Many tourists come to see the Mercer-Williams House Museum (429 Bull St., 912/236-6352, www.mercerhouse.com , Mon.–Sat. 10:30 a.m.–3:40 p.m., Sun. 12:30–4 p.m., $12.50 adults, $8 students). While locals never begrudge the business Savannah ’s enjoyed since “The Book,” it’s a shame that this grand John Norris building is now primarily known as a crime scene involving antiques dealer Jim Williams and his lover. Therefore it might come as no surprise that if you take a tour of the home, you might hear less about “The Book” than you may have expected.
Now proudly owned by Jim Williams’ sister Dorothy Kingery, an established academic in her own right, the Mercer-Williams House deliberately concentrates on the early history of the home and her brother’s prodigious talent as a collector and conservator of fine art and antiques.
That said, Dr. Kingery’s mama didn’t raise no fool, as we say down here. The house was known to generations of Savannahians as simply the Mercer House until Midnight took off, at which time the eponymous nod to the late Mr. Williams was added.
Built for General Hugh W. Mercer, Johnny Mercer’s great-grandfather, in 1860, the war interrupted construction. General Mercer—descendant of the Revolutionary War general and George Washington’s close friend Hugh Mercer—survived the war, in which he was charged with the defense of Savannah . But he soon fell into hard times and was forced to sell the house to John Wilder, who moved in after completion in 1868. (Just so you know, and despite what any tour guide might tell you, the great Johnny Mercer himself never lived in the house. Technically, no member of his family ever did, either.)
Tours of the home’s main four rooms begin in the carriage house to the rear of the mansion. They’re worth it for art aficionados even though the upstairs, Dr. Kingery’s residence, is off-limits. Be forewarned that if you’re coming just to see things about the book or movie, you might be disappointed.