Savannah’s Historic 19th-Century Squares

The Memorial Fountain in Lafayette Square, Savannah, GA.

In the southern half of Savannah’s Historic District are some of its newest squares, laid out in the first decades of the 19th century. These were the last squares laid out in the city; after 1851 the square plan was abandoned, the larger Forsyth Park and many squareless blocks laid out instead.

The neighborhoods around these squares are mostly residential, many of them with examples of Savannah’s most beautiful architecture: brick-built houses around the westerly Pulaski and Chatham Squares; a larger proportion of frame houses in the easterly squares, around which you can also see several of Savannah’s historic churches.

See below: Pulaski Square; Chatham Square; Lafayette Square; Calhoun Square; Troup Square; Whitefield Square; Crawford Square.

See also: western squares (Franklin, Elbert, Liberty, Orleans, Ellis and Telfair); eastern squares (Reynolds, Oglethorpe, Columbia, Greene, Warren and Washington); Bull Street squares (Johnson, Wright, Chippewa, Madison and Monterey).

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Pulaski Square (1837)

Pulaski Square was laid out in 1837, along with Madison and Lafayette Squares, both lying to its east along Macon Street. It is named for the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski (1745-1779), killed in the Siege of Savannah.

A quiet, shady square often overlooked by visitors, it is set amidst some of Savannah’s most beautiful residential architecture, particularly in the streets between Pulaski and neighboring Chatham Square, to its south.

Unlike many of the residential squares on Savannah’s eastern side, Pulaski Square’s buildings are predominantly constructed out of brick, with only a few of the wood frame houses common in the rest of the city. Many of the buildings around the square are original, dating from the 1830s to the 1850s.

A large proportion of the houses in Pulaski Ward were constructed as rental properties, the need for which was growing in mid-19th-century Savannah. A greater uniformity in style and construction was the result.

Pulaski Square was the first residential area restored by the Historic Savannah Foundation. The Pulaski Square-West Jones Street project began in 1965, a year before Savannah’s Historic District was awarded its National Landmark status.

Old Jewish Educational Alliance Building Parts of Pulaski Ward, along with Orleans Square and Jackson Ward to the north, were historically popular residential locations for Savannah’s Jewish citizens. Jewish-owned business houses were often built along Liberty Street, and many of the homes in the neighborhood were constructed for the city’s most prominent Jewish families.

The large red brick building facing on the east of Pulaski Square was built in 1915 by the Jewish Educational Alliance, which still provides social and cultural programs for Savannah’s Jewish citizens. The building has since been purchased by the Savannah College of Art and Design, which uses it as a women’s dormitory.

Chatham Square (1847)

Chatham Square was laid out in 1847, along with Monterey Square to its east. It is named for the former British Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), the first Earl of Chatham. Chatham had been a vocal advocate of allowing the American colonies certain rights and a degree of independence from Britain, a policy for which he was highly popular amongst many American colonists.

Like Pulaski Square, Chatham Square is a pretty, tranquil spot primarily notable for the architecture of its surrounding streets. Almost all the buildings around the square are those originally constructed when the neighborhoods was laid out. The surrounding streets are residential, mostly paired and row houses dating from the early 1850s.

Toomer Sundial Chatham Square contains only one memorial, in honor of the African-American politician and businessman Louis Burke Toomer. The memorial, a discreet cylinder of granite topped with a bronze sundial, was placed in 1964.

Toomer’s most enduring legacy is the Carver State Bank, of which he was the founder and first president. Carver State Bank today is the oldest locally-owned bank in Savannah, and one of the oldest in the country under black ownership.

Gordon Row These historic row houses (also sometimes referred to as Gordon Block) are to the southeast of Chatham Square. A near-uniform stretch of fifteen four-story brick houses, they were built as a speculative investment between 1853 and 1855.

Old Barnard Street School The former Barnard Street School building, constructed in 1906 in the Mediterranean Revival style, is on the northwest corner of Chatham Square. The original school was established in 1854 as one of Savannah’s earliest moves towards the provision of free education for its children. The building currently belongs to the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Lafayette Square (1837)

Named for the popular Frenchman and Revolutionary War general Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de La Fayette (1757-1834), this square is one of the most central and accessible squares in Savannah and also one of the most rewarding to visit, with several historic homes and landmarks located on or near it.

Cathedral of St John the Baptist North of Lafayette Square is one of Savannah’s most striking landmarks. The Cathedral was built in 1876, designed in the French Gothic style; the spires were completed in 1896. The building was soon afterwards almost completed remodeled after a disastrous fire in 1898 left only the walls and spires standing.

Andrew Low House This house just off Lafayette Square was built for cotton magnate Andrew Low. It was later the residence of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, who married his son William Mackay Low. The adjacent carriage house served as the Scouts’ first meeting place. Open to the public. See visitor information

Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Celebrated southern author Flannery O’Connor lived here until the age of 13. The house is open to the public. See visitor information

Hamilton-Turner House Preserved and currently the Hamilton Turner Inn, this appealing Second Empire structure on the east of Lafayette Square dates from 1873. It is reputedly haunted.

