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Savannah: The City of Squares

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

You can't visit Savannah without visiting at least some of its 24 squares. Over the course of three days and 40,000 steps, I visited every single square. Instead of listing them in the order that I toured them, I used ExxonMobil personal management techniques to force rank them.

Notes: 1. All the squares except Elbert and Liberty have the same basic layout. Each square is the same width (north-south), but varies in length (east-west). Rectangular trust lots are on the east and west side of each square and were originally intended for public buildings such as churches, banks, courthouses, etc. 2. The Southern live oak¹ is an integral part of every square. Their limbs spread out wider than the tree is tall, grow at odd angles, and are usually dripping with Spanish moss or covered in Resurrection ferns. They are called live oaks because they retain their leaves year-round (though they are not an evergreen). 3. It appears there is a Georgia state law that requires that the statue, monument, or fountain in the middle of each square to have nothing to do with the name of the square. For example, Monterey Square is named for the Battle of Monterrey, but the monument at the center of the square is dedicated to General Casimir Pulaski, with nearby Pulaski Square sitting empty. 1. Monterey: The most famous square in Savannah with the most famous house in Savannah. The Mercer House is named for songwriter Johnny Mercer's (Moon River, Hooray for Hollywood, etc.) great grandfather and was featured prominently in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The palm trees sprinkled about the square give it a vaguely tropical feel. - The United Way building is the only non-original building on the square. Built of brick with a stately columned portico, but something just isn’t right, as they tried to make it look original, they just didn’t try hard enough - Temple Mickve Israel was built in 1876 in the Gothic style and is the most gentile-looking temple I’ve ever seen. You wonder if it was built so nobody would notice that it was a temple. - General Pulaski is buried in the center next to the monument that bears his name. - There may be a law that requires at least one tour bus to transit the square every 5 minutes

The Mercer House - Temple Mickve

Reynolds: Named for the eponymous Royal Naval officer, governor, and pirate hunter, though it contains a very prominent statue of the very prominent John Wesley, founder of Methodism who preached in Savannah in 1735 - 37. The statue was sculpted by Marshall Daugherty in 1969 but looks like it was sculpted in 1869. I mean that as a compliment, as it has old-time religion written all over it; it’s both intimating and otherworldly. Unfortunately for Mr. Daugherty, the quality of this statue was insufficient to earn him a Wikipedia entry (similar to Phillip Orlando, who sculpted the John Basilone statute in Raritan, NJ).

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism

Chippawa: Named for the eponymous War of 1812 battle. It contains a statue of the founder of the Georgia colony, John Oglethorpe in the center. It’s a rather striking statue, but due to his getup (boots, tri-corner hat, locks, sword, and scabbard), you may think it's Blackbeard the pirate. The statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, the same artist who sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln which sits in the Lincoln Memorial, and the Minute Man which sits in Concord, MA. Note: Chippawa Square uses a different spelling than the battle (I have no idea why). - Forrest Gump sat on a temporary fiberglass prop bench on the north side of the square.

John Oglethorpe or a Pirate

Wright: Named for the eponymous third and final royal governor of Georgia. In the center quite frankly is a monument to a nobody (William Washington Gordon), that had replaced a burial mound for a somebody, Tomochichi, a co-founder of Savannah and chief of the Yamacraw tribe. Sometime later, as a consolation, a large stone monument in the corner of the square was dedicated to Tomochichi.

Madison: Named for the eponymous president, Father of the Constitution, and gracer of the $5,000 bill. It contains a very dramatic statue of Sergent William Jasper, holding a sword in one hand, as he rescues the colors during the Siege of Savannah on October 9, 1779. - The adjacent Green-Meldrim Mansion was the terminus of General Sherman’s March to the Sea. Grant’s favorite lieutenant made his headquarters here in the winter of 1864-65.

