On August 31, 2016, Historic Macon Foundation (HMF) announced its annual list of endangered historic places in Macon-Bibb County. The list, known as Macon’s Fading Five, was announced at the Bonnybrae-Bedgood House, located at 1073 Georgia Avenue. The Bonnybrae-Bedgood House was on last year’s Fading Five list. After the publicity surrounding the list, a couple from North Macon purchased the Bonnybrae-Bedgood House and is rehabilitating it as a single-family home. The house is currently under-construction and is a testament to the importance of Macon’s Fading Five as an advocacy tool for Macon-Bibb’s historic resources.
Macon’s Fading Five includes Cotton Avenue, the Train Recreation Center, the Grotto, the John B. Brooks House, and the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center. Cotton Avenue was included on last year’s list and remains due to development pressure it experiences. HMF Executive Director, Ethiel Garlington, presented the new list and said, “the success of our inaugural Fading Five was a result of the creativity, dedication, and generosity of Maconites who understand that our community only thrives when our historic treasures are preserved.”
HMF’s preservation committee culled through over 25 nominations from members and the general public to select 2016’s Fading Five. The board of trustees and preservation committee uses Macon’s Fading Five to create strategic preservation plans for each of the listed properties and works creatively with property owners, local leaders, and supporters to find preservation solutions. Properties remain on the list until the place is no longer under threat. A new list is announced annually with updates for each site.
For over 50 years, HMF has helped preserve hundreds of historic buildings in Macon-Bibb County and the Fading Five is another tool to help promote the community’s rich and diverse heritage.
John B. Brooks House
169 Lamar Street
The John B. Brooks House sits on land originally known as the J.P. Lamar Sr. property in the Vineville Historic District. Built in 1908, it is indicative of the type of houses built in Vineville during the early twentieth century.
The Brooks family enjoyed the beautiful features of this house from 1908 until 1953. During that time, the family received quite a bit of attention in the Macon Telegraph. Shortly after building this house, John Brooks appeared in court as a defendant for distilling whiskey. The City of Macon and Bibb County began establishing prohibition laws before the Prohibition Act of 1921, and James Brooks was in violation of those laws as early as 1916. Not all the coverage the family received was negative, however. John Brooks’ daughter, Eva Mae Brooks, was nominated as one of the most popular young ladies in town during a vote held in the Macon Telegraph in 1933. John Brooks’ son, James, fought during World War II, rising to the rank of corporal in the 770th Field Artillery Battalion. After the Brooks, various owners and tenants resided in the house over the years. In 2007, Lamar Street Limited, LLC acquired the property along with many others along Lamar Street.
The John B. Brooks House is in danger of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. As a contributing structure in the Vineville National Register Historic District, it is eligible for preservation incentives and is calling out for a new family to move in and make it home.
The solution for the John B. Brooks House is rehabilitation by a sensitive new owner.
Train Recreation Center
715 Oglethorpe Street
Bibb Manufacturing Company built the Train Recreation Center in 1920 for its workers in the nearby mill village. Today, it is the only remaining structure built by the company in the downtown area. The impressive Craftsman style facility was part of a national reform movement that demanded textile mills treat their employees and their families more humanely. Free recreational facilities were one way to achieve this goal. The company actually acquired this land back in 1850, when it was known as the Macon Manufacturing Company in order to supply water to the nearby mill. The lot sits on a “Never Failing Spring,” making it an ideal spot for a reservoir. Bibb Manufacturing sold the property to the City of Macon in 1966 with the stipulation that it must always be used for public or charitable purposes. The City continued to use the building as a recreation center until 1980. The building has stood vacant since.
The Train Recreation Center is in danger of DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. Although the large hole in the roof is covered with a tarp, the entire structure suffers from rot and water damage.
There are many possible solutions for this building that meet the deed-stipulated requirement for public or charitable purposes. HMF looks forward to working with Macon-Bibb County to find a new use for the property.
