Macon is a city located in central Georgia, United States. Founded at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River, it is part of the Macon metropolitan area, and is the county seat of Bibb County. Macon is also the largest city in the Macon-Warner Robins Combined Statistical Area with a population of 417,473 and abuts the Atlanta metropolitan area just to the north. It lies near the geographic center of Georgia, approximately south of Atlanta, hence the city's nickname as the Heart of Georgia. After voters approved the consolidation of Macon and Bibb County in 2012, Macon became Georgia's fourth-largest city (just after Augusta), with a population of 155,369 based on 2010 Census figures for Bibb County. Macon is served by three interstate highways: I-16 (connecting the city to Savannah and coastal Georgia), I-75 (connecting the city with Atlanta to the north and Florida to the south), and I-475 (a city bypass highway).
The city has several institutions of higher education, as well as numerous museums and tourism sites. The area is served by the Middle Georgia Regional Airport and the Herbert Smart Downtown Airport. The mayor of Macon is Robert Reichert, a former Democratic member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Reichert was elected mayor of the newly consolidated city of Macon-Bibb and took office on January 1, 2014.
Macon lies on the site of the Ocmulgee Old Fields, where the historic Creek Indians lived in the 18th century. Their prehistoric predecessors, the Mississippian culture, built a powerful chiefdom (950–1100 AD) based on an agricultural village and constructed earthwork mounds for ceremonial, burial and religious purposes. The areas along the rivers in the Southeast had been inhabited by varying cultures of indigenous peoples for 13,000 years before Europeans arrived.
Macon developed at the site of Fort Benjamin Hawkins, built from 1806–1809 at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River to protect the new frontier and establish a trading post with Native Americans. The fort was named in honor of Benjamin Hawkins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southeast territory south of the Ohio River for more than two decades. He lived among the Creek and had a Creek wife. This was the most inland point of navigation on the river from the Low Country. President Thomas Jefferson forced the Creek to cede their lands east of the Ocmulgee River and ordered the fort built. (Archeological excavations in the 21st century found evidence of two separate fortifications.)
Fort Hawkins guarded the Lower Creek Pathway, an extensive and well-traveled American Indian network later improved by the United States as the Federal Road from Washington, DC to the ports of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. A gathering point of the Creek and American cultures for trading, it was also a center of state militia and federal troops. The fort served as a major military distribution point during the War of 1812 against Great Britain and also during the Creek War of 1813. Afterward, the fort was used as a trading post for several years and was garrisoned until 1821. It was decommissioned about 1828 and later burned to the ground. A replica of the southeast blockhouse was built in 1938 and stands today on a hill in east Macon. Part of the fort site is occupied by the Fort Hawkins Grammar School. In the twenty-first century, archeological excavations have revealed more of the fort's importance, and stimulated planning for additional reconstruction of this major historical site.
The city thrived due to its location on the Ocmulgee River, which enabled shipping to markets; cotton became the mainstay of Macon's early economy, based on the enslaved labor of Africans. Macon was in the Black Belt of Georgia, where cotton was the chief commodity crop. Cotton steamboats, stage coaches, and later, in 1843, a railroad increased marketing opportunities and contributed to the economic prosperity to Macon. In 1836, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Wesleyan College in Macon; it was the first college in the United States chartered to grant degrees to women. In 1855 a referendum was held to determine a capital city for Georgia. Macon came in last with 3,802 votes.
During the American Civil War, Macon served as the official arsenal of the Confederacy. Camp Oglethorpe, in Macon, was used first as a prison for captured Union officers and enlisted men. Later it held officers only, up to 2,300 at one time. The camp was evacuated in 1864.
Macon City Hall, which served as the temporary state capitol in 1864, was converted to use as a hospital for the wounded. The Union General William Tecumseh Sherman spared Macon on his march to the sea. His troops had sacked the nearby state capital of Milledgeville, and Maconites prepared for an attack. Sherman did not bother to go through Macon.
The Macon Telegraph wrote that, of the 23 companies which the city had furnished the Confederacy, only enough men survived and were fit for duty to fill five companies by the end of the war. The human toll was very high.
The city was taken by Union forces at the end of the war during Wilson's Raid on April 20, 1865.
Gradually into the twentieth century, Macon grew into a prospering town in Middle Georgia. It began to serve as a transportation hub for the entire state. In 1895, the New York Times dubbed Macon "The Central City," in reference to the city's emergence as a hub for railroad transportation and textile factories.
On May 11, 2008 An EF2 tornado touched down near Lizella. The tornado then tracked northeast to the south shore of Lake Tobesofkee then continued into Macon and lifted near Dry Branch near the Twiggs County line. The tornado did not produce a continuous path, but did produce sporadic areas of major damage. Widespread straight-line wind damage was also produced along and south of the track of the tornado. The most significant damage was in the city of Macon especially along Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue where 2 businesses were destroyed and several others sustaining heavy damage. Middle Georgia State College was also hit by the tornado, snapping or uprooting 50 percent or more of the trees and doing significant damage to several buildings on campus with the gymnasium sustaining the worst damage. This tornado varied in intensity from EF0 to EF2 with the EF2 damage and winds up to occurring near the intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue. Total path length was with a path width of .
In 2012, voters in Macon and Bibb County approved a new consolidated government between the city and county, making the city's new boundary lines the same as the county's and deannexing a small portion of the city that once lay in Jones County.