Explore history and music in Macon, Georgia, at Ocmulgee National Historical Park, the Tubman Museum, Hay House, the Allman Brothers Big House, and Rose Hill.
I was a guest of the Macon-Bibb County CVB, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
- 1 History and Music in Macon
- 2 Ocmulgee National Historical Park
- 3 Hay House
- 4 Cannonball House
- 5 Tubman African American Museum
- 6 The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House
- 7 Rock Candy Tours
- 8 Rose Hill Cemetery
- 9 H & H Restaurant
- 10 Dining & Lodging
- 11 Map It!
- 12 While in South Georgia
- 13 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 14 Pin this Post!
History and Music in Macon
If you frequently drive I-75 through South Georgia like I do, you know it can get pretty boring!
On the other hand, if you exit the interstate and explore the Georgia backroads, you will discover the region is anything BUT boring, as seen in our post 5 Boredom-Busting I-75 Exits in South Georgia.
On a recent trip from Florida to Franklin, North Carolina, Jerry and I decided to take U.S. Route 441 through Georgia. Yes, it added two or three hours to our trip, but it was so worth it to avoid the interstate madness and focus on roadside discoveries.
Even so, I am guilty of making repeated interstate beeline trips between Florida and PInebox, my North Georgia mountain cabin. When you drive like a horse headed for the barn you miss a LOT, which is why I missed exploring the geographic center of Georgia so many times before. While I-75 leads straight through Macon, the I-475 bypass leaves it totally off the radar.
When I finally took 48 hours to explore history and music in Macon, I realized how much I had missed in this amazing city “where SOUL lives.” The three elements of soul music, soul food, and history with soul all conspired to make Macon, Georgia, one of my newest favorite destinations.
Ocmulgee National Historical Park
I am an avid National Parks Passport fan, and I have been known to drive many miles out of the way just to collect an elusive NPS stamp. For years, the Ocmulgee National Historical Park was the only cancellation I needed to complete all of Georgia’s NPS locations. On one Georgia-Florida trip, Jerry and I hopped off I-75 and made it to the park entrance, but it was late afternoon, and the gates were already closed.
This time, I arrived in the afternoon with a couple of hours to spare and finally got my stamp.
The Ocmulgee National Historical Park was established in 1934 as a significant archaeological site of Southeastern Native Americans dating back 17,000 years.
Because I am old school, I still consider the birth of Christ as the central point in history. Based on my potentially flawed calculations, that means that Native Americans were hunting and gathering on these grounds 15,000 years before Christ was born.
That just blows my mind!
The Ocmulgee NHP Visitor Center houses an impressive archaeological museum.of artifacts unearthed on the 702-acre property.
Between 1933 and 1936, the largest archaeological dig in American history was conducted under the leadership of Dr. Arthur R. Kelly from the Smithsonian Institution. More than 3 million artifacts, including pottery, arrowheads, stone tools, pipes, jewelry, seeds, and bones from each of the six Ocmulgee archaelogical periods were recovered.
Artifacts of note include a copper-covered puma jaw headdress, copper sun disks from the funeral mound, and the Clovis spear point, the oldest artifact dating to 10,000 BCE,
The museum also features realistic dioramas depicting life during various historical periods, such as a meeting inside the Earth Lodge, a Green Corn Ceremony, and the 1703 Moore’s Raid.
The best part of a visit to Ocmulgee NHP is walking the grounds of the “Old Ocmulgee Fields.”
To access the mounds, visitors must cross a footbridge across the 1873 rail line between Macon and Savannah. This cut, and a previous 1843 cut, devastated sections of the mounds, unearthing pottery, spear points, and skeletal remains.
The path leading beyond the bridge offers an expansive view of various earthworks, including trenches, the trading post site, the Cornfield Mound, and the Earth Lodge.
The interior of the reconstructed Earth Lodge is accessible, but taller visitors should use caution with the low ceiling.
The Great Temple Mound is the highlight of the property, and a series of ramps, stairs, and decks lead to the top. From this perspective visitors have a 360° view of other earthworks and mounds on the property, the Walnut Creek Wetlands, and Macon at a distance.
The road leading into the park passes by the historical Dunlap House. Two Civil War battles occurred on this site in July and November of 1864. Although unsuccessful, one of the missions of the first Union attack was to rescue prisoners of war at Andersonville. Keep an eye out for deer grazing on the farm as you drive through.
The 1855 Johnston–Felton–Hay House, dubbed “The Palace of the South,” is perhaps the crown jewel of Macon. This stunning Italian Renaissance Revival home stands in contrast to the Greek Revival antebellum homes that were popular during that period. The home was spared when Macon narrowly missed Sherman’s March to the Sea.
This 18,000 sq. ft. mansion with twenty-four rooms, four stories, and a two-story cupola was built by banking and railroad tycoon William Butler Johnston, which would explain its dissimilarity with southern plantation homes.
The home was constructed with many uncommon modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing, gas lighting, central heat, and a speaker-tube system. Don’t ask me to explain how it works, but I was literally and figuratively blown away with the “green” ventilation system built into the house.
