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The Isaiah Davenport House

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It’s impossible to imagine Savannah without the stunning mansions which adorn so many of its squares and streets. But the city’s architectural heritage was once in real danger of disappearing completely. The struggle to save Savannah’s soul began in 1955, at the Isaiah Davenport House.

Davenport House

In the mid-20th century, Savannah was a very different place. Many of its homes stood vacant and derelict, and there wasn’t much value placed on preservation. Why maintain an abandoned old house, unique as it may be, when the valuable downtown lot can be sold for parking? From north to south, east to west, Savannah’s historic squares were coming under assault from the most hideous sort of re-development.

In 1955, when a parking company announced its plans to buy the Isaiah Davenport House on Columbia Square, certain members of Savannah’s society stood up and said, “enough.” This house was one of the country’s most important examples of American Federal architecture, and the idea that it could be demolished for yet another parking lot was too much to bear. Under the leadership of Katherine Summerlin, a group of seven women united as the Historic Savannah Foundation, and raised enough money to purchase the property. They restored the Isaiah Davenport House, and opened it as a museum in 1962.

Davenport House

And they didn’t stop there. Over the next few decades, the foundation snatched up property after property, quickly settling into a comfortable rhythm of buy-restore-sell, which allowed them to continue until over 500 of Savannah’s most notable houses had been saved from the wrecking ball.

After taking a tour of the Davenport House, it’s clear why this property was the catalyst for action. It would have been a travesty for it to have been lost. Isaiah Davenport was an architect by trade, and his house was built as both a residence for his family, as well as an advertisement for his skills. We loved our tour, which brought us into the family’s living quarters and salons. Each room has been designed to mimic an 18th-century residence, with period furniture and wallpaper copied from period patterns.

If you want to understand Savannah’s history, a visit to the Isaiah Davenport House is a must. Today, the necessity of preserving important works of architecture seems self-evident, but it’s important to remember that this hasn’t always been the case. Without the tireless work of a few dedicated individuals, Savannah would be a very different place.

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April 7, 2016 at 10:47 am Comments (0)

Columbia Square

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Although it was neglected throughout much of its history, like most of the city’s eastern side, Columbia Square has now enjoyed a thorough restoration to become one of Savannah’s loveliest spots.

Colombia Square Savannah

The restorative efforts kicked off in the 1950s when a group of society women, concerned about the demolitions which threatened to destroy Savannah’s historic soul, drew the line at the proposed destruction of the 1820 Isaiah Davenport House. They joined forces as the Historic Savannah Foundation, dedicated to protecting the city’s architectural heritage. Over the years, the foundation has purchased and saved over 300 buildings in Savannah’s historic center. Without their labor, the city would be a much more common place.

There are a number of other impressive buildings on Columbia Square, including the house at 130 Habersham, which is usually covered in ivory. But the best might the Kehoe Inn on the western side of the square. This Renaissance Revival mansion dates from 1829, and operates today as a bed and breakfast.

Columbia Square itself is a work of art. Four massive oak trees at each corner provide shade over the entire square, at the center of which sits the Wormsloe Fountain. Green and gray, the rustic fountain was designed in the shapes of leaves and winding ivy. Though it was donated by the plantation’s family in the 1970s, it looks as though it’s been in Columbia Square forever, like it sprouted from the ground.

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December 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm Comments (3)
The Isaiah Davenport House It's impossible to imagine Savannah without the stunning mansions which adorn so many of its squares and streets. But the city's architectural heritage was once in real danger of disappearing completely. The struggle to save Savannah's soul began in 1955, at the Isaiah Davenport House.
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