connecting the city with Atlanta to the north and Valdosta to the south), and I-475 (a city bypass highway).
Macon was founded on the site of the Ocmulgee Old Fields, where the Creek Indians lived in the 18th century. Their predecessors, the Mississippian culture, built a powerful chiefdom (950-1100 AD) based on the practice of agriculture. The Mississippian culture constructed earthworkmounds for ceremonial, burial, and religious purposes. The areas along the rivers in the Southeast had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for 13,000 years before Europeans arrived.
Macon developed at the site of Fort Benjamin Hawkins, built in 1809 at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River to protect the community and to establish a trading post with Native Americans. The fort was named in honor of Benjamin Hawkins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southeast territory south of the Ohio River for more than 20 years. He lived among the Creek and was married to a Creek woman. This was the most inland point of navigation on the river from the Low Country. President Thomas Jefferson forced the Creek to cede their lands east of the Ocmulgee River and ordered the fort built. (Archeological excavations in the 21st century found evidence of two separate fortifications.)
Fort Hawkins guarded the Lower Creek Pathway, an extensive and well-traveled American Indian network later improved by the United States as the Federal Road from Washington, D.C., to the ports of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. A gathering point of the Creek and U.S. cultures for trading, it was also a center of state militia and federal troops. The fort served as a major military distribution point during the War of 1812 against Great Britain and also during the Creek War of 1813. Afterward, the fort was used as a trading post for several years and was garrisoned until 1821. It was decommissioned about 1828 and later burned to the ground. A replica of the southeast blockhouse was built in 1938 and still stands today on a hill in east Macon. Part of the fort site was occupied by the Fort Hawkins Grammar School. In the 21st century, archeological excavations have revealed more of the fort's importance, and stimulated planning for additional reconstruction of this major historical site.
As many Europeans had already begun to move into the area, Fort Hawkins was renamed "Newtown." After the organization of Bibb County in 1822, the city was chartered as the county seat in 1823 and officially named Macon. This was in honor of the North Carolina statesman Nathaniel Macon, because many of the early residents of Georgia hailed from North Carolina. The city planners envisioned "a city within a park" and created a city of spacious streets and parks. They designated 250 acres (1.0 km2) for Central City Park, and passed ordinances requiring residents to plant shade trees in their front yards.
Wesleyan College circa 1877
The city thrived due to its location on the Ocmulgee River, which enabled shipping to markets. Cotton became the mainstay of Macon's early economy, based on the enslaved labor of African Americans. Macon was in the Black Belt of Georgia, where cotton was the commodity crop. Cotton steamboats, stage coaches, and later, in 1843, a railroad increased marketing opportunities and contributed to the economic prosperity of Macon. In 1836, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Wesleyan College in Macon. Wesleyan was the first college in the United States chartered to grant degrees to women. In 1855, a referendum was held to determine a capital city for Georgia. Macon came in last with 3,802 votes.
Macon City Hall, which served as the temporary state capitol in 1864, was converted to a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. The Union General William Tecumseh Sherman spared Macon on his march to the sea. His troops had sacked the nearby state capital of Milledgeville, and Maconites prepared for an attack. Sherman, however, passed by without entering Macon.
The Macon Telegraph wrote that, of the 23 companies which the city had furnished the Confederacy, only enough men survived and were fit for duty to fill five companies by the end of the war. The human toll was very high.
In the twentieth century, Macon grew into a prospering town in Middle Georgia. It began to serve as a transportation hub for the entire state. In 1895, the New York Times dubbed Macon "The Central City," in reference to the city's emergence as a hub for railroad transportation and textile factories.Terminal Station was built in 1916.
Downtown Macon in the early 1900s, looking northeast near the intersections of Cotton Avenue, First Street and Poplar Street.
