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Telfair Square

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Originally called St. James Square after the famous London park, Telfair Square was renamed in 1833 in honor of Savannah’s VIP-iest family. It was one the city’s original four squares and, for a long time, its most fashionable district.

Telfair Square

The four walking paths which cut through Telfair Square create a tic-tac-toe pattern in the grass. In the northeastern quadrant, there’s a curious monument in the form of a nautilus shell, and a tribute to the Girl Scouts in the southeast. The Girl Scouts, I can understand, since they were founded in Savannah. But the shell monument is a total mystery.

The Telfair Academy sits along the western side of the square. Done in Regency style by William Jay, the Telfair is the oldest public art museum in the South, housing both classic European paintings and regional art. The museum is gorgeous but rather small, so the Jepson Center, on Telfair Square’s southern border, was opened in 2006 to accommodate modern works. Between the two art museums is the Greek Revival-style Trinity Methodist Church, built in 1847.

In stark contrast to the classically beautiful buildings of the western side and the modernist audacity of the Jepson Center, two tiled government buildings occupy the eastern end of Telfair Square. When I say “tiles”, I mean “bathroom tiles”. These are ugly buildings, which really stick out in this otherwise gorgeous corner of Savannah.

Location of Telfair Square

Visit all 24 Squares of Savannah

Telfair Square
Telfair Square
Telfair Square
Telfair Square
Telfair Square
Telfair Shell
Savannah Fall
Girl Scouts Savannah
Government Savannah
Mercedes Oldtimer
Mercedes USA
Savannah Trees
Visit Savannah
Savannah Jungle
Telfair Bird
Lonely Tree
Telfair Flower
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November 29, 2010 at 5:33 pm Comment (1)

The Owens Thomas House – Our First Bad Experience in Savannah

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We had been excited to get into the old homes of Savannah, especially after our experience at the Scarborough House. So it was with high expectations that we visited the Owens-Thomas House on Oglethorpe Square. Unfortunately, our high expectations weren’t met, this time.

Owens Thomas House

Let’s start with the good. This house built by architect William Jay house is a masterpiece, with design elements I’ve never seen before, such as a bridge connecting the two halves of the upper floor. It was one of the first houses in America with running water, and every room has been designed with timeless elegance. Plus, the house has been remained in excellent shape. The price is initially shocking, at $20 per head, but when you consider that it includes entrance to the three sites of the Telfair Museum for a week, it becomes less outrageous.

Moving onto the bad. The first, and least understandable, problem was the unfriendliness of the ticket sellers, who treated us with an attitude that approached open contempt. It wasn’t just us; they were equally rude to the group behind us. “There are NO pictures inside!” Fine, okay. “I mean it, absolutely NO PICTURES! Not even with your phones!” I was shocked that we were being yelled at before we’d even done anything wrong.

Our tour began in the carriage house with a little history, and then we moved into the main residence, were we encountered Problem #2: our group was sandwiched between two other groups. The people ahead of us were moving too slowly, and those behind us was advancing too quickly. Our guide often became flustered, not knowing what to do with us, and we were repeatedly shoved through rooms before having a chance to properly admire them.

Problem #3: the guide, while pleasant enough, was obviously not an expert in the history of the Owens-Thomas House. As long as she stuck to the script, she was fine, but when (god forbid) we had a question, she was almost always at a loss. For example, this was an actual exchange:

“Please admire the fine engraving on the fireplace, which was based on a famous myth.”

“Interesting! What myth is that?”

“You know, that’s a good question. I have no idea, but it is a very famous myth”.

While we were waiting on the group ahead of us to move on, she would just stand there in uncomfortable silence, having exhausted the four factoids she had about, say, the kitchen. Even when we’d prompt her (“Who is that a portrait of?”), her awkward responses made us feel bad. Eventually we stopped putting her on the spot.

The worst moment came while we were viewing the balcony from which the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolutionary War, once gave a famous speech. She described how he spoke “of liberty and freedom, and these things that…” And now, she turned her attention to Jürgen, whom she knew to be German. “As an outsider, you have to understand that the concepts of Freedom and Liberty are very important to us Americans.” I almost died, although Jürgen was able to answer with a grin. “Liberty? But vas ist das, mein Fräulein?”

The Owens-Thomas House could offer a rich experience, but the staff needs to get its act together. The docents should study up, the ticket ladies should take an etiquette course, and customers who’ve just paid $20 should not be rushed through. From reading online reviews, I don’t think our experience was a fluke. It’s a missed opportunity for the city.

Location on our Savannah Map

Buy Spanish Moss Online

Savannah Bush
William Jay
Savannah Architecture
Savannah Detail
Owens Towers
Owens Thomas Garden
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November 26, 2010 at 9:58 am Comments (16)

The Scarborough House: Ships of the Sea

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On MLK Boulevard near River Street, one of Savannah’s most historic houses has been converted into a museum called The Ships of the Sea. The 1819 Scarborough House was designed in the Greek Revival style by architectural wunderkind William Jay, who was responsible for many of the city’s best houses of that time period.

Scarborough Savannah

William Scarborough was an early American from North Carolina, who made his fortune in shipping. He was perhaps best known as the mastermind behind the famous S.S. Savannah, the first steamship to successfully cross the Atlantic. Although it was one of the city’s proudest moments, luring even President Monroe to commemorate the occasion, the venture was a commercial failure and Scarborough fell into bankruptcy. His handsome house was sold off at auction, and would serve as both an orphanage and Savannah’s first public school for black children, before finally being abandoned and falling into ruin.

In 1972, the Historic Savannah Foundation stepped in and begun restoration on the house. Keeping in mind Scarborough’s line of work, the house was converted into a maritime museum. The Ships of the Sea boasts large scale model ships, and a wealth of information about the lines which operated out of Savannah, and famous ships from around the world.

I’ve never been the least bit interested in boats, so I didn’t expect the museum to impress me. But it did. We really enjoyed our visit to the Scarborough House, which is just as interesting for its architecture as for the exhibition pieces. The model ships were incredible, their stories interesting, and we loved the collection of nautical equipment and scrimshaw.

Ships of the Sea – Website
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Savannah History Books

Savannah Flag
Savannah Steam
Pulaski Ship
Ship Museum
Ships of the Sea
Scarborough House
Ship Painting
Sailing USA
Ship Models
Master Ship
Modern Savannah
Boat Doctor
Feather Letter
Seamen Instrument
Ship Dude
Savannah Lady
Sailor Valentine
Old World Globe
Sailor Savannah
Captain Uniform
Scrborough Museum
Tusk Miniature Ship
Big Boy Egg
Sailor Toy
Prostitution Cat
Titanic in Savnanah
Fancy Bucket
Techno Flower
Trumpet Flower
Savannah Bench
canon hole
Good Night
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November 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm Comments (7)
Telfair Square Originally called St. James Square after the famous London park, Telfair Square was renamed in 1833 in honor of Savannah's VIP-iest family. It was one the city's original four squares and, for a long time, its most fashionable district.
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