Designed by the architectural firm of T. Thomas & Son for Macon entrepreneur William Butler Johnston, this 18,000-square-foot Italian Renaissance Revival mansion was built between 1855-59 by James B. Ayres.
Johnston was involved in every aspect of the construction of his home. Initially, it was to be of wooden construction, but Johnson opted for masonry and brick instead.
The Johnstons were active art collectors and acquired important pieces during their Grand Tour of Europe. The house was well-suited for the display of their impressive collection.
At a time when most of the finest homes in the South were of Greek Revival design, the Johnston House was a standout.
Macon’s grandest residential landmark, it’s also considered one of the finest houses in Georgia, known as the “Palace of the South” upon construction.
It was the most modern house in mid-19th-century Macon.
It featured hot and cold running water, gas lighting, central heat, an in-house kitchen and other innovations far ahead of their time.
The Johnston’s daughter Mary Ellen married William H. Felton (later a judge) in 1888 and they soon moved into the house.
After the deaths of the Feltons, Parks Lee Hay bought the house in 1926.
When Mrs. Hay died in 1962, her heirs established the P. L. Hay Foundation and operated it as a private museum.
The Hay House was transferred to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 1977.
It is operated today as a house museum and event venue.
A tour of the home also includes a glimpse into the living quarters, which are only slightly less formal.
The Georgia Trust has spent decades researching the history and architecture of the house. I’m grateful to Mark McDonald and Ennis Willlis for unfettered access with my camera. All of the staff were very accommodating during my visit.
Note: This post replaces an earlier version, originally published in 2017.
National Historic Landmark