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Categories: COMMUNITY & NEWS, OCT/NOV 2019

Hay Lore

Fine dining and luxurious hotels inspire Hay House style

By Wlliam Aultman, Hay House director of collections and programs, and Jonathan Poston, Hay House director

A recent gift of more than 300 documents by a Johnston descendant has shed greater knowledge of the family who built Hay House and its construction. Included in this donation were more letters written by William B. Johnston to his wife, Anne Tracy Johnston, from New York in 1855 while overseeing the architectural drawings for his new house. A fascinating find was the original masonry specifications for the building as drawn by the architects, T. Thomas and Son. 


The donation also included a printed menu dated Oct. 18, 1850, for the Gentlemen’s Ordinary (tea at 6 o’clock) at the Astor House hotel in New York City. The Astor House was considered one of America’s finest hotels at the time and was built to rival Boston’s Tremont House.


As the leading hotel in New York, the Astor House also provided some of the finest foods and wines available in its principal restaurant. Listed in the seven-course Gentleman’s Ordinary menu is a selection of more than 120 wines, consisting mostly of madeira, claret and sherry that cost $0.50 to $8 per bottle ($16 to $260 today) and more than 25 selections of cooked game birds.


William B. Johnston initially trained as a jeweler in New York and later made frequent trips from Macon back to the city as his wealth increased astronomically from his banking, utility and railroad interests. While in New York, Johnston frequently indulged his taste for the best in hotel accommodation.


Johnston’s correspondence indicates that he stayed at many fine establishments including the Astor House, the Metropolitan Hotel (his favorite), the St. Nicholas Hotel and the Fifth Avenue Hotel, designed by his architect, T. Thomas and Son. 


When the Johnstons took their Grand Tour in late 1851, their taste for the best accommodations is evident in their choices of hotels and dining, as well as their luxurious suite on board the transatlantic steamship, “The Pacific.”


Their long sojourn included stays at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, the Hotel des Etrangers in Naples and Hotel de Russie in Rome. Not only did they enjoy the refinements these hotels had to offer, they also equipped their new house with similar amenities, from gaslight and a large, well-equipped kitchen, to a speaker tube servant-call system and multiple bathrooms with hot and cold running water.


The beauty, majestic scale and technological advances inspired by great hotels of the 19th century make Hay House the outstanding site that it is today.


Hay Lore is an ongoing series about Hay House lore, traditions and history.