Chatham Square today is quiet and pretty, far less visited than many of Savannah’s other squares despite its close proximity to Forsyth Park, only a few blocks southeast, and to historic Jones Street. It was laid out in 1847, along with Monterey Square to its east.
Besides its tranquility, the primary attraction of Chatham Square is the architecture of its bordering streets and surrounding ward, particularly the historic homes and buildings on the successfully restored Jones Street, the northern margin of Chatham Ward.
The square itself retains almost all its original buildings. The surrounding streets are lined with residential structures, mostly paired and row houses dating from the early 1850s. The only exception, on both counts – being neither original nor residential – is the former Barnard Street School, erected on the northeast of Chatham Square in 1901.
Chatham Square is located towards the southwest of Savannah’s Historic District, at the intersection of Barnard and West Wayne Streets. Chatham Ward is bordered by Jones, Tattnall, Whitaker and Gaston Streets. See on map
Northwards is Pulaski Square, its streets and architecture similar to those around Chatham Square and Ward; south are the residential blocks comprising the portion of Savannah’s lower Historic District that is west of Forsyth Park, with many examples of the city’s best architecture, especially fronting on the park itself along Whitaker Street.
East is Bull Street and Monterey Square, where you can visit the Mercer-Williams House, featured prominently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Westwards, on Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard, a couple of blocks beyond the ward boundary, is the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
Chatham Square and Ward are 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.
One of Chatham Square’s more notable architectural features are the historic row houses to its southeast, known as Gordon Row or sometimes Gordon Block.
A near-uniform stretch of fifteen four-story brick houses stretching a block and a half from the corner of the square to the intersection of Gordon and Whitaker Streets, the properties were built as a speculative investment between 1853 and 1855. Their intended use was as renter-occupied houses for Savannah’s burgeoning mid-century rental market.
The row house as a building style was comparatively rare in the American city. Savannah is one of the cities in which it was more commonly employed (most of the others are in the North, New York’s famous brownstone row houses amongst the most widely known). Several blocks besides Gordon Row – Scudders Row, McDonough Row or Marshall Row, for example – still survive today.
Diagonally opposite from Gordon Row, on the northwest corner of the square, is the former Barnard Street School building, constructed in 1906.
The original school was established in 1854 as one of Savannah’s earliest moves towards the provision of free education for its children. It was also briefly used as a military hospital by the Union Army during its occupation of Savannah.
This first school was demolished, the new Barnard Street School built on the same site. The building was constructed according to the same the plan used for another school on Anderson Street (in the present-day Victorian Historic District) a decade earlier, though the facade material and architectural details differ.
The Mediterranean Revival building on Chatham Square was renovated and remodeled as SCAD’s Pepe Hall in 2009, now used as classrooms and for other teaching and administrative functions (The Anderson Street School has also since been redeveloped as a SCAD building, renamed Anderson Hall).
Chatham Square contains only one memorial, a discreet monument erected in honor of the African-American politician and businessman Louis Burke Toomer in 1964.
The monument, a small cylinder of granite topped with a bronze sundial, stands in the northern part of the square, near the intersection of two sidewalks. An inscription on its side commemorates Toomer and his achievements.
Louis B 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.
The Georgia Savings and Realty Company, as Carver State was originally named, obtained its charter on February 23 1927. The bank stood on West Broad Street (since renamed Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard), then the center of African American business life. It has since been moved into a modern, nondescript building a few blocks south and west of Chatham Square.
In 1947, the Georgia Savings and Realty Corporation was converted into a state bank, now coming under the supervision of the Georgia Department of Banking. Its name was then changed to Carver State Bank.
Toomer retained the presidency of his bank until his death in 1961. During his comparatively short life (he died at only 67) he was also an active Republican politician, involving himself in local and national affairs. In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed Toomer as Register of the Treasury; he served until 1956.
Savannah’s Downtown Design District, roughly centered around Whitaker Street between Jones and Taylor (and more broadly between Charlton and Gaston), is east of Chatham Square. The area offers a variety of independent, locally-owned boutiques and stores, selling fashion, gifts, antiques and interior decorations.
Chatham Ward’s main culinary attraction is Savannah favorite Mrs Wilkes Dining Room (107 West Jones Street), which offers communally-served homestyle southern cooking, weekday lunchtimes only. Reservations are not accepted, and there is frequently a line out of the door.
As Chatham Square is somewhat less busy than the more central parts of Savannah, there is not usually much difficulty in finding on-street parking in and around Chatham Ward.
The nearest parking garages are around 10 blocks from the square, either the city-owned Liberty Street Garage or the private Liberty Parking Deck.
The nearest stop on Savannah’s free shuttle is 8 blocks from Chatham Square, at Liberty and Jefferson Streets. Paid city bus services also stop within a few blocks. Get public transport directions