Over the course of Savannah’s history, four of its original 24 squares have been destroyed, all in the northwest of the city’s Historic District: the three Montgomery Street squares – Liberty, Elbert and Franklin – plus Ellis Square. Of those, Franklin and Ellis Squares have since been reclaimed, but Liberty and Elbert Squares are still essentially lost.
All that now remains of Elbert Square is a small strip opposite the Civic Center, the construction of which itself resulted in the loss of much of adjacent Orleans Square’s historic surroundings. Another small grassed area reflects the former location of Liberty Square. Adjacent to it, in front of the courthouse building, is the American Legion Flame of Freedom.
Visually dominated by the Civic Center and a substantial 70s-style courthouse and jail, the area around the former Liberty and Elbert Squares has few points of sufficient interest to visit.
The only sight of any real historical significance is the former synagogue of Congregation B’nai Brith Jacob (120 Montgomery Street, just south of Broughton), constructed in 1909 and later, unusually, converted into a Christian church, the St Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church. The building has since been redeveloped again as a SCAD Student Center. It is worth a quick detour off Broughton Street if you are interested in architecture.
Although the immediate vicinity of the former Elbert and Liberty Squares offers little in the way of visitor attractions, there are several museums and points of interest within a short walk.
The main Visitor Center and attached Savannah History Museum are both nearby, just beyond the western border of the Historic District, as are the SCAD Museum of Art and the Georgia State Railroad Museum. To the north is restored Franklin Square, with its historic First African Baptist Church and the Haitian Monument.
Liberty Square and Ward were laid out in 1799 (along with Greene and Columbia Squares to the east of the city) during the second of Savannah’s several extensions of its original city plan. Another expansion of the city followed very shortly after, in 1801, and with it Elbert Square and Ward.
Both wards are narrower than the standard Historic District ward, reduced in size to fit the space remaining on the western margin of the city common.
Liberty Square and Ward are believed to have been named either for the principle of Liberty, probably that of the then still newly independent nation, or for the Sons of Liberty, one of Savannah’s revolutionary groups.
Elbert Square and Ward are named for Savannah merchant, politician and soldier in the Revolutionary War, Samuel Elbert (1740-1788).
In the 1930s, Liberty, Franklin and Elbert Squares were sacrificed to make way for a highway redevelopment project intended to allow the United States Highway 17 (also know as the Atlantic Coastal Highway) to cut a straight path through Savannah on its route down the eastern seaboard from New York to Florida.
The scheme was intended to bring investment and tourist money to Savannah during the difficult Depression years, though in the end its economic benefit was minimal. The loss of the squares was a heavy one for the predominantly black population then living on the city’s west side. Contentious even at the time, the squares’ destruction was deeply regretted in the years to follow.
Franklin Square was reclaimed in 1985, but besides the small grass strips on the sites of Elbert and Liberty Squares, little has been done so far toward restoring either of them to their former function.
Most of the southerly, Elbert Ward half of this district is occupied by the Civic Center and its parking lot, not leaving much room for smaller establishments. One exception is the Distillery Ale House (416 West Liberty Street), which offers craft beers and pub food in an early-20th-century distillery building.
On the opposite side of Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard are three restaurants to suit a variety of tastes: Carlito’s Mexican Bar & Grill (119 Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard), which offers a full vegetarian/vegan menu besides its regular Mexican dishes; Wasabi’s (113 Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard) sushi bar and Japanese restaurant; and The Grey (109 Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard), a higher-end bar and restaurant located inside an art-deco-style former Greyhound bus terminal.