Savannah has an unusually large number and variety of historic house museums for a city of its size. Most of them date from the early to mid 19th century and are restored to reflect that period.
Savannah’s historic homes can offer a closer look at the lives of its (mostly white and wealthy) residents in times past, an appreciation of the architecture and furnishings of a particular period, or even just something to do on a rainy day.
In the majority of these houses, guided tours only are available, though the gardens (where applicable) can be toured at your own pace. Allow about an hour or so for your visit to any of the homes.
See also: Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum (in the William Jay-designed Scarbrough House).
329 Abercorn Street. Call 912-233-6854
Open daily. Guided tours every half hour. Monday-Saturday, first tour 10am, last tour 4pm. Sunday, first tour 12pm, last tour 4pm. Adults $10, seniors/children (6-18)/students $9. $1 discount for Girl Scouts and AAA members. Discounts available: Pioneers in Preservation Pass, $21 for admission to three of Savannah’s historic houses or museums (sites vary). Purchase pass at any participating house/museum.
The Andrew Low House was built for one of Savannah’s wealthiest businessmen, the Scottish-born cotton factor Andrew Low. It was built in 1848-1849, the architect believed to be John S Norris.
The house is also associated with Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts story: Gordon Low lived here after her marriage to Andrew Low’s son William Mackay Low. Though they later divorced, Gordon Low remained in the house until her death; the adjacent carriage house served as the first meeting place for the Girl Scouts organization, which she founded in 1912.
The house (today owned by the Colonial Dames of Georgia) has numerous restored rooms showing how life would have been for a wealthy Savannah family in the 19th century, including a children’s playroom and, more unusually, one of the earliest indoor bathrooms.
The Andrew Low House also has one of the few surviving original gardens created in 19th-century Savannah, and the only one open to the public. The design of the gardens dates from the mid century, shortly after the completion of the house.
324 East State Street. Call 912-236-8097
Open daily for guided tours. Monday-Saturday, first tour 10am, last tour 4pm. Sunday, first tour 1pm, last tour 4pm. Adults $9, children (6-17) $5, young children (0-5) free. Discounts available: Pioneers in Preservation Pass, $21 for admission to three of Savannah’s historic houses or museums (sites vary). Purchase pass at any participating house/museum.
The Davenport House Museum is one of the oldest of Savannah’s historic houses open to the public. It is also significant as one of the first major successes of the historic preservation movement in Savannah.
New England builder and architect Isaiah Davenport built this house for his family from around 1820, completing it a year or so later. A large and distinctive red brick structure, it is designed in the Federal style, popular from the last decades of the 18th century.
The Historic Savannah Foundation saved the house from destruction in the mid 20th century. Once serving as their headquarters, it opened as a museum in 1963. The house is restored to its appearance in the 1820s; the gardens have also been redeveloped.
Tours explore the life and household management of a thriving Savannah family in that period, and outline the strategies and achievements of the projects undertaken in Savannah over the past several decades to preserve the city’s historic heritage.
Davenport House also offers several annual special events, some seasonal and others focusing on aspects of Savannah’s history and preservation. See upcoming events
207 East Charlton Street. Call 912-233-6014
Open Friday-Wednesday, 1pm-4pm. Adults $6, students/active duty military $5, children (0-15) free.
This house is the former residence of Flannery O’Connor, one of the South’s most celebrated authors. O’Connor’s literary reputation rests on her four works – two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, and two collections of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, the latter published posthumously – bizarre and highly religiously-inflected works that drew upon her intense and lifelong engagement with Catholicism.
O’Connor lived in the house until the age of 13 (a third of her short life), after which her family moved to Atlanta. After traveling north for her education, O’Connor spent much of her remaining time on her mother’s Milledgeville, GA farm. She died aged 39, of lupus.
The Flannery O’Connor childhood home is one of Savannah’s more unique historic house museums. It is the only house museum that depicts life as it would have been during the Great Depression of the early 20th century. It also provides an insight into life for a more modest middle class family, in contrast to the homes of Savannah’s elite.
14 West Macon Street. Call 912-233-3845
Guided tours of the house are available Tuesday, Thursday-Friday, 10am-4pm and Saturday, 10am-1pm (last tour 30 minutes before closing). A donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children is requested.
Amongst Savannah’s most popular historic houses is the Green-Meldrim House, on the west side of Madison Square. From this house, General William Sherman wrote his historic telegram presenting the City of Savannah to President Lincoln as a “Christmas present.” It is currently owned by the adjacent St John’s Episcopal Church.
The house was built for English merchant and one of the wealthiest businessman in Savannah, Charles Green, in the early 1850s, at that time one of the grandest houses in the city and reputedly, the single most expensive ever built to that date. It was designed by John S Norris, and is considered an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture.
Charles Green famously offered the use of his house to General Sherman during the Union army’s occupation of Savannah around the winter of 1864. Some said this was a gesture intended to spare his southern fellow-citizens the indignity of hosting the enemy. Others thought Green was motivated by the hope that the invading forces would not burn his fine new house, though he needn’t have worried: Sherman spared Savannah.
230 Barnard Street. Call 912-234-2180
Open for guided tours Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm. Last tour at 4pm. Adults $10, students $5, children (0-12) free.
The Harper-Fowlkes House, a striking Greek Revival home on Savannah’s southwestern Orleans Square, was once owned by the influential Champion and McAlpin families. It stands today as testament to the preservation work of Alida Harper-Fowlkes.
