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THE STORIED HISTORY OF SAVANNAH

Colonial Era

Our beautiful city of Savannah has enjoyed a rich and storied history which can be traced back to 1733, when James Edward Oglethorpe led a group of colonists to settle the land. Upon his arrival in the colony, Oglethorpe established an amicable relationship with Chief Tomochichi and was granted permission to settle what was then known as Yamacraw Bluff and later became Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah has the distinction of being not only the oldest city in Georgia, but also the first planned city in America. Oglethorpe teamed up with William Bull of South Carolina to design a town that was meant to be a refuge for England’s poor as well as a commercial outpost and second line of defense against Spanish forces for South Carolina. The city was originally laid out in a grid structure of four squares, ultimately to be expanded into twenty-four squares, surrounded by business and residential lots and bisected by wide, accessible streets. The central parks or squares were designed as public meeting places and centers of business for local farmers and businessmen. Twenty-two of these original squares remain today, preserving the essence of Oglethorpe’s visionary plan and transmuting their tranquil beauty to contemporary visitors and residents. 

            Although it was established as an outpost for debtors, early settlers soon recognized the value of the land and farming became increasingly profitable. The ban on slavery was lifted in 1750 and other early bans on liquor, lawyers, and Catholics soon gave way, allowing the population in Savannah to grow rapidly, in both number and diversity. Among the new arrivals to the city were German, Irish, Scottish, Dutch and Welsh settlers. Churches sprang up throughout the city, founded by Jews, Lutherans, and Anglicans. Churches and monuments throughout the city pay homage to these early settlers.

Revolutionary Era

            After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Savannah played its own role in the independence movement. Peter Tondee’s Tavern became the site of meetings by revolutionary groups such as the Liberty Boys and men like Button Gwinnet, Lyman Hall, and George Walton—signers of the Declaration of Independence—were also active in the city.

            When British forces overtook Savannah in 1778, French and American forces joined together to retake the city by land and sea. Their efforts resulted in a bloody battle that was ultimately unsuccessful, but posthumously produced two of Savannah’s most revered Revolutionary War heroes, Sergeant William Jasper and Count Casimir Pulaski.

            In 1782, Savannah was relinquished by British invaders. When the American Revolution was over, Savannah emerged as the capital of Georgia until 1786, when Augusta claimed this distinction.

Antebellum Era

            The years following the Revolutionary War were a period of great prosperity and growth in Savannah. Farming boomed and cotton and rice yields became the most profitable exports. Seeing the success of plantations and slave systems in South Carolina, slave-trade soon flourished in Savannah. The ports became a hub of commerce, and the influx of wealth soon resulted in the building of lavish homes and churches throughout the city.

In recognition for his contributions to the cause of independence, General Nathanael Greene was given the Mulberry Grove Plantation. Although he perished in the post-war years, his widow and children remained on Mulberry Grove Plantation, where Eli Whitney soon served as the children’s tutor. It was here that he invented the innovative cotton gin that allowed for advanced cotton production throughout the region. Similar advancements in transportation throughout this time only heightened Savannah’s relevance in worldwide commercial trade by allowing for cotton stores to be shipped from the interior of the state more easily via rail lines, and exported more efficiently via steam ships.

However, progress and prosperity were hindered by disastrous fires in 1796 and 1820, each of which destroyed half of the city. In 1854 a severe hurricane caused flooding that wiped out cotton crops and damaged Savannah’s port, crippling its economy. Yellow fever epidemics also ravaged the population in both 1820 and 1854, compounding the tragedies wrought by these disasters.

Despite the difficulties, Savannah was once again restored to a thriving mecca. In 1851, at about the same time that Forsyth Park was developed, Savannah was renowned in America for its elegant and serene beauty, its glorious oaks draped in Spanish moss, and its refined residents. In the years before the Civil War, free blacks in Savannah had carved out a prosperous place for themselves in society, involving themselves in business ownership, land ownership and agriculture.

