Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blueprints for the Butler Mansion: The Governor's Mansion

Today brings our second historical house to compete for the honor of most closely resembling the Butler Mansion.  Candidate number two, come on down! 

 Image from ATLhistory.com
                               Name: John H. James residence
                               Built: 1869
                               Demolished: 1923
                               Location: intersection of Peachtree and Cain streets

Better known for its role as the governor's mansion, the James residence is likely the most familiar contestant of the three to windies, as it's mentioned in direct relation to Scarlett's architectural horror fanciful abode in Chapter XLIX of Gone with the Wind
"...when finished, it would be larger and finer looking than any other house in town.  It would be even more imposing than the near-by James residence which had just been purchased for the official mansion of Governor Bullock."
But enough GWTW quoting (yes, we love our quotes here). Follow me over the jump to find the history of the James house and its unique qualifications in the Butler Mansion resemblance sweepstakes.

The most expensive house built in Atlanta up until that point, the mansion was designed by architect W.H. Perkins for the fabulously wealthy banker (and future mayor of Atlanta) John H. James in 1869. With a price tag of $63,000, the  red brick home boasted three stories set on one and a half acres, along with several other ritzy amenities: 
"The ornate structure was generously endowed with balconies and dormer windows, and had a 60-foot tower. 'Magnificent' brick stables, sweeping green lawns, sparkling fountains, and a large carriage house completed the extensive establishment. The frame cottage which had previously stood on the site was moved back to the Spring Street frontage for use as a servants' house. An iron fence surrounded the entire property."  
--excerpted from Peachtree Street, Atlanta
Oh, and just for good measure, it also sported a greenhouse. And that's in addition to the house's ballroom and "jigsaw work on banisters and eaves" as described in GWTW. You can find plenty more pictures of the grandeur that was the Governor's Mansion at Atlanta History Center (here, here, here, and here) and ATLhistory.com.

Mr. James also shared Scarlett's love of showing off his house/throwing an elaborate party. He celebrated Christmas Eve 1869 with a large gathering at the "the finest residence in Georgia" that was open to all Atlantans. But after less than a year, he sold his lavish home to the state for use as the Governor's Mansion, home first to Governor Rufus Bullock and then 16 other governors before it was leveled in 1923 to make way for the Henry Grady Hotel.

All told, the Governor's Mansion brings a lot to the table as a contestant. It was built the year after Rhett and Scarlett's marriage and was located virtually in their backyard- the Governor's mansion was literally right next door to the Leyden house, which we know was near the Butler place. (In the aerial shot from our Leyden post, you can see the Governor's Mansion peeking out just to the right.)  Like Scarlett's house with its many turrets, towers, cupolas, etc., the Governor's Mansion also showcased a veritable hodge podge of styles, featuring "Italianate details, a Dutch gable, and hints of both the Gothic and Romanesque Revivals." And, of course, MM herself weaves critical mention of it into GWTW when describing the Butler Mansion.

Its drawbacks? There's no mention of the mysterious Swiss chalet style in relation to its design. And the house also doesn't have a wrap-around veranda. Smaller points, perhaps, but still something to note. 

So now you've seen two houses and it's one more to go.  Thoughts at 66.6667% through the competition?


  1. This house does have the "red stone and grey shingles" that MM describes. It kind of looks like the movie version of the mansion; I wonder if that's where they got their inspiration?

    I think, in relation to the "Swiss Chalet," MM may have simply been referring to the wood scroll work, because I don't really see how a massive stone mansion could have resembled a swiss chalet without looking down-right hideous. I mean, I'm sure the Butler mansion was gaudy, but even Scarlett had some modicum of taste.

  2. There were a few styles in the late Victorian age that had chalet elements, though I think the style itself targeted either very large buildings, like hotels, or smaller houses and cottages.

    I think the style that comes the closest is the Stick Style, that was becoming more popular precisely at the time Scarlett was building her mansion. We'll have a post covering that style at one point.

  3. I can post now! :) I just will never understand what Scarlett was thinking...wanting a house that looked like this...

  4. Picture #2 with snow on the ground (at least a few inches, enough to cover the grass)! The third floor doesn't really look like it could be a giant ballroom. In other respects, it seems to fit the description. I can imagine this house as the setting for The Visitor!

  5. Andrew, that was one of my first thoughts too- that the governor's mansion looked very similar to the house in the movie. A simple coincidence or just more evidence of Selznick's meticulous attention to detail?

  6. Iso, I would say definitely the latter!

  7. @ Iris. Well, "The mansion had a ballroom, but it looked like a billiard table compared with the enormous room that covered the entire third floor of Scarlett's house." It also lacks the veranda encircling the entire house. But it does have a more imposing mansion-y air, that the first house lacked, IMO. Plus that it makes me yearn for The Visitor.

    I love the picture with the snow! The mansion itself looks almost like it's made of candy there.

  8. Bugsie, you know that's the exact house I had in mind in The Visitor. I imagine the interiors looking more like the mansion where I give tours, though. :)



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