The Mercer House is a restored historic home in Monterey Square in Savannah, Georgia, that was originally built between 1860 and 1868. The collection inside the home is from noted antiques dealer and restorer Jim Williams’ private collection and includes period furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, English and American portraits and drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and an extensive collection of export Chinese porcelain.
The Mercer-Williams House, as it is now known, was built in the Italianate style, which is an architectural style developed in Great Britain in the early 1800s and was fashionable in the United States between 1840 and 1890. An alternative to the Greek Revival and Gothic styles, the main features of the Italianate style are belvedere or campanile towers, low-pitched or flat roofs, eaves supported by ornate corbels, and decorative elements such as cornices and brackets. By the start of the Civil War, the Italianate style, or Tuscan Villa style as it was also known, was the most popular architectural style on the east coast of the United States, due to its suitability for a wide variety of materials and budgets.
History: Construction on the Mercer home began in 1860, with John S. Norris of New York City as the architect. The house was originally designed for General Hugh Weeden Mercer (1808–1877), who was a well-known figure in Savannah and a Confederate general during the US Civil War. Construction on the home was interrupted by the Civil War, and in 1864 the general was relieved of his duty due to illness and briefly left the city. As the war came to a close, he was imprisoned along with other Confederate leaders, and no Mercer would ever live in the home. The new owner, John Wilder, finished building the house in 1868.
During the 20th century, the home was used for a short period as the Savannah Shriners Alee Temple. The Mercer House was then left vacant for 10 years before it was purchased in 1969 by Jim Williams. Mr. Williams, considered one of Savannah’s original and most dedicated restorationists, restored the house over a 2-year period. Over the span of a 30-year career, Mr. Williams, a noted antiques dealer, saved and restored more than 50 homes throughout Savannah and the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina. Jim Williams may be remembered more however, as a defendant in four murder trials, all four for the same crime. After the 1981 shooting death of his assistant in the Mercer House, he was charged with murder and found not guilty at the fourth and final trial. In 1990, Mr. Williams died in the Mercer House at the age of 59 from pneumonia and heart failure, 6 months after the trial. The 1994 true crime novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was based on the murder and Williams’ trial. The book was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood in 1997.
The home was closed to the public for a number of years, used only as an event venue and to host fundraisers for local historical societies and charitable organizations. Today the home is owned by Jim Williams’ sister, Dorothy Kingery. Ms. Kingery holds a master’s degree in history and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Georgia and is currently a consultant with the Public Service Center at the Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, and a member of the Historic Savannah Foundation. The Mercer House has been her primary residence since 1990. In 2004 the Mercer House opened to the public as a museum.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Because the home continues to function as a private residence, tours to the public are limited to the first-floor rooms. Tickets may be purchased at the carriage house at the back of the property. The carriage house also functions as a store and was the shop from which Jim Williams ran his antiques business. Although many visitors are attracted to the home based on interest in the book, the movie, and the life of Jim Williams, tours are decidedly focused on the architecture of the home and the history of its artifacts and antiques.
What’s Nearby: Monterey Square, the site of the Mercer Williams House, was established in 1847 and of all Savannah’s squares is considered to be the most picturesque. Most all of the buildings are original to the square.
429 Bull Street, Savannah, GA 31401, Phone: 912-236-6352