I was raised in Macon, Georgia, but I had never heard of "The Grotto" until sometime around 2008 when I found a forum thread on the topic. In it people were discussing the location, its origins, features, and purpose. The thread had me intrigued, but I didn't make the trip to the site until a few years later.

The grotto is accessed via a winding path through the woods and around a creek that sits at the bottom of a ravine. The main attraction is a stone structure featuring a fireplace with chimney, a little side room to the left, and an elevated alcove or niche that looks to have accommodated a statue at one time (pictured in the header photo above).

On the opposite side of the ravine from the grotto is a large pedestal and fallen statue. A short distance down the hill below the statue pedestal is a large pool constructed of brick walls covered by a layer of concrete. Six sets of double-sided staircases lead from the surface down to the bottom. Trees have fallen across in several places, and many smaller ones are growing up from the pool floor. It was fascinating to imagine that perhaps 100 years earlier people were swimming there.

UPDATE: 12/23/2013
Comments on this page by Paul Sinatra pointed me in the right direction for learning more about the grotto. I now have a better understanding of its origin and purpose. It was likely built by the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) of St. Stanislaus College, which was a Catholic institution devoted to training for the priesthood. That college was destroyed by fire in 1921, and after attempts to raise enough money to rebuild it failed, the site was repurposed into a residential neighborhood—named Stanislaus—which remains to this day.

The Macon grotto was built as a shrine to "Saint Bernadette" and "Our Lady of Lourdes" and is one of countless reproductions around the world of the original grotto located near Lourdes, France. The grotto at Lourdes consists of 3 unequally sized openings: (1) a large entrance at center, (2) a smaller cavity to the left, and (3) a niche positioned above and to the right. The niche contains a statue of the Virgin Mary and is purportedly the spot where her apparition appeared to Bernadette in 1858.

To summarize the story briefly, an apparition appeared on multiple occasions over a period of two weeks to a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous. These visions occurred at a grotto (shallow cave) in a rock face called Massabielle near Lourdes, France. Among other things, the apparition instructed Bernadette to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. That spring is still flowing to this day. After initial skepticism, Bernadette's story was eventually accepted, and her visions were attributed to appearances by the Virgin Mary. This apparition is now known as "Our Lady of Lourdes."

If you are interested in the particulars of this story, be sure to follow the links provided above. I find it fascinating that we have our own, nearly forgotten version of this shrine right here in Macon. Also, if you have anything to add about this location—whether it be historical facts you have researched, memories from your past while visiting out here, or questions you would like answered—please submit those in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

The photos below were taken over the course of several visits to this site at various times of year. I have organized the gallery to act as a sort of photo tour without regard to the dates on which the photos were taken; therefore, the seasons may not be consistent from picture to picture.

The purpose of this video is to give the viewer a brief virtual tour of the grotto and surrounding grounds. I filmed several minutes of walking through the trails to help set the mood, as if you were hiking yourself. If you would prefer to skip ahead, the timecodes for each area of interest are 2:36 (the statue), 4:05 (the pool), and 10:45 (the grotto). To view in high quality, start the video, and then choose an HD setting using the gear icon at the bottom of the video. The text at the beginning of the video reads as follows:

This video serves as a virtual visit to the Macon Grotto, a hundred-year-old reproduction of the shrine to "Saint Bernadette" and "Our Lady of Lourdes" located near Lourdes, France.

We begin with a walk up the abandoned driveway off Forest Hill Road, exploring what seems to be entrance gate posts from the former Winship estate. We then walk down the trail toward the fallen statue, paying close attention to its details, and get an up-close look at the large pedestal on which it once stood.

Next, we descend the hill to the swimming pool, which is overgrown with plants and small trees. We jump down inside to get a present day swimmer's perspective.

Finally, we head back to the main trail and hike to the grotto itself. For those who have never been, I hope this will give you a brief glimpse of what remains at the site and spark your imagination for what it once was.

Post A Comment

Homer Scarborough

2/14/2012 10:47:55 AM EDT

I hiked there last year, but you found so much more than I did. You did a beautiful job! Thanks for sharing your photos and story of your visits to this interesting part of Macon.

Ashley

2/14/2012 1:29:05 PM EDT

My friends and I camped out in those woods many times during the mid 60s. The statues were still standing and the pool was not as grown up as your pictures show it now. We had always referred to the Grotto as the Monk Cave. That is what we had always heard it called. It was all part of the Winship estate. At that time the woods stretched to Rosa Taylor school, Northminster sub division and Stinsonville. This is also where "rock hill" was located. It was a popular parking and drinking area at the time.

Jes

6/4/2012 4:23:06 PM EDT

Lovely! Discovered this place maybe 11 years ago, took my son there yesterday but we were ill equipped to explore in sandals- it was a lot steeper climb at 33 than when I was 23 it seems! ;)Looking forward to going back very soon, though. Great pics, I had no idea there was a pool or statues. Thank you for sharing!

Marsha Griffin

9/10/2012 3:44:43 PM EDT

This is awesome! I am so glad to hear about things like this in Macon. I can hardly wait to go exploring, but I will wait until Winter.

Thanks for sharing this information

Anonymous

3/17/2013 9:50:34 PM EDT

I used to walk thru that pool- wow! It's grown up

Anonymous

3/17/2013 9:53:46 PM EDT

And, 29 years ago, the statue was still there without the head! Now it is all gone??? Sad- my dad used to go when he was little too- 65 years ago

Tim Larsen

3/17/2013 10:42:21 PM EDT

Thanks for your comments! It is interesting to hear from those who explored the area so long ago!

Chuck

4/16/2013 11:05:22 AM EDT

That place has been there a long time. I know lots of people who used to go there to party in the woods in the 70's.

Leslie

5/18/2013 2:18:03 PM EDT

I lived in those apartments when I was a child. My brother and I used to play in the grotto and in the pool. I googled it because I was watching a show on the History channel about America's unknown history and it made me think of this place. Thank you for posting the pictures.

Madge DeMay

7/17/2013 4:41:42 PM EDT

I'm 85,years old and grew up in that neighborhood but NEVER heard of this place before. AMAZING.

Lynn Johnson Stillwell

7/17/2013 7:30:31 PM EDT

Thanks so much for bringing back the memories! So sorry to see all the defacing now. Sure wish the area could have been preserved somehow for its historical value. I grew up in the area, so it's special. Thanks again!

Bonnie

7/17/2013 8:08:09 PM EDT

Thank you for sharing the information and photos. I love learning something new about Macon.

Garrette

7/17/2013 9:53:51 PM EDT

My friends and I from Kings Forest/ Rosa Taylor and The Prado loved to hike the woods and creeks in the area in the 70s. The 'monastery' as we called it was a favorite destination but we never went there alone just in case a vagrant might be camping out in the shelter. I never saw anyone else back there but often found trash or remains of a fire. I have often wondered if the grotto was still there. So sad to see all the graffiti but I am pleased it remains. Warning: watch out for cottonmouths during the warm months! There are also harmless black racers and rat snakes and ring necks. Used to play with craw dads (crayfish) in the creeks.

Kathy

7/18/2013 1:04:14 AM EDT

Thank you sooo much for the fabulous pictures!! I've been up the "drive" ... I remember being in like a small garden/santuary. There were several short pillars and if I remember right, they were in a circle. Did you see anything like that? Thanks again for the fabulous pictures!

Tim Larsen

7/18/2013 1:41:26 PM EDT

Hi Kathy. I'm not sure which "drive" you're referring to, but I did not see anything like a garden with pillars. How long ago was this?

Kathy

7/19/2013 7:03:23 PM EDT

This was back when I was a teenager.. probably 16 because I was driving then. So that would have been in the very early 70s.
... there is a VERY short paved area like a driveway.

My friend and I walked up there from that entrance and that's where we came up on the pillars and garden. From what I remember, it was done in a circular pattern. I'm thinking, too, that there was a stone bench there? Of course, things were vandalized but it still felt very spiritual to me. I wondered who it belonged to... why is it there... etc, etc. All the normal questions.
...
I pass that way often and always glance at that "drive". Sure not going to go exploring in the summertime! But I bet my grandsons would love to exploring when winter comes!

Margaret

7/28/2013 9:49:20 PM EDT

We walked a little farther on the trail after passing the monastery this afternoon, but decided to turn around after a few minutes. Does anyone know where the trail leads, where does it end up? Tim: Great narrative & pictures. Thanks so much! I never knew this existed.

Tim Larsen

7/28/2013 11:25:01 PM EDT

Thanks, Margaret. On my second trip to the site, while searching for the pool, I followed the trail until it disappeared. I then kept hiking until I encountered a man standing in the woods. He told me I was almost to ... He was apparently in the woods behind his property. Oops. :) That's when I turned back. There really isn't much else besides the grotto, pool, statue and stone walls at the bottom of the ravine.

