Commemorates William Washington Gordon I (1796-1842)
Location Wright Square
Artists Henry Van Brunt, Frank M Howe and WF Pietch
Wright Square’s principal, and largest, monument honors the life and achievements of railroad magnate William Washington Gordon I, first president of the Central of Georgia Railroad. It is one of only a few monuments in Savannah that does not honor a military figure, a testament to the importance of the railroads in Savannah’s history.
William Washington Gordon is mostly widely known for his role in the establishment of one of America’s earliest railroads, the Central of Georgia. He also worked as a lawyer and politician, and was elected to several city and state offices over a period of more than a decade.
Gordon was born on January 17 1796 in Screven County, Georgia. After receiving his education in Rhode Island and military training at West Point, he moved to Savannah, where he studied the law under James Moore Wayne.
Gordon’s early career was in law and politics: he served as city attorney from 1822 to 1824; a decade later he was elected an alderman; and he served as mayor from 1834 to 1836. In 1835, Gordon won his first election to the Georgia legislature.
By the 1830s, William Washington Gordon was an influential man, and seemed an ideal choice to lead a new enterprise vital to the economic success of Georgia and Savannah.
Construction of neighboring Charleston’s first railway line, which promised superior transportation to that rival port from plantations across Georgia and South Carolina, was completed in the early 1830s. This new technology threatened to destablise the river trade upon which Savannah’s shipping wealth was based; a railroad through to Savannah was the best way to counter that threat.
The Georgia Legislature promptly chartered three railroad companies of its own, of which the Central Railroad and Canal Company of Georgia (later the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company, and later still the Central of Georgia Railway) was one.
The new railroad organized in 1835, and in 1836, William Washington Gordon was appointed as the Central’s first president. He resigned as mayor and abandoned his law practice in order to fully devote his time to the new position.
Construction of the railroad began that year. Gordon took an active part in acquiring the necessary land rights and supervising construction of the line from Savannah to Macon, but unfortunately, he did not live to see its completion.
Gordon died on March 20 1842; the nearly 200-mile-long track between Savannah and Macon was finished the following year. He is currently buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery, moved there from his original burial place in the present-day Colonial Park.
The idea to erect a monument to William Washington Gordon originated with the directors of the Central Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia. Council granted permission to the company to erect a memorial to its first president late in 1881.
Not needing to engage in lengthy rounds of fundraising, the creation of the Gordon Monument was comparatively swift. Planned during 1882, the monument was unveiled the following year. Its cost was $15,000.
The 47-foot monument consists of a granite pedestal, limestone die, four 12ft tapered columns of red granite, and a granite top, upon which stand four winged Atlantes (figures of the mythological Atlas) bearing a globe.
An article in the Savannah Morning News (‘The Gordon Monument,’ January 22 1883, p4) disclosed further details about its construction: the grey granite of the pedestal and the red granite of the columns were both quarried at Quincy, Massachusetts; the limestone came from Ellettsville, Indiana.
The monument’s north-facing panel reads “Gordon.” The panel facing east has an image of a train and cars traveling over a viaduct, with the shipmasts of Savannah’s port in the distance.
The south-facing panel bears the following inscription:
WILLIAM WASHINGTON GORDON
Born June 17, 1796
Died March 20, 1842
Of Works of Internal Improvement
In His Native State
And First President of
The Central Railroad and Banking Company
To Which He Gave His Time, His Talents
And Finally His Life.
The west-facing panel reads:
Erected A. D. 1882
Central Railroad and Banking Company
In Honor of a Brave Man
A Faithful and Devoted Officer
And to Preserve His Name in the Grateful
Remembrance of His Fellow Citizens
In the course of erecting the Gordon Monument, the spot then believed to be the final resting place of Yamacraw Chief Tomochichi was destroyed. Tomochichi, who assisted Oglethorpe in the establishment of the Georgia colony, was buried in Wright Square in 1739, a small pyramid of stones marking the location.
Several of Savannah’s prominent women, who wanted to preserve the memory of a man so important in the history of the city and the state, organized to create a new memorial in Tomochichi’s honor, led by Gordon’s own daughter-in-law Nellie Kinzie Gordon. Tomochichi’s new memorial was unveiled in 1899. More about the Tomochichi Memorial