"The Magnolias" house
"The Magnolias" house, image circa 1920.
Cottage behind The Magnolias house
A late 1930s photo of the Presbyterian Church
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Stop Nine


Nestled between the Baptist and Presbyterian churches sits “The Magnolias.” As seen today this private home presents a fine specimen of the Queen Anne style house inside and out. At the core of the 1898 makeover, however, lies a two-room, central chimney house dating at least to 1839. Evidence of the original foundation, hand hewn timbers, and walls can be seen from the cellar today, and further indications were exposed during the current owners’ 1990s remodeling. The front part of the guest house in back was most likely the detached kitchen of the 1839 house.

The original owner was John Robson. In 1853 Dr. William Burr, a Philadelphia dentist who had recently moved to Madison, purchased the house. He made a small addition by attaching a dependency which probably served for a time as his dental office. Burr married the niece of Joshua Hill, Madison’s famous congressman, mayor, and U.S. senator. There is a widely told but unverified story that a tunnel existed from the cellar of the Pennsylvania Yankee dentist to the nearby Presbyterian Church (then pastored by a man also of northern background) that was used to hide runaway slaves.

Just up on the left, the stuccoed brick Presbyterian Church on South Main Street was completed in 1842 by the skilled mason Daniel Killian. The original charter had an interesting clause which forbade any portion of the purchased land to be used as a burying ground. It is of Greek Revival style architecture, with three entrance doors and squared belfry. The stained mahogany pews are divided down the center with a solid barrier originally separating the men, seated on one side, from the women, seated on the other. In one row of pews, there is a small opening cut in the barrier; the story is told that the family who sat there used the opening to pass their infant child back and forth between parents. The windows were originally of multi-paned clear glass. The current stained-glass windows were presented to the church by Miss Elizabeth Speed in memory of her family. The gallery over the vestibule was built for use by the enslaved of the members and was entered by way of a separate side door.

Probably the most famous elements of this congregation’s worship service are the communion service pieces consisting of a flagon, two goblets, and two plates. The entire set was taken by Union troops in November of 1864. When the pieces were discovered in Savannah, General Slocum had them returned to the church. These precious pieces of history are displayed at the Cultural Center museum (stop 11) but are returned to the church the first Sunday of each month for communion.

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