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Orleans Square

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Orleans Square, on Barnard Street, might as well be called Parking Lot Square. It’s one of the spaces which has been most negatively impacted by the development boom of the mid-20th century.

Orleans Fountain

The square itself could be quite charming, with a large central fountain dedicated to the German immigrants to Savannah that was installed on the 250th anniversary of the founding of Georgia. But once you take your eyes off the ground and look around, the charm vanishes. The biggest blight is the Civic Center, whose backside and rear parking area mar the western end of Orleans Square. Five of the eight lots which surround Orleans are dedicated to parking. Another is occupied by SCAD’s gym.

Luckily, the houses which do survive on Orleans are beautiful, particularly the Harper-Fowlkes House on 230 Barnard. Built in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, this house is occasionally open for tours and also serves as the Georgia headquarters for the Society of the Cincinnati. This house can be toured. Another noteworthy home on Orleans is the Stephen-Williams House, constructed in 1834 in the Federal style. It’s currently an inn with individually-designed rooms.

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Harper-Fowlkes House Website
Stephen-Williams House Inn – Website

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January 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm Comments (5)

Troup Square

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Built in 1851, Troup is one of Savannah’s smaller squares. It was named after George Troup, a former governor known his strident support of slavery and anti-Indian policies. It might be because of these unappealing views, that the square’s central monument is not a statue of Troup, but a strange, archaic globe.

Savannah Squares

Troup Square may lay claim to Savannah’s most curious monument, with its Armillary Sphere. This was a model used to track celestial orbits, invented by the Greeks and made obsolete by the invention of the telescope. The sphere an odd choice for the middle of a square in Savannah, which wasn’t founded until well after the instrument was out of use. (You know where else you can find an Armillary Sphere? Portugal’s flag. Don’t ask me why.)

Troup Square

Another strange feature of Troup Square is its doggy drinking fountain, moved here from its original location in Forsyth Park. It doesn’t even bother with spouts for humans, and is the reason some residents refer to this area as “Dog Bone Square”.

Troup Square isn’t done confusing you, yet. Another oddity is that this is the birthplace of Jingle Bells. You know that song that goes, “Dashing through pleasantly mild winters, in a picturesque Victorian district, round the squares we go, drinking from plastic cups all the way.” The Unitarian Universalist Church, on the square’s west side, is where James Pierpoint, the brother of the church’s reverend, wrote the famous song. Why he was inspired to write a song about sleighing and wintry fun, as he gazed out onto Troup Square is anyone’s guess.

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January 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm Comments (7)

Whitefield Square

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On Habersham and Wayne, Whitefield was one of the final squares to be laid out in Savannah, in 1851. With a distinctive gazebo in its center and gingerbread houses surrounding it, this small square feels like a throw-back to Victorian times.

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The square was named after George Whitefield, a British priest who came to the colonies and was largely responsible for a religious movement that has become known as the First Great Awakening. The “Awakening” left a permanent imprint on American religion, by eschewing quiet contemplation and somber services in favor of loud, bombastic preaching, and by putting a heavy emphasis on personal guilt and the need for redemption. When you see present-day televangelists screaming and crying and carrying on about the devil inside all of us… well, you can thank Mr. Whitefield for that.

Whitefield also put great worth in the importance of public deeds, and did his part by establishing the Bethesda Orphanage just outside Savannah. Still in use today, this was the very first orphanage in all North America.

Whitefield Square is fun to explore, as long as you don’t mind the occasional pan-handler. The gazebo in the center could be a nice place to spend some time, but it’s currently the exclusive domain of vagabonds. Still, Whitefield is not without its charms. The Congregational Church, for example, is a handsome building. Found on the western side of the sqaure, it was consecrated in the late 19th century.

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January 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm Comments (10)

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.

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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)

Savannah Icy Winter Dream

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When we chose Savannah as our next destination, it was partly because of the weather. In December, the average is supposed to be between 40 and 63°F. So, I never expected to encounter a frozen fountain in Forsyth Park. It’s a beautiful sight, and one that’s relatively rare, so we’re happy to have seen it. But we’re done, now. Could someone please give us back the warm weather we had been promised?

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December 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm Comments (7)

Calhoun Square

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Calhoun Square was named after the South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, who was our seventh Vice President, and served under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He was fiercely pro-slavery and was one of the leading proponents of Southern secession: views which apparently won him respect in Savannah, who named their newest square after him, one year after his death in 1850.

Spooky Church

Calhoun Square is the only square in Savannah with all its original buildings still intact, and is thus one of its most picturesque. The most important standing structure is the Massie School, which opened in 1865 as Georgia’s first public school. Today, it’s the home of the Massie Heritage Center, dedicated to the city’s history.

Calhoun Square is also notable for the Greek Revival houses which encircle it, including the empty mansion at 432 Abercorn, recognizable by the empty oval underneath its stairs, and its sense of foreboding. This is one of Savannah’s most haunted houses, with numerous tales surrounding it, and a favorite stop for the city’s many ghost tours.

432 Abercorn’s most famous story is of the father who forbade his daughter from playing out in Calhoun Square with the children from the Massie School. When she continued to disobey him, he tied her onto a chair in the top floor of the house, faced toward the window, so that she could see all the fun she was missing. She remained tied there until she died of heat exhaustion. Her ghost can still occasionally be seen, wistfully staring out the window, hoping to one day join her friends again in the square.

I’ve never seen her myself, although I look every time we pass by. Regardless of the story’s veracity, the house is legitimately creepy. And I still haven’t heard a good reason for why this historic property in one of Savannah’s most sought-after residential zones has been empty for so long.

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December 11, 2010 at 7:33 pm Comments (7)

Lafayette Square

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Lafayette Square, on the intersection of Abercorn and Macon, is named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who became a major Revolutionary War hero and impressed Savannah with a speech delivered from the balcony of the Owens Thomas House.

Lafayette Square Savannah

Surrounding the square are a number of interesting buildings, including 1839’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the biggest Catholic church in the region. The city’s Catholic population had to wait for a long time, for a proper cathedral — Savannah was founded over a hundred years prior. But don’t forget that for the first phase of its history, this city was so suspicious of Catholics, and their possible ties to Spanish Florida, that the religion had been banned.

On the western side of the square is the Andrew Low House. Andrew’s feisty daughter-in-law Juliette would found the Girl Scouts in this property’s carriage house, unwittingly releasing the horror of Thin Mints on future generations. If only she had lived to see what she had wrought! Directly across the square we find the Hamilton Turner Inn, an elegant hotel with individually named and decorated rooms. It was the first house in Savannah with electricity, and gained infamy after falling under the care of Joe Odom, the party man so colorfully depicted in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Another house of note is the childhood home of Flannery O’Connor, on the southern side of the square at 207 East Charlton Street. The famous author spent her first 13 years of life, and it’s hard to imagine that Savannah’s Southern Gothic atmosphere, along with her house’s location across from the Catholic church, didn’t have a major influence on her writing. The home can be visited by appointment.

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December 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm Comments (5)

Forsyth Park

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Occupying 30 acres between Drayton and Whitaker Street, Forsyth is Savannah’s answer to NYC’s Central Park. It’s not as massive as its counterpart, but blends more seamlessly into the city, and has long been a part of its history.

Forsyth Fountain Park

Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and christened in honor of John Forsyth, a former statesman and Georgian governor. The park’s massive fountain, crowned with a female figure and flanked by spitting geese, was inspired by the fountain in Paris’ Plaza de la Concorde. With water shooting haphazardly in all directions, it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks of Savannah, appearing in films like 1962’s Cape Fear and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Three monuments in Forsyth Park commemorate Savannah’s contribution to American wars. To the north, there’s one for the Vietnam War. An impressively large memorial to the Civil War’s Confederate dead is in the park’s center, with the biblical inscription: “Come from the four winds, o’ breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” (It’s a touching line, but one which reveals disturbing pro-zombie tendencies; The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia, isn’t it?). And at the southern end is an interesting tribute to the Spanish-American war, in which the US helped liberate Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam from Spanish influence.

Forsyth Fountain Park

Though the northern third of the park is shaded and tree-filled, the rest is wide open, with flat lawns that host weekend picnics and pick-up sports. There’s a café, a visitors center and an open-air stage for summer concerts, as well as something I’d never heard of before: a Fragrant Garden for the Blind. The gate was locked, but I stuck my nose through the bars and took a long whiff. It smelled of trash and roses.

During our first few days in Savannah, we had already crossed through Forsyth Park multiple times. Practically an extended pedestrian-only section of Bull Street, it’s as much a thoroughfare as a destination, and I had a feeling we’d be getting to know the park intimately.

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November 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm Comments (9)
Orleans Square Orleans Square, on Barnard Street, might as well be called Parking Lot Square. It's one of the spaces which has been most negatively impacted by the development boom of the mid-20th century.
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