If you’re planning a visit to Historic Savannah, be sure to include time to stroll along Factor’s Walk, a series of walkways made of concrete and iron that connect 19th-century red brick buildings (known as Factor’s Row) to the nearby 40-foot bluff. This area is located in the northern edge of the historic district of downtown Savannah, bordered by River Street and the Savannah River on the north; on the south, by East Bay Street.
This area was the heart of cotton commerce in the United States, the home of the Savannah Cotton Exchange where factors set prices for the world. Cotton planters relied on these factors to sell their crops; they were also called cotton brokers or commission merchants.
Factor’s Row consists of historic red brick buildings that run east to west on a bluff located above the river, and now contains shops, restaurants and more. There are two ramps that connect Bay Street to River Street: the Drayton ramp and the Abercorn ramp – and these ramps have unique history of their own. They are paved by cobblestones originally brought onto shore by ship crews that used them as ballasts to stabilize their ships; they abandoned them when they sailed from the port.
Savannah is considered the first planned city, and here is an overview of the plans that were devised by James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733. The port has played a pivotal part in the development of Savannah from that day forward, becoming one of the nation’s busiest.
The Library of Congress also makes available a photo of a monument honoring Oglethorpe:
Savannah Attractions: Cotton Exchange
This building is located at 100 East Bay Street and the photo below is from the Library of Congress:
Here is an even larger image, one taken around 1904, with a site caption inviting viewers to “Note cotton-themed fountain landscaping and juvenile welcoming committee.” In the era in which this was built, the Factor’s Walk area was known as the Wall Street of the South because of the importance of its cotton production.
This structure was built in 1886 by William G. Preston, a Boston architect, using a combination of red brick and terra cotta. This is one of only a handful of major buildings constructed over a public street. The building also features gorgeous iron railings in front. Panels in the railing design highlight famous people, including statesmen and writers. Here is a photo of the interior of the building, available from the Library of Congress.
Here is another image of the inside, taken by Cool Savannah.
Savannah Attractions: Solomon Lodge No. 1
Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 has a fascinating history. Established on February 21, 1734, this is the “Oldest Continuously Operating English Constituted Lodge of Freemasons in the Western Hemisphere,” with James Edward Oglethorpe himself being the founder. On the day of its founding, “a small band of British-Georgia Freemasons gathered in the mystic tie beneath the extensive branches of a magnificent oak-tree, then flourishing on the sea-coast bluff,” despite freezing winds. Today, there are more than 47,000 Freemasons in Georgia. The lodge is located inside of the Cotton Exchange.
Savannah Attractions: John Stoddard’s Upper Range Warehouse
This 1859 warehouse may be architect John Norris’s finest work although a case can be made that the Mercer House is – or the Andrew Low House or the Meldrim-Green House. Built in the Italianate style, the façade is curved, with arched windows on the first floor, plus some of the upper windows are also arched. This building also provided office space for cotton factors. Here is an image from the New Georgia Encyclopedia as well as one from the Library of Congress.
During the Civil War, empty offices were used by some officers under General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. They lived in the building and used it to plan strategies. In 1901, a map from these soldiers was found, drawn on the wall, detailing the now-famous march from Tennessee through Georgia. A portion of the map was able to be preserved and is now in the main dining room of Vic’s On the River Restaurant and Bar, located in the building.
Savannah Attractions: Vaults
In 2016, WSAV.com reported on four brick structures in the area, ones often called vaults, occasionally tombs because they are nearly underground. After a three-year research project, conducted by area high school students, interpretative markers have been added. The research showed that these structures were completed in 1842, built into the retaining wall along Factor’s Walk. One of them contained a “hearth that dates toward the Civil War era where we found Union buttons and marble so it looks like [it was] probably used by Union soldiers taking refuge during the occupation of Savannah.”
Intrigued? See you on Factor’s Walk!