Orange Hall History

Magnolia July 2013


Welcome to Orange Hall Mansion, the crown jewel of St. Marys, a very special destination in the heart of our town. Rising majestically beneath towering magnolias, this breathtaking Antebellum home boasts 9,500 square feet of space, 12 fireplaces, 11 previous owners, and the shining dream of a transformation we share with you today. 

For more than nine generations and through five wars, Orange Hall's greatness has inspired people from all walks of life. Since 1838, this glorious mansion has cast her spell on preachers and planters and civil war soldiers; on practitioners of medicine and law. The story of Orange Hall is complex and fascinating, filled with synchronicity. Did you know that her first three owners, Horace Pratt, builder (1838 - 1846), James Mongin Smith, wealthy plantation owner from South Carolina (1846 - 1854) and Francis M. Adams, St. Marys Mayor (1856 - 1866) were each graduates of Yale University?

When the great Civil War changed the face of St. Marys, Orange Hall was chosen as headquarters for the Ninth Main Volunteer Union Army led by Captain Higginson, his surgeon and 28 exhausted soldiers. Although they destroyed several surrounding structures during their stay in the mansion, Union forces made Orange Hall an exception, quietly choosing to protect this home. 

Records show us that after the War, Orange Hall was owned by a lengthy succession of investors including Elizabeth Ryals, Silas Fordham, J.L. Sweatt, Howard Becker, George Fryhofer, and Effie Townsend, whose daughter Faye Kelly sold it to The St. Marys Kraft (Gilman) Corporation in 1951. After a decade, the City of St. Marys purchased the property, and began the journey to restore this priceless legacy, to share it with generations of historians and dreamers. To share it with you. 

For more than 180 years, this mansion has captivated poets and painters, while gracefully eluding the ambitions of political candidates and civic planners. Whether as a luxurious residence or shelter for war torn soldiers, even while serving as a humble apartment building, or as a City Library for school children, Orange Hall has always embraced her community.

Graciously, she has entertained farmers, teachers, children and diplomats alike. Her spiraling staircase has known the touch of many hands.....some jeweled, some callused. Hundreds of voices echo in these walls, telling their stories in English, Spanish and French, while lifting up songs in Creole and musical Gullah-Geechee. This vibrant tapestry of lives is an intricate cultural design, recreating itself, developing and expanding a new horizon of education in a shared cultural renaissance. 

Created from the wealth and privilege of a Dominican sugar plantation, sustained by the passionate vision of a Presbyterian minister, interpreted through the hands of a Massachusetts master builder....Orange Hall was built to shelter and protect those within her walls in a very special way. Through good times and bad, she has kept her promise. Today we celebrate together a new beginning of this historic legacy. Welcome Home to Orange Hall, where the future informs the past!