Visiting battlefields on the Ohio History Connection's tour was an exceptional way to immerse myself in Civil War history, but there's nothing like an hour in a historic house museum to indulge my fondness for domestic architecture and the decorative arts. I got my fix at the old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville, Georgia.
Northeast of the city of Macon, Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia from 1804 to 1868. The planned city that was modeled after Savannah and Washington, D.C. was named for John Milledge, governor of Georgia from 1802 to 1806. The cotton that grew in the surrounding countryside made Milledgeville a prosperous city where elegant Federal-style houses and a Gothic Revival statehouse lined the streets.
One of those breathtaking buildings was the Governor's Mansion. Built of pink stucco and bricks that were made on site, the home was completed in 1839 and was the official residence of eight Georgia governors until 1868. Today, it is considered one of the finest examples of High Greek Revival architecture in the nation.
From 2001 to 2005, the home was restored to its original floor plan and appearance of its grounds and exterior. A detailed room inventory from the period that was found during research conducted on the building guided the choice of textiles, furnishings and interior colors. Now it is an accredited historic house museum that illustrates the history of the site and its inhabitants during the years it was the official governor's residence.
Four artists recreated the original pattern of hand-painted floorcloths in the foyer and rotunda.Old Governor's Mansion, Milledgeville, Georgia
Running the length of the house, the salon/reception room was modeled after the East Room of the White House....
...while balls and other fancy-dress events were held in the state dining room.
Underneath the acanthus leaf ceiling medallion of the first-floor parlor, a two-seated tete-a-tete sofa with a separating armrest is reminiscent of how courting couples of the period respectably indulged in private conversations.
Fancy transparent window shades painted with different courting scenes from Godey's Lady's Book are in keeping with the style of the period. An outline of the design was traced, stenciled or pounced onto fine-textured, sized muslin before the transparency was painted.
The upstairs bedrooms are furnished with Staffordshire ceramic cats from the period, a crazy quilt that First Lady Elizabeth Grisham Brown made from scraps of ball gowns, and the octagon-shaped shaving mirror that Governor Joseph E. Brown was using when he was arrested by Union forces during the Civil War.
The mansion's dining room may be its most historic space. On November 22, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman and 30,000 Union troops marched into Milledgeville on their March to the Sea. The next day, Sherman claimed the house as a prize, made the mansion his headquarters and slept in the unfurnished dining room.
After the Civil War, Atlanta became Georgia's capital city, and the Milledgeville Governor's Mansion was abandoned. During the next several years, it was used as a boarding house and a temporary courthouse. In 1889, it was turned over to the Georgia Normal & Industrial College, now known as Georgia College & State University, for use as a dormitory and as a home to the school's presidents.
If you'd like to learn more, see The Old Governor's Mansion: Georgia's First Executive Residence, by James C. Turner, with contributors Matthew S. Davis and Travis Byrd.