By Mollie Davis
Though neither are Macon natives, the O’Dells have planted deep roots in the community surrounding their historic home in the Huguenin Heights Neighborhood. In the fall of 1988, Eric arrived for the first time in Macon as a freshman studying art at Mercer University. It seems his studying paid off, as he was recently appointed full time professor of fine art and displays a myriad of original works at his art gallery downtown, Liberty Studios. As we talked about campus improvements, he quickly pointed out how much the area has changed since his time in undergrad. Nearly all the campus buildings have been remodeled or repurposed, including the Sherwood hall he lived on for three straight years. As he grew up moving often, Eric admitted his time in Sherwood was the longest he had ever lived in a single place.
“Mercer Village was just a gas station where we could buy cheap cigarettes,” he remembers, laughing, “and now there’s actually a stadium on Stadium Drive!”
Eric met his wife Greta in her hometown of Panama City Beach, Florida, and the couple moved to Macon in 1997. At the time, their house on Lawton Avenue was not the welcoming home it is today, in fact, pictures of the original house show that the O’Dells signed up for quite the remodeling project. The couple was intimately involved in each aspect of the renovation process, from designing their dream home with refinished fireplaces, converting closets into walkways, and personally installing plumbing and electricity into the converted attic space their daughters now use as bedrooms. Eric, Greta, and a team of their friends planted a Bradford Pear in 1998 to christen their new Macon home. Overall, the remodeling project was so extensive (and so successful) that the Macon Telegraph featured stories throughout the year to highlight the transformation!
“It was our first home, and we weren’t looking for a traditional, cookie cutter type of home,” Greta remembers. Eric envisioned walking to Mercer to teach everyday, enjoying nearby Tattnall Square Park with his children, and taking in the sights and sounds of downtown where he hoped to establish an art gallery. Making their mark on this historic home was just the first step in realizing their dream.
Many neighbors shared the O’Dell’s optimistic vision for the community. After their home was remodeled, several more houses in the Huguenin Heights community underwent reconstruction, and enthusiasm swept through the neighborhood. This passion for revitalization was contagious; after years of seeing individuals take small steps toward community revitalization, a group of Mercer students presented their senior capstone project, which became the College Hill Corridor, to an InTown board meeting in 2007. As a member of the board, Greta remembers the students’ initial presentation and being excited for what their project could become, but both her and Eric are truly amazed at the community’s progress so far.
“This community has developed and matured beyond our hopes,” Eric admitted. “We thought we saw potential for growth when we decided to move here, but we are amazed today at how far we’ve come.”
Today the O’Dells and their two daughters, Elizabeth, 14, and Helen, 11, take full advantage of the blossoming community around them. Eric walks to his office on Mercer’s campus, out to the Village for lunch, and often treats the girls to dinner downtown near his art studio on Mulberry Street. Greta, who works with the River Edge Behavioral Health Center, still serves on the InTown Macon board and keeps the family involved with their favorite events throughout the community and in their local church, First Baptist of Macon.
The Bradford pear Eric and Greta planted their first summer living in Macon, over 15 years ago, now shades their porch and stands nearly as tall as their historic home. The O’Dell family, which has similarly rooted themselves deep in the Macon soil, has certainly flourished at their historic home in the Corridor.