I See Georgia: Macon

The idea to spend the spring and summer of 2017 visiting cities and towns in Georgia was born out of a conversation we had about Macon. Neither of us had ever been there, and we thought it might be a decent weekend trip, if for no other reason than getting out of the house.

For most of our lives, Macon was a place we’d heard of, but that was the end of it. We knew that it was somewhere vaguely South of where we lived, but not much more. It was a place to bypass on the way to somewhere else; a large dot on the map. The only reason the city ever came to mind was the presence of the Macon Braves, a former class A baseball team in the Atlanta Braves organization.

On an April Saturday, we decided to find out what the city had to offer. We left Athens at 10:30am for the 89-mile drive, passing through towns like Bishop, Farmington, Madison (more on this destination to come), Eatonton, and Gray. After a couple of pit stops, we pulled into Macon just in time to sit in traffic backed up by road construction.

When we finally got moving again it was after one o’clock, and we were ready for some grub. Luckily our first stop in Macon was The Bear’s Den, a comfort food landmark located just outside downtown. We entered and immediately realized that business was very good. Fortunately, the cafeteria style line moved quickly, and soon we were seated with heaping plates of fried chicken, mac and cheese, green beans, and cornbread.

The food was every bit as good as we’d hoped. The chicken was crispy and juicy, and the sides were just like mom used to make. Anytime we visit a new place, one of our favorite things to do is sample some local cuisine. The Bear’s Den was a great start to our culinary odyssey.

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After lunch, we headed downtown. We’ve always felt that the best way to take in a new city is on foot (especially when you’ve just finished stuffing your face!). We found a parking place and strolled down Cherry Street, looking at the buildings and the people. Macon, like many industrial cities, has been hit by significant urban decay, thus there are a number of empty and/or dilapidated buildings. Still, it has a lot of charm.

We walked along Poplar Street, stopping to take in St. Joseph Catholic Church. Completed in 1903, the church is the third tallest building in Macon. Architecture has always interested us, and in many cases, the most interesting buildings in a city turn out to be places of worship. Such was the case in Macon, as St. Joseph was the most beautiful, ornate structure we saw.

Built in neo-gothic style, the church features twin towers which extend 200 feet into the sky. We ducked inside and sat in a pew, marveling at the 60 stained glass windows, the marble altar and the organ, which, according to Wikipedia, boasts 1000 pipes.

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Our next stop was the campus of Mercer University. Neither of us knew much about Mercer, but for us, the most important fact was the school’s mascot: The Bears! As you can probably tell from the title of this blog, we love bears, and take every chance we get to go to a bear-related place. The 8,500 student campus didn’t disappoint, with signs reading “Be the Bear” all over. But the most obvious bear was the one that held court in the middle of the campus.

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After leaving Mercer, we returned downtown and decided to take a walk to the Ocmulgee River, which runs through the city. We headed Northeast on 2nd street, in the general direction of the river. According to Wikipedia, Macon has a humid subtropical climate, and now, in the middle of the afternoon, we found out why. It was hot! The calendar said April, by the thermometer said July.

We pressed on, passing houses and businesses. Eventually we came upon railroad tracks, but no river. We walked up Riverside Drive until we came to a small park. Still no river. We circumnavigated the park, and walked down a grassy hill. It seemed we were finally on the right path, until the hill ended in a dry culvert under a bridge. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Next up on the agenda was Rose Hill Cemetery. Graveyards are another favorite destination of the Bear Team, and Rose Hill did not disappoint. Founded in 1840, the cemetery is the final resting place of many confederate soldiers, as well as governors, mayors and congressmen. Plus, Duane Allman is buried there.

We drove along the narrow lanes, making turns based on instinct. Tombstones from another era protruded from the red clay; some large and ornate, some basic and humble. We drove down a long hill and pulled to the side of the road to take a look around. We strolled through the graves, eventually stumbling on stairs which continued down the slope. At the bottom of the stairs, we found ancient mausoleums, adorned with the names of the interred. Plus, the river! We could see the Ocmulgee flowing Southeast alongside the cemetery. Such a peaceful place.

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By the time we’d finished our Rose Hill tour, it was time for dinner. We headed back to Cherry Street to visit a place we’d read about online, The Rookery, which claimed to have some of the best burgers around. The Bear Team would be the judge of that!

We walked into the restaurant and were seated at a wooden booth adorned with the signatures of hundreds of diners who’d sat there over the years. When eating at a new place, we often go with the house specialties, and this time was no exception. We ordered the Rookery Burger, a double stack with American cheese, sautéed onion and Coca-Cola ketchup, and the Walden Greenback Burger, complete with fried green tomato, green onion, bacon, chevre cheese and sun-dried tomato remoulade, and fries.

We’ve had burgers at some very good, very famous places. But rarely have we been treated to any as good as the ones at The Rookery. When we first sat down, both of us were certain that we’d never finish everything, given our big lunch. But once the burgers were in front of us, all bets were off. We polished them off, even saving room to share a delectable blueberry cobbler shake featuring cake batter.

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When we left The Rookery, shadows had grown long and the time had come to make our way home. We got into the car, set the GPS and cruised along the city streets one last time. Soon we were on US 129, headed back toward Athens. The initial voyage on our exploration of our home state had been a success.

As we rocketed through the warm night, we were already planning our next trip for the following weekend. Soon we would be home, but in a way, we’d never left. We’d just visited the very heart of our state. Georgia was all around us, extending to the horizon and beyond in every direction. So much to offer, and so much to see.

That’s all for now. We’ll be back soon with the next installment of our tour of Georgia cities and towns. For more information about Macon, click on any of the hyperlinks in this blog, or visit the official tourism page at http://www.maconga.org. As always, thanks for reading! Until next time…

Next time:  We’ll venture into Northwest Georgia to find out if, like the locals say, “there’s no place like Rome.”

By: Keith and Dena Maxwell

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