Kate

9/13/2013 8:29:37 PM EDT

I grew up on ... and never knew about the Grotto until an earlier post on Vintage Macon's Facebook page. This is wonderful information, and I can't wait to put on my hiking boots when it gets cooler and explore! Thank you sooooo much for sharing these wonderful pictures and the information!!

Henry

9/15/2013 5:22:26 PM EDT

The ravine at the grotto is part of a system of ravines that continue for quite a ways. I guess eons ago some major ice cut it out. The trickle of water in the bottom becomes larger as it joins other streams ...these are the headwaters of Savage Creek. This is the creek that separates the King Alfred/Rosa Taylor neighborhood from the Lee Road/ Captain Kell neighborhood. It crosses under Riverside Drive between Lee Road and King Alfred, and then goes to the river.

Paul Sinatra

12/17/2013 10:00:42 AM EDT

The Grotto was originally constructed by the Monks from the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) who ran St Stanislau College in Macon before it was destroyed by fire. The Grotto was originally built as a Catholic Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette.

Paul Sinatra

12/18/2013 1:13:48 PM EDT

Shared this with the website owner via email, thought others might be interested to know there is an effort, albeit in the very earliest of stages, to restore the Grotto.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEKnPw6woZo

Tim Larsen

12/19/2013 1:09:30 AM EDT

Thanks again, Paul, for your contributions here. I will soon write an update for the main text of this site to include some new research based on your input. I have also activated the link to the video you shared in your comment to make it easier for others to follow.

Kathy

1/4/2014 11:29:33 AM EDT

oh my! Thank you so much for the latest information, along with the beautiful pictures and video! I'm so glad that I mentioned the very small "drive" on ... ~ I feel like I contributed something to the magnificent area! Such a shame to see it so demolished, however.. I have to say that, viewing all of this again .. the pictures as well as the video... have moved me so much! Kind of hard to explain. I was raised Baptist, changed to Methodist, and then finally drawn to the Catholic Church and was baptized there, along with my husband. My Dad was Russian Orthodox (a lot like Catholics, only they don't follow a "Pope"). I remember visiting his Church on a trip to his hometown of Coaldale, PA. A beautiful inspirational place in a tiny coal mining town. I was "drawn" then, only I didn't know it. Going to the Catholic Church brought that same "peace" to me as my Daddy's Church. As I looked through your pictures AGAIN.. it hit me. Something came over me... just like it did when I first discovered the small drive and the small circle of columns and benches as a teenager. By the time I got to the pictures of the pool, there were tears. Not sure why. The video was wonderful! I have never actually seen the grotto. My friend and I only got as far as the small circular area. I would LOVE to visit the grotto! Not sure what kind of climb that would be for us, but what moving experience it must be! Watching the video as tho I was walking thru there myself was so wonderful! My heart jumped as you neared the grotto. Thank you for the video and all the additional information you have added!! I love that there is also a video about possibly preserving that area! I sure hope something is done! Sorry for the "sappy" comments, but wanted you to know how much the pictures and video touched me. As I'm sure it has done to many people.. and hopefully MORE!

H.M.Adams

6/5/2014 10:20:19 PM EDT

The "short driveway" spoken of in some comments was the driveway to Ambassador North Winship's home before it was destroyed by fire. I would be interested in knowing what disposition was made of the contents of the home (the remains) and gardens when Mr. Winship passed.

Tom Hayes

6/4/2015 5:06:11 PM EDT

Thank you for your excellent photos and documentation. That type of contribution is vital for preserving local history.

My mother was a Winship. I was born in 1942 and we visited North and Catherine periodically over the years. The last visit was a reception at the house after North died. I remember the pool and grotto from around junior high years. The pool was obviously in better condition although no longer used. I am amazed the grotto is in as good a condition as shown. North's house was originally about 3 smaller one story buildings used by the nuns. He linked them into one house and refurbished the combination very nicely. There was a curved patio in back of the house. North pointed out an official survey marker locating the edge of the Piedmont Plateau where it begins to fall off to the sea. The view was great from there over the ravine and to the southeast. They had a large and beautiful rose garden. After a long career in the foreign service he had a great collection of art and artifacts. I believe he served in Tahiti first (he described it as go to San Francisco and turn left) and Moscow or Warsaw as well as South Africa.

Betty

8/7/2015 9:01:44 PM EDT

Don't you think it is a reflecting pool and not a swimming pool? ...

