The legacy of Madison’s consummate tour guide, Hattie Mina Hicky, continues –
Madison has become famous for its beautiful, sprawling antebellum homes which stand like enormous sentinels guarding the memory and grandeur of the Old South. It is no wonder that crowds flock to these historic homes for tours year after year.
But what might not be so well remembered are the old “step-on tours” that were sort of a precursor to today’s elegant events, and the woman who 40 years ago saw the value in Madison’s architectural history.
Hattie Mina Reid Hicky was a Madisonian fixture from the 1970s to her death in 2012. Forty years ago, she was dressing in antebellum gowns and “stepping on” to Greyhound tour buses and sharing stories of Madison’s history through her company, Regal Tours. Today’s annual home tours are direct descendants of Hattie Mina’s step-on tours.
Pat Leming, the president of the Morgan County Historical Society, said she did not know Hattie Mina well, but recalled her early tours.
“Hattie Mina, what I remember about her the most, is that she would greet people on the steps of Heritage Hall dressed in full antebellum clothing,” Leming says. “She would dress up and tell stories about Madison. And through her tour company, called Regal Tours, she would hop on tour buses that came into town, and in her regalia, she would take them on tours through Madison. On these tours she would tell stories about the old homes in Madison.”
Hattie Mina’s son, Stratton Hicky, said his mother’s appreciation for Madison’s old homes really came about through a 30-year absence.
Hattie Mina and her husband Colonel Dan McHenry Hicky, known as “Laddie,” were both raised in Madison. Colonel Hicky served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, after which he and Hattie Mina were married. Colonel Hicky left the Army and joined the newly-formed Air Force after the war, and for the next three decades they lived away from Madison as Colonel Hicky’s assignments took them all over the world.
When Colonel Hicky retired and the couple returned to Madison in the early 1970s, Stratton says, folks had a lot of questions about the older homes in town, and Hattie Mina was able to rely on the stories she was told growing up in Madison to share some of the history of the town.
“When they came back to Madison in 1971, they wanted to get involved in the town. They joined the historical society, and a lot of people had questions about the town and its history,” says Stratton Hicky. “My mom did a lot of research into genealogy and the history of the town, and through that, and from growing up here and hearing stories when she was a little girl, she was able to answer people’s questions.”
The couple also did guided tours.
“My mom called them ‘step-on tours,’” Stratton recalls. “They worked with Gray Line Bus Tours back in the ’70s. They would lay out the agenda, whatever the group wanted to do. If they wanted shopping time or to see the homes, she would coordinate seeing one or two houses and the churches around town, a lunch at a local restaurant, and then they would go and see another house in the afternoon.”
Stratton says his father provided some of the stories, and Stratton – who now does tours of his family home – videoed his father giving a tour so he would be able to learn all the old stories himself.
“Whenever we had tours, my mother insisted that the docents wear appropriate Southern attire – big, full skirts with hoops and things like that,” Stratton says. “Mom was very insistent on that.”
Colonel Hicky and Hattie Mina printed up brochures for their guided tour business that they distributed at Georgia’s visitor centers.
Stratton, who is now retired from the Navy, lives and gives tours in the Stokes-McHenry home which has been in his family for seven generations, dating back to 1822. He says he relies on a transcript of his father’s tours to make sure he gets all the stories right.
Hattie Mina, though, left her knowledge of Madison’s old homes in a short book titled “As It Was Told To Me.” The book includes a map of Madison, black and white photos and short articles about some of the old homes around town, as well as recipes from the folks who owned the homes at the time.
“My father’s mother, back in the 1970s – I think it was getting ready for the Bicentennial – wrote a book called ‘Rambles Through Morgan County,’ and I think that inspired my mom to do something more specific about the homes in Madison,” Stratton recalls.
“As It Was Told To Me” can serve as a guide for walking tours, Stratton says, but one thing that makes it unique are the personal vignettes provided by Hattie Mina. For instance, in her description of one home, Hattie Mina recalls attending a “Gone With the Wind” party there in 1941.
“All guests dressed in antebellum costume and arrived by horse drawn conveyance,” Hattie Mina wrote. “For entertainment, guests attended a husking bee and danced a square dance ‘just as they used to do.’ I was 22 then and remember it well. I wore a peach colored cotton and my husband ‘to be’ wore a real Southern soldier’s uniform borrowed from a neighbor. Today that uniform is 125 years old and in the town museum.”
Stratton said the title of the book came from the fact that many of the stories come from the oral tradition and, in details great or small, might differ from the stories others told.
“We would always preface our tours and the things she did with, ‘As it was told to me,’” Stratton says.
As to exactly where Hattie Mina’s love of Madison and its history originated, Stratton believes it had to have come from growing up in Madison and then being gone for so long, living in places as far flung as Japan.
“I think it just came from growing up here, and then learning to appreciate Madison from afar later,” Stratton says.
In 2001 Colonel Hicky suffered a heart attack and had to give up the tours after open heart surgery. Colonel Hicky passed in 2010, and Hattie Mina in 2012.
“Boxwood was built for Wilds Kolb in 1850 by the same builder who built the house next door. The boxwood gardens around the house, designed by an English landscape architect, followed as soon as possible … There is Bohemian glass around the doors of both entrances. One pane has “A. Felts” scratched into the glass. We were told it was done by a Union soldier attached to a unit that occupied Madison in late 1865.”
- Page 42, ‘As It Was Told To Me,’ by Hattie Mina Hicky
“When Union soldiers invaded and occupied Madison in late 1865, it is said the soldiers stacked their cannons in the yard and decorated their cannons with garland of roses from the garden.”
- Page 56, ‘As It Was Told To Me,’ by Hattie Mina Hicky
“U.S. Senator Joshua Hill and his bride, Emily Reid, were early owners of this home built by John Colbert in 1842. Hill became probably the most honored of all Madison residents. He lived here before and after ‘The War.’ As the story goes, Senator Hill, who did not approve of secession, was a U.S. Senator when Georgia decided to secede from the Union. He did not approve so he resigned his seat rather than vote against the wishes of his constituents. Because of this, Madison chose him to go and meet with General Sherman and entreat him to spare the homes in Madison. The meeting resulted in a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between the two men. No homes would be destroyed, but anything that rendered support or supplies to the confederate cause would be destroyed. If followed, therefore, that the cotton gin, cloth factory, railroad station, etc. were burned, but the homes were spared and remain to reflect the history and romance of an era long past.”
- Page 70, ‘As It Was Told To Me,’ by Hattie Mina Hicky
“Going southeast out Washington Street and past ‘Horse Ranch,’ the road changes names to Bethany Road and we eventually find ‘The Oaks.’ When it was built in the early 1830s, it was a working plantation, and the house was typical of the old south … This home has seen good times and bad. Let us turn back the clock to the last weeks of the Civil War. We know General Slocum’s Union troops marched past this home as they left Madison that sad December of 1865. The troops had been ordered by General Sherman to join him for the advance on Savannah. Sherman had state earlier he would give Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas present, and he did. Savannah surrendered quietly without a fight.”
- Page 28, ‘As It Was Told To Me,’ by Hattie Mina Hicky
– Written by Rob Peecher