Civil War Era

            Confederate soldiers secured Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island, only months before the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861. They held strong until 1862 when the fort was seized by Union soldiers. Blockaded on the seaward side, Savannah’s economy and her people suffered greatly until the city finally fell to General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864.

            Although General Sherman left a path of ashes and destruction behind him on his “March to the Sea,” he was so taken with the tranquil beauty of Savannah that he refused to lay the city to waste and instead presented it as a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln.

Reconstruction Era

            The post-war years in Savannah were a time of great upheaval and change. Yet they were also a time of growth and rebuilding. The economy struggled to raise itself from ruin and food was scarce. In spite of this, the population swelled as freed blacks inundated the city. The existing population reacted to this with prejudice and a distinct drawing of racial lines.

However, as the years passed, the free blacks of Savannah carved out their own place in the community, eventually contributing greatly to the economy and building an infrastructure of churches and schools. The first African-American public school was founded in 1878, and the first African-American institute for higher education was established in 1890, adding to the richness of the city’s African-American culture and its historical relevance nationwide.

Savannah in the Twentieth Century

            As we moved into a new century, Savannah once again boasted a thriving economy based on cotton and lumber exports, and enjoyed two prosperous decades before strife was visited upon the city once again. The arrival of the boll weevils in 1920 destroyed the cotton industry and crippled the economy. Followed by the Great Depression, the effects on the city’s financial infrastructure were disastrous. Although unable to fully recover, Savannah did participate in the war effort by specializing in military exports that resulted in the growth and development of the city’s port operations.

            However, Savannah once again experienced a period of restoration after the wars. In the 1950’s preservation became a main concern for many and resulted in the formation of the Historic Savannah Foundation. Also in the 1950’s and 60’s, the NAACP was active in Savannah, contributing to the Civil Rights Movement happening there and elsewhere across the country.

            In 1966, the Historic District of Savannah was designated a National Historic Landmark, and also by this time, the city had reached its current size, after experiencing another wave of infrastructural growth in the post-war years.

Savannah Today 

            Savannah’s current economy relies largely on the production of paper pulp products, aerospace, and tourism industries. Historical research and preservation continue to be a primary concern for the city, and the many museums, historical sites and resources available throughout the city are a testament to these ongoing efforts. The city boasts many colleges, churches, historic points of interest, gardens and an abundance of food and shopping choices for residents and visitors alike.

            The city today is a unique blend of the old and new, the result of a distinct collaboration between historically significant events and architecture, continuing efforts of progress and modern advancement, and breathtaking natural beauty. Enjoyable any time of year, Savannah is one of the most unique and memorable cities in America, and retains a special place in the hearts and memories of all who have set foot within the city limits. 

 

THE SITES OF BEAUTIFUL SAVANNAH

Savannah’s Breathtaking Squares

The Squares of Savannah are rightly named the “crown jewels” of the city. Their historic value and timeless beauty are recognized locally, regionally and nationally.

Calhoun Square
Savannah's Calhoun Square was laid out in 1851. It is named for John C. Calhoun. Massie School and Wesley Monumental Methodist Church are located on this square.

Chatham Square
Both this square and the county in which Savannah is located are named for the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt. Chatham Square is on Barnard Street and was one of the last of Savannah’s squares to be established.

Chippewa Square
Once the center of nightlife in Savannah, this square showcases a monument to General James Edward Oglethorpe. It was also where filming of the scene where Tom Hanks was sitting on the bench in “Forrest Gump” took place.

Columbia Square
Once the far southeastern border of colonial Savannah, Columbia Square is now a beautiful square bustling with tourists year-round. It is the site of the Wormsloe Fountain and is within walking distance of Davenport House, whose planned demolition in the 1950's sparked the birth of Savannah's historic preservation efforts.

Crawford Square
More locals enjoy this square than visitors as it’s the site of a basketball court and playground. There are no monuments in the square, however there is an old Firefighter's Cistern from the 1800s on display that was used to battle fires.

