Historic Oglethorpe Square
Oglethorpe Square and Anson Ward were among two squares and wards which were laid out when James Oglethorpe returned from England in 1742. This was the final square of the six that he laid out during the time that he resided in the colony.
Anson Ward was named after Lord George Anson, Admiral of His Majesty’s Fleet, who was on assignment to protect the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas in the 1720s and 1730s. One of the interesting facts related to Oglethorpe Square and Anson Ward is that several of the streets which run into the square and through the ward were re-named after the Revolutionary War. President Street, for example, was originally called King Street and State Street was originally called Prince Street. Lincoln Street, however, was not named for Abraham Lincoln, but for General Benjamin Lincoln, a Savannahian hero of the Continental Army, who was involved in the unsuccessful siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. Not on the square, but Congress Street was originally called Duke Street.
The most architecturally and historically significant building on Oglethorpe Square is the Owens-Thomas House Museum, located at 124 Abercorn Street. One of the three remaining Regency style houses designed by William Jay, who was from Bath, England, it is one of Savannah’s most prized examples of Savannah’s preservation movement. It is considered, both in its day and today, Savannah’s most sophisticated house.
A word about William Jay is in order. He grew up in Bath, England, arguably one of the world’s most architecturally pleasing cities. He worked in London with David Roper, a surveyor who was involved in John Nash’s many projects there. This experience and the influence of his home city positioned him to take full architectural advantage of Savannah’s squares and trust lots. It has been said that within five years of his arrival, he transformed Savannah into a city like London and indeed, as you walk the squares, you have a real sense of English-ness, due to its architecture.
The Owens-Thomas home on Oglethorpe Square was originally owned by a wealthy banker and cotton broker, Richard Richardson. However, due to financial reversals related to the launching of the steamship SS Savannah, first steamship to cross the Atlantic, he lost the home shortly after it was completed. After eight years in the hands of the Bank of the United States, George Welshman Owens bought it for $10,000. He and his descendants called it home until 1951, when his granddaughter, Margaret Thomas, willed it to the Telfair Museum.
Mary Marshall, a Savannah developer, had paired Greek revival houses built at 127-129 Abercorn Street on one of the old trust lots in 1859. These brick homes once had a full raised basement, to which a stoop with paired steps led. Today’s entrances lead into what used to be that basement. Mary had collaborated with architect Charles Cluskey, who was in Washington working on the capitol when the homes were built. These homes were built during a time when large numbers of rental houses were being built and it was more efficient and less expensive to build rows of similar houses built on the uniform lots and to replicate them on different streets, wards or squares.
Continuing around Oglethorpe Square, you notice that York Street has a number of brick homes, paired houses and row houses, including those at 201-203 East York, 205 East York, which looks very much like its neighbors at 201-203. 205 East York was built in the Greek revival style in 1855 and was saved by the Historic Savannah Foundation a hundred years later. 211 East York continues the Greek revival trend in a brick-clad house. It was built in 1853. 217-219 East York Street was built later, but maintained the Greek revival style.
On Lincoln Street, at 127-131, we have another brick Greek revival paired house and this one is of historical interest. It was owned and commissioned by Georgia railroad founder W.W. Gordon and George Anderson, his partner, and built by John Scudder in 1855. Scudder and his brother worked on many Greek revival buildings in Savannah. During the 1870s, General Alexander Lawton lived in the house facing East York Street with his wife. Here, Robert E. Lee visited them in 1870, during his final visit in Savannah. The house facing East President Street on Oglethorpe Square was occupied by Judge William Law. This property was restored in 1986 and is now the President’s Quarters Inn.
From Oglethorpe Square back to Savannah Squares