Living

WALDEN: 50 years of stewardship, hard work and fun

Historic Macon Foundation is celebrating 50 years of preserving structural monuments to the past in designated historic areas in Middle Georgia, bringing not only millions of dollars in property back to the tax base, but making Macon a destination for travelers and a source of pride for those of us who are surrounded by a stunning representation of architectural styles every day.

You don’t have to live in a historic district to appreciate preservation efforts. A city that makes the environment a pleasant one in which to live, to work and to play, brings all segments of the population together and prevents the isolation of suburbia.

Foundation membership is open to anyone. Historic Macon is not just about preservation. There are programs available for children; visiting authors whose books are relevant to Southerners lecture at the Sidney Lanier Cottage and fascinating trips to locales steeped in history are available to the curious traveler.

In February, the foundation will sponsor the second Design, Wine and Dine, a festival celebrating just that, followed by the Design House, a building transformed by local interior designers and decorators into a cluster of condominiums in the heart of downtown Macon. The process for the latter starts early with demolition, architectural design, engineering, then rebuilding. The work moves along at a feverish pace to meet the completion date.

GRAB YOUR HARD HAT

A Hard Hat Party was held Nov. 20 on Cherry Street to allow guests a sneak preview of a concept that has empty-nesters and first-time buyers flocking to downtown. Walking between stud walls separating the new spaces, Russell Poss, the general contractor for the project, joined the excitement and answered questions under portable heaters while sampling the dozens of pots of chili prepared by volunteers vying for the Best Chili prize of two tickets to the preview party when Design House opens.

Nancy and Don Cornett were giving their opinions on best brownies, jostling for their favorites with Billy and Thom Phillips. Warmed by the chili on a cold night in an unheated building, the crowd surveyed the progress upstairs and down, imagining what it will look like in a mere three months. Carrie Robinson, staff preservation designer for Historic Macon, and Chris Howard, co-chair of the Design House, assured the enthusiastic patrons the house would be ready on time as it has since 1975.

PARADISE ALMOST LOST

The next day, a group of us left Macon on a Historic Macon-sponsored journey to Sapelo Island, off the Georgia coast. After a ferry ride to the island, the staff at the Reynolds mansion, named the South End House, welcomed us for dinner. Diane Lewis, a seasoned South End House visitor, showed us to our rooms and led a tour of the mansion, filling us in on the history of the house and its several owners.

R.J. Reynolds, the North Carolina tobacco magnate, owned the house from 1934 until 1964. During the time Reynolds owned the property, he donated what had been a dairy complex to the University of Georgia to be used as a marine research laboratory. The program has flourished under the guidance of the university and is now part of the Sapelo Island National Estuarine and Research Preserve.

On our second day at Sapelo, a local guide took our group through his community of Hog Hammock, the last of the settlements in existence since being established by freed slaves after the Civil War, and still home to about 70 descendants of the first settlers. He discussed the impact of recent development on the island by owners from the mainland. While modern conveniences may be made more readily available, the increased building is forcing property tax increases, which will adversely affect the families who may lose their foothold on an island they have called home for almost two centuries but may no longer be able to afford.

Trish and Brian Whitley, Susie and Richard Guerreiro, Mary Jane Napier and Pat Hardeman were among the attentive listeners who appreciated the unspoiled beaches and canopy of moss-draped oaks through which we observed a lifestyle that has seen few changes since the mid-19th century. As one of only a few African-American communities left on the East Coast that chronicles the culture of the freed slaves, the value of preserving this microcosm of history is priceless. If you are interested in taking advantage of similar expeditions, join Historic Macon Foundation and expand your horizons.

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or kwaldenint@aol.com.

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