Elbert Square
Laid out along the western border of the city, Elbert Square was mostly removed to make room for the Savannah Civic Center in the 1900s. Preservationists hope to restore it when Savannah builds a larger arena.

Ellis Square Ellis Square was recently restored after spending fifty years as a parking garage, and boasts a fun water feature for kids. On any list of Savannah squares, you will find Ellis Square mentioned as one of the original four.  And yet, it is the most modern of all of the squares in Savannah. Visit to learn more out the fascinating history, destruction and renewal of Savannah's Ellis Square.

Franklin Square
This Savannah Square was established the same year that Benjamin Franklin died (1790). Franklin Square is the most northwestern of all and is adjacent to City Market. A monument honoring Haitian immigrants was dedicated here in 2007.

Greene Square
Once the center of Savannah’s African-American community, Greene Square was named for General Nathanael Greene, who was a Revolutionary War hero in command of all southern colony forces. As one of George Washington's key players, he was instrumental in the United States achieving independence from Britain.

Johnson Square
The first square in Savannah, Johnson Square was established by the city's founder, James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733. Today, it is perhaps the most active square, being located in the heart of the downtown business district.   This location draws locals and tourists alike and is in walking distance from lodging and the City Market.

Lafayette Square
More than 100 years after the first squares were laid out in Savannah, Lafayette Square was built in 1837.  Today it features a beautifully ornate fountain and sits in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  It is the sight of many outdoor weddings.

Liberty Square
In 1799 this square was created to honor the American victory in the Revolutionary War. It is one of Savannah's lost squares as it has since been paved over, but the small section that does remain is also the site of the “Flame of Freedom” sculpture.

Madison Square
The fourth President of the United States, James Madison, was honored in the naming of this square.  At the center of Madison Square is a very large monument to Sergeant William Jasper, who fought heroically at the Siege of Savannah.

Monterey Square
This Savannah square commemorates a famous battle from the Mexican-American War of the mid-1800s.

Oglethorpe Square
Named for Georgia's founder, Oglethorpe Square is one of the few squares without a monument at its center. It's an open square with plenty of grass where visitors can enjoy a picnic or locals can go for a leisurely stroll or walk their dogs.

Orleans Square
The Battle of New Orleans was fought in 1815 and, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, the American forces defeated the British.  This was one of the final engagements of the War of 1812.  On Barnard Street, between Perry and Hull Street, Orleans Square was established and named to honor this important victory. The square is home to the German Memorial Fountain.

Pulaski Square
Count Casimir Pulaski is honored with this square. He sacrificed his life in 1779, during the Siege of Savannah. The monument to Pulaski is actually located in Monterey Square. Fort Pulaski, the site of a major Civil War Battle, near Tybee Island, is also named for Count Pulaski.

Reynolds SquareCaptain John Reynolds served as the Governor of Colonial Georgia. One of the last two original squares was renamed for him. The original name of this square was "Lower New Square." Today a monument to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, lies at the center of Reynolds Square.

Telfair Square
Most squares in Savannah are named for individuals.  Telfair Square is named for the Telfair family for their many contributions to the city and state of Georgia, and is one of the four original squares.

Troup Square
Georgia Governor George Troup is honored with this square, originally created in 1851. At the center is a large Armillary Sphere. It is primarily enjoyed by locals although many tourists flock to the nearby Firefly Cafe.

Warren Square
Many of Savannah's squares are named for famous generals. Warren Square is named for General Joseph Warren, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Washington Square 
President Washington visited Savannah during his first term.  In 1791, George Washington came to the city and presented two cannons captured from the British. These "Washington Guns" are on display on Bay Street, about one half-mile from Washington Square.

Whitefield Square
One of the last of Savannah's squares to be laid out, Whitefield Square is named for the Rev. George Whitefield, founder of Savannah's Bethesda Orphanage which was established shortly after the founding of the colony. Whitefield was a friend of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in America. 

