Savannah Stories and Tips

Square Roots

The ship "Anne", commandeered by General James Edward Oglethorpe of England, landed at a natural port on the Savannah River in February of 1733. Oglethorpe and his 120 passengers had landed at a spot later known as Savannah in a new English territory named Georgia in honor of their king, George II of England.

Through the help and goodwill of a local Yammacraw chief named Tomo-chi-chi, the first Savannahians lived in peace and prosperity. Oglethorpe was able to develop trade and quickly went about planning the urban structure of his fledgling city.

Oglethorpe stuck to a traditional idea - the grid pattern - but added his own original twist - the inclusion of twenty-four shaded and green squares place symmetrically throught the city blocks. While this design is aesthetically pleasing, historians have since learned that this street and block scheme was developed to protect Savannah from enemy attack. The blocks were separate and defensible units of land.

Oglethorpe made the grand plan, but only was able to build six squares during his time (Johnson, Wright, Telfair, Ellis, Reynolds and Oglethorpe). Three squares have been demolished for "urban development" (Ellis, Liberty, and Franklin), although Franklin Square has since been restored.

From their inception by Oglethorpe to the present time, each square has acted like a scrap of historical fabric that, when all sewn together, have made a colorful patchwork quilt that is Savannah's urban history.

Monterey Square is the most talked about square in town. It contains Mercer House, famous from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Jim Williams killed Danny Hansford here back in the 1980's. Fans of the book fill the square to view this Italianate house, usually ignoring the monument to Cashimir Pulaski, the highest-ranking officer in Washington's army to die in the Revolutionary War, and Congregation Mckve Israel, the oldest synagogue in the South. The square is named after the Battle of Monterey in the Mexican War.

Madison Square is named after the fourth president, James Madison. At the center is a monument to Sargeant William Jasper, who was killed in the British Siege of Savannah, along with Pulaski. At one end of the square in the Green-Meldrim House, where General William Tecumseh Sherman stayed when Savannah capitulated to Union forces wihtout a fight in 1864, thus saving lives and historical buildings.

Chippewa Square was named for a battle in Canada against the British in the War of 1812. Oglethorpe's statute, designed by Daniel Chester French, is featured in the center of the square. Scene from Forrest Gump were filmed on a temporary bench place next to the street. The Chatham County Courthouse and the old Savannah Theater are also located on the square.

Wright Square is named after Georgia's last colonial Governor, Sir James Wright. The monument in the center is to former mayor and president of the Central Railroad of Georgia, William Gordon. Gordon is the grandfather of Girl Scout founder and Savannah native, Juliette Gordon Low. Yammacraw chief Tomo-chi-chi, who helped Oglethorpe and the 120 passengers of the "Anne", was buried in a corner of the square in 1739; Oglethorpe was a pall-bearer.

Johnson Square, named after the colonial Governor of South Carolina, Robert Johnson, was the first of Oglethorpe's squares. In the middle is the grave of Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene who had a Savannah River plantation; fellow revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone to the memorial on a visit in 1825. Today the square is known as the financial center of Savannah (seven banks) and a place to buy watercolors from art vendors on the sidewalk.

Ellis Square, named after the second colonial governor, Henry Ellis, is a reminder of what the consequences are to senseless urban development. The square was turned into an ugly parking garage in the 1950's. The Ellis Square used to contain Savannah's City Market.

Telfair Square was re-named in 1883 after a prominent family that lived on the square (it was formerly St. James Square, named after the one in London). The square is most famous for the Telfair Museum, containing the statue that became Savannah's icon, the "Bird-Girl" from the dust-cover of the book.

Orleans Square is named after Andrew Jackson's famous 1815 victory over the British in New Orleans during the War of 1812. (Why isn't it New Orleans Square?) It contains a fountain given to the city by a German heritage organization in Savannah in 1989. Nearby is the modern Savannah Civic Center and the lovely Champion-McAlpin-Fowlkes House.

Pulaski Square is named after freedom mercenary Count Cashimir Pulaski from Poland. Pulaski has a monument in Monterey Square and a fort on one of the nearby sea islands named after him. The square is known for the tall and old oaks providing shade and green moss for passers-by to rest under.

Chatham Square is named for the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt, and was laid out in 1847. It has a modern playgound in the middle of it. On the square is the brilliant yellow Barnard Hall (now Pepe Hall), recently renovated by the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). The building site was a hospital for General Sherman's troops during the Civil War and now is host to art and architectural history classes from the school.

Franklin Square is named after a famous Philadelphian famous for flying a kite and a key during a thunderstorm. Benjamin Franklin was actually an agent for the colony of Georgia when in London. It was originally called "Water Tank" Square; I can see why they didn't stick with this. On the square is the First African Baptist Church, possibly the oldest black church in North America and an important link in the Underground Railroad.

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