Builder of the Hay House.
William Butler Johnston was no typical nineteenth-century Southerner. He obtained his substantial wealth through investments in banking, railroads and public utilities rather than from the agrarian cotton economy.
He was born November 19, 1809 in Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia, and died October 20, 1887 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia. He married Ann Clarke Tracy August 2, 1851 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, daughter of Edward Tracy and Susan Campbell. She was born 1829 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, and died 1896 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.
William Butler Johnston, began building a 24 room Italian Renaissance villa in 1855. It took five years to complete. Built for his young bride, Ann Tracy, it was filled with art treasures purchased in Europe while on their honeymoon. He could well afford such a mansion. His father, recognizing his mechanical ability, sent him to New York City about 1829 where he spent a year in apprenticeship with the watchmakers Benedict and Company. Arriving in Macon in 1832, he began making his fortune in the wholesale jewelry business with his younger brother, Edmund. The brothers furnished swords to the US Government during the Creek wars of the 1830's and the Mexican War in 1846-47. He then branched into other enterprises such as banking, railroads, and insurance.
The first tragedy struck while they were still in Europe; their first child, Francis Campbell, died while they were in Paris a short time after his birth. In 1855 their second child, Susan Mary died before her first birthday. Their next two children, William Butler, Jr. And Edward Tracy, also died during their infancy. Shocked and grieved, Ann seldom left her bedroom.
Joyfully, a daughter, their fifth child, did survive. However, even this happy occasion was tempered by the death of Ann's younger sister, and then, her brother. The child was named in honor of her sister, Caroline. A sixth child, Mary Ellen, also survived. William and Ann raised their two children as well as her sister's son and the two children of her deceased brother.
Although the house was now filled with the laughter of loved and cherished children, Ann continued to grieve for her lost babies and wore black throughout the rest of her life.
Now called the "Hay House," it is open for tours. It is located at 934 Georgia Avenue, Macon, Georgia 31201. Directions to the house from I-75 to I-16 East, exit at Spring Street, turn right, and go 2 1/2 blocks to Georgia Avenue. Local historian, Tommy H. Jones, has written a number of excellent booklets regarding the Johnstons of Macon which may be purchased at the house.
Anne Clark Tracy Johnston
1829–1896 (m. 1851)