On May 11, 2008, an EF2 tornado touched down in nearby Lizella. The tornado then moved northeast to the southern shore of Lake Tobesofkee then continued into Macon and lifted near Dry Branch in Twiggs County. The tornado produced sporadic areas of major damage. Widespread straight-line wind damage was also produced along and south of the track of the tornado. The most significant damage was in Macon along Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue where two businesses were destroyed and several others were heavily damaged. Middle Georgia State College was also damaged by the tornado, snapping or uprooting around 50% of the campus trees and doing significant damage to several buildings on campus, with the gymnasium sustaining the worst damage. This tornado varied in intensity from EF0 to EF2 with the EF2 damage and winds up to 130 miles per hour (210 km/h) occurring near the intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue. Total path length was 18 miles (29 km) with a path width of 100 yards (91 m).
On July 31, 2012, voters in Macon (57.8 percent approval) and Bibb County (56.7 percent approval) passed a referendum to merge the governments of the city of Macon and most of unincorporated Bibb County, based on the authorization of House Bill 1171, passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier in the year; four previous consolidation attempts (in 1933, 1960, 1972, and 1976) had failed.
Under the consolidation, the governments of Macon and Bibb County were replaced with a single mayor and a nine-member countywide commission elected to office by county districts. A portion of Macon that extends into nearby Jones County was disincorporated from Macon. Robert Reichert is the first mayor of Macon-Bibb after the election in September 2013 and a runoff with C. Jack Ellis in October.
The Ocmulgee River is a major river that runs through the city. Macon is one of Georgia's three major Fall Line Cities, along with Augusta and Columbus. The Fall Line is where the hilly lands of the Piedmontplateau meet the flat terrain of the coastal plain. As such, Macon has a varied landscape of rolling hills on the north side and flat plains on the south. The fall line, where the altitude drops noticeably, causes rivers and creeks in the area to flow rapidly toward the ocean. In the past, Macon and other Fall Line cities had many textile mills powered by the rivers.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 56.3 square miles (146 km2), of which 55.8 square miles (145 km2) is land and 0.5 square miles (1.3 km2) (0.82%) is water.
Macon is approximately 330 feet (100 m) above sea level.
Macon has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classificationCfa). The normal monthly mean temperature ranges from 46.3 °F (7.9 °C) in January to 81.8 °F (27.7 °C) in July. On average, there are 4.8 days with 100 °F (38 °C)+ highs,[a] 83 days with 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs,[b] and 43 days with a low at or below freezing; the average window for freezing temperatures is November 7 thru March 22, allowing a growing season of 228 days. The city has an average annual precipitation of 45.7 inches (1,160 mm). Snow is occasional, with about half of the winters receiving trace amounts or no snowfall, averaging 0.7 inches (1.8 cm); the snowiest winter was 1972-73 with 16.5 in (42 cm).
As of the official 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Macon was 91,351. In the last official census, in 2000, there were 97,255 people, 38,444 households, and 24,219 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,742.8 people per square mile (672.9/km2). There were 44,341 housing units at an average density of 794.6 per square mile (306.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 67.94% African American, 28.56% White, 0.02% Native American, 0.65% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.46% from other races, and 0.77% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.48% of the population.
There were 38,444 households, out of which 30.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.0% were married couples living together, 25.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.0% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.08.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 26.9% under the age of 18, 11.3% from 18 to 24, 27.5% from 25 to 44, 20.0% from 45 to 64, and 14.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 79.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 72.8 males.
According to the 2010 Census, the median household income in the city was $28,366, as compared with the state average of $49,347. The median family income was $37,268. Full-time working males had a median income of $34,163 versus $28,082 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,010. About 24.1% of families and 30.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 43.6% of those under age 18 and 18.4% of those over 65.
