By Alicia B. Hill
At the center of McLendon Circle, at the end of Ben Hill St., sits a beautiful antebellum home framed between two magnolia trees as old as the house itself. Bellevue is one of LaGrange’s most notable historic homes, thanks to its rich history as the home of Sen. Benjamin Harvey Hill. Hill ran a successful law practice in LaGrange, was a U.S. Senator both before and after the Civil War, and was a senator for the Confederacy during the war.
“This is the second house on this property,” Woman’s Club member Betty Johnson said. “The original property was owned by a Gen. (Hugh) Haralson. His home, Myrtle Hill, burned. In 1852, Benjamin Harvey Hill bought the property and had this house built.”
Bellevue was constructed with the help of Architect Franklin Nelson Tyler, Burke Littleton and slave artisans on a hilltop facing Broad Street. At the time of Bellevue’s construction, the property extended all the way up to Broad Street. A juniper-lined carriage way leading roughly along the same path that is now Ben Hill Street created a magnificent entryway for the house.
Hill and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth Holt Hill, moved into the Greek Revival style home upon its completion in 1855 and held numerous parties at the home.
“The house originally had a flat roof, and you could go up to the top of the house,” Johnson said. “Senator Hill would take people up to the top of the house where they could see his entire 1200-acre plantation. It was a beautiful view. This is how the name Bellevue came about.”
Hill was one of the leading voices of moderation in pre-Civil War Georgia, according to the Georgia Encyclopedia. When Abraham Lincoln was elected, Hill made an appeal to the southern states to hold off on succession to see what kind of leader Lincoln would be. Nevertheless, Georgia declared its secession from the Union in January 1860.
“He was opposed to secession, but voted for it because his constituents wanted him to vote for it,” Johnson said. “I tell people, usually you hear politicians saying one thing and doing another thing, and you think well, aren’t they wishy-washy. Hill did the same thing, but he did it for the right reason.”
“He was really truly representing his constituents. Because of that and since he was a senator for the State of Georgia when Georgia succeeded, he became a senator for the Confederate States of America.” Johnson continued. “As such, Hill threw himself behind the cause. He entertained Jefferson Davis and all of the major generals at Bellevue. There was a lot of fundraising for the Civil War at the house too.”
At the end of the war, Hill returned to Bellevue, where he was arrested in May 1865. He was imprisoned in New York through July 1865. Upon his return to Georgia, he re-entered politics and backed President Andrew Johnson’s plan to bring the south back into the Union. When Hill and his family moved to Athens in 1867, Judge Jesse McLendon purchased the home. Bellevue was passed down through the McLendon family until it was purchased by the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation, which presented the home to the LaGrange Woman’s Club in 1942.
“My mother and I are both former presidents of the Woman’s Club. When Mrs. Callaway purchased the home and gave it to the LaGrange Woman’s Club, the Junior Woman’s Club was told that they were the ones to be in charge of raising money for restoration. Of course, when World War II came along, that cause had to wait until after the war,” Johnson said.
In the 1950s, the Woman’s Club began the first renovations on the home. These focused heavily on efforts to make the space livable again and to stabilize the foundation.
“The house had been cut up for apartments and all sorts of things, it was not in very good shape at all.” Johnson said. “When I came, the porch was listing one way, the steps another way, and there were holes everywhere. The shutters were folded across all of the windows and held in place by a two-by-four nailed from top to bottom.”
About the same time, the club was able to purchase period appropriate furniture for the home with the help of a grant from the Callaway Foundation.
The home is now furnished in the style of the 1850s with furniture that the club purchased at auctions. A half-tester bed and donated or recovered pieces, such as a piano that was found in the basement and believed to have belonged to the McLendon family, are examples of the furniture that adorns the house today. In 1972, the LaGrange Woman’s Charitable Trust was established for the purpose of preserving and maintaining the home.
Bellevue has undergone several changes under the Woman’s Club. The wooden porch was replaced with a brick porch. A kitchen and bathroom were added. And the existing warning kitchen was connected to the home to maintain the symmetry of the structure that defines its Greek Revival style architecture. Given its size and age, the home requires constant upkeep. . In 1972, the LaGrange Woman’s Charitable Trust was established for the purpose of maintaining the home and preserving this piece of local history.
Bellevue is an antebellum home that is on the national historic registry. It is located at 204 Ben Hill Street in LaGrange. To learn more about Bellevue or to schedule a tour call 706-884-1832.