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Macon mansion still has a mission
With a storied history, a beloved house becomes an architectural gem for the entire community

Macon mansion still has a mission

With a storied history, a beloved house becomes an architectural gem for the entire community

By Hannah Jett Theus
Photography by Jave Bjorkman and Eric Robbins

A magnificent mansion in the middle of College Street has been home to memorable moments and movers and shakers in Macon’s history. Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in our city has an unique history of vegetable shortening, a Pulitzer Prize and modern-day medicine. Quite the combination. Only in Macon may you find such a page-turning gem with pages still to be written. The building has a story as tall as its staircase to tell.
The McCaw-Massee House at 619 College St. was constructed in 1901 for Macon Manufacturing Company President Wallace E. McCaw. He is credited with creating one of the South’s most cherished cooking counterparts, the one-and-only Crisco. In fact, it is rumored that the building’s brick design was a nod to the color of the vegetable shortening.
Nearly a decade later, businessman William Jordan Massee Sr. purchased the home while also investing his time and resources greatly in Macon. From his business expeditions and railway ownership to his travels and fine dining experiences, Massee Sr.’s personality was as large as the Massee Apartments he helped build.
As the story goes, Massee Sr. once met renowned playwright Tennessee Williams, who was friends with his son, Jordan Massee Jr., in the early 1940s. Williams was so inspired by Massee Sr.’s dynamic and commanding presence that he mirrored him in the Big Daddy character in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” Williams wrote the play, his personal favorite, while spending a great deal of time in Macon and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
Williams was always nostalgic about his time in Macon. “I’m sure I felt a poetry in Macon that was only there for a stranger tired of New York and perfectly willing to be annihilated and absorbed by the elements,” Williams is quoted as saying in “Tom, The Unknown Tennessee Williams” by Lyle Leverich.
In a new chapter, the home, which has been commonly referred to as “The Crisco House,” is up for sale more than a century after Massee Sr. bought it. Bridget and Michael Wright met as students at Mercer University’s School of Medicine and are architectural healers. With necessary renovations of the home beginning in the early 2000s by the previous owner, the 13 apartments that were homes for many over seven decades were removed and the family-style floorplan now mirrors the original.
Once a home with collapsed ceilings, a new roof radiates in what can also rightfully be considered The Wright House. The Wrights purchased the home in 2013 and the facelift included erasing extensive water damage, completing bathroom and kitchen renovations, as well as tiling and stabilizing the first floor.
“Of course, we also did major renovations to the front and back yards, fully restored the small house in the backyard and most recently added a speakeasy bar in the basement in homage to Michael’s family’s bar back in Donegal, Ireland – the McBrearty’s Bridge End Bar,” Bridget Wright said.
This wasn’t their first rodeo, either. The Wrights originally purchased the Pilot House, 244 College St., when they returned to Macon after their residency and fellowship, so they had experience with remarkable renovations. The Wrights never have taken the legacy and the importance of historic homes for granted.
“Here’s the thing about living in a historic house, you have to realize on some level that it belongs not just to you but to the entire community. You are only taking care of it for a period of time before it passes on to someone else,” she said. “We are proud to have returned this house to its splendor and most proud that it will continue to be an elegant fixture on College Street hopefully for decades – if not centuries – to come.”
The Wrights also installed all of the balustrades out of materials that will endure time and the Georgia sun, reset all the stones and made the house watertight – something the Massees would have surely been over the moon about.
“It seems like everyone in Macon has a story about this house,” Bridget Wright said. “These range from having lived there in college and hanging out on the rooftop, to dead possums in the grand staircase fireplace. We even had a friend tell us that her mother took her to the house when she was little to buy a gerbil from somebody. People seem to love this house and enjoy reminiscing their stories.”
The Wrights have opened up their home for numerous charitable and community events.
“This is a house that needs people. It feels better in some intangible way when things are going on – whether it’s large cocktail parties, small get togethers, hosting Mercer sports teams or functions for Historic Macon. One of the great blessings of this house is it makes it very easy to feel like you are a part of the community,” Michael Wright said.
The home received a 2020 Excellence in Rehabilitation Award from the Georgia Trust. It was a nod and heartfelt thank-you to the Wright family, who have taken this monumental Macon abode and left their own lasting legacy.
In reading “Accepted Fables,” Massee Jr.’s autobiography, which was later compiled and edited by Richard Jay Hutto, a particular quote was striking from 1919 in which Harry Stillwell Edwards wrote, “When you go down Cherry Street after dark, look up at the white lights that turn night into day and think of Jordan Massee. They are the stars in his service flag; they are the unwinking stars in his wonderful dream – come true.”
Shining under those lights today, Theatre Macon actors pay homage to Brick, Maggie and Big Daddy of a certain famous play rooted in Macon with the backdrop of an award-winning historic restoration masterpiece.

The legacy of Jordan Massee Jr.
For more than 100 years, the inhabitants of 619 College St. have possessed a wide range of gifts and talents. Jordan Massee Jr. (1914-2002) had the gift of admiration.
Because of this gift, he developed friendships with some of the leading luminaries of the 20th century – Truman Capote, Isak Dinesen, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Edith Sitwell and Gore Vidal, among many others. Massee rarely fawned over them, but he did understand them and how to bring out the best of their prodigious talents.
He never personally achieved literary or musical acclaim, but he had a deep and nuanced understanding of what greatness looked and sounded like. Massee’s gift for friendship brought two of his closest friends to Macon: Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers.
Williams lived in Macon in the summer of 1942 and spent a lot of time with the Massee family, where he first heard sayings like, “the richest land east of the Nile,” and, “cat on a hot tin roof,” which he later incorporated into his writings.
Massee’s father, Jordan Massee Sr., provided inspiration for the iconic character Big Daddy. Williams also met other memorable Maconites like Margaret Lewis Powell, who influenced the creation of the character Maggie the Cat.
The friendship I think Massee treasured most was with McCullers, his cousin. If you consult the index of Virginia Carr’s marvelous biography of McCullers, you’ll find Massee’s name mentioned more than anyone other than McCullers herself. Massee loved her deeply. He knew she was fragile though, and it was through his relationship with her that his greatest gift became most apparent.
Massee’s life should not be measured by the famous folk he knew and admired. His mind was extraordinary and he had an encyclopedic understanding of numerous subjects. He was also kind – though he could display a wicked wit.
Massee often lamented the loss of the balustrade at his family’s former home and would undoubtedly be thrilled to see the house has been returned to its former glory. I also feel certain that he would admire Bridget and Michael Wright for continuing his family’s tradition of enriching the life of this community by generously opening the doors of their wonderful home.
– Carey Pickard


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