Wright SquareBefore the Revolutionary War, the last Royal Governor of Georgia for England was James Wright. This square was one of the four original squares and was named for Wright in 1763, although it was originally called Percival Square. It is the burial site of Chief Tomochichi.

 

Savannah’s Elegant Fountains

Cotton Exchange Fountain
Cotton was once King of the South and the Cotton Exchange was a thriving, bustling site of commerce. In 1889, the Cotton Exchange Fountain featuring a winged lion was placed on Bay Street.

Dancing Water Fountains in Ellis Square Far from being a traditional fountain, this modern interpretation is no less enjoyable for young and old alike. Multiple streams of water are propelled into the air inevitably soaking those who dare to dance among the waters here. A favorite among children, this fountain will dazzle adults as well with its nightly light show.

Forsyth Park Fountain The iconic fountain in Forsyth Park is a famous attraction in Savannah, noted for its timeless elegance. Step into the natural beauty and serene splendor of Forsyth Park in the morning or evening, near dusk, to capture a photo of the Forsyth Park Fountain in its best light.

German Memorial Fountain in Orleans Square This fountain is perhaps the smallest of Savannah’s memorial fountains. The German Memorial Fountain is located just a few blocks south of Telfair Square and within walking distance of City Market where you can select from many locally renowned lunch or dinner options.

Lafayette Square Fountain While noticeably taller than the Wormsloe fountain, this fountain is still small compared to the Forsyth Park Fountain. In early March, it is not unusual to see the waters of this fountain dyed green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. A trip to the Lafayette Square Fountain will take you near the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, another highlight of Savannah.

Wormsloe Fountain - This small, ornate fountain is a rich, dark green and sits at the center of Columbia Square. Wormsloe Fountain formerly adorned the estate of Noble Jones, one of Georgia’s first settlers. It is located near other tourist attractions such as the Isaiah Davenport House and the Colonial Park Cemetery.

 

Savannah’s Historic Memorials

German Memorial Fountain
At the center of Orleans square is a five foot, cast iron fountain that celebrates the earliest German immigrants to the colony of Georgia. The memorial was dedicated in 1989.

Hussars Memorial
During the Siege of Savannah, the city was defended by the Georgia Hussars. In the battle, a British canon was captured and now sits in Emmet Park as a memorial to the mounted rangers that General Oglethorpe had established decades earlier to defend Savannah.

Jewish Cemetery Marker
After Savannah was established in 1733, General Oglethorpe allotted land to the Jewish immigrants who moved to the colony. A cemetery marker is located in the median of Oglethorpe Avenue showing the exact spot of this original plot.

Oglethorpe Memorial Bench
This commemorative bench was set in 1906 on Yamacraw Bluff to celebrate the exact spot where General Oglethorpe landed at Savannah in 1733. It was dedicated by the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames of America.

Tomochichi Memorial Marker
General Oglethorpe found a loyal friend in the native Cherokee Indian Chief Tomochichi upon his arrival in 1733. The two remained friends until Tomochichi's death in 1739. The memorial plaque reads "In memory of Tom-o-chi-chi. The Mico of the Yamacraws, The Companion of Oglethorpe, and the Friend and Ally of the Colony of Georgia"

Victory Drive War Memorial
In celebration of America's victory in World War I, a granite stone memorial with accompanying inscription was set in Daffin Park and a number of Palmetto trees were planted in the center of Victory Drive Boulevard to honor all who died in "The Great War."

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
You'll find Savannah’s tribute to the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War located in Emmet Park. A stroll along Bay Street will take you past this memorial and many others. It was dedicated in 1991.

 

Savannah’s Historic Monuments

African American Monument
Find this marble and bronze monument to the African-American contributions to Savannah located in Rousakis Waterfront Plaza, on scenic River Street. A timeless quote from Maya Angelou is featured on the base of this monument.

