Macon’s Hay House marks 50 years of open house

lfabian@macon.comJune 1, 2014 

The Sucros and the Ericksons turned to the Internet to find something to do Sunday.

An afternoon Hay House tour caught the attention of the military couples from Robins Air Force Base.

“A lot of times you go to a base, you don’t take time to see the sights,” Carl Sucro said. “I like how it’s a good example of Italian architecture in Macon.”

The mid-19th century red brick, Italian Renaissance Revival mansion on Georgia Avenue opened to the public in 1964.

The children of Parks Lee Hay Sr. decided their family home should be a private house museum 50 years ago.

Three years after the Johnston-Felton-Hay House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, ownership was transferred to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 1977.

Since then about $8 million dollars for restoration and maintenance has been raised through capital campaigns and grant requests.

The money funded paint historians to analyze and recreate the colorful palettes of yesteryear.

Stained-glass panels were restored in the dining room, a new roof and storm drain system also were installed over the years.

The bottom two floors have undergone massive restoration projects, but the next five years will focus on restoring the upper floor of bedrooms, said Jessica Thompson, the docent leading Sunday’s tour.

The story of the house and the three families who lived there is what drew Thompson to the job.

The history major from University of North Alabama began the tour by telling her guests about the Johnstons, Feltons and Hays who called the ornate place home.

Some of its furnishings date back to the four-year European honeymoon of William Butler Johnston and his wife, the former Ann Tracy.

Belongings of the Feltons and Hays also fill the spacious rooms.

“Wow,” said Danielle Erickson, as she walked into the dining room, which has been meticulously restored to the Johnston era from about 1870 to 1890.

The Johnston’s original Eastlake dining table and 14 chairs never left the home and also were restored.

Over the years, multiple coats of paint were removed to reveal faux marble painting in the entrance hall.

That restoration was the highlight of the tour for Erickson, who is originally from Chicago.

“When we first walked up the stairs into the entrance way, I thought what they did was amazing,” she said.

The age of the home is what drew Judy Rice, of Ellijay, to the tour while she was in Macon visiting a friend at John Wesley Villas.

As a self-proclaimed history buff, Rice took her friend’s advice to see the pre-Civil War time capsule of opulent accommodations.

“I have really enjoyed it,” Rice said at the end of the tour.

She particularly enjoyed the stained glass in the dining room.

Rice, the two couples and their toddlers opted for the regular tour, which is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors and military and $7 for students.

An extra $4 takes you to the “Top of the House,” which includes a trip up to the cupola and the panoramic view of Macon from the widow’s walk.

For $25, a “Behind the Scenes” tour takes you all through the house, including its wine cellar and other places only mentioned on the regular tour.

This summer, “Behind the Scenes” tours are offered at 10 a.m. on the following Saturdays: June 7 and 21, July 5 and 19, Aug. 16 and 30.

In two weeks, the Hay House opens its doors for free.

On Flag Day, June 14, a Hay Day 1890s Uncle Sam Party recreates a Felton bash during the patriotic flurry of the Spanish-American War.

Back 115 years ago, The Telegraph reported the gathering was “one of the most unique and delightful entertainments ever given in Macon.”

The house will be decorated in patriotic bunting and free tours, food, crafts will be available along with an inflatable playground for the children.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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