Oglethorpe Square was laid out in 1742, the last of the six squares that were originally planned for Savannah. It was originally known as Upper New Square, but that bland name was soon tossed out in favor of a tribute to Georgia’s colonial founder, James Oglethorpe.
The statue of James Oglethorpe perhaps got lost on the way to its eternal home, and can be found in nearby Chippewa Square. The only monument to be found in Oglethorpe Square is a small pilaster honoring the Moravian immigrants who moved to Savannah during the colony’s founding. Otherwise, it’s just oaks, grass, benches and Spanish moss.
Oglethorpe is beautiful and restful, but not among the most impressive of Savannah’s squares. The main features are the Regency-style Owens Thomas House, on the eastern trust lot, and the President’s Quarters Inn to the southeast. On the western trust lot are a couple of handsome brick buildings.
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On the southwest corner of the square sits the former U.S. Marine Hospital which was built in 1905 for the hospitalization of mariners. My grandfather, a former master mariner (sea captain) and second generation tugboat captain on the local waterfront, spent his final days in it. It is now occupied by SCAD. On the southeastern corner of the square sat Canton’s Chinese Restaurant, a local favorite, and most likely the first Chinese restaurant in South Georgia. Wu, who died in 2006 at age 94, emigrated from Shanghai in 1941 and became “Savannah’s Chinese ambassador without portfolio” for her work assisting other immigrants.
Lancy Wu was the owner of Canton’s.
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While the inn celebrates its quiet historic oasis, The Presidents’ Quarters Inn on the prestigious southeast Trust Lot of Oglethorpe Square should not be overlooked. The twin townhouses (ca. 1855) were built by two of Savannah’s most prominent railroad pioneers. One was Juliette Gordon Low’s grandfather, William Gordon. (A monument to Mr. Gordon is in Wright Square.) In the south mansion, Robert E. Lee was an overnight guest of General Alexander Lawton, his West Point friend. The north mansion was home to an ancestor of the presidential Bush family. The practical, Federal architecture hides the classic elegance of 16 overly spacious rooms restored in 2007. The inn was voted “Best Savannah Inn” three years running (2008-2010) by readers of Savannah Magazine. A favorite of unpretentious affluents, culture-seeking world travelers, and young professionals, the historic breakfast inn is recommended for a romantic escape by Southern Living and was featured by Delta SKY magazine. Enjoying a quiet breakfast or late afternoon wine in the courtyard, one recalls what “luxury” is in Savannah — the city, the history, the comforts, the ambiance … the whole package!
Oglethorpe Square’s lack of anything of intense interest is in keeping with the spirit of the squares’ original intent. They were put there to slow the speed of traffic and provide a quiet oasis for peaceful reflection in an effort to slow the pace of life and cultivate civility to the populace. In that respect, Oglethorpe Square most fully honors Oglethorpe’s design by lacking a particular tourist draw which allows the resident to enjoy the square in peace.
William, I love your explination.
Christmas 2008 Presidents’ Quarters Inn decorated the inn with Moravian stars to honor the Moravian missionaries, whose small monument is on Oglethorpe Square. [Photo is here: http://www.presidentsquarters.com/georgia-vacation/holiday-break.html ] In my research I discovered the Moravians were the first to bring musical instruments to the Georgia colony in Savannah. They played at the funeral of Indian mica [chief] Tomochichi, the peacemaker among the Georgia Indians who greeted and welcomed the British settlers. Before the Moravians exited northward (later to settle in NC and PA) Georgia founder, James Oglethorpe purchased the musical instructions to keep music in the fledgling colony … and Savannah.
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