Memorial Fountain In the center of the square is a fountain donated by the Georgia Colonial Dames of America to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Georgia colony.

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Calhoun Square (1851)

Calhoun Square, laid out in 1851, was named for the recently deceased John C Calhoun (1782-1850). A politician and political theorist, Calhoun served as Senator for South Carolina, Secretary of War and Secretary of State. He also served as vice president under two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, between 1825 and 1832.

It alone of all Savannah’s squares retains each of its original buildings and provides therefore the best example of how the city might once have looked: homes erected in the 1850s and 1860s, the old Massie School house, built soon after the square was laid out, and the imposing Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church.

Old African-American Cemetery Calhoun Square, like all Savannah’s Historic District squares, was laid out on the city’s common lands surrounding its already built-up areas. The specific area in which Calhoun Square and neighboring Whitefield Square are located, however, is believed to have once been the site of an early 19th-century burial ground, where Savannah’s African Americans, slave and free, were laid to rest.

The official location of the burial ground was further to the east, under the present Whitefield Square, but in the absence of any clear markers designating the ground and its boundaries, many people were inevitably buried outside of its limits. A human skull was unearthed in Calhoun Square in the early 2000s, and it is estimated that several hundred people, mostly slaves, may have been buried here and in the vicinity.

Massie Heritage Interpretation Center Formerly a public school, this John Norris-designed building (constructed in 1856) now houses a museum of Savannah’s history. See visitor information

Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church This church was established in 1868 as a tribute to John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism. The current Gothic-style building was built over a period of more than a decade, finally dedicated in 1890.

Troup Square (1851)

Troup Square is a quiet, pleasant space, slightly off the regular tourist track in the less-visited southeast of Savannah’s Historic District. It was laid out in 1851, along with Calhoun Square to its southwest and Whitefield Square to its immediate south.

It is named for former Governor of Georgia George McIntosh Troup (1780-1856), in a rare departure from the city’s then policy of naming its streets, wards and squares in honor of deceased historical figures.

Myers Fountain Former Mayor Herman Myers gave this fountain to the city in the early 20th century; it was originally placed in Forsyth Park, from which it was later moved to Troup Square. The Myers Fountain, now converted to be used by dogs rather than people, is currently used for the annual interfaith Blessing of the Pets, held on or around the Feast of St Francis on October 4.

Armillary Sphere This unusual sculpture, an art installation representing the ancient device used to calculate the movement of stars in the sky, stands in the middle of Troup Square. First placed in the 1970s, the armillary sphere was renovated by local residents in the 1990s, and again very recently after the sculpture was destroyed by a drunk driver.

Unitarian Universalist Church This historic church, designed by John Norris and completed in the early 1850s, was originally erected on Oglethorpe Square.

It was later purchased by an African-American congregation which, feeling unwelcome on one of Savannah’s central squares, moved their church to its current location on Troup Square. The building later came back into the possession of the Unitarians.

The Unitarian Church is famous for being the site from which James Pierpont, then its organ player (and brother of the church’s minister John Pierpont), composed the internationally famous song Jingle Bells in 1857.

Whitefield Square (1851)

Whitefield Square was the 24th and final square laid out in accordance with Savannah’s old city plan. It is named for the Reverend George Whitefield, a widely-known Anglican preacher and founder of Savannah’s Bethesda Orphanage.

Though the square was laid out in 1851, much of the development of the area took place after the Civil War and in the decades that followed. Around the southerly portion of the square are many examples of attractive later-19th-century wood frame homes; the buildings on the northern side of the square are predominantly modern.

Of particular note are the several houses around Whitefield Square and the neighboring streets built in the “gingerbread” style of this period. Also known as the stick style, it is characterized by the extensive use of decorative wood and latticework to embellish the basic frame house.

Old African-American Cemetery See above

First Congregational Church Two of Savannah’s historic black churches stand on or near Whitefield Square. On the square’s west is the First Congregational Church, established by northern missionaries after the Civil War. The current building dates from 1895.

Beth Eden Baptist Church A few yards down the street is Beth Eden Baptist Church, built by a congregation of Savannah Baptists in 1893 after a split from the Second African Baptist Church. The building was designed by Henry Urban in the Gothic Revival style.

Crawford Square (1841)

Crawford Square, tucked behind Colonial Park Cemetery on the far eastern side of Savannah’s Historic District, is one of the squares least often seen by visitors to the city.

The square was laid out in 1841; it is named for William Harris Crawford (1772-1834), who served as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury.

Today, Crawford Square is the only square in Savannah of which a portion is still devoted to active recreation, a basketball court occupying its northern half. Unfortunately, many of the historic buildings around the square have been destroyed.

The square itself retains several of it original features. A historic water cistern, constructed in the 19th century to aid in firefighting, is still there. So too is a portion of the railing that once enclosed each of Savannah’s squares. Tabby paving (a historic building material made of lime and oyster shell) is another early feature of Crawford Square.

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