Immediately south of Savannah’s better-known Landmark Historic District, and anchored by the lower half of Forsyth Park, is the Victorian Historic District, stretching from Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard in the west to East Broad Street between Gwinnett Street and Anderson Lane.
If you enjoy seeing historic architecture, the streets in the more westerly parts of the Victorian District make for an interesting stroll after a visit to Forsyth Park.
Developed as Savannah’s first suburb, the district (comprising three neighborhoods, Victorian District West, Victorian District East and Dixon Park) is a repository for hundreds of historic 19th-century homes and buildings.
The Victorian District is easily walkable from Forsyth Park, and you can also take CAT’s Route 4 or Route 14 buses. If you are driving, parking is free and without time limit on most streets.
South of Forsyth Park on Bull Street is the American Legion building, home to the beginnings (in 1942) of the Eighth Air Force (a museum in nearby Pooler explores the history of the “Mighty Eighth” Air Force).
The building was erected in 1913, designed in the Gothic Revival style by Herman Witcover (whose other works in Savannah include its City Hall). The fort-like building was originally constructed for the Chatham Artillery, later bought by the American Legion Post 135.
Immediately south of Forsyth Park is one of the Victorian District’s most historically-significant buildings. A sign over the doorway of the imposing Italianate edifice reveals its history as the former Telfair Hospital.
Savannah philanthropist Mary Telfair provided for the establishment of the hospital, to care for “sick and indigent females,” in her will (other benefactions included the Telfair Academy on Telfair Square and the completion of the Georgia Historical Society’s Hodgson Hall, on the northwest of Forsyth Park).
The hospital was constructed from 1884-1885, according to a design by the firm of Fay and Eichberg. Expansions to the original building were made in 1905 and 1928. It was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a contributing structure in the Victorian Historic District.
The Telfair Hospital was the earliest hospital in Georgia to provide exclusively for the care of women, and by the time of its merger with Candler Hospital in 1960, it was the oldest women’s hospital in continual operation in the country.
The old Telfair Hospital building was later converted into several dozen retirement apartments, and is presently known as the Telfair Arms Apartments. As is often the case in Savannah, there are those who claim that the building is haunted, in this instance by Mary Telfair herself.
The city operates this building as a gallery, theater and space for teaching and practicing the arts. A replacement for the somewhat run-down space is planned on the west of Savannah’s Historic District, but for now this is one of only a handful of places in the Victorian District to see art, with several exhibitions hosted here each year. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.
On the southern margin of the Victorian District is St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. The striking Greek Revival building – beautiful but not obviously ecclesiastical – was originally known as the Lawton Memorial Auditorium. Sarah A Lawton erected the building in 1897-1898, in memory of her husband, General Alexander R Lawton, and their daughter Corinne.
The Auditorium served as an opera house, performing arts space, and for other cultural and educational events for the next 30 years, after which the city sold it to St Paul’s Episcopal Church. That congregation later sold it again, to the Greek Orthodox Church, whose Savannah congregation had been chartered in 1907.
St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church (having chosen to preserve the building’s former name) dedicated the building to its new purpose in 1943, after two years of renovations.
Across the street from the Orthodox church is another Neoclassical building, belonging to the Bull Street Baptist Church. It was designed by the Swedish architect Henrik Wallin.
This 1892 Queen Anne style red brick and terracotta building was originally the Henry Street Elementary School. It was the first school to be constructed south of the present-day Historic District.
The structure was designed by Swedish-born Atlanta architect Gottfrid Norrman, who also produced the designs for several of Savannah’s other schools. SCAD acquired the building in 1986; it currently houses parts of the college’s fashion design program.
Opposite Eckburg Hall is a more unusual example of American architecture, the Streamliner Diner.
The Art Deco structure was constructed in Massachusetts in 1938 or 1939 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, which specialised in constructing mobile diners. They produced several hundred such buildings in a variety of styles, most of which were used in northeastern locations.
This particular example, Worcester #751, was operated in Hanover, New Hampshire until 1957 and then Newport, also New Hampshire, for an additional three decades.
SCAD purchased the structure in 1990 and brought it to Savannah, where it was restored to use as a diner for its students. The Streamliner Diner retains its original marble countertops, tile floors, mahogany booths and stained glass. SCAD recently sold the building, which since 2015 has housed the downtown location of Sandfly BBQ.
The Dixon Park neighborhood, beginning three blocks east of Forsyth Park, is of more recent development than the rest of the Victorian District. The neighborhood, bounded by Habersham, Gwinnett, Anderson and East Broad Streets, was laid out in 1906, with lot sales and new construction following very shortly thereafter. It and the small park around which it is arranged were both named for Alderman and Chairman of Council James M Dixon.
Dixon Park has two sights of historical and architectural note. The remainder of the neighborhood has not yet, for the most part, received the same attention from restorers as the western parts of the Victorian District.
The Carnegie Library is notable for its significance in Savannah’s African-American history, and for its architecture.
The library dates from 1914-1915, constructed at the behest of a group of local African-American men from the Colored Library Association of Savannah with $12,000 from the Carnegie Foundation, which supplied money for library buildings for cities across the United States.
The library was the first in Savannah to exclusively serve the city’s black population (library services for African-Americans in Savannah began in 1906). It was also the first free-standing library building to be erected in the city.
Julian deBruyn Kops designed the library in the Prairie School style. This style, more commonly employed in the Midwest and developed in reaction to the overwhelmingly Neoclassical designs of landmark buildings of the period, is notable for its strong horizontal lines, in contrast to the verticality of Classical revival styles. Prairie School architecture is otherwise rare in Savannah.
The 1896 Anderson Street School was erected to serve the needs of Savannah’s growing population in the southern wards of the city. Like the Henry Street School in the western Victorian District, it was designed by Gottfrid L Norrman.
For this building, Norrman employed a combined Neoclassical and Colonial Revival style. The design, which was greatly admired at the time, was employed again (with some modifications, most notably its reinterpretation in the Mediterranean Revival style) in the construction of the Barnard Street School, presently SCAD’s Pepe Hall, on Chatham Square.
SCAD purchased the former Anderson Street School in 1988, renovating it and renaming it Anderson Hall. It currently houses teaching rooms for the college’s foundation program.