Johnston’s daughter Mary Ellen married William H. Felton, and they became the next generation to occupy the house. They were responsible for having the house wired for electricity.
In 1926, insurance magnate Parks Lee Hays purchased the house. Most of the current home furnishings were added by the Hays family, although some pieces from the Johnston-Felton family remain. The most prized piece is the 1857 marble statue entitled “Ruth Gleaning” by American sculptor Randolph Rogers.
Daily guided tours of the Hay House are available for a fee.
Built as a planter’s townhouse in the Greek Revival style by Judge Asa Holt in 1853, the Cannonball House got its name from an event that happened during the aforementioned Battle of Dunlap Hill.
As the story goes, a 3-inch Hotchkiss shell fired from across the Ocmulgee River bounced off a sand sidewalk, pierced a center column of the house, broke a small piece of ironwork, entered through the front wall of the house, and landed in the hallway. The shell did not explode or cause any injuries.
Judge Holt later fled to his farm in Jefferson County, which unfortunately was in the path of Sherman’s March. He was tortured by Union soldiers in an attempt to get him to reveal the location of hidden gold.
The house is outfitted with period furnishings and decor, many pieces original to the home. The sleeping porch has been enclosed and converted to a Civil War museum complete with company flags, officer uniforms, weapons, and other artifacts.
Directly behind the Cannonball House is a two-story brick building and gardens. The lower level of the structure contains the original kitchen and a small dining area, while the upper floor is the former house slaves’ quarters.
Tours of the Cannonball House begin on the half hour Mondays through Saturdays for a fee.
Tubman African American Museum
I recall seeing I-75 billboards advertising Macon’s Tubman Museum for years before I actually got the opportunity to visit. My delay turned out well, though, because in 2015 the museum moved into a brand new 49,500 sq. ft. state-of-the-art educational facility dedicated to the study of African American art, history, and culture.
Although Macon has no direct connection to Harriet Tubman, the museum honors the memory of the woman called “Moses” who led dozens of enslaved people to freedom.
Upon entering the ground floor of the museum, visitors are greeted by a quilt-like mural entitled “If Walls Could Talk” by local artist Wini McQueen. The piece, created with dyed textile and photo transfer techniques, consists of 125 linked panels that tell the story of African Americans in Middle Georgia.
The Tubman Museum exhibits boast an eclectic collection of artifacts, folk art, classic art, and vintage photographs that portray various periods of the African American experience.
I found the gallery dedicated to African American inventors especially intriguing.
Macon natives and musicians Little Richard and Otis Redding are memorialized at the museum. The collection includes the piano Little Richard played during his first paid gig as a professional at Macons’s Tic Tic Lounge in the early 1950s.
A portrait of Redding’s son wearing an Allman Brothers T-shirt made me smile.
The museum has a bust of Otis Redding in the gallery, but a full-sized statue of “The King of Soul” is located at Gateway Park along the Ocmulgee River Heritage Trail.
The Tubman Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays for a fee, and is a great place to learn more about history and music in Macon.
The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House
The Allman Brothers were not Macon natives, but it became their home for ten year beginning in 1969 when they signed a record deal with Phil and Alan Walden at Capricorn Records. For this reason, the history and career of these architects of Southern Rock will forever be tied to Macon.
The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House is located at 2321 Vineville Avenue in a Tudor-style dwelling that served as a communal rental home for several of the band members and their families between 1970 and 1973. Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were both living there at the time of their tragic deaths.
The first floor of the Big House with its massive display cases and Allman Brothers Band memorabilia is the central “museum” part of the home. Musical instruments, concert posters, vintage clothing, and Gold Records abound.
A portrait of Duane Allman and a reimagining of the band’s Fillmore East album cover by Macon artist Steve Penley are prominently displayed.
Climbing the stairs to the second floor of the home is like going back in time. Although there are a few display cases, most of the rooms on the upper level are furnished to look much like they did back in the day, almost as if they had closed the doors in 1973 and opened them once again in time for my visit.
Band member Butch Trucks passed shortly before my visit to the museum, and Gregg Allman has passed since, but the memory of the Allman Brothers Band continues due to the efforts of the non-profit Big House Foundation.
To first-hand experience Allman Brothers history and music in Macon, you can visit the Big House Thursdays through Sundays for a fee.
Rock Candy Tours
I met Macon native Rex Dooley when he was volunteering during my visit at the Big House Museum. Imagine my surprise when he showed up as our Rock Candy tour guide the next morning. Rex has an undeniable passion for music history and a contagious love for his hometown, the perfect combination for someone leading a Rock n’ Roll Stroll.
Rock Candy Tours is the brainchild of Jessica Walden, Alan’s daughter, and her husband local candy manufacturer Jamie Weatherford, hence the creativity in the business name. Their business partner is regional tourism director Ruth Sykes.
One of the first locations we passed on the walking tour was the Sidney Lanier Cottage House Museum, birthplace of the famed musician and poet of “The Marshes of Glynn” and “Song of the Chattahoochee.” I had actually toured this historical home with my cousin Brenda while on a summer road trip in the 1980s.
