The People

The Johnston House

The Johnston-Felton House

Hay House

Sources of Information




On the way to the object of our early promenade, we came to the princely residence of Col. William B. Johnston just as the Sun, emerging from his watery bed, poured out his golden light upon it, and made the architecture look so airy and graceful, that we had to rub our eyes to convince ourself that we were not in the sweet land of dreams. It seemed to us that we were beholding the unfinished work of some munificent and graceful fairy, who had been compelled by the morn to leave off her task before she had given the finishing stroked in causing fragrant gardens and fascinating statues to arise from the earth . . . [a] splendid mansion, which can truly be called the palace of the South.

"Rambles through Macon," Macon Telegraph, 16 April 1860.



More than 130 years have passed since a Macon Telegraph reporter wrote that glowing account, but the Johnston-Felton-Hay House continues to impress. Known today simply as Hay House, this National Historic Landmark was home to three important Macon families from its construction in the late 1850s until the death of its last resident in 1962.

Designed in 1855 by the New York architectural firm of T. Thomas and Son, this magnificent Italian Renaissance Revival palazzo stands in marked contrast to the Greek Revival temples that proliferated in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and became the popular hallmark of antebellum architecture. The sheer size of the house is remarkable, encompassing 18,000 square feet of floor space on four floors and crowned with a cupola which takes the house to more than eighty feet high. The technological refinements of the Johnstons' house were almost without parallel in any other private residence in the antebellum South. With the labor of a number of servants, the Johnstons, Feltons, and Hays enjoyed a range of creature comforts that did not become commonplace for most Americans until well into the twentieth century. In 1860, the house had three bathrooms with hot and cold running water, gas lighting, central heat, a fifteen-room speaker-tube system, a large in-house kitchen, walk-in closets in the bedrooms, and an elaborate ventilation system. The house is astounding for its magnificent rooms, one encompassing twelve hundred square feet under a thirty-foot clerestory ceiling; the array of deeply molded woodwork, much of it grained in oak, walnut, and rosewood; rich plaster cornices and ceiling medallions; and original trompe l'oeil, marble paneling in the entrance hall that is simply incomparable.

The house would have been outstanding had it been built in New York or Philadelphia. That it was built in Macon, Georgia—“a rambling lazy out of the way place,” the English novelist William Makepeace Thackery wrote while visiting the Johnstons in 1855—makes it all the more impressive. Now owned and operated by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the house has been restored to reflect its history as a private residence from the 1860s to the 1960s. It is open daily for tours.