The Mulberry Street Festival - an arts and crafts festival held downtown the last weekend of March
The Juneteenth Freedom Festival - An annual June performing arts and educational celebration of the end of American slavery in 1865, celebrating black freedom and heritage both ancient and contemporary
Pan African Festival - An annual celebration of the African diaspora and culture, held in April
Fort Benjamin Hawkins, a major military outpost (1806-1821), was a command headquarters for the U.S. Army and Georgia militia on the boundary between U.S.-held and Native land, as well as a trading post or factory for the Creek Nation. It was a supply depot during U.S. campaigns of the War of 1812 and the Creek and Seminole Wars.
Douglass Theatre, named for its founder Charles Henry Douglas. An entrepreneur from a prominent black family, he was an established theatre developer well versed in the vaudeville and entertainment business. The theatre has undergone modern renovations and hosts numerous theatrical events.
Macon Community News, a monthly positive news print newspaper.
References in popular culture
Gone with the Wind
In Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind, Aunt Pittypat's coachman, Uncle Peter, "pertecked" her when she "refugeed" to Macon during Sherman's assault on Atlanta and "quired" a horse so that, after the fighting was over, he could bring her back to Atlanta through a war-torn countryside.
U.S. Senator Augustus Bacon, of Georgia, in his 1911 will, devised land in Macon in trust, to be used as a public park for the exclusive benefit of white people. The park, known as Baconsfield, was operated in that manner for many years. In Evans v. Newton, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the park could not continue to be operated on a racially discriminatory basis. The Supreme Court of Georgia thereupon declared "that the sole purpose for which the trust was created has become impossible of accomplishment" and remanded the case to the trial court, which held cy-près doctrine to be inapplicable, since the park's segregated character was an essential and inseparable part of Bacon's plan. The trial court ruled that the trust failed, and that the property reverted to Bacon's heirs. The Supreme Court of Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. The 50-acre (20 ha) park was lost and commercially developed.
The Macon Transit Authority (MTA) is Macon's public-transit system, operating the Public Transit City Bus System throughout Macon-Bibb County. Most commuters in Macon and the surrounding suburbs use private automobiles as their primary transportation. This results in heavy traffic during rush hour and contributes to Macon's air pollution. The MTA has a total of 10 city bus routes and an express bus that serves suburban Warner Robins just south of the city.
Macon Transit Authority has a tourist trolley system. The trolleys have offered tours of the downtown Macon area since 1999. The tours consist of all of the major historical sites such as the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Hay House, and the Tubman Museum. There are three trolleys holding up to 39 passengers.
^The record number of triple digit (Fahrenheit) readings is 24 in 1954.
^The historical range is 31 in 1994 to 116 in 2011.
^Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the highest and lowest temperature readings during an entire month or year) calculated based on data at said location from 1991 to 2020.
^Official records for Macon were kept at downtown from October 1892 to 7 April 1899, the Weather Bureau from 8 April 1899 to November 1948, and at Middle Georgia Regional Airport since December 1948. For more information, see ThreadEx.
Macon's Black Heritage: The Untold Story (Macon, Ga.: Tubman African American Museum, 1997).
Matthew W. Norman. "James H. Burton and the Confederate States Armory at Macon", The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Winter 1997, Vol. 81 Issue 4, pp 974-987
Titus Brown. "A New England Missionary and African-American Education in Macon: Raymond G. Von Tobel at the Ballard Normal School, 1908-1935", The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Summer 1998, Vol. 82 Issue 2, pp 283-304
Robert S. Davis. Cotton, Fire, & Dreams: The Robert Findlay Iron Works and Heavy Industry in Macon, Georgia, 1839-1912 (Macon, Ga., 1998)
Robert Scott Davis. "A Cotton Kingdom Retooled for War: The Macon Arsenal and the Confederate Ordnance Establishment", The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Fall 2007, Vol. 91 Issue 3, pp 266-291
Candace Dyer, Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon (Macon, Ga.: Indigo Publishing Group, 2008).
Mara L. Keire. For Business and Pleasure: Red-Light Districts and the Regulation of Vice in the United States, 1890-1933 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010); 248 pages; History and popular culture of districts in Macon, Ga., and other cities