Jan Beeland, executive director of Macon Arts Alliance, had barely recovered from the adrenalin rush of the resounding success of Fired Works when it was announced that the organization has partnered with Historic Macon Foundation and the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority to revitalize another community in the city, as a village for visual and performing artists. Mill Hill, the neighborhood adjacent to the former Bibb Manufacturing Company’s Mill #1 site, across Ocmulgee East Boulevard from the Macon Coliseum, has been in a persistent decline since the mill closed in the latter half of the 20th century. Macon was first settled on the east side of the Ocmulgee River, around Fort Hawkins, so stabilizing the birthplace of the city is a foundation priority.
As part of the celebration of Preservation Month, the alliance hosted a tour of Mill Hill on May 26 and the following Saturday to open three houses under restoration by the foundation on Schell Avenue and on Hydrolia Street in the newly coined East Macon Arts Village. Jonathan Harwell-Dye, director of creative place-making for the alliance, and Alex Morrison, executive director of the development authority, joined Beeland to answer questions from many visitors that had never explored the neighborhood and that were curious about the concept of living and of interacting with neighbors to best restore Mill Hill to a vibrant hub of activity.
Harwell-Dye started the tour in the auditorium of what will become the Mill Hill Community Arts Center on Clinton Street, a handsome structure whose purpose was providing mill employees with a center for sports and other community activities when it was built by Bibb Manufacturing in 1920. An anonymous donor’s gift of a quarter million dollars funded a new roof, making it possible to proceed with the renovation of the interior, where artists can hold workshops, stage plays and, once again, neighbors can better know each other.
Michael Phillips, preservation carpenter for the foundation, led the tour through the houses, cautioning guests, as they walked gingerly around stud walls and over damaged floors, to not fall through the cracks! Phillips pointed out the telltale clues used to determine the ages of the houses — rough or machine sawed timbers, architectural details of the exteriors and depth of the eaves on some of the houses.
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With his experience as a fine finish carpenter, Phillips brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his position as general contractor for the Mill Hill houses. Additionally, he said he has enjoyed getting to know the neighbors that were invited to participate in the planning of the village and that offered their recommendations on what is needed to regenerate opportunities for the residents. “The gentleman next door is an avid gardener and I think would be fully involved in a community garden,” Phillips said, pointing out a vacant sunny lot behind the Schell Street houses.
Up on the roof for a Corner Concert
In 2014, Andrew Eck, a senior at Mercer University, sold a friend, George Murray, on his idea of corner concerts as an alternative to the usual venues, at much less cost; the concept was intriguing enough that Eck successfully applied for a grant through the Knight Foundation. The grant would pay for eight concerts over a year’s period, a goal that has involved partnerships with Historic Macon Foundation and with various Macon musical groups to stage events in places that were once unfamiliar to music lovers.
The foundation and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation routinely list “places in peril” of demolition through neglect or by overzealous development, places in which Eck and Murray have held Corner Concerts, bringing attention to the need for ambitious preservation and to the incubating musical talent that knows no bounds in Macon.
On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, those smart enough to stay off the highways watched the sunset from the rooftop of the parking garage next door to the Douglass Theatre while Steve Moretti and Matt Catingub, co-founders of the Macon Pops, led a few of the Pops musicians through a playlist of favorites from the recent past. Just Tap’d served its craft beers to a crowd that was at first reticent to start the dancing, but could not sit still to the best of Boz Scaggs and The Beatles.
Lars Anderson took center stage, with wife Annette, in one corner of the parking deck while Nancy and Jeff White and Freda and Larry Hoff were not shy about showing off their moves on the floor, after the evening cooled off. The Corner Concert series, taking a break during the summer doldrums, will pick up again in September, when, for a mere $10, you can see familiar faces or up and coming bands in scenic surroundings.