Telfair Square, situated in the oldest portion of the city and one of the very first districts laid out by James Oglethorpe, is today one of the artistic centers of Savannah’s Historic District. Telfair Square was one of the first four squares laid out upon the founding of Savannah in 1733, along with Johnson, Wright and Ellis Squares.
It is home to two of the city’s major art museums, the Telfair Academy of Arts and the contemporary Jepson Center. Both hold frequent events and exhibitions, are popular visitor attractions and important components in Savannah’s arts calendar.
Telfair Square was once one of the most fashionable residence places in Savannah, and it is unfortunate that an area so significant in Savannah’s culture and past should have lost so much of its historic appeal. The square itself is beautiful, with large, mature live oaks, shaded lawns and tasteful plantings, but most of the buildings that once fronted on the square have been lost.
Telfair Square is located near central downtown Savannah, in the western half of its Historic District. The square is at the intersection of Barnard and President Streets. Surrounding Heathcote Ward is bounded by Broughton, Jefferson and Whitaker Streets and Oglethorpe Avenue. See on map
Northwards from Telfair is Ellis Square, with the shops and art galleries of City Market and a wide selection of places to eat and drink in the surrounding streets.
East is Bull Street’s Wright Square, near which is the historic former residence of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low; south is Orleans Square and another historic house museum, the 1840s Greek Revival Harper Fowlkes mansion. Westwards is the outer margin of the Historic District, with little of interest to tourists.
Heathcote Ward is named for the Jamaican-born British politician George Heathcote (1700-1768), who helped Oglethorpe plan the new colony of Georgia and also served as treasurer for the Trustees in charge of establishing the colony.
Telfair Square was originally named St James’s Square after the royal palace and park of the same name in London. It was renamed in 1883, in honor of Savannah’s influential Telfair family, a few years after the death of the last Telfair, Mary, in 1875.
On the northern west trust lot stands the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. This art museum occupies the former home of Mary Telfair, built for her brother Alexander Telfair in 1818-1819.
She bequeathed the house – one of several in Savannah designed by noted architect William Jay – on the condition that it be used as a museum. Today it is operated by Telfair Museums, and displays predominantly traditional art.
On the south side of the square is the Jepson Center. Opened in 2006, this modern-styled building, also owned by Telfair Museums, displays contemporary art. Both museums also host varied rotating exhibitions.
The famous “Bird Girl” statue, featured in Mignight in the Garden of Good and Evil and formerly located at Bonaventure Cemetery, can be seen at the Jepson Center. It was moved there as a precaution against vandalism or theft.
The southern west trust lot is occupied by the Trinity Methodist Church, built in 1850 according to the design of Savannah architect John B Hogg. The church was founded in 1807; it is the oldest Methodist congregation in Savannah. Its original building was on Oglethorpe Avenue (then South Broad Street) at Lincoln Street.
Telfair Square is the site of two small and unobtrusive monuments. On the ground at the northeast corner is a representation of a chambered nautilus, perhaps commemorating Savannah’s relationship with the sea. On the southeast corner is a similarly-styled memorial commemorating the founding of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
You might find an on-street parking space near Telfair Square, but if not the Robinson Garage (entrance on West York Street at Montgomery) is only two blocks away. The Civic Center parking lot a few blocks south of Telfair Square, and the Whitaker Street Garage six blocks north, are nearby alternatives.
Savannah’s free Historic District shuttle stops right on Telfair Square. Several of the city’s paid bus services also stop within a few blocks, with routes along Broughton Street to its north and Oglethorpe Avenue to its south. Get public transport directions