Situated on Macon’s Georgia Avenue, Hay House is an unusual testament to one 19th-century family’s creativity, and modern historical enthusiasts’ dedication to its restoration. (Special Photo: Walter Elliott)
MACON — About an hour and a half down Ga. Highway 23, to a land where gasoline is a solid 20 cents cheaper than it is in Henry County and the streets on Sunday are all but bare, sits a mansion that, as the adage goes, “sticks out like a sore thumb.”
But this thumb is anything but sore and visitors to Johnston-Felton-Hay House in Macon will learn to appreciate its grandeur soon after walking into the scullery, which now holds a museum and a gift shop.
Tours of the mansion are given a few times a day, and tickets for adults are $11.
The house, built in the “Italian Renaissance” style as opposed to the more popular-for-its-time Antebellum style, is now a National Historic Landmark and has been home to three families since construction began in 1860. Since the 1980s, it has been the pet project of private historians as well as The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, which oversees the management and maintenance of the house and has invested more than $7 million in projects.
Before it was Hay House, it was the Johnston House, and then the Johnston-Felton House, until the Hay family purchased it in the 1920s.
William Butler Johnston, the house’s original owner and visionary, was a wealthy jewelry maker who also made a living investing in public utilities and banking, so it can be assumed that he appreciated life’s intricacies. The house is symmetrical, nearly to a fault, as the house’s tour guides explain to visitors. The ceilings in a few rooms can be up to 10 feet lower than the roof of the house would have allowed, but the result is a more inviting interior and a dramatic exterior.
“The brick house has a faux-brick facade,” a tour guide explained last Sunday.
Technology in the 1860s didn’t provide for a uniform-sized brick for the purposes of construction, so William Johnston had a stucco-like material brushed onto the outside of the house, then scored to mimic the appearance of brick. The result was a clean — and very modern — appearance.
As interesting as the biographies of the families who lived in the mansion over the last two centuries is the history of the renovation efforts of The Georgia Trust.
For example, parts of the structure were somewhat unconventionally restored, so when visitors cross hallways into different rooms, they might find themselves in the original 1880s with the Johnston’s style of furnishings, while the next room lands visitors in the 1930s era with the Hay family.
According to its website, The Georgia Trust set out to honor the tastes and styles of all three families. Visitors who tour the mansion get a taste of the technological advances the house has seen since its construction, from upgraded plumbing and electrical work to an elaborate ventilation system.
Day-trippers can take Ga.Highway 23 from downtown McDonough to Macon — about a 90-minute drive. The trip is even easier on Interstate 75, and takes about an hour.
More information about Hay House can be found online at www.georgiatrust.org.