Savannah was founded in 1734 by James Edward Oglethorpe, when he journeyed there from England at the age of 36. It took Oglethorpe a scarce three weeks to lead a reconnaissance over an unfamiliar land, meticulously select a site for Savannah, instill treaty agreements, and lay out the city, along with numerous other things. What Oglethorpe and most of the earlier settlers saw when they first arrived was less than enchanting. The river was continuously polluted with dead animal carcasses, the climate was never favorable, and the marshland was not suitable for growth. Nevertheless, the workers labored for a mere 10 days to set out the pattern that defines Historic Savannah. Throughout 120 years, Oglethorpe’s plan has not been touched by farmers. By 1851, Historic Savannah’s present boundaries had been defined. What was erected upon Oglethorpe’s ground plan have been partly destroyed by attacks from man and nature.
The Plan:
Many scholars have speculated the origin of Oglethorpe’s plan. Some attribute the plan to the Roman Virtuous’ military design. Savannah’s Laura Paler Bell conducted research that lead her to the conclusion that the plans were based on Peking, the capital of China. This idea is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Oglethorpe’s friend, Robert Castell, an architect, is known to have studied ancient architecture and he may have told him of several exotic plans.
In designing Savannah, Oglethorpe had to allow for the defense of the colony, as well as social, religious and economic life. The basic unit is the ward. In short, it was an area that could serve forty family structures, four public functions, and a central open space. The square was about 700 feet per side. Intersecting streets divide the ward into four equal quadrangles. Each contained a fourth of the central plaza, one trust lot, and a group of ten houses called a tything.
From the squares’ earliest origins, they were multipurposeful. Squares served as gathering places, meeting grounds, markets, and military drill yards. Oglethorpe also stated that, in event of attack, inhabitants, could find refuge in the squares. General Oglethorpe supervised the laying out of six modules during 1733-34.
Savannah remained a city with six wards and six squares until after the Revolution. The city was a capital of a royal colony in the 1750s, and as a result, it was walled in on three sides to measure against the threat of war with Spain. After the Revolution, expansion occurred and the wards became political units as Savannah elected its own president.
Savannah contained 24 squares, plus the Colonial Cemetery and Forsyth Park as open places at its completion. More than a thousand buildings have been restored or renovated in twenty years and the squares have been closed to through traffic, landscaped, replanted, and maintained.
Sampling of Squares :
Johnson Square was the first to be laid out by Oglethorpe in 1733. The square was named for a friend and helper to Oglethorpe, Robert Johnson.
Franklin Square was originally named Walter Tank Square when it was laid out in 1790. It was later renamed to honor Benjamin Franklin, the colonists’ agent in London from 1768-1775.
Telfair Square was laid out in the 1880s in honor of the Telfairs, a very distinguished family of the time. The Telfair Museum of Art and the Trinity United Methodist Church are two popular sites on the square.
Orleans Square was named for the 1815 victory of General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Wright Square was originally Pervical Square. Pervical square was in honor of the colonists’ best friend in Parliament, the Right Honorable John Lord Viscount Pervical, Earl of Egmont, and president of the Trustees of the Georgia colony.
Oglethorpe Square was laid out in 1742. It is named for the founder of Savannah, James Edward Oglethorpe.
Colonial Park Cemetery has been used for 100 years, beginning in 1750. The Daughters of the American Revolution provided the gates. The cemetery is the burial site for Burton Gwinnet, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Lafayette Square honors the Marquis de Lafayette, whose full name was Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert de Motier. Many sites surround the square including the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the Andrew Low House Museum.
Calhoun Square is the southernmost square on Abercorn Street. Added