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Madison Square

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Madison Square, on Bull Street between Chippewa and Monterey Square, is possibly the most monumental in Savannah. With a magnificent tribute to William Jasper as its centerpiece, Madison offers a wealth of things to see and do.

William Jasper

South Carolinian revolutionary hero Sgt. Jasper was mortally wounded during the Siege of Savannah. He had found fame during an earlier battle with the British, when he recovered a shot-down South Carolina flag and held it aloft in the midst of heavy fighting. The statue in Madison Square pays tribute to that event, and includes other scenes from his life.

Madison Sqaure’s southern flank is symbolically protected by defunct cannons from the Savannah armory. And a monument to the ill-fated 1779 siege, which cost both Jasper and Casimir Pulaski their lives, can be found in the square.

Around Madison, there’s enough to occupy an entire afternoon. You can visit the Green-Meldrim House, where General Sherman famously stayed during his sojourn in Savannah. With its cast-iron fence and extended covered porch, this National Historic Landmark from 1861 is a stunning example of the Gothic Revival style, and is connected to St. John’s Episcopal Church. According to legend, the ladies of the congregation, offended by the next-door presence of the enemy Yankee, rang the bells through the night, without pause. Sherman responded by having the bells removed.

Green Meldrin Garden

On the northwest corner of Madison is one of Savannah’s most famous residences: The Sorrel-Weed House. One of Savannah’s best examples of Greek Revival and Regency architecture, the house is the subject of numerous ghost stories.

Across Bull Street is of Savannah’s most unfortunate buildings: the Hilton DeSoto. An ugly, towering blight on the city’s skyline, the Hilton has loomed over the middle of Savannah since 1966, when it replaced the lovely red brick DeSoto hotel. Continuing clockwise around the square brings you to the most popular independent bookshop in Savannah, E. Shaver’s, where Jürgen and I stocked up on Savannah literature, during our first week in the city.

On the southeast corner of Madison is the SCAD shop, which is the perfect spot to hunt for unique gifts. And should you need a break while touring the houses and shops of Madison Square, you can stop in at the popular Gryphon Tea Room. With its high ceilings, cozy furniture and classy interior, this former pharmacy is a great place to relax tired feet.

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January 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm Comment (1)

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 Telfair Academy

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Found on on the eastern side of Telfair Square, the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences occupies a Regency style mansion built in 1818. It’s been a public art museum since 1886, which makes it the oldest in the South.

Telfair Academy

The museum blends its artwork seamlessly into its historic property, and the mansion itself is just as interesting as the paintings which adorn its walls. One of the most impressive rooms has no artwork at all: an octagonal study outfitted with 19th century furniture. We also liked the kitchen gallery, which featured some modern art alongside old cooking equipment.

But our favorite room was the main rotunda, with high ceilings, giant canvases and a plush bench in the center, where visitors can relax and study the artwork at leisure. I spent at least ten minutes taking in Julian Story’s seventeen-foot long The Black Prince at Crecy.

We’d be remiss not to mention the Bird Girl statue, famous as the cover to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Telfair Academy snatched it from Bonaventure Cemetery to “protect it,” and have displayed it prominently in their museum (snugly behind their paywall). Removed from the cemetery, the statue has lost all of its haunting magic. And it’s aggravating that this work of art was taken from a public place, and put somewhere that forbids photography … “Heavens, no photos in the museum! But please, feel free to buy a postcard.”

Entrance to the Telfair Academy will set you back $20. That’s a crazy price, though it also gets you into the Owens-Thomas House and the Jepson Center. Still, the fact that you can only buy the package deal is exploitative. Why not offer cheaper admissions to the individual spots? What if you’re only interested in classic art? Or if you only want to see a historic home? Well, too bad! We severely disliked the Owens-Thomas House, and blew through the gleaming, sterile Jepson Center with its pretentious modern art in about five minutes. The Telfair Academy is definitely the highlight of the bunch, but at $20? I’m not sure it’s worth it.

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December 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comment (1)

Chippewa Square

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Alright, Savannah, what’s going on here? The obelisk in honor of Nathanial Greene isn’t in Greene Square, as might be assumed, but Johnson. The statue of James Oglethorpe isn’t Oglethorpe Square, but in the middle of Chippewa Square! And Chippewa Square is named after the Battle of Chippawa, but the name is misspelled ever-so-slightly. Are you trying to confuse us? Or are you just confused yourself?

Chippewa Square

Regardless, Chippewa is one of Savannah’s most impressive squares, thanks mainly to the statue of Oglethorpe. The colony’s founder strikes an imposing figure, with his sword drawn and facing South, toward his hated enemy Spanish Florida. The statue was erected in 1910, and is the work of Daniel Chester French, who was also responsible for the Lincoln Memorial in DC.

Chippewa Square

There’s a lot to see around Chippewa Square, including the Savannah Theater which opened in 1818 and has welcomed stars such as W.C. Fields, Oscar Wilde and Tyrone Powers. This is the oldest still-active theater in the USA. And on the square’s western side is the First Baptist Church, which is Savannah’s oldest standing place of worship, built in Greek Revival style in 1833.

But what am I doing describing Chippewa Square? You’ve already seen it. Everyone has. The opening sequence of Forrest Gump was filmed here, where Forrest sits on a bench and eats from his box o’ chocolates. Gump-fans who journey to Savannah are always surprised to learn that there is actually no bench here. It was just a prop for the film, and can now be found in the Savannah History Museum.

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December 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm Comments (9)

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)
Madison Square Madison Square, on Bull Street between Chippewa and Monterey Square, is possibly the most monumental in Savannah. With a magnificent tribute to William Jasper as its centerpiece, Madison offers a wealth of things to see and do.
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