Historic Ellis Square

Ellis Square and Decker Ward were the third to be laid out by Oglethorpe, in 1733. The square was originally called Decker Square, but, as with so many of the early squares, was renamed later.

Decker Ward was named after Sir Matthew Decker, one of the 21 Trustees. He was the Commissioner of funds collection for the Trust, a director and governor of the East India Company, as well as a member of Parliament.

Ellis Square was named in honor of Sir Henry Ellis, who was the 2nd royal governor of the colony of Georgia and an inveterate traveler. He was born into a wealthy English family and as a young man, ran away from home to sail around the world. It’s said that he used to walk around Savannah with a thermometer hanging from the corner of his hat (remember, they wore the “tricorn” or three-cornered hat in those days). On one hot summer day when the temperature hit 104 degrees, he declared Savannah to be hottest place on earth outside the Seychelles. He was just one of many colorful personalities to pass through historic Savannah.

The tithing lots of Decker Ward were assigned to some of the notable names in early Savannah history and in later years were occupied by notable names of later history. John Musgrove, who had resided in the low country, and his Creek Indian wife, Mary, were assigned a lot here. Mary had served as translator between Oglethorpe and Tomo-Chi-Chi when the settlers first arrived. Noble Jones, who came with Oglethorpe on his second trip to Savannah, and his son were assigned another. These lots remained in the hands of the families until the mid-twentieth century. Most of the Jewish families who arrived in Savannah in 1733 were granted lots in this ward, too. The history related to the Jewish settlers is interesting and will be found in another area of this site. Later, in 1813, John C. Fremont, the explorer, pathfinder, Presidential candidate (against Buchanan in 1856) and general in the Civil War (US Army) was born at 563 West Bay Street. That home has long since been demolished.

The original City Market was built in Decker Ward in 1763. In the 1850s, a brick building designed by Augustus Schwaab was built to house it and indeed, it lasted until 1954, when it was demolished. A multistory parking lot was built over Ellis square. This was a watershed moment in Savannah’s history, however, because the demolition of the market resulted in the birth of the Savannah preservation movement and the Historic Savannah Foundation. A new city market was built and now houses restaurants, shops and artist studios and shops. And finally, after 50 years, things have come full circle. The parking garage, demolished in early 2006, has now been replaced with an underground structure. Even better, Ellis Square is a square once again. The beautiful new park was built over the underground parking lot, much to everyone's delight!

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