Savannah’s Historic Western Squares

Benches alongside the path in a wet Orleans Square, Savannah, GA.

Of all Savannah’s squares, those on the north-western side of the Historic District have suffered the most significant losses to development. Of the six squares – Franklin, Liberty, Elbert, Orleans, Ellis and Telfair – four have at some stage been lost altogether, all to the needs of 20th-century motorists. Two have since been reclaimed.

See below: Elbert and Liberty Squares; Ellis Square; Franklin Square; Orleans Square; Telfair Square.

See also: 19th-century squares (Chatham, Pulaski, Troup, Whitefield, Calhoun, Lafayette, Crawford); eastern squares (Reynolds, Oglethorpe, Columbia, Greene, Warren and Washington); Bull Street squares (Johnson, Wright, Chippewa, Madison and Monterey).

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Franklin Square (1790)

Franklin Square, the westernmost of Savannah’s squares, was laid out in 1790. It is named for Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the United States and former agent of Georgia. Destroyed in the 1930s to make way for a road project, the square was successfully reclaimed and restored in the 1980s.

Franklin Square is an historically significant place in Savannah’s African American history. The joint-oldest black congregation, First African Baptist Church (which shares its origins with First Bryan Baptist Church, a few hundred yards to the west) is located here. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Franklin Square was also an important cultural and recreational space for the residents of Savannah’s predominantly black west side.

First African Baptist Church This is one of the oldest African-American congregations in the country, founded by slaves and free people in the 18th century. The current building dates from 1859. Public tours of the church are available, and there is also a small museum.

Haitian Monument This monument, created in two stages in 2007 and 2009, commemorates the contribution of over 500 free black soldiers, the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, to the fight against the British at the 1779 Siege of Savannah. More about the Haitian Monument

Ellis Square (1733)

Ellis Square, historically and still today at the center of Savannah’s business and shopping areas, is one of the Historic District’s most popular squares. Ellis Square is near to River Street, the City Market and the most central of Savannah’s Visitor Centers, and also near to many of the city’s larger hotels. A play fountain appeals to children, especially in summer.

Ellis Square was one of the first four squares laid out in 1733, in accordance with Oglethorpe’s plan of Savannah. It was named for second Royal Governor of Georgia Henry Ellis.

This area of Savannah was once at the heart of its slave trading district. Slaves were sold in Wright Square, and held in slave yards near Johnson Square. The offices and business places of those who were either directly involved in the slave trade or whose fortunes were based on slave labor were located on and around Ellis and Johnson Squares and the streets in their vicinity.

A market site for over two hundred years, Ellis Square was often known as Market or Marketplace Square. The square was lost completely in 1954 when the final and historic city market building was razed to make way for the multistory Robbie Robinson Parking Garage. Over the past decade, Savannah has restored Ellis Square, which is now one of the largest in the city.

Johnny Mercer Memorial This memorial commemorates Savannah musician Johnny Mercer (1909-1976). The life-size bronze statue, sculpted by local artist Susie Chisholm, was unveiled on November 18 2009, the 100th anniversary of Mercer’s birth.

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Liberty Square (1799) & Elbert Square (1801)

Liberty and Elbert Squares were sacrificed – along with since-reclaimed Franklin Square, to their north – to a Depression-era road construction project intended to allow the United States Highway 17 (the Atlantic Coastal Highway) to cut a straight path through Savannah on its route down the eastern seaboard from New York to Florida. All three Montgomery Street squares were paved over to accommodate the new roadway.

Liberty Square was laid out in 1799, along with Greene and Columbia Squares, to the east of the city. It is 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 was laid out in 1801. It is named for Savannah merchant, politician and soldier in the Revolutionary War, Samuel Elbert (1740-1788). 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.

The offer of government money to build the Coastal Highway through Savannah’s historic center was a tempting one, promising to bring not only the initial investment itself, the improvement to infrastructure, and possible jobs for local workers but also tourist traffic from the north.

However, the eradication of the Montgomery Street squares was one of the worst 20th-century losses sustained by Savannah’s Historic District. The loss of these three squares was contentious at the time, and deeply regretted in the years after. Franklin Square was reclaimed in 1985; Elbert Square’s small surviving plots of grass have been developed, but nothing remains of Liberty Square.

Telfair Square (1733)

Telfair Square is one of the original four squares laid out when Savannah was founded. Then known as St James’s Square, it was officially renamed in honor of Savannah’s Telfair family in 1883.

Telfair Square is today one of the artistic centers of Savannah’s Historic District, with two art museums fronting on it. Once one of the most fashionable residence places in Savannah, most of the historic homes and buildings around the square have unfortunately since been lost.

Trinity United Methodist Church Designed in the Greek Revival style by Savannah architect John Hogg, this 1850 church houses the oldest Methodist congregation in the city, founded in 1807.

Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences Designed by William Jay, this historic house was once the home of Savannah’s prominent Telfair family. In the late 19th century, it was transformed into an art museum (it is one of the oldest in the South). The museum displays a range of traditional European and American art. See visitor information

Jepson Center The Jepson Center is the contemporary counterpart to the Telfair Academy, its eye-catching building erected in 2006. It displays the Telfair Museums’s contemporary collections and a series of traveling exhibitions. See visitor information

Orleans Square (1815)

Orleans Square was laid out in 1815, along with Chippewa Square to its east. It was named in commemoration of the Battle of New Orleans, fought earlier that year during the closing stages of the War of 1812. The surrounding Jackson Ward was named for Andrew Jackson, Major General in command of that battle.

Once one of Savannah’s prime residence locations, the neighborhood around Orleans Square was first gutted in the early 20th century to make way for a municipal auditorium and then again in the 1970s for the construction of Savannah’s new Civic Center and its large parking lot. Little of the former grandeur of Orleans Square remains.

Harper Fowlkes House Also called the Cincinnati House, this Greek Revival mansion was built for the wealthy merchant Aaron Champion in the 1840s. Its design is attributed to Charles B Cluskey. Also associated with the McAlpin family of the famous local Hermitage Plantation, it was later bought and renovated by businesswoman and preservationists Alida Harper. The house is open to the public. See visitor information

German Fountain Placed in 1989, this fountain commemorates the earliest German immigrants to Savannah, and the 250th anniversary of the founding of Savannah and the Colony of Georgia.

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