Sergent Jasper at the Siege of Savannah

Johnson: Named for the eponymous colonial governor of South Carolina, friend of John Oglethorpe, and pirate suppressor. Interred under an impressive obelisk is General Nathanael Greene (& son). It is directly in line with Savannah City Hall, which can make for a nice photograph, but too many modern buildings around the square lowered its ranking. Telfair: The adjacent rather modernly jarring Telfair Museum Jepson Center contains the Bird Girl statue made famous by the cover of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The statue was originally located in Bonaventure Cemetery but subsequently moved as it was being inundated by tourists (though the New Yorker in me thinks it may have more to do with being able to charge $20 to view it). Ellis: Converted to a parking garage in 1954 and converted back to a square in 2010. I visited the square in 2009, and the subsequent revitalization was well worth the wait. Why did I visit this square in 2009? I mean, why would I bother to visit a parking garage? Well after walking around the square it dawned on me, it was to visit Paula Dean's adjacent restaurant. Now, why would I visit Paula Dean’s restaurant? Quite simply because Mrs. AAR wanted to. It was built in a former three-story department store in order to simultaneously clog the arteries of as many people as possible. Getting back to the square, it has not been restored to its 1954 appearance, and now has a more of a post-modern vibe, good for people watching and watching a statue of native son, Johnny Mercer, a songwriter who was as prolific as he was short. Most statues in my experience are either actually built larger than life or built to appear larger than life, this is the first statue that makes its subject appear smaller than life. - For those of you that are too timid to "powder your nose" in a nearby restaurant that you didn’t dine in, public restrooms are available. St Julian Street connects Franklin and Ellis Square and while it has one of the better restaurants in Savanna (Belford's), it also has quite a bit of cheese (the Beef Jerky Experience, Moonshine Smoothies, Wet Willies, Woofgang Bakery). All that and more, so when I saw the horse-drawn carriage, I knew it was time to move on.

Franklin: If Ellis Square is for the bourgeoisie (families eating pizza, dog walkers, baby strollers, etc.), then Franklin is for the proletariat (families drinking Busch tallboys out of a paper bag, people playing music, people talking . . . to themselves, etc.) - Even though titled Franklin Square, there is no statue of the founding father to be found. Instead, the square celebrates the “Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue”, Haitian volunteers who helped secure American independence during the Revolution. The statue of five Chasseures firing muskets seems a little awkward to me (it can be tough to look cool in tri-corner hats, buckle boots, etc.), but it's nice that someone shows thanks to Haitians, instead of denigrating them. - Vinny Van Go Gos Pizza: Hate the pun, not the punner. Not bad (but no 2 Bros Pizza), but a little pricy.

Lafayette: Named after the eponymous general, count, and patriot, it of course contains a fountain commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Georgia colony. - Fan of the writer Flannery Conner? Her birthplace is on the southeast side. - Clary’s Cafe: A block over, may be a good place for a pitstop, straightforward dinner food. I ordered an egg salad and what tasted like Ore Ida fries. Washed it down with a Mr. PiBB (I mean how often do you get a chance to drink a Mr. PiBB?), though if I had to do it again I'd get me some sweet tea. If you enjoyed the book then you may enjoy eating here, if you didn't, you won't (Sit at the counter, in the seat farthest from the door, like John Berendt did in the book). - For all you Girl Scouts and Alums, the birthplace of scouting is on the southwest corner of the square (well not the mansion fronting the square, but the carriage house). Not interested in an $8 tour, then at least stop in the gift shop and show your support. Calhoun: Named after the original confederate. The fact that it is the only square that contains all original houses moved it up in the rankings. It was built over a cemetery, and therefore there must be some sort of associated ghost tour. Monumentless. Warren: Plain and simple, with a large open grass field in the center. Ranked this high as it's a good place to dog watch (locals use the center to exercise their dogs) and that it's located adjacent to the cheapest parking garage in Savannah (the Lincoln Parking Garage; $10/day). Columbia: Named after Colombia, which is the female, poetic personification of the United States. It contains a very nice fountain in honor of two people you never heard of. Tight, with four large live oaks at each corner. - On the Northwest corner of the square is the Kehoe House, an exquisitely restored 1892 Renaissance Revival mansion with unparalleled service and standards. I know this not because I stayed there, but because it’s the #1 Hotel on TripAdvisor. Orleans: Named for the Battle of New Orleans, though with keeping with “Georgia law” it has a fountain in the center honoring early German immigrants to Savannah. Possibly the most Spanish mossy square in Savannah, with it extensively covering numerous live oaks (a few look like Willows) as well as a Magnolia and a Plane tree. The perfect combination of sun and shade. - The Harper-Fowkes House, located on the southeast corner is the finest Greek Revival structure in America (at least according to a passing Grey Line tour bus). The house is the Georgia headquarters of the Society of Cincinnati, quite stately, though if you ask me it could use a little love. Troup: Was not named for the pianist, composer of the song"Route 66" and co-star of tv show Emergency! This square would have been much lower in the rankings except for an armillary sphere mounted on six bronze turtles, that was installed in the center of this square in 1969. Now, I know what you are thinking: “What is the difference between an armillary sphere and a celestial globe?” - An Armillary sphere is a model of objects in the sky (on the celestial sphere), consisting of a spherical framework of rings, centered on Earth or the Sun, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features. - A celestial globe is a smooth sphere whose principal purpose is to map the constellations.

