The Savannah National Historic Landmark District consists of the pre-Civil War section of Savannah and is significant for its city plan and remarkable architecture.
The essence of the city plan lies in the wards and squares of Savannah, modules established in the early 18th century by the colony’s English founder, James Oglethorpe, and then continued by the townsmen for a hundred and twenty years. The plan incorporates four major elements: the ward, the square, the trust lots (at the eastern and western end of each square, reserved for public buildings) and the tythings (at the north and south ends of each square, reserved for family homes.)
The streets are laid out in a north-south grid, a classic design borrowed from Roman garrison towns. Oglethorpe’s plan dramatically reflected colonial Georgia’s precarious position as a military outpost with the American Indians and Spanish to the south. In case of attack, colonists and livestock from outside the walls could take refuge in the squares, where more than a century later General Sherman would bivouac the Union troops occupying Savannah during the American Civil War.
The district includes the Owens-Thomas House (Regency Style, 1816-19), the Davenport House (Federal, 1820), the Independent Presbyterian Church (Neoclassical, 1817-19), the Low House (Italian Villa, 1847-48), the Green-Meldrim House (Gothic Revival, 1856), Christ Episcopal Church (Greek Revival, 1838), the United States Custom House (Greek Revival, 1847-1850), and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (Gothic Revival, 1872-9, 1890.) The commercial structures, particularly near the waterfront, are among the city’s greatest assets. Savannah made a quick economic recovery after the Civil War, due to a great demand for cotton from New York and Lancashire. The Savannah Cotton Exchange was added to the city in 1887, overlooking the Savannah River.
Although adversely affected by both serious fires and a pair of damaging wars, Old Savannah survives as an essentially 19th century collection of buildings, built upon Oglethorpe’s 18th century plan.
Today, Savannah is active in preservation and the Savannah Renewal and Development Agency is leading the development of a master plan for Downtown Savannah to ensure that future development is consistent with the city’s character, desires and needs. Learn more about the Savannah Renewal and Development Agency.
The Savannah Historic District was made a National Historic Landmark on November 13, 1966, in conjunction with its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.