My newest book project, which got underway in August 2017, examines Georgia’s Fall Line cities of Augusta, Macon, and Columbus. These cities have been largely neglected in urban history scholarship, and Richard Harris’s recent essay, “A Portrait of North American Urban Historians,” in the Journal of Urban History rightly points to a dearth of current scholarship on southern cities and on smaller cities. I am researching from Reconstruction to the present, but it is quite possible that I will end up confining the bulk of the manuscript to the time since the start of World War II with a substantial prologue that surveys the previous few decades.
The Fall Line, the natural slope that separates the Piedmont from the Coastal Plain, furnished water power for industry and marked the head of navigation on the Savannah, Ocmulgee, and Chattahoochee Rivers. Until the late 19th century, any of the cities that grew along the Fall Line in Georgia and in the Carolinas seemed capable of taking their place alongside older seaport cities such as Savannah and Charleston, but the rapid rise of upland cities such as Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sidelined the Fall Line cities.
This comparative study explores how these cities competed with each other as they strove to be more than small urban hubs for processing agricultural products and the degree to which they emulated Atlanta’s forward-looking growth agenda and Savannah’s efforts to harness history and culture. It examines the impact of textile mills, railroads, tourist and convention facilities, as well as the military-industrial complex. Especially in Augusta’s case, the “eds-and-meds” sector plays a significant role as well. The study also traces responses to central-city decline and decades-long efforts (ultimately successful in all three cities) to create metropolitan government in the wake of annexation failures. Throughout, the imprint of race will be clear. All three cities had large African American populations throughout their history, and all of them ranked among the most heavily redlined cities in the nation.
My initial work focused on the confluence of city beautification, historic preservation, and downtown revitalization campaigns in Augusta, Georgia over the past century, a topic that I’m beginning to place in comparison with similar developments in Macon and Columbus. Thus far, I have made three research trips to Augusta and one to Macon (with more planned during my current sabbatical) to collect extensive primary materials and have been mining the online archives of the Augusta Chronicle and the Macon Telegraph.
Last October I presented a paper titled “Making ‘The Garden City of the South’: The Transformation of City Planning in Augusta, Georgia,” at the Urban History Association 2018 conference in Columbia, South Carolina, and I’m fine-tuning a longer article manuscript from that, hopefully to submit in a couple of months. As of this writing, I have yet to decide what to propose for SACRPH 2019. I’ll probably do something that looks at Macon and Augusta side by side, but I need to think more. For now I am holding off on a book proposal because once I cross that line, I am bound to a more rigid timeline than I am prepared to accept. For that matter, I still haven’t even fully settled on a working title!