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Countdown to Savannah: Savannah's Oldest Squares
Kathy Wood (kaydee)
In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.
With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.
Laid Out in 1733
Savannah’s four oldest squares were laid out by General Oglethorpe in 1733, the year Savannah was founded. Now named Johnson, Wright, Ellis and Telfair, these squares are close to the river, on either side of Whitaker Street.
Johnson Square was Savannah’s first square and the center of life in the early days of the colony. Many notable events in Savannah's history happened in this square. Today it is the center of Savannah’s financial district. This square is named for Robert Johnson, the governor of South Carolina who helped his friend General Oglethorpe in the early days of the Georgia colony. In the center of the square is the monument and grave of General Nathanael Greene. Although Greene is buried here, there’s actually another square—Greene Square—named for him. Johnson Square also includes two fountains, a sundial dedicated to Colonel William Bull, and a bench honoring songwriter Johnny Mercer. It is the largest of Savannah’s squares.
Ellis Square—also known as Marketplace Square—was named for Henry Ellis, the second royal governor of Georgia. For much of Savannah’s history—from the 1730’s until the 1950’s—it was the site of four successive market houses. (At one point it was also the site of a slave market.) In the mid 1950’s, the square was demolished and replaced with a parking lot with a 50 year lease. The resulting outrage helped stimulate the start of the historic preservation emphasis in Savannah. The city demolished the parking garage in 2006 and is currently recovering Ellis Square. The new structure will include an undeground parking lot, an open space for concerts and gatherings, and adjoining hotel and residential space. The project is expected to be complete in 2008.
Telfair Square was originally called St. James Square (named after St. James Park in London) and was renamed in 1883 in honor of the Telfair family, a distinguished Georgia family that included Edward Telfair, three-time governor. This square includes a Girl Scout tribute. (The Juliette Gordon Low birthplace is just a block away.) Trinity United Methodist Church, built in 1848 and the oldest Methodist Church in Savannah, is located on this square. The Telfair Museum of Art is also located here.
Wright Square was originally called Percival Square and then later renamed for Sir James Wright, Georgia’s third and last royal governor. This square includes a large boulder that marks the grave of Tomochichi, the chief of the Yamacraw Indians who helped Oglethorpe settle the Georgia coast. He was buried here in 1739. Another monument in the square honors William Washington Gordon, the early mayor of Savannah who established the Central of Georgia Railroad and was the grandfather of Juliette Gordon Low. Wright Square has also been known as Court House Square and Post Office Square.
Savannah's squares are sure to captivate you with their grace and history. Every square has a distinct character, its own story. You’ll pass by several squares on all of the many tours of Savannah, but be sure to take some time to explore on your own and discover each square's uniqueness.
All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)
Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood
© Kathy Wood, 2007
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