Chippewa Square has been a center of Savannah’s entertainment district since the early 19th century, when the city’s first theater was erected on its eastern side.
Burned and later reopened as a movie theater, the Savannah Theatre has more lately been transformed into a performing arts space. With many restaurants and cafés on and around the square, Chippewa is once more at the heart of Savannah’s nightlife. It is often a center of annual festivities too, having become, in particular, one of the most popular places to go during Savannah’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Chippewa is the third in the chain of Bull Street squares, located near the center of the downtown Historic District, at the intersection of Bull and McDonough Streets. See on map
Chippewa Square is home to the memorial to city founder General James Oglethorpe. Surrounding Brown Ward offers shops and restaurants, interesting architecture and two of Savannah’s oldest churches, First Baptist and Independent Presbyterian.
Despite being the site of the memorial to Savannah and Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, Chippewa Square’s primary claim to fame is probably its role in the 1994 film Forrest Gump.
The Chippewa Square bench features in the scenes in which Forrest (Tom Hanks), seated at a bus stop on the northern edge of the square, narrates his life story to passersby.
Visitors hoping to sit or be photographed on the bench will unfortunately be disappointed, as it is not an original feature of the square, but a prop created for the film, a copy of which can be seen in the Savannah History Museum.
Chippewa Square today is the site of the Oglethorpe Monument, a tribute to British founder of the Colony of Georgia, James Oglethorpe.
Oglethorpe’s monument was unveiled in 1910, replacing a fountain and two busts of the Confederate generals Francis Bartow and Lafayette McLaws. They were removed to Thomas and Forsyth Parks, respectively.
A block north of Chippewa Square, at the intersection of Bull Street and Oglethorpe Avenue, is the Independent Presbyterian Church. Scottish immigrants founded the Church in 1755, the first Presbyterian Church in Georgia.
The original building, on Ellis Square, burned down in the 1790s. The current edifice, erected on Oglethorpe Avenue (then South Broad Street) in 1891, is the Church’s third (the second was built on Telfair Square in 1800).
It is designed in imitation of St Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican church on London’s Trafalgar Square, though the spire on Savannah’s church is somewhat taller.
First Baptist Church, on the west of Chippewa Square, is Savannah’s oldest surviving place of worship. The Church received its charter in 1800. From their first building on Franklin Square, the Church moved to its present location on Chippewa Square in 1833.
The building, an example of the Greek Revival style of church architecture, was designed by Elias Carter. It was very substantially renovated in the early 1920s, when a cupola was removed from the top of the church and the front redesigned in a more open style, six full columns replacing the original two.
The Savannah Theatre has been in existence almost as long as the square itself. It was built in 1818, from the design of noted English architect William Jay (one of his earliest American works), on Chippewa Square’s northeast trust lot, only three years after it was first laid out.
Though not quite the oldest theatre in the country (that distinction goes to Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre, which put on its first play in 1812) it is certainly one of the earliest, and has been in continual operation since its construction.
Jay’s original building was severely damaged by the hurricane of 1898 (as was the First Baptist Church, opposite). A disastrous fire in 1948 necessitated the Theatre’s complete renovation, the building then rebuilt in its current Art Deco style.
Northwards along Bull Street is Wright Square and the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. South is Madison Square, with two historic house museums and the mid-19th century St John’s Episcopal Church. West is Orleans Square and the impressive Greek Revival Harper-Fowlkes House museum, and east is Colonial Park Cemetery.
Chippewa Square is often busy and on-street parking will be difficult to come by in the streets around the square. Try the quieter streets around Orleans and Pulaski Squares, to Chippewa’s west, instead.
Alternatively, parking is available in the large city-owned Civic Center lot west of Orleans Square, and in the Liberty Street Parking Deck (also city-owned) to the south of the Civic Center. A third city-owned option, the State Street Parking Garage on the north side of Oglethorpe Square, is a similar distance away (around 6 blocks).
Closer by, private parking (city passes not valid) is available at the Liberty Street Parking Deck to the south of Chippewa Square at Whitaker Street, with another parking lot opposite, north of Liberty.