An Armillary (and not a Celestial Globe)

Washington: Named in 1791, for the eponymous president, General of the Armies and distiller, who had just prior toured Savannah. Paved with irregularly shaped flagstone, which while making it unique, just doesn’t work. Monumentless. Greene: Named for the eponymous general, Revolutionary War hero and Savannahian, whose remains are, of course, interred in Johnson Square. Modest, with crushed oyster shell sidewalks. Monumentless. Pulaski: Named for the eponymous Polish émigré general whose statue is over Monterey Square (and whose grave is under). Quite bucolic. Used to be paved over and had a homeless problem but now restored. Monumentless. Oglethorpe: Named for the eponymous soldier, MP, and founder of the Georgia colony. A huge parking garage overlooks and overpowers this modest square. Monumentless.

Chatam: Of course named for William Pitt², an early supporter of the Georgia colony. Monumentless, though there is a modest sundial in memory of somebody or another Crawford: In 1947 Savannah had a basketball tournament with the winning team being awarded a basketball court, which was unfortunately constructed in this square. It’s rather incongruously overlooked by a gazebo. The Lady Chablis from Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil lived in "a neatly restored four-story wooden house on the far side of the square". Tired. Monumentless. Whitfield: Modest houses ring this rather pedestrian square, with locals and a quaint gazebo inhabiting the park. Monumentless.

Liberty: Most of the square was paved over to improve Montgomery Street. Rated higher than Elbert because it has an eternal flame. Monumentless.

Elbert: Most of the Square was paved over to improve Montgomery Street. Ranked lower than Liberty as it's smaller (size does matter). Only visit if you too are on a quest to visit every square. Monumentless.

Bonus Round Colonial Cemetery: There must be an associated ghost tour as this place looks like something out of the MGM backlot. Twisted live oaks, worn listing headstones, oddly shaped mausoleums, and the largest headstone I’ve ever seen. Forsyth Park: A 30-acre rectangular park that contains a lot of interesting stuff: a beautiful Dupony Circle-like fountain, a very prominent confederate monument (see it before it's gone), and a fragrant garden for the blind.

Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read. ¹ Live oak was widely used in early American butt shipbuilding. Because of its exceptional strength, short height, and low-hanging branches, lumber from live oak was specifically used to make curved structural members of the hull, - Other flora you will see are magnolias, dogwoods, calliope, and the giant leopard plant. ² William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, PC, FRS (15 November 1708 – 11 May 1778) was a British statesman of the Whig group who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain in the middle of the 18th century. Historians call him Pitt of Chatham, or William Pitt the Elder, to distinguish him from his son, William Pitt the Younger, who also was a prime minister.

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