Anchor Monument
Over the centuries, Savannah and Chatham County's men have answered the call to serve in war. The Anchor Monument at the intersection of Abercorn & River Streets celebrates the lives of all those who served as seamen in defense of our colony and later our country.

Armillary Sphere
The sundial was once thought to be able to track the days and hours by marking the shadow of the sun as it progressed throughout the day. The Armillary Sphere was remade as a sundial and is located in Troup Square on Habersham Street.

Beacon Light Range
Emmet Park sits atop the Savannah River and is where the Beacon Light Range was built in 1858. These lights guided ships safely to shore in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they traveled up the dark waters at night on approach to Savannah.

Big Duke Bell
The Big Duke Alarm Bell is a memorial to firefighters everywhere. This bell originally served as a warning to Savannah residents of fire in the 1800s.

Button Gwinett Monument
Button Gwinnett was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia. His burial site and monument are located in Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetery.

Chatham Artillery
A monument that takes design inspiration from the 101st Airborne Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery was erected in 1986 by the Chatham Artillery. It features a bronze eagle and is located in Emmet Park near Bay & Price Streets.

City Exchange Bell
The oldest bell in the state of Georgia hung in the City Exchange Building in downtown Savannah as far back as 1802. This bell still exists today and hangs in a smaller replica of the old bell tower just in front of the City Exchange

Colonel William Bull Sundial
Col. William Bull made great contributions to the founding of Savannah and to the city's layout. He was a trusted officer under Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe. In 1933, a sundial monument dedicated to Bull was set in Johnson Square (the city's first square).

Columbia Square Fountain
The beautiful four foot cast iron fountain that sits in the center of Columbia Square was donated by Eudora Derenne in 1971. It's a scenic spot many tourists love to visit for a photo with family and friends. The water overflowing from the fountain settles tranquilly into a pool below.

Confederate Monument
One lone soldier has stood atop the Confederate Monument at the center of Forsyth Park since 1879 to represent the many thousands who died in the American Civil War.

Confederate War Memorial
Most of Savannah's monuments commemorate the Revolutionary War, but Forsyth Park features a monument to Confederate Soldiers at the very center of the park.

Confederate Busts
Bronze Busts of famous Confederate War Generals Francis Stebbins Bartow and LaFayette McLaws sit at the north and south side of the Confederate Monument in Forsyth Park. These busts originally were located in Chippewa Square but were moved more than 100 years ago to their present location.

Georgia Spanish American War Veterans Memorial
A number of Georgia men participated in the Spanish American War. A monument commemorating their distinctive contribution was built in 1931 and sits at the south side of Forsyth Park at the intersection of Bull Street and Park Avenue.

Gordon Monument
At the center of Wright Square is a monument to William Washington Gordon and the first railroad in Georgia.

Greene Monument
Johnson Square was the original square in Savannah. It's also the site of a monument to the 2nd in command to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Nathanael Greene fought numerous battles in the southern colonies and has been dubbed "The Savior of the South."

Irish Monument
Irish immigrants played an important role and made many contributions to the history of Savannah. This heritage was commemorated in 1983 when a Celtic cross was set in Emmet Park.

Jasper Monument
In 1888 this monument was established to celebrate Sergeant William Jasper, who heroically gave his life in 1779 while defending America against the British. At fifteen feet tall, it's one of the larger Revolutionary War Monuments in Savannah. The Jasper Monument is located at the center of Madison Square.

John Wesley Monument
The founder of the Methodist denomination was John Wesley, who visited Savannah in 1736. He lived on the periphery of Reynolds Square, the site of the monument dedicated in 1969 to his honor.

Marine Corps Monument
At its dedication in 1947, the Marines Monument was to commemorate the USMC soldiers killed in World War II. Since that time, names have been added to honor Marines from Savannah who died in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

Morovian Marker
Morovians were part of Savannah from 1735-1740 and they ventured to the colony to form a mission with the native Indian population. They fled the colony after the war with Spain broke out but their contributions are timeless. A marker commemorating their efforts was dedicated in Oglethorpe Square in 1933.

