From plantations built before the Civil War to a cottage that served as a 20th-century presidential retreat, Georgia is full of historic homes. Here are a handful worth discovering on your next group trip.
The Hay House is an antebellum home built between 1855 and 1859 by William Butler Johnston and his wife, Anne Clark Tracy, after their three-year grand tour of Europe. Inspired by their travels, they began constructing their home the moment they came back to the states.
The home is recognized as a National Historic Landmark partly because of the technological achievements in the original design of the building, which include indoor hot and cold running water, central heating, gas lighting, a speaker-tube system, an in-house kitchen and an elaborate ventilation system.
With 18,000 square feet and 24 rooms on seven levels, including a two-story octagonal cupola, the Italian Renaissance Revival-style house was unusual even for its day.
“It would have stood out,” said William Aultman, director of collections and programs at Hay House Museum.
When the Johnstons passed away, their youngest daughter, Mary Ellen Felton, and her husband, William Felton, moved in.
The house was sold to the Hay family in 1926, and they lived there until the 1950s. The house is now a museum full of furniture from different periods in the home’s history, said Aultman. Groups can visit the basement, the main floor and the second floor. A behind-the-scenes tour is offered several times a year and includes a look at the wine cellar, the attic and a secret room.
Hills and Dales Estate
Built in 1916, Hills and Dales Estate is a 13,000-square-foot, three-story Italian villa. The home was designed by two Atlanta architects, Neel Reid and Hal Hentz, for textile magnate Fuller Callaway and his wife, Ida Cason Callaway. The home includes gardens that were started in 1841 by the property’s original owner, Sarah Ferrell, and are considered some of the best preserved 19th-century gardens in the country. Ferrell planted six terraced gardens that feature native and exotic plants from across the country.
Fuller died in 1922, but Ida lived there until her death in 1936. The home was taken over and restored by Fuller Callaway Jr. and his wife, Alice, and their grandchildren continue on as trustees for the foundation that maintains the property. The house is still fully furnished with items from the Callaway family. Guests will marvel at the grand interior of the home, including the ornate dining room that still looks as it did back in 1916.
Groups are offered guided tours of both the house and gardens. A box lunch can be added when the weather is nice so groups can enjoy their lunch on the pool house terrace, adjacent to the house. Groups of more than 15 people must be split into smaller groups. The visitors center has exhibit space and a 15-minute film about the Callaway family and their home.
Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters
The Owens-Thomas House sits in the heart of Savannah and tells the stories of both the free and enslaved people who lived and worked there in the 1800s. Built in 1819, the National Historic Landmark has the only intact urban slave quarters in Savannah, attached to the former carriage house, and it recently installed exhibits in the mansion’s basement that tell the slaves’ stories.
“That’s what makes this house different,” said Shannon Browning-Mullis, curator of history and decorative arts at the Owens-Thomas House. “This is not a story being told elsewhere in Savannah right now.”
The 10,000-square-foot home was built with indoor plumbing on all three levels, with sinks, marble bathtubs, showers and flush water closets.
The first floor of the house, where the service personnel would have worked, is a raised basement, meaning it is partially below ground. The main entrance to the home brings visitors up to the second level via a grand staircase. The carriage house stored horses, carriages and a hay loft on one side and two levels of slave quarters on the other. There were between eight and 14 enslaved people at any given time.
“All of the grand homes in the city housed people who were enslaved,” said Browning-Mullis. “They ran the house, raised the children and cooked the food. If you want an honest history of how people lived at the time, you have to go somewhere that tells the story.”
Groups of 16 people are allowed to take guided tours of the home. Larger groups must be split up.
Built in 1834, Liberty Hall was the home of Alexander Stephens, former vice president of the Confederate States of America and a governor of Georgia. The home, which sits inside A.H. Stephens State Park, has been restored to its 1875 grandeur and features a collection of antique furniture and artwork that belonged to Stephens.
The house was one of the first in Georgia to use a Springfield Gas Machine to light its lamps. It also has a wine cellar and an extensive library. Stephens “spent most of his time in the library,” said Andre McLendon, park manager. “He was a lawyer, and he loved to read.”
The home has four bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. All its ceilings are 12 feet tall and are painted light blue.
“During that time period, they thought painting ceilings that color would make people feel cooler,” he said. The walls are painted in bright colors.
The back porch, where the library is located, is one of the coolest spots in the house during hot summers, and Stephens spent a lot of time back there reading. He was a bachelor. There are slave quarters in the backyard.
Groups can take a guided tour of the home and some of its oddities with the park historian. The park also has a Civil War museum that holds artifacts that were owned by Stephens, including muskets and a chair built out of gunstocks.
Little White House
The Little White House was built by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Warm Springs in 1932. The president, who suffered from polio, was always on the hunt for a cure for his disease. He came to Warm Springs in the 1920s hoping the warm mineral water would have healing properties.
“It didn’t cure him, but he found it very therapeutic. It did help him,” said Ashley Aultman, interpreter ranger at the Little White House. He liked it so much he bought the springs property in 1926 and helped found the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, a treatment center for polio patients.
Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, stayed in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage they built on the property 41 times between 1932 and April 12, 1945, when he died at the site.
The home includes its original furnishings, and the inside is set up like it was at the time of Roosevelt’s death. The 1930s kitchen has its original utensils, ice box, and pots and pans. The home also includes an unfinished portrait of Roosevelt that was being painted when he passed away.
A museum on the property displays personal items and gifts that were given to the Roosevelts over the years and includes a 12-minute film about Eleanor Roosevelt narrated by Walter Cronkite. Groups can take a self-guided tour of the site or arrange a ranger-guided tour at a discount.