In fact, the historic district is defined by the limit of the squares. As the squares developed through time, so did the history of Savannah, as the history took place almost entirely around and in the Savannah squares.
During most of the development of the city, the squares were used for communal activities, such as gathering water, baking bread, celebrating holidays and victories and many more activities. They were also used as stock yards and gathering places for those from outside the city for protection in time of attack.
As originally laid out, each of the Savannah squares was at the center of a basic organizational unit called a ward. Each ward contained a square. All communal activities of a ward took place in the square which was at its center. As the wards and squares were planned, the east and west sides of each square contained two large lots, known as “trust lots”. These lots were reserved for public buildings, such as churches, schools and institutions. On the north and south sides of the squares, the land was divided into 20 “tithing lots”, with a lane down the middle for passage. These lanes form the streets of Savannah’s historic district today.
Each tithing lot was not simply a building site unto itself. It was part of a 50 acre grant made to the original settler. The 50 acres consisted of the tithing lot, a 5 acre garden lot nearby and approximately 45 acre farm outside the city limits.
The original plan of the city included 24 squares, of which only six were built originally by James Oglethorpe. Four in 1733 and two in 1736. They were, in chronological order, Johnson Square, Wright Square, Ellis Square, Telfair Square, Oglethorpe Square and Reynolds Square. The remaining 18 squares developed through the late 18th century and 19th century, spreading south from the original squares and eventually included Franklin Square, Warren Square, Washington Square, Liberty Square, Columbia Square, Greene Square, Elbert Square, Orleans Square, Chippewa Square, Crawford Square, Pulaski Square, Madison Square, Lafayette Square, Troup Square, Chatham Square, Monterey Square, Calhoun Square and Whitefield Square. Two of the squares, Elbert and Liberty Squares, were lost to “progress” – Elbert to a freeway exchange and Liberty Square to a courthouse.
For more information and photos of many of the Savannah squares, click on the appropriate link.