Nathanael Greene Monument Set in Johnson Square, the Nathanael Greene Monument commemorates the heroism of Revolutionary War Brigadier General Nathanael Greene.

Oglethorpe Monument
The man most responsible for Savannah’s founding is General James Edward Oglethorpe and in 1910 a monument was unveiled in Chippewa Square showing our founder in a heroic pose in full military dress.

Olympics Torch
The Olympic Flame burned in Savannah for two weeks in the summer of 1996. While Atlanta was the host city for the Summer Olympics that year, Savannah was the host site for the Yachting Completion. At the time, it was the first instance of the flame burning in two venues at once. The Olympic Torch Monument sits in Morrell Park on River Street and was dedicated just after the Olympics ended.

Police Officers Monument
The Savannah Police Department Headquarters sits on the corner of Oglethorpe and Habersham Streets. In the median of Oglethorpe Avenue sits a monument to fallen police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

Pulaski Monument
Count Casimir Pulaski was a lover and defender of liberty. The Lithuanian-born military leader gave his life in 1779 during the Siege of Savannah. A 55-foot tall Italian marble monument featuring Pulaski is located at the center of Madison Square. An intricate restoration project of the monument was completed in 2001.

Salzburger Monument
The Salzburgers were one of the early immigrant group to arrive in the Colony of Georgia. Less than a year after the founding of Savannah, the Salzburgers arrived although they eventually settled permanently in Ebenezer, GA. From their group and descendants would arise the first Governor of Georgia after the United States won its independence. The Salzburger Monument was a gift from Austria in 1996 and is located along Bay Street.

Semiquincentenary Fountain
Savannah was founded in 1733 and on the 250th Celebration in 1983, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America donated a three-tiered, verde antique, cast iron fountain to the city. It was placed in the center of Lafayette Square.

St. Andrews Monument
In the median of Oglethorpe Avenue at Bull Street sits a small monument celebrating the Scottish forbears of the St. Andrews Society chapter in Savannah. It is one of the many Savannah monuments to celebrate various immigrant ethnic groups that made Savannah so vibrant in its early days.

Washington Guns
Two cannons that General George Washington captured from the British in the Battle of Yorktown are on display on Bay Street. America's Revolutionary War Hero and first President, George Washington, presented these as a gift to the Chatham Artillery militia company of Savannah in 1791.

Waving Girl Monument
For nearly fifty years, a woman would come to the banks of the Savannah River to wave at the sailors arriving on ships in Savannah. That woman was Florence Margaret Martus and she's immortalized in a bronze statue along the Savannah River (on River Street).

 

Other Noteworthy Savannah Sites

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Among the most beautiful Churches in North America, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a stunningly beautiful Catholic Church that welcomes everyone! Tourists may visit seven days a week -- excluding service times.

Colonial Park CemeteryIn the heart of downtown Savannah the Colonial Park Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Savannah. It contains the graves of several colonial settlers, including that of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Forsyth Park Once the site of colonial garden lots, and known to the original settlers of Savannah as “Forsyth Place,” this now twenty-acre park is perfect for strolling, jogging, or just taking in the natural beauty and charm of the surrounding southern foliage.

Isaiah Davenport MuseumThe much-heralded efforts to preserve historic homes and buildings in downtown Savannah were born in the 1950's when a group of women joined forces to stop the planned demolition of the Isaiah Davenport Home. This federal-style house stands today as a testament to those efforts, more than a half century later. A visit here takes us back to the early 19th century for a look into Savannah's past.

Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Built in 1821 in the English Regency style, the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America, is located in the historic district and within walking distance of several other historic homes open for viewing.

Mercer House The book "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil," by John Berendt was the literary rage in the 1990s.  The book made many things about Savannah famous including the life and times of Jim Williams.   Be sure to drive around Monterey Square when you are in Savannah to get a look at Mercer House, where Jim Williams lived.