The six fluted Doric columns, the distinctive pilasters on the corners, the classical doorway with sidelights and transom, the cantilevered balcony, and the wide entablature at the cornice all combine to make the façade of this house, according to the respected Guide to the Architecture of Georgia, “one of the most fully realized examples of Greek Revival architecture in the state.” The house has not been open for tour in many years.
Felix Martin a local merchant built the house around 1850. Tradition is that Martin presented the home to his daughter who had married a Mr. Gibbs. The home remained in the hands of the Martin-Gibbs family for over thirty years.
In early 1887 the house came into the hands of Henry Walter Baldwin. Born in Buckhead in 1850, Walter Baldwin was educated in the local schools and furthered his learning by his own reading. After a short stint as a teacher in nearby counties, Baldwin studied law under Madison’s Joel A. Billups and was admitted to the bar in 1876. Drawing on connections and his stellar reputation, Baldwin acquired a position as a trusted aide to Congressman Alexander H. Stephens in Washington, D.C.
As a young college graduate Stephens taught school in Madison, but he quit scholastic life, went into law, and soon became a towering figure of mid-19thCentury Georgia politics. He served most famously as Vice President of the Confederacy. He also served in the House of Representatives both before and after the Civil War, but was twice thwarted in his efforts to become a U. S. Senator --the second time by Madison’s own Joshua Hill in 1868. Stephens died in 1883 just four months after being elected Governor.
Less than two weeks after his famous mentor’s death, Walter Baldwin married Alma Tharpe. Already well-known because of his time working with Stephens, Baldwin embarked on a long and distinguished local career as county solicitor, judge of the Morgan County Court, editor of the Madison Home Journalnewspaper, and chairman of the Madison School Board. Judge Baldwin purchased the Martin house in Jan. 1887 and resided there until he died at home in 1918. The Baldwins raised five children, and his family members retained the house until the 1950s.
“The public school building was largely his creation while he was on the Board.”
From the memorial tribute to Henry Walter Baldwin, Sr., by the Madison Bar Association; published in the Madisonian, Sept. 20, 1918. That grand and historic 1895 “public school building” that Baldwin spearheaded while he lived in this house and chaired the Madison School Board is now home to the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, sponsor of the Madison in May Tour of Homes.
During the late 1950s and 1960s the property went through a series of owners, and most of the land behind the house was sold for a subdivision. In the meantime, the house itself gradually fell into disrepair. One long-time Madisonian, who lived across the street, recalls seeing vagrants coming and going. Then in 1972 Wallace and Rose Ann Weaver purchased the house, moved from Atlanta, and undertook a massive rehabilitation project because they wanted to live and raise their family in the small town environment of Madison. After retiring from her medical practice, Dr. Rose Ann Weaver sold the home to Preston Snyder and Cindi Fetch in 2017.
Without extensive structural forensics it is difficult to pin down the exact architectural evolution of the house, but the best evidence comes from observations, the renovation plans of the Weaver’s architect, and 20thCentury research done by Martin family descendants. The front four rooms, central hall, and grand staircase are typical of ante-bellum two-over-two Greek revival houses. The two rooms on the right rear may have been part of the original structure in an L-shaped plan, or they possibly might have been added later in the 19thCentury. It is know for sure that the Baldwins constructed another extension further back on the right rear, and added an inside kitchen and covered porch on the left rear. This was the configuration at the time of the Weaver purchase.
The Weavers removed the extensions on the rear and converted the house into a four-over-four plan with a new hip roof to cover the entire structure with the goal, as Dr. Weaver recently expressed it, “to make it look like it had always been that way.” They stripped the walls down to the original wood frame, which remained in solid shape. The left rear became the new then-modern kitchen with a family room extending out from the rear and a bedroom above. They stabilized the foundation and modernized the electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. The elegant porte cochere, the circular drive, the swimming pool, the library paneling, the bar, and the re-located rear staircase all date to the forty-plus years of Weaver ownership. The most recent owners have reworked the fireplaces, significantly remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms, and refinished the floors, but they have retained the overall layout from the Weaver era.