Anyone who has spent time in Savannah understands how special its city squares are. So much more than a feature of the landscape, these well-known and history-imbued gathering places contribute to the soul of the Hostess City.
We here at Upper East River gained a new appreciation for this storied part of Savannah’s past and present when we made plans to build our own city square. Our friends at Eastern Wharf did the same, and these two new squares are the first to be built in Downtown Savannah in 200 years. In fact, when we contacted the city to go about naming them, they said they’d have to get back to us, because they weren’t sure what the protocol was after so many decades!
Despite the collective appreciation for them, many of us might not be familiar with the fascinating history of Savannah’s squares. So, we thought we’d dive into the topic!
How the Squares First Came to Be
This story starts with General James Oglethorpe. The founder of Savannah had a distinct plan for how he would set up his new home. City squares would be the glue sticking everything together.
Oglethorpe’s vision was to break the city into 24 “wards.” He thought to use a gathering space—a city square—as the anchor for each one. Johnson Square (pictured above) was his first creation. Today, only 22 of the original 24 remain. Here’s a handy list, if you’re thinking you’d like to visit each, which, we must say, is a delightful way to explore Savannah:
Calhoun, Chatham, Chippewa, Columbia, Crawford, Ellis, Franklin, Greene, Johnson, Lafayette, Madison, Monterey, Oglethorpe, Orleans, Pulaski, Reynolds, Telfair, Troup, Warren, Washington, Whitefield, Wright
Every square measures around 200 feet from north to south and between 100 and 300 feet east to west, and they play more of a role than some realize. Savannah’s squares aren’t just about enjoyment for the everyday citizen (although they certainly serve to create this). These long-held marvels have inspired some elements of the city’s growth over time.
How They Fit Into the Larger Narrative of City Planning
Because they also play an integral role in how the city functions. Although they were originally built in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of the squares have a story that coincides with the development of Savannah over time.
To make way for U.S. Highway 17, three squares were destroyed in the 1930s, but some 50 years later, one was rebuilt—Franklin Square (pictured above)! At one point, Ellis Square was turned into a parking garage and then converted back.
Today, committees comprising officials and citizens alike ensure that the squares are lovingly preserved as the icons they are.
How the Squares Continue to Inform the Culture of the City and New Development
If he could see Savannah today, Oglethorpe would be quite proud, we think. In 2021, these squares are still cherished and put to great use by locals and visitors alike. They are home to countless special monuments and sculptures. They host picnics and meet-cutes, outdoor parties and concerts, avenues of play and moments of respite. Indeed, they provide such a thematically fitting focal point for a place called “the Hostess City.”
The photo directly above shows Whitefield Square, and the cover photo of this post shows Lafayette Square.
Learn more about each of Savannah’s squares. And, see if you can spot Upper East River’s very own square and comment below if you have an idea for the name of it!