Savannah is an altogether different City from Charleston, its nearby neighbour. It is on a river, rather than the ocean, though it is a seaport. The layout of the city, one of the first planned communities in North America, has 24 town squares, and is unique in North America. Savannah retains a marvelous housing stock of historic properties and organizes an amazing, and extensive house tour each year.
Yet, to the first-time visitor, Savannah has an air of neglect that was surprising to see. The downtown was ravaged by redevelopment in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and though there are brave restoration projects in the centre, there are still many inappropriate buildings in the downtown core.
However, it was still a pleasure to visit Savannah, which has established a large historic district, and to visit several of the historic houses now open to the public. Just a few blocks from the small downtown area are leafy squares, surrounded by historic houses, many of which are open to the public. Not all of the houses are on the ‘tourist’ maps, so be persistent; otherwise you may miss a special house or two!
The parks and squares of Savannah are heavily treed with live oaks draped with Spanish moss, giving an other-worldly atmosphere – especially for those from Northern climates.
The Green-Meldrim House – Savannah
Hard to find, but worth the search, is the Green-Meldrim House, which is situated on Madison Square. The House was built in 1850 for cotton merchant Charles Green. In 1892 the home was purchased by Judge Peter Meldrim whose heirs later sold it to St. John’s Episcopal Church, who still use it for church functions today.
Volunteers give wonderful tours of this lavish Gothic-Revival style house which cost $90,000 to build in 1850. Richly decorated with oriels, filigree ironwork, black-walnut woodwork, marble mantles and wonderful Gothic cornices and other features, guests are often stunned by its magnificent style.
The home’s amazing past includes a brief residency by General Sherman after he occupied the city in 1864 during the Civil War. Upstairs in this house is the room where the proclamation supposedly promising “40 acres and a mule” to each freed slave was signed. Although the proclamation indeed promised land, the “mule” part seems to be a mythical addition.
The Owens Thomas House – Savannah
The Owens-Thomas House is a delightful surprise to find in Savannah, as it is a very English style of home, designed in the English Regency style of architecture. Inspired by classical antiquity, this style of architecture takes its name from England’s King George IV, who ruled as Prince Regent from 1811 to 1820.
The house was designed by the English architect William Jay (1792-1837), one of the first professionally trained architects practicing in the United States. The house was built for cotton merchant and banker Richard Richardson and his wife Francis Bolton. Mr. Richardson’s brother-in-law was married to Ann Jay, the architect’s sister.
Overlooking leafy Oglethorpe Square, the symmetrical façade has a portico supported by four columns with Ionic capitals, which shelters a double, curved entrance stair. The house was built over three years, beginning in November of 1816, and finishing in January of 1819.
The Owens-Thomas House is a National Historic Landmark and well worth a visit to see the splendidly-restored interiors while visiting Savannah.