Historic Savannah is well known for its stunning architectural features, ranging from soaring buildings to intricate ornamentation – and the latter includes wrought iron. This ornamentation appears on public buildings and private homes alike, and perhaps the most well-known iron work in the city is actually cast iron: the lion fountain fence fronting the Cotton Exchange, located right next door to Cool Savannah Tours & Gifts. This fountain was designed by William Gibbons Preston and was installed on October 15, 1889.
Here are gorgeous examples of wrought iron from historic Savannah:
History of Wrought Iron
Iron began being produced during – not surprisingly – what’s now called the Iron Age. This production most likely began approximately 4,000 years ago in southwest or south-central Asia, and iron began replacing bronze as the metal of choice. Advantages of iron in weapons and other implements include that, when alloyed with carbon, it’s harder and more durable than bronze. Plus it provides a sharper edge. Iron remained the prominent metal in Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years, although steel began coming to prominence in 1870.
Wrought iron is created through the smelting process. To create it, iron ore was originally heated over charcoal to extract relatively pure iron, although charcoal and other random bits of matter (slag) also were present. Early blacksmiths would then use an anvil and hammer to “wrought” the iron to beat out unwanted additives and make a tough yet malleable product (versus cast iron which is very hard but brittle). Later on, flux (shells or limestone) was added to help remove the slag.
By the late Middle Ages, iron makers started to use a finery furnace; after 1784, a puddling furnace. However, this was still not very efficient or easy. In fact, according to The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, “The puddling furnace remained the bottleneck of the industry. Only men of remarkable strength and endurance could stand up to the heat for hours, turn and stir the thick porridge of liquescent metal, and draw off the blobs of pasty wrought iron. The puddlers were the aristocracy of the proletariat, proud, clannish, set apart by sweat and blood. Few of them lived past forty.” Puddled iron, by the way, was used to construct the Eiffel Tower.
You can find more information about wrought iron’s history, evolution and applications from material from Saint Anselm College and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. If you’re interested in more specifics about wrought iron used in architecture, consider reading this book by Gerald K. Geerlings: Wrought Iron in Architecture: An Illustrated Survey. This book provides information about usage from the 14th-20th centuries in Italy, Spain, England, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and the United States. There are nearly 400 illustrations, including drawings and photographs of “gates, railings, screens, lighting fixtures, bannisters, balconies, door knockers” and more.
More Wrought Images from Savannah Architecture
Sign Up for a Savannah Architecture Tour
If history and architecture intrigue you, then consider signing up for an historic Savannah architecture tour. The city was laid out using a unique urban plan and Cool Savannah’s sightseeing tours that focus on architecture are led by an accredited architect and certified tour guide. 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 can sign up for a Savannah architecture tour online or call (912) 231-3571 today.
Photos by Tracy Scarpati, property of Cool Savannah Tours & Gifts