Savannah is a city of squares, a city whose rhythms change softly from block to diminutive block. Uncommonly pleasant to visit, it seems to have been planned for those who care to take their time and stroll quietly through the 19th century.
The Owens-Thomas House (124 Abercorn Street; 912-233-9743), considered one of the best examples of Regency architecture in the United States, is a fawn-colored, two-story stone building completed in 1819. In the dining room, there is an ingenious indirect lighting system and on the second level a graceful wooden bridge connects the front and rear of the house. The Ships of the Sea Museum is housed in the home built for William Scarbrough, one of the principal owners of the Steamship Savannah and president of the Savannah Steamship Company. Jay built for him an elegant mansion with an imposing portico, a stunning fan window and a two-story atrium with a sky-blue barrel ceiling. The museum collection exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great era of Atlantic trade and travel between England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Through careful planning and sensitive plant selection the Museum Garden has become a delightful oasis; a place to sit and meditate as well as an excellent tool for the experienced horticulturist and weekend gardener. (Museum Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10 – 5; 41 M.L. King Boulevard, Savannah, Georgia 31401; 912-232-1511)
The Telfair House is now the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (121 Barnard Street; 912-232-1177) and was built in the Greek revival style with romantic statues of painters outside. Its collection includes Impressionist works, paintings from the American Ashcan School and an extensive collection of American and English decorative art from the early 1800’s. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Sunday 2 to 5 P.M.
While Isaiah Davenport contented himself with an austere Federal approach (Davenport House, 1821), Aaron Champion had the architect Charles B. Cluskey reach back to the Greek Temple of the Winds for guidance (Champion-McAlpin House, 1844), and for Charles Green, the New York architect John S. Norris borrowed Gothic motifs (Green-Meldrim House, 1853). The Green-Meldrim House on Madison Square (912-233-3845; Hours are 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Tuesday through Saturday) looks, with its crenellated roof line, like the sort of place where General Sherman might have stayed – and he did when he ended his march to the sea. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman began his March to the Sea in 1864; Atlanta was heavily defended by the Confederacy. Sherman leveled it. Savannah’s cotton merchants watched with alarm as Federal forces advanced, destroying nearly everything in their path. When Sherman’s troops reached Savannah in December, the city surrendered without a fight. Sherman dispatched a telegram to President Lincoln, saying, ”I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah.” So much of Savannah remains from the early 1800’s because the city chose not to defend itself at a moment when any such defense would have invited devastation.
Next: Stroll the Squares
“Squares, rows, fine houses in brick and frame, verandas, balconies, where the wisteria and the creepers climb, spirals and pillars, in a lacework of sun and shade, Savannah is delightful to the eye and too lived-in to strike one as a being a museum.” – V.S. Pritchett.