History in towns: Madison, Georgia


It is probably the stately Greek revival columnar houses that are considered the most characteristic of antebellum Madison. Two especially handsome examples are the Martin-Weaver house on North Main Street (Fig. 8) and the house now called Heritage Hall on South Main Street (Fig. 7). Owned by Dr. Elijah Evans Jones, who had studied at the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and had settled in Madison about 1815, Heritage Hall is one of the most sophisticated houses in Madison. Its main entrance duplicates Plate 15 in Minard Lafever's Young Builder's General Instructor (1829).

Hilltop, which faces the Martin-Weaver house, is an attractive plain style house with classical features (Fig. 9) built in the 1830s by Samuel Shields for his daughter Julia (1809-1884) and her second husband, Thomas Jefferson Burney (1801-1876), a prominent lawyer, who were married in 1837. Two stories high and five bays wide, it is only one room deep. The well-proportioned portico was probably added sometime before 1850. Flush boards surround the entrance door while the rest of the house is clapboarded. The juxtaposition of simplicity and formality is most effective.

By the 1850s builders were introducing Italianate elements to the designs of many houses. While the structures were generally still two-story, five-bay boxes with classical entrances, now one-story ornamental verandas sometimes replaced the massive columns, and there was a proliferation of decorative brackets be­neath the eaves. The house on Dixie Avenue shown in Figure 10 is an excellent example. The journalist Medora Field Perkerson (1892-1960) related a local legend about the house. Until 1866 any property belonging to a woman in Georgia automatically became the possession of her husband. It seems that a lady who inherited the Dixie Avenue house imprudently married a compulsive gambler, and shortly after the wedding he lost the house in a weeklong poker game. According to Perkerson, this deplorable incident "was responsible for the introduction and passage of the Married Woman's Property Act in Georgia, which made it possible for a wife to own property in her own name."8

Another remarkable house exhibiting the Italianate influence is Boxwood, built by the planter Wilds B. Kolb in the early 1850s (Figs. 11a, 11b). The two facades are identical except for the entrances, the one facing the Old Post Road having a one-story classical porch and the one on Academy Street with a lacy Italianate veranda. The spaces between the two streets and the respective entrances are adorned with elaborate boxwood parterres that were probably created soon after the house was built.

Kolb was one of the wealthiest planters in the Georgia piedmont, and he could afford to furnish his house in lavish fashion. The parlor displayed a suite of rococo revival rosewood furniture upholstered in green and gold brocatelle. The matching draperies had gilt-metal cornices and gilt tiebacks trimmed with green glass flowers.9

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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