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Courtesy Isaiah Davenport House
Historic Savannah Foundation

Scene 8

A Planned City

On February 12, 1733, General James E. Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River and established the new colony of Georgia. Savannah became its first city and is widely recognized as the first "planned" city in America. In developing the city plan, Oglethorpe laid out a series of streets and public squares on a grid, creating a unique town plan that met the social, economic, and military needs of the city. The plan featured wide, open streets mixed with 24 public squares and parks that functioned both as commercial centers and town meeting places. Besides providing social areas for the colonists, the system of public squares also served as drilling areas for militiamen and places where citizens could camp out and fortify the city against attack if necessary. 21 of the original 24 public squares still exist today and serve as evidence of how buildings, streets, and vast amounts of green space coexisted in Oglethorpe's city plan. With its emphasis on grids, symmetry, and neighborhoods that seamlessly flow into one another, the Savannah plan influenced the design of other coastal Georgia settlements including Ebenezer, Darien