Macon’s past comes to life through Rose Hill tombstones

After many years of leading tours of Rose Hill Cemetery, it might seem Macon historian Jim Barfield knows about all there is to know about the historic burial grounds.

But he says he still learns something new every day about the people interred there. He told many of those stories to about 40 people gathered Sunday afternoon for the spring Rose Hill Ramble.

“I think it’s very important for people to know about history and history begins at home, with your own family,” Barfield said after finishing the tour. “If you live in Macon, you really should know something about the history of Macon. This is a great opportunity to learn.”

Despite threatening weather, the group spent a couple of hours walking through the rolling grounds beside the Ocmulgee River and listening to Barfield tell the stories behind certain tombstones.

One of those was a large granite monument for Augustus Octavius Bacon, a Confederate captain in the Civil War who later became speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and then U.S. senator. In his will, he also left 75 acres of land to be used as a park, which became Baconsfield Park.

But he decreed in his will that the park be only “white women, white children, white boys and white girls,” according to Barfield. That stood until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. The city moved to allow integration of the park, and that led to a legal dispute that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Barfield said it ended with a landmark ruling in which the land, due to Bacon’s will, had to be deeded back to Bacon’s heirs, and the land was ultimately sold for other uses. It was where the McDonald’s and Kroger on Spring Street north of I-16 are today. Barsfield said it was a beautiful park with hundreds of azaleas and a zoo.

“It was a great loss to Macon,” he told the crowd.

Bacon also donated land for the Grand Lodge of Georgia Masonic Home for children that is still in operation today.

Among those taking the Rose Hill Ramble were Tim and Ann Willingham of Marietta. Tim Willingham grew up in Macon and has family members buried in Rose Hill, but Sunday was his first time on the Rose Hill Ramble. Ann Willingham said she was interested to here about the different sections of the cemetery, including a black section and Jewish section.

“I never realized before the distinct personalities of different sections of the cemetery,” she said.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1