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For those who enjoy history and exquisite architecture, the Mercer-Williams House is a must see. After a century of prominent residents, the house was purchased by famed Savannah preservationist Jim Williams. Williams spent two years restoring the Mercer House and today guests can take tours to experience its sophisticated charm. Furniture and art from William’s private collection are on display including 18th and 19th century portraits, drawings and a collection of Chinese porcelain.
The Mercer-Williams House Museum is an opulent Italianate Villa-style mansion located in Monterey Square. Originally constructed for General Hugh Mercer, great-grandfather of the famed lyricist Johnny Mercer, the home was purchased in 1969 by Jim Williams who painstakingly restored the elegant mansion. The residence became world famous as the scene of the murder described in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The home is currently owned by Williams’ sister and is open for public tours. Tastefully decorated with ornate 18th- and 19th-century antique furnishings, the museum collection also includes Chinese porcelain as well as English and American paintings dating from the 1700s.
The House’s History
Construction of the redbrick home designed by famed New York architect John Norris began in 1860, but the project was delayed because of the Civil War. Union soldiers used materials from the construction site to build shelters in Monterey Square during their occupation of Savannah. After the war, General Mercer sold the home to John Wilder who completed the construction in 1869. The mansion features an intricate ironwork balcony and tall, arched windows. The home later served as the Savannah Shriners Alee Temple. Noted for his pioneering restoration and preservation work, Williams purchased the house after it had languished for more than a decade. The renovation project took two years.
Williams was accused of shooting his assistant Danny Hansford inside the home in 1981. He was finally acquitted eight years later after four trials. In addition to the death recounted in the 1994 best-seller by John Berendt, the home was the scene of two other earlier tragedies. In 1913, a previous owner fell over a banister on the second floor suffering a broken hip and a concussion. He died three days later. Also, a young boy fell from the roof while following pigeons in 1969. He was impaled on the wrought iron fence below.
The first floor of the Mercer-Williams House Museum is open daily for public tours. The hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. On Sunday, the tours are given from noon until 4 p.m. Please note, the home is not fully accessible for those with physical disabilities. The Carriage House Shop is located next door.
On-street parking is available near the museum. For those aboard the Old Town Trolley, hop off at Madison Square.
Things to Do Nearby
Named for the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War, Monterey Square was laid out in 1847. The park’s centerpiece is an 1853 monument honoring Revolutionary War hero General Casimir Pulaski designed by Robert Launitz. Topped by a statue of Lady Liberty, the 55-foot-tall monument is made from Italian marble. It features a bronze bas-relief of a mounted Pulaski at the moment of his death as he rallied his cavalry forces during the Siege of Savannah.
The 30-acre Forsyth Park was created in the 1840s. It contains a variety of monuments and memorials as well as a large fountain similar to the one adorning the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The park also features a children’s play area, walking paths and fragrant gardens. Forsyth Park hosts a weekly farmers market as well as outdoor movies and concerts.
Construction of the French Gothic-style Cathedral of St. John the Baptist began in 1873. The house of worship was completed 23 years later. The oldest Catholic church in Georgia, it was designed by Baldwin and Price. The building features bronze-colored iron columns, double-barrel vault arches and stained glass windows imported from Tyrol, Austria.
Also designed by John Norris, the Andrew Low House was built in 1849. The Italian Villa-style home features Grecian architectural details, a stunning ironwork balcony and a shuttered piazza overlooking a brick-walled garden. Boasting intricately carved woodwork and plaster cornices, the edifice was once the residence of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA.