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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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Davenport House Museum – Website

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

Inside a Savannah Mansion

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On New Year’s Eve, we were invited into the home of an old-school Savannahian. Our soft-spoken host, Alvin, was a true southern gentleman, as gracious as possible, and both his character and his house seemed to be straight from the pages of some Victorian Gothic novel.

Mysterious Mansion

Alvin’s brick mansion, built in 1887, was in our neighborhood and we had admired it often. So when we were invited inside, we jumped at the chance. Since purchasing the mansion decades ago, Alvin has worked to restore its original elements, decorating it with artwork and period furniture. Jürgen made an appreciative comment about much all this original artwork must have cost, which caused Alvin to laugh. “This is all stuff I get for free!” He pointed to a painting of a dancing jester. “The girl who painted this gave it to me in exchange for a month’s rent.”

The mansion’s architect, William G. Preston, had also been responsible for the late, lamented DeSoto Hotel. Alvin reminisced about that building, which was torn down to make space for the Hilton, a much derided eyesore on Madison Square. He got out a book of old images from Savannah, back in the days when the live oaks which now tower over the city’s squares were just saplings. Alvin was a member of the Historic Savannah Foundation, and recounted some of the battles which he helped fight; preserving the DeSoto was one they lost.

After a couple cocktails, we took our leave; the New Year’s celebrations were just heating up in the city, and Alvin urged us to go and have fun. We did so, but somewhat reluctantly. The party we ended up at was alright, but I have a feeling that spending New Year’s with Alvin in his incredible mansion would have been the more memorable evening.

May we guide you through Savannah?

Alvin Neely
Lady with Dirty Face
Savannah Garden
Savannah Tower
Savannah Mansion
Savannah Details
Savannah Design
Savannah House Tours
Mirror Lamp
Savanah Salon
Savanah Salon
Haunted Mirror
Porcelan Clock
Savannah Memories
Savannah Decoration
Savannah Sofa
Angel Boy
Savannah Glass
Savannah Curtain
Classic Savannah
Savannah Silver
Savannah Chair
Savannah Mansion Details
Savannah Figures
Southern Living
Flower Baby
Round Window Savannah
Savannah Tiles
Old Fashion Bathroom
Savannah Porch
southern Bell
Neely Alvin
Alvin Neely

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January 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm Comments (12)
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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