Betty

8/7/2015 9:26:11 PM EDT

@Tom Hayes, were the Winships descended from Issac and Martha Winship?

Tim Larsen

8/16/2015 1:53:12 PM EDT

Hi Betty. I have always heard the pool described as a swimming pool, and the presence of stairs leading down into it makes me think it was for swimming.

This comment section isn't very sophisticated, so Tom Hayes was not notified of your question directed at him. I sent him an email asking about Isaac and Martha Winship, and his reply was as follows:

"I don't have all the Winship info right at hand. I recall that two Winship brothers moved to Clayton County. Then one went to Macon while the other to Atlanta. Many of the surname Winship from both groups are now in Atlanta, although the family linkage is more scattered. Isaac was one of the Winships. I believe Martha was Martha Cook, daughter of Capt. Phillip Cook, and the first white child born at Ft. Hawkins."

John Cappelano

1/11/2016 2:23:14 AM EDT

Great site! I live in the Vineville neighborhood and just wanted to add some background from a Catholic perspective:

1. The iconography of the fallen statue suggests St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order.

Use your internet search function to search similar images of:

St. Ignatius Loyola Statue with book stepping on the head of Satan

The Jesuits were founded during the Reformation as a group loyal to the Pope and were and are still considered by some to be something like 'The Marines of The Catholic Faith'. Highly committed to a strict doctrinal interpretation of Christianity and Catholicism, among their many focuses was the central commitment to battling heresy and preventing the break up of the Roman Catholic Church. Their presence in heavily Southern Baptist Middle Georgia could easily have been seen a threat by some as they were known to be sent into areas around the globe that were trouble spots for 'The Church'. Before waxing nostalgic, we should keep in mind that Pio Nono College had already failed and St. Joe's had lost its Cathedral status when the auxiliary bishop was removed. The seminary at the top of the hill and its park-like grounds were the remaining focal point for any lingering anti-Catholic sentiment. Under those circumstances, the mop in the closet story at the heart of the fire, has to be taken with a grain of salt. It would be considered unthinkable for Jesuits to retreat from anything. One has to ask, "Is the grotto in the woods really a hidden monument to Baptist resistance?" Or, did the Jesuits sabotage their own failing efforts or maybe helped to see there were different local interests in mind for the property at the top of the hill? In the end, the French Catholics made a handsome sale to local commercial developers and high tailed it back to New Orleans.

2. Believe it or not, Macon and the region may have ended up with the short end of the economic stick. With the first Jesuit Pope (Francis), on the throne of St. Peter and a new mapping of Jesuit Districts in the U.S., after nearly a century, Georgia is back on Rome's radar screen, Jesuit priests are being sent to overhaul three Atlanta area parishes and a quick review of Society of Jesus blogs make it clear the events in Macon have them still smarting from a rare defeat. Jesuits have a winning reputation and their failure in Georgia is still an embarrassment to them. Who knows, they may be back soon.

What we in Macon may have lost here is a sister school for the city that might have rivaled Georgetown, Fordham or Boston College with their campus development and student economies which might have linked Wesleyan and Mercer with public trans and private partnerships that could have turned Forsythe-Vineville-Hardeman into a University Drive as the natural axis to College Street. This third college might have put Macon in line to be the private university capital of the South. That additional center for education may have been just enough to have attracted a group of successor industries to ease the pain from Cotton and Tobacco, as well as a thriving center for the arts, music and 20th century advances in architecture. Finally, the beauty of what was obviously an early Catholic Shrine becomes obvious from your photos. Some of the landscaping still remains. To see what it might have grown into with additional statuary, landscaping, holiday lights and chapels, I invite you to use your preferred internet browser to look up images on the following similar modern versions of our Macon Grotto site:

The Fatima Shrine in Holliston, MA
LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, MA
The Candles at The Notre Dame University Grotto

Thanks and keep up the good work!

John C.

James

5/26/2017 3:27:52 PM EDT

Just visited it again (had been a few years), now the entrance had a brand new fence and a no trespassing sign marked "Macon Museum of Arts and Sciences." They must be going to try and preserve it.

James

5/26/2017 3:42:46 PM EDT

Photos as of May 2017. Appears the art and science museum has some part of it now. Their email posted on the sign is grottomacon@gmail.com
https://flickr.com/photos/76125691@N03/sets/72157684303773655

Tim Larsen

5/27/2017 1:04:39 AM EDT

Hi James. Thank you for the update. Yes, I did hear the grotto property had been acquired for the purpose of preserving it. I didn't know the museum was involved.