A Unique Historic Home in Georgia inspired by Oscar Wilde

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

This impressive mansion was once the jewel of Madison, Georgia- inspired by the American Aesthetic Movement. But after a devastating fire, the building fell into a sad state and many were concerned that this one-of-a-kind home would be lost. So when I visited it in 2017, the home was in limbo-but a lot has changed since then and work is underway to restore ‘Madison’s Masterpiece On Main.’

Madison, Georgia

Established in 1809, the town of Madison is the largest town and the county seat of Morgan County, Georgia 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 Georgia Female Academy

One of these schools was the Georgia Female Academy in Madison which was established by an act of the Georgia legislature on January 17, 1850. It was one of the first chartered female academies in the state of Georgia and among the earliest women’s colleges in the country. 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 status, so when the main building burned in 1880, the college was disbanded.

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

Legare H. Foster

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

Foster, who was only 23 at the time, had inherited a fortune and decided to build a home that celebrated the then-burgeoning American Aesthetic Movement that was en vogue during the era. Foster had attended a lecture on the ‘House Beautiful’ given by Oscar Wilde in nearby Atlanta in 1882 and was reportedly inspired by what he learned. 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.

Construction Of The Home

Described at one point as “perhaps the most elegant country home in Middle Georgia,” the plans for this home were designed and drawn by Daniel Townes, a master carpenter from Madison. Townes also constructed the house which, according to The Madisonian newspaper, 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. 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.

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The 5,000 square foot house features elements of Queen Anne, Italianate, and Gothic Revival styles, with original frescoes and gold-plated 14ft-high ceilings, fabulous bay windows, and eight magnificent fireplaces that adorn each of the eight main rooms. The first floor features extensive wood carvings and black walnut built-in cabinets, stenciled ceilings, and walnut and ash wainscoting. The downstairs pocket doors open to reveal the library.

The Thomson Family

In 1890, Legare Foster was forced to sell the house, at which point, it 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 were added. It was also the first house in Madison County to have a gasification system.

1970s-Today

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 portion 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 listing it for sale in 2015 for $459,000. By 2017 when I visited, the house was off the market and in dire need of stabilization.

View from the upstairs landing showing damage to the walls and ceiling. Image courtesy of Lori Adams.
View showing fire damage from 2001. Note the wainscoting below the chair rail and the hand-crafted cabinet. Image courtesy of Lori Adams.
View of more damage to the interior of the home from the fire in 2001. Image courtesy of Lori Adams.

2022 Update on The Foster-Thomason-Miller House

In 2018, the Foster-Thomason-Miller House and property were listed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” until the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, a local non-profit, stepped up. With the mission to protect local historical sites, the Madison-Morgan Conservancy bought the house and stabilized it while they waited for a buyer. In July of 2019, Elizabeth and David Minnix from Atlanta purchased the home and as it turns out they have their own connection to the property: 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 their family’s heritage, making Madison’s Masterpiece on Main the perfect acquisition for them. In 2021, extensive work began and since then, the progress has been outstanding as you can see from the images below.

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A follower on Facebook sent me this image, taken in 2021 of the work underway at the Foster-Thomason-Miller-Minnix House in Madison, GA.
This image, taken in Summer 2022, shows the extensive work and progress being made at the Foster-Thomason-Miller-Minnix House. This image is courtesy of Sandra Hall, Director of The Madison-Morgan Conservancy.

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


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13 thoughts on “A Unique Historic Home in Georgia inspired by Oscar Wilde”

  1. What a beautiful home. I looked at the interior photos thru the link you provided. I am glad it’s going to be restored by a couple with an eye towards history. Love those original light fixtures in each room!!

  2. Charles Randy Smith

    Saw this house ,up close today ,hoping to help out Mr.Crowe,in some way on his window restoration, great house,will be gorgeous again!

  3. I purchased a Victorian home in central Georgia in 2013. The home was built in 1890. It had been empty for sometime and had suffered a lot of water damage due to leaking roof. My plan has been to restore it when I retired from work. I retired about a year ago and can not secure financing to support work due to condition of house. It is a little over 4,000sf, 4 bedrooms (2 of them have a back parlor with double fire place), living room, dining room, den, 4 full baths, 3 additional fireplaces, rear stairs to kitchen. Would appreciate any recommendations for getting renovation started. carolyn.mitchell01@yahoo.com.

  4. I would love to know more about the Minnix family who purchased the house! This is my maiden name. It would be interesting to see where our family lines potentially cross!

  5. Error in your article. Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia is the oldest chartered Woman’s College, 1836. It is still going today.

  6. Makes my heart sing to read this. In th village where I grew up, due to the “Green Climate” all of the historical houses were torn own, In Marietta, Ga. the incredible Court house was torn down & replaced by a tall glass building…Its like the new schools built today, they took the smell of learning out. Thank you about the Madison , Ga home.

  7. Bravo for the Minnix family, the Conservancy, the Historic Preservation Group, and You for sharing this great news! Enjoyed seeing the blue prints too!
    Thank You!

  8. My G-G Grandfather was the principle of the Georgia Female College in Madison from 1870-1874. I never knew that it burned just a few years later, nor that this beautiful house was built on top of it, nor that it was designed by a different Townes. Interesting stuff

  9. I love to read about preservation of homes, buildings, anything! We have lost too much now. Thank you for writing about this beautiful home and those who are working to restore it. An inspiring piece.

  10. I remember passing this house randomly through the years while driving through Madison and always feeling some sort of connection to it. Seeing it here and the other pieces you’ve written on it makes my heart swell that it means so much to so many people. I’m very grateful you are sharing this with us.

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