Ever since I’ve moved to the College Hill Corridor this past summer, I’ve developed a growing flirtation with the idea that Macon needs a book and I need to write it. As a ghostwriter, I’ve actually written 5 books, but never anything under my own name or about a subject I am particularly passionate about. But every day as I walk or drive past the incredible houses here on College Street and in the surrounding area, I find myself wondering how many stories have unfolded inside the walls of each one. I mean, you can practically feel the drama and the glamour and the humanity of it all sizzling underneath the surface, just waiting for some curious bystander like me to come along, poke around, and put it all down on paper.
Recently, I’ve begun testing the waters of that book-to-be by exploring my immediate surroundings. And would you believe it, there’s more fascinating history within a square mile of my front door than most entire cities can claim. Here’s a little sample of some of the College Hill Corridor's most interesting historic haunts.
1180 Washington Avenue
The library itself – which playwright Tennessee Williams used to regularly visit during his brief time in Macon – has been a College Hill fixture since the cornerstone was first laid in 1919. Before it was home to a public library, the site was once the home of former Mayor James H.R. Washington. One of the more interesting visitors at the Washington’s home was British author William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair, Barry Lyndon) in February 1856. Macon was one of the famed satirist’s stops in a tour of lectures in the U.S. While he was here, Thackeray called on other well-known Maconites, at the next stop on the tour.
934 Georgia Avenue
In a letter to his daughters back in England, William Makepeace Thackeray mentioned visiting the Johnstons, whom he wrote were “old friends of the family.” At that time, the Johnstons were building a house in “this rambling, lazy out of the way place,” the Vanity Fair author wrote in his letter back home, and temporarily residing “in an uncommonly nice big room on the ground floor in which I felt I could instantly write novels.” The “nice big room” would by 1859 become the foundation of what is now known as The Hay House, an 18,000-square-foot mansion built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Now a museum, The Hay House is open to the public for guided tours.
The Holt House
1129 Georgia Avenue
Now a private residence, this outstanding example of Greek Revival architecture is notable for being the birthplace of Nanaline Holt, who would eventually go on to become one of the New York’s most sought-after socialites, grace the cover of Time magazine in 1931, have a university founded by and named for her family (Duke University), and give birth to “poor little rich girl” Doris Duke. Nanaline Holt Inman Duke's first marriage was to an Atlanta cotton merchant, but it was her marriage to tobacco baron James Duke that vaulted her into the country’s wealthiest elite.
Photo of Nanaline Holt Inman Duke
The Beall-Jordan-Dunlap House
315 College Street
The Georgian-style mansion was built in 1860 by cotton plantation owner Nathan Beall. Though it now belongs to Mercer University, it is perhaps most famously recognized as the house where The Allman Brothers Band shot the cover of their first album in 1969. Band members also lived next door, at 309 College Street, for a time after moving to Macon.
397 College Street
Though you’d never know it today, this exquisite Louis XVI French chateau-style mansion was first built in 1889 as a red brick Victorian. Famed local architect Neel Reid redesigned it in 1917, as well as personally overseeing the interior decoration. A private home, the house was once a therapeutic health spa known for its healing “vapor baths” as well as the temporary home of former First Lady of the Republic of China, Madame Chiang Kai Shek, during her tenure as a Wesleyan College student.