MGA Historic Preservation Class Research May Boost Payne City’s Possible National Register Bid

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Monday, April 29, 2024 12:00 AM
Category: Pressroom

Macon, GA

Students in the historic preservation class along with Dr. Susan Asbury, their professor, and Historic Macon representatives Nathan Lott and Matt Chalfa.

Despite living in Macon for more than two decades, Christina Spradlin knew next to nothing about Payne City, a former mill village off Vineville Avenue that dates to the late 19th century.

“I’d heard of it, but I didn’t really know what it was,” said Spradlin, a Middle Georgia State University senior history major originally from East Point. “I thought it was just a neighborhood.”

After a semester’s worth of research with her classmates in the historic preservation class taught by Dr. Susan Asbury, Spradlin now knows a whole lot more. She and other class members presented their research this week to Historic Macon’s Nathan Lott, executive director, and Matt Chalfa, director of preservation field services.

Historic Macon will use the class’s research to help decide whether to launch a long-term effort to get Payne City listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’ll see what the students found and then maybe talk to local officials and take it to the (Payne City) community,” Lott said.

The historic preservation class is an advanced-level course within the public history concentration of MGA’s Bachelor of Arts in History.  Research projects the class takes on help students with a passion for history consider various career options within their discipline, including preservation and archival work.

Asbury said Payne City was one of the suggestions Historic Macon made when she reached out to ask for local research project ideas.

“Historic Macon served as the ‘client’ for the students in the class,” she said. “Each student researched two Payne City properties and worked together to draft a preliminary National Register nomination. It gave them a chance to look into local archives and research property deeds.”

The National Register of Historic Places is the federal government’s official list of historic places worthy of preservation. A lengthy application and review process takes place before a property is placed on the register.

From a federal standpoint, placement does not automatically protect properties from demolition or modification, but it could make them eligible for certain tax incentives and grants. State and local zoning authorities may take register status into consideration and offer their own incentives for preserving properties.

Payne City, located in the north-central part of Bibb County, was a small, incorporated municipality that was surrounded by - but independent of - Macon. The enclave began life as a mill village, founded in the late 1800s by William Sims Payne. Bibb Manufacturing bought the cotton mill in 1905 and built homes and a community center for mill employees.

What is now Freedom Park on Roff Avenue began as Payne City’s recreational area with a lake, swimming pool, skating area, ball fields, and playgrounds. The community also included a church and auditorium. Over time, the mill company annexed more surrounding property, paved the streets, and developed community rose gardens.

“I enjoyed researching property deeds,” said class member Dylan Arbuckle, “but what fascinated me was the living footprint of the community, the human stories.”

According to a historical perspective written for a long-ago economic prospect report, Payne City residents rejected several attempts over the years to consolidate the town with Macon. But time changed the culture and fortunes of the community. The mill owner began giving employees the option of buying their homes from the company. Those that didn’t sell were offered to the general public, introducing residents with no mill connection to Payne City.

Meanwhile, textile production declined. The company changed owners and, in 1991, demolition of most of the mill began.

In 2015, about a year after Macon and Bibb County governments merged, the state General Assembly abolished Payne City as an independent town. But much of the original housing still stands, and as of 2017 about 215 people lived in the former incorporated area, according to City-Data.

Today, all many people in Macon and the region know about “the town within a city” is that a large antiques mall resides in what remains of the old mill complex.

“I knew about the antique store, but not really anything else,” said Adam Richardson, another senior history major from Warner Robins. “It was fascinating to learn more about the growth of that community and how it changed over the years.”

Richardson’s research focused on a home at 102 Green Street and the Rose Avenue site where the community center once stood. The two Payne City properties Spradlin researched as her contributions to the overall class project were a house at 28 Brigham Street and the site of the long-gone mill auditorium.

“The (Payne City) streetscape still exists,” said Spradlin, who will graduate in the fall with the goal of working in archival history or library science. “You can kind of see what it looked like in the early 1900s. I think preservation of that area is something we as a community should be working towards.”  

As their research project got underway, she and her classmates visited the area to take photos and meet with representatives of Historic Macon at the organization’s Third Street headquarters.

Then the students began burrowing into old records and other historical sources.

“I was given an address,” said student Melissa Fortune, “and from there was able to dig into a whole new world.”


Class members who participated in the Payne City research project were Dylan Arbuckle, Caitlyn Blackwell, Jarred Brooks, Melissa Fortune, Ean Harris, Christie Hill, Carol-Ann Melvin, Adam Richardson, Josie Sherrell, Christina Spradlin, Sagan Tompkins, and Jack Walsh.