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Historic Savannah: Unique in Urban Planning

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The layout of historic Savannah was created in a remarkable way, using a “repeated pattern of connected neighborhoods, multiple squares, streets, and designed expansion into lands held by the city (the common). It is unique in the history of urban planning in a number of respects, not the least of which is that the squares allow for more open space in Savannah than in any city layout in history” (Georgia Encyclopedia).

Savannah was founded in 1733 on a 45-foot-high bluff over the Savannah River, and it was General James Edward Oglethorpe who used a checkerboard framework for its layout. Ten-and- a-half acre wards are at the core of this design, with 675-foot sides. Streets on the outer ward boundaries were intended for uninterrupted traffic, with internal streets created to be friendly for walkers. (Ultimately, the north and south streets between the wards have become the utilitarian streets, and the east and west streets between the wards have become the boulevards.)

Each ward contains eight blocks: four larger tything blocks on the north and south and four trust blocks on the east and west all arranged around the open space of the square in the center. Tything blocks are then subdivided into ten lots per block that are 60’ x 90’ separated by a 22 ½’ wide lane. In colonial days, tythingmen guarded their assigned wards, plus garden areas given for their use, as well.

Through the middle of the nineteenth century, Savannah grew as wards were added, until there were 28 of them. All but four used the checkerboard pattern. Twenty-two of these still exist today. You can find more information about historic Savannah’s layout plan at GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org.

Historic Savanah Architectural Styles

More than 40 percent of the 2,500 buildings inventoried in the city have architectural and/or historical significance – which is also remarkable, especially since renovations have typically taken place one building at a time, by one person at a time. This information was collected and published by the well-respected Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) – and, to quote the Savannah Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, “From the simple Colonial style to the intricate Medieval-influenced cathedrals, to the gingerbread accents of the Victorian period; examples of most, if not all, of the nation’s 18th and 19th century prevailing architectural styles can be found in Savannah.”

Examples include:

  • Davenport House (Federal): This 1820 house was designed and built by master builder Isiah Davenport, saved from becoming a parking lot for the funeral home next door in 1955 by seven women; this group became the Historic Savannah Foundation. HSF has saved nearly 400 significant historic homes since
  • The Olde Pink House (Georgian): See our review of this architectural treasure
  • Mickve Israel Synagogue (Gothic Revival): This magnificent 1878 synagogue, designed by the nationally known New York architect Henry G. Harrison, was built in a pure neo- Gothic style, which reflects the fashionable architecture of the Victorian era. We highly recommend taking the tour of the museum and original
  • First Baptist Church (Greek Revival): This is the oldest extant church in the city and the only church to stay open during Sherman’s Union occupation in 1864-1865. In 1921, an expansion took place on the original 1833 structure, which includes the current façade.
  • Mercer Williams House (Italianate): Designed by John Norris (John’s first commission in Savannah was the US Customs House in 1848) in 1860 for General Hugh Mercer, construction was interrupted at the outbreak of the Civil War. Completed in 1866, no Mercer ever lived here. Jim Williams restored this Monterey Ward masterpiece, and an “unfortunate incident” occurred here that is documented in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
  • Telfair Museum of Art (Regency): You can purchase your tickets to the three Telfair museums at Cool Savannah!
  • Savannah Cotton Exchange (HH Richardsonian Romanesque): This is located right next door to Cool
  • Hamilton Turner House (French Second Empire): This house has a long story, starting in 1873, and is known as the Grand Victorian Lady. The house was built for Samuel Pugh Hamilton, who later became Savannah’s mayor. It was the first home in the city to have electricity, important because Hamilton and his wife entertained lavishly, and was almost demolished in 1965 for more parking spaces, but the HSF saved
  • Sorrel Weed House (Greek Revival style mansion: Is it haunted?

Discover More on a Savannah Architecture Tour

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There is so much more to see in historic Savannah’s buildings! That’s why Cool Savannah’s Ed Pyrch, an accredited architect and certified tour guide, offers architectural tours of Savannah. There is so much to see in Savannah that all of these structures won’t be included, but you’ll discover plenty more that we haven’t even mentioned. We don’t want to give all of our secrets away in this post! These tours:

  • Start at 10:00 am.
  • Last for 2 hours
  • Are fully narrated, throughout historic Savannah
  • Include more than 10 historic stops on a leisurely 1.25 mile stroll
  • Cost $25 per adult, $10 per child, ages 4-12; children 3 and under are free
  • Must be booked 24 hours in advance (thanks for understanding!)

You’ll discover more about underlying symbolism of the wards and more about our city’s original settlers, Civil War soldiers and more. You can find more information about our Savannah architecture tour online, where you can also buy tickets. Or, call us at (912) 231-3571.

Here’s what two happy customers have to say about Ed’s tours:

We loved our History tour with Ed. He really knew his stuff. We enjoyed learning all the interesting things he covered. Our pups were welcome too and that was a huge plus for us. Thank you SO much Ed!

Superior Savannah story-telling . . . Savannah is a great walking city and Ed led us on a terrific tour. It was just the blend of history, culture, architecture and story-telling that we were hoping for. This was the thread that tied everything together.

You know what’s missing, right? You! Contact Cool Savannah today.

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