Adjacent to the Lanier Cottage is a botanical oddity, two tall conifers draped in Spanish moss. Odd because Macon is north of Spanish moss range and odd because the large live oak dedicated to Lanier’s memory across the street bears not a single strand of moss.
Although the tours focus on music history, other elements of Macon’s rich history cannot be avoided. The 1901 Beaux Arts-style McCaw-Massee House was built by the man who invented Crisco. Tennessee Williams also wrote the play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” here while visiting Jordan Massee, the home’s second owner, after whom he patterned the character of Big Daddy.
The Bell House, now the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University, was the location shoot for the Allman Brothers Band debut album. At the time, band members were renting the house which once occupied the adjoining lot in the photo below.
It was a given that our tour group would reenact the historic album cover.
The Allman Brothers iconic mushroom logo is still evident at locations all over town.
The clock tower at Macon’s Mercer University was patterned after Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The adjacent 1836 Cowles-Bond House now belongs to the university, as well.
Our tour took us past many historic homes where various Allman Brothers Band members had lived and partied, a house where Wings drummer Joe English and REM drummer Bill Berry had lived, homes that were locations in the Jackie Robinson movie 42 and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.
Our walk through urban Macon included former music industry offices, funeral homes, and the copper-domed Macon City Auditorium where many historic concerts and the memorial for Otis Redding were held.
Walking tours always yield intriguing surprises and snapshots.
At the end of the tour, I walked down to the 1903 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. I couldn’t resist taking a peek at this lovely Gothic revival structure.
Let there be no doubt. The best way to become acquainted with history and music in Macon is by taking one or all of the guided Rock Candy Tours. You will not be disappointed. I did the 2.5-hour Rock n’ Roll Stroll, but I have definite plans to return for the Free Birds & Night Owls tour and Rose Hill Cemetery Ramble the next time I am in town.
Tours operate on Fridays and Saturdays, but must be booked 24 hours in advance. A variety of private group tours may be scheduled, as well.
Rose Hill Cemetery
The historic Rose Hill Cemetery was a hangout for Allman Brothers Band members in the early days. For Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, and most recently Gregg Allman, it would also become a final resting place.
Lead guitarist Duane Allmän (1946-1971) and bassist Berry Oakley (1948-1972) both died at age 24 in separate motorcycle accidents in Macon, one year and three blocks apart.
The easiest way to find the Allman-Oakley graves after entering the cemetery is to take Central Avenue to the point where it ends above the railroad and Ocmulgee River. Take a right on the road running parallel to the river until it starts to curve right. This section is called Carnation Ridge.
You will see a small ravine leading into the cemetery. Park on the shoulder of the road and walk into the ravine. Soon you will see the gravesite as pictured above. Gregg Allman’s grave is now to the left of the stairway.
Cemeteries are great places to explore because you never know what you will find. While walking Rose Hill I discovered a section for the Blount family. Although I never knew these people who share my surname, I know we are all related.
The gravesite and statue of Martha Ellis (1824-1836), often attributed in error to Duane Allman’s song “Little Martha,” and the gravesite of Elizabeth Reed Napier (1845-1935) whose name Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts used for his instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” are located in Rose Hill, as well.
H & H Restaurant
The H & H Restaurant is more than just a great place to fill up on classic southern cooking. It is perhaps the closest thing to living history on Macon’s countless “soul” fronts.
The hand-painted mushroom on the former Coca-Cola sign would be a clue.
In 1959, Inez Hill opened the restaurant with her goddaughter and cousin Louise Hudson. As the story goes, Mama Louise formed an unbreakable bond with the Allman Brothers Band members when she fed them as struggling musicians in the early days. The band even took her on tour with them in 1972.
The photo above from the Big House Museum shows the band seated at the restaurant, an early photo of Mama Louise, and a guest check displayed on an original table from the restaurant.
I was honored to meet Mama Louise in person the day I had lunch at H & H.
Allman Brothers Band memorabilia covers the walls in the H & H dining room, giving guests plenty to look at while enjoying their “meat and three” meals.
My mouth is watering as I write, remembering my lunch of fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, fried okra, deviled eggs, and sweet tea.
Dining & Lodging
Macon has many fine local eateries situated along city streets that feature innovative back-in angle parking. Be prepared when visiting the downtown area so you don’t make a fool of yourself like I did. The white Mercury Mountaineer above is me.
Bearfoot Tavern is an excellent downtown gastropub. I sat at the bar and enjoyed a Pink Dragon Mojito, pimento cheese bacon fritters with pepper jelly, and a smothered chopped steak.
Hilton Garden Inn
My host hotel was the Hilton Garden Inn on the campus of Mercer University. As a travel writer, I sleep in many beds, and I can say without reservation that the king mattress at this location was the most comfortable I have experienced in my travels to date.
While in South Georgia
When your travels take you through South Georgia don’t overlook the following destinations:
5 Boredom-Busting I-75 Exits in South Georgia
Andersonville National Historic Site
Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you experienced history and music in Macon, Georgia? If so, we would love to hear from you. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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