A Unique Historic Home in Georgia inspired by Oscar Wilde

Foster-Thomason-Miller-minnix House | Madison, GA | c. 1883

Established in 1809, the town of Madison is the seat and the largest town in Morgan County, about 25 miles outside Atlanta. The early town flourished as a stagecoach stop and an in-town residence for planters’ families. Principal streets were patriotically named for presidents and the community prided itself on its literary and philosophical societies and schools.

The Madison Collegiate Institute, founded in 1849, was one of the first women’s colleges in the country. The school’s main building, to the right, burned before 1880. The Baldwin Williford House to the left has been renovated and today serves as a private residence. Image c. 1855

From an original print in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the University of Georgia.

One of these schools was the Georgia Female Academy which was established by an act of the Georgia legislature on January 17, 1850; among the earliest women’s colleges in the country which was seated on 11 acres in the heart of Madison the first chartered female academy in the state of Georgia. After many successful years during which the College served as an important cultural marker in Madison, the school closed in 1862 and remained closed until the end of the Civil War in 1865. After it reopened, the school never regained its prewar status, so when the main building burned in 1880, the College was disbanded.

Around that time, Legare H. Foster purchased the rural 11-acre lot and spent 1882 and 83 building a 5,000 square foot mansion atop the foundation of the burned college.

Foster (aged 23) had inherited a fortune and decided to build a home that celebrated the then-burgeoning American Aesthetic Movement. Foster had attended a lecture on the ‘house beautiful’ given by Oscar Wilde in nearby Atlanta in 1882. Many of its abundant intricacies, from hand-carved wood and beaten brass to sunflower and lily motifs, can be plucked straight from Wilde’s lectures: Foster left virtually no surface unembellished.

The front door is made of black walnut and features glass etched with a Waterford pattern. The choice material of the wealthy at the time, walnut was also used for the stairway, sliding internal doors and entire hallway floor.

The house features elements of the Queen Anne, Italianate and Gothic Revival styles too, with original frescoed and gold plated 14ft-high ceilings, fabulous bay windows and eight magnificent fireplaces.

An article in the December 1, 1883 issue of The Madisonian newspaper (see link to the full text below) describes Foster’s newly constructed house as “perhaps the most elegant country home in Middle Georgia.”

Property Features

  • Approximately 5,000 sq. ft. 
  • 8 main rooms, each approximately 400 sq. ft. (20 ft. by 20 ft.)
  • 8 fireplaces with ornate mantels
  • 5 bedrooms
  • Master bedroom on the main floor
  • 2 full bathrooms
  • Elaborate period frescoed ceilings
  • Extensive wood carvings
  • Walnut and ash wainscoting

Madison mechanic (master carpenter) Daniel Townes drew the plans and was contacted to construct the house which, according to The Madisonian, would “be one of the most beautiful and costly residences ever built in this city”.  Townes’ “superior mechanical genius (would) for years be a monument to his skill and ingenuity.”

The article goes on to describe various unique architectural details and interior appointments of the house including bay windows; frescoes by “the artistic brushes of Sheridan Brothers, Atlanta”; walnut and ash wainscoting; and solid walnut sliding doors.

Each of the eight main rooms featured 14-foot ceilings and a fireplace. The first floor features black walnut built-in cabinets, stenciled ceilings, and wainscoting. The downstairs pocket doors open to reveal the library.

 

Legare Foster was forced to sell the house in 1890. It then passed to the Thomason family who owned it for the next 80+ years. They updated the color scheme throughout and repainted the exterior. In 1916, indoor plumbing and electricity was added. It was also the first house in Madison County to have a gasification system.

In 1978, the Millers purchased the mansion from Thomason descendants and immediately began restoring the house to its original glory. The meticulous restoration garnered awards and was recognized by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986. The Millers collected antique furnishings to recreate the American Aesthetic Movement interior. The house was the only home in Morgan County ever to win such an award.

In 2001, a fire significantly damaged the rear addition of the house. The central portion of the house suffered primarily smoke and water damage. But after the devastation of the 2001 fire, they sold it to Kansas entrepreneur Von Friesen, who left it empty before selling it to the conservancy in 2015 when the house was listed for sale for $459,000. By 2017, the house was off the market and in dire need of stabilization.

The Foster-Thomason-Miller House and property were listed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” list in 2018. In May 2018, the house and an adjacent empty lot were sold to the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, a local non-profit aiming to protect historical sites. The Conservancy stabilized the house until an Atlanta-based buyer stepped forward in July of 2019 for $449k. The new owners, Elizabeth and David Minnix Family, have history tied to the property as David’s great-great-grandmother received her diploma from the Georgia Female College that used to stand here.Elizabeth and David are both passionate about history, historic architecture, and about their family’s heritage, making Madison’s Masterpiece on Main the perfect acquisition for them. 

I was not able to photograph the interior but extensive photos of the property areavailable HERE:

Thanks to the Georgia Trust and Madison-Morgan Conservancy for contributing information for this story.

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