The house was designed by Charles Cluskey in the Greek Revival style, constructed in 1842. The Harper-Fowlkes House is the last remaining of the large homes that once graced the formerly-fashionable Orleans Square, its imposing double-story columns a hint of the square’s lost grandeur.
The Harper-Fowlkes House was owned by various members of the Champion and McAlpin familes for much of its first century. Alida Harper (Alida Harper-Fowlkes after her marriage) bought the property in 1939. Though she was never very active in Savannah’s leading preservationist organization, the Historic Savannah Foundation, Harper became an influential force in the restoration of Savannah’s old houses and neighborhoods.
Harper substantially restored the historic Orleans Square home, later deeding it to the Society of the Cincinnati with the proviso that it would never be sold. Tours discuss the home’s architecture, artworks and antiques and Harper’s own preservation work.
10 East Oglethorpe Avenue. Call 912-233-4501
Open Monday-Saturday, 12:15pm-4:15pm. Tours every 30 minutes, last tour at 4:15pm. Hours and guided tour availability may vary to accommodate groups and special events, call to verify before your visit. Adults $15, seniors/military/children (5-18)/students $12, Girl Scouts $10, young children (0-4) free.
Juliette Gordon Low is known nationwide as the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. The Birthplace, or Wayne-Gordon House as it is otherwise called, was her childhood home. It is one of Savannah’s key cultural sites.
Juliette Magill Gordon was born in 1860. The house, built around 1820 for the recent mayor of Savannah and later Supreme Court Justice James Moore Wayne, was bought from him by her grandfather, politician and railroad man William Washington Gordon I. Its design is attributed to William Jay.
Juliette Gordon Low (as she became known after her marriage to William Mackay Low in the 1880s) founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, inspired by the Boy Scouting/Girl Guiding organizations she had learned of during her travels in Britain.
The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is both a museum of the Girl Scouts organization and a historic home. It is restored to reflect the life of an upper class southern family in the late 19th century, also displaying many artifacts from Low’s life and the history of Girl Scouting.
514 East Huntington Street. Call 912-335-8868
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-5pm. Adults $7, seniors/military $3, children/students $2, young children (0-2) free.
The King-Tisdell Cottage is currently the only one of Savannah’s historic homes formerly owned by and depicting the lives of the city’s African-American citizens.
The house was originally built in 1896 for the white woodmill owner WW Aimar, constructed in the delightful ‘gingerbread’ style then popular. The King-Tisdell Cottage is a beautiful example of this late-19th century architectural trend, characterized by the intricate, ornate woodword employed as decoration of the porches and other outer features of a dwelling.
In 1925, the house was bought by a young African-American couple, Eugene and Sarah King, both of them representative of the black entrepreneurship that often thrived in early 20th-century Savannah. Eugene King was the owner of a laundry business; Sarah would operate her own confectionery out of their home, then located at 516 Ott Street, out in Savannah’s southern addition.
More of a museum in a historic house than a historic house museum, its exhibits include: the experiences of slavery and emancipation and of black entrepreneurship in the city; the Gullah-Geechee culture of the sea islands and coast; the life of museum founder and Civil Rights activist WW Law; and the stories of the home’s former owners.
429 Bull Street. Call 912-236-6352 or 877-430-6352 (toll-free)
Open daily for guided tours. Monday-Saturday, 10:30am-4:10pm and Sunday, 12pm-4pm. Adults $12.50, children $8.
The Mercer-Williams House, former residence of the preservationist and antiques dealer Jim Williams, is undoubtedly the most widely-known of Savannah’s historic homes.
The early history of the house was largely unremarkable. John S Norris designed the home in 1860, for Hugh Weedon Mercer. War interfered with its construction, however, and it was not completed until 1868, by which time Mercer had sold it to John Wilder.
In 1969, Williams bought the house, restoring the property and redesigning the interiors according to his own tastes and interests.
Always a controversial figure, Jim Williams became a notorious one when he shot and killed his lover in the old Mercer House. Soon after, the man, the events and the home would all be immortalized in John Berendt’s international best-seller, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, also made into a movie.
Tours of the Mercer-Williams House focus on the architecture and restoration of the house; Williams’s legacy as a historical preservationist; and the remaining antiques (most of the antiques with which Williams filled the house have now been sold). Discussion of both the shooting and “The Book” is minimal.
124 Abercorn Street. Call 912-790-8800
Open daily, guided tours every 15 minutes. Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm and Sunday-Monday, 12pm-5pm. The last tour begins at 4:30pm. Admission includes entry to two art museums, the Telfair Academy and the Jepson Center. Adults $20, seniors (65+)/military $18, children (13+)/students $15, young children (0-12) free.
The Owens-Thomas House is one of Savannah’s most outstanding antebellum houses, and also one of its most completely preserved. Slave quarters and English-style parterre gardens can be seen, besides the architecture and antiques of the main house itself.
The Owens-Thomas House dates from the 1810s, built for wealthy cotton merchant and banker Richard Richardson and his family. It was William Jay’s first Savannah commission: Jay is one of the most notable architects to have worked in the city, and the Owens-Thomas House is considered his finest work.
The house was completed in 1819, but tragedy soon struck. By 1822, Richardson’s wife Frances and two of their children were dead, and Richardson had lost their home, ruined by a recession and bad investments.