461 Forest Road
The state of Georgia granted this land to Ann Rich in 1821 after the Native Americans were forcibly removed from it. In 1901, La Societe Catholique Religieuse purchased a 100-acre tract of land as a retreat for the students and faculty of St. Stanislaus College, which La Societe oversaw. The Jesuits of the College constructed a shrine to Saint Bernadette shortly after purchasing the property, along with a reflection pool. The shrine has a large central entrance with a smaller cavity to the left where a fireplace is still visible. Over the top, there is a niche that originally contained a statue of the Virgin Mary, though it is no longer there. This shrine is one of the many copies of the original in Lourdes, France.
Almost all of St. Stanislaus’ campus burned in a massive fire in 1921. For a few years, La Societe attempted to raise funds to rebuild the college with no success. They sold the land, which now contains many historically and architecturally significant homes. At the same time in 1929, La Societe sold the tract of virgin forest containing the Grotto to private developers, and the property has been privately owned ever since.
The threats to the Grotto are DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT and ACTIVE VANDALISM.
The solution for the Grotto is conservation easements and public access. The Grotto needs visitors who are interested in its history and preservation to discourage vandalism. The surrounding timber also needs a management plan to ensure this old growth hardwood remains for future generations.
Cotton Avenue District
Although parts of what was historically known as Cotton Avenue go by many names, the original thoroughfare still exists. During the twentieth century, Jim Crow laws forced African Americans to establish separate business districts in downtown Macon. Cotton Avenue became one of those districts and grew into a major center of black business with entrepreneurs working as barbers, shoemakers, lawyers, dentists, and everything in between. After integration, black-owned businesses had new competition with other downtown establishments, and some in this area closed their doors. Today, this district is under greater development pressure than almost anywhere else in Macon-Bibb County. The large workforce of the area combined with the number of vacant buildings makes structures in this area prime targets for demolition. Similarly, the demand for land for commercial purposes has the potential to force out smaller businesses and aging church congregations.
Fading Five listing brought much needed attention to Cotton Avenue, preventing further demolition in the past year. In re-listing the district, Historic Macon plans to focus on two specific action items. First, HMF plans to advocate for stricter zoning regulations regarding demolition in this area. Secondly, Historic Macon will provide assistance to current Cotton Avenue tenants who would like to remain in the district. In particular, Historic Macon will work with Steward Chapel AME Church at 887 Forsyth Street.
Founded in 1865, Steward Chapel AME Church has long been involved in the pursuit of both religious freedom and social justice. The congregation laid the cornerstone of its magnificent structure in 1889, and this church has continued to be “a beacon of light in a world of darkness” ever since. By again declaring the Cotton Avenue District ENDANGERED and highlighting Steward Chapel AME Church, Historic Macon plans to continue working for a solution for the whole area, as well as working with the energetic new leadership at Steward Chapel.
Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center
1389 Jefferson Street
The First Congregational Church, a historically African American congregation in Pleasant Hill, constructed this building in 1917. The congregation was established in 1868, and immediately dedicated its services to the “higher development and improvement” of Macon’s black community. The church had very close ties with Ballard Hudson Normal School because of their mutual goals to increase education and civic-mindedness in African Americans, despite the harsh laws of segregation throughout the area at that time.
The First Congregational Church remained in this building until 1991. The structure stood vacant between 1992 and 1997, before it was purchased by the Booker T. Washington Community Center. The Center used the building for everything, from a day care center to a dance studio. During this use, the building became known as the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center. The Center was named in honor of Bobby Jones, PhD, the first African American professor to earn tenure at Mercer University and author of Macon Black and White. However, the Center shuttered the building a few years ago due to lack of resources to make necessary repairs.
The threat to the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center is DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT. The Center does not have the funds to properly seal the building or replace the roof, which is leaking in several places.
The solution for the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center is a long-term viable use that contributes to Pleasant Hill once again.