Our ‘Favorite Things’ series has continued to unearth hidden gems about some of the most beloved places in our beautiful small town. While we could never pick just one favorite, nothing quite embodies the spirit of our series like Heritage Hall. Magnificently placed on Main Street, Heritage Hall continues to inspire those who pass by with its grandeur and stateliness. This historic house museum, usually open every day of the week, offers a chance for visitors to step back in time as they enter through the giant wood door and are greeted in the parlor by local Madisonians, excited to share its ongoing story of preservation, perseverance and even a bit of peculiarity. As we all continue staying safe at home to help flatten the curve, we are pleased to share a few of these stories with you.
Built in 1811, Heritage Hall stands preserved like a time capsule to the 19th century. Until 1977, this Greek Revival mansion remained in the hands of private residents, while the home’s conservation is continued today by the Morgan County Historical Society. When you arrive, if you are not overwhelmed by the 14-foot ceilings on each floor, you will notice the attention to keeping this house historically accurate. Thanks to the donation of a local family whose own home – the Stokes McHenry Home – has housed their family here in Madison for eight generations, Heritage Hall was able to pick period furniture pieces from the family’s vast collection to share the true experience of what Madison’s high society homes and décor were like in the 1800s.
When you are walking by Heritage Hall, there is this indescribable feeling of timelessness in the design of the building. It is amazing to think that nearly 200 years ago there was a fascination with the art, architecture, philosophy and government of a culture more than 1,000 years prior that would inspire not only the democratic ideals of our founding fathers, but also the design of our nation’s Capitol Building as well as many of the homes of our nation’s most elite citizens. The ambitious nature of Heritage Hall lived on past its original construction in 1811 to the radical changes its owner, Dr. Jones, made to transform it in the 1840s or 1850s into the Greek Revival masterpiece you see today. And not just any white column mansion would do, Dr. Jones made sure only two of his home’s six columns displayed the unique square shape that sets Heritage Hall apart from the other Greek Revival homes seen about Madison. Even when a portion of the land the home sat on was sold in 1909 for the construction of the New Methodist Church, Heritage Hall continued to persevere. The house had to be lifted onto logs and moved 200 yards north, by horses and mules, to where it currently sits. On top of that daunting task, it also had to be turned 90 degrees to face the street. When the owners finally moved back into their home, the only problem reported was some minor damage to the ceiling. No matter how long it has been, you will feel that the spirit of perseverance is still found at the heart of Heritage Hall.
It’s no secret, this house has had its share of peculiar stories throughout its long history. Many guests who have toured the home have claimed to see unusual things happen. From the ghosts of past residents to the eerie sound of children laughing in the upstairs rooms, the home is host to numerous unexplained sightings and sounds. This seems to be reasonable to the Historical Society, who know of at least four to five people who took their last breaths in the home and have on display a beautifully intricate Victorian mourning wreath made of human hair to help commemorate such passing. The accounts that come from even those who tour the home makes this one of our favorite reasons to plan a visit. On your next visit, you can decide for yourself whether the stories are fact or fiction. Although, you never know what you may encounter on your next trip through Heritage Hall.
Find out more about Heritage Hall by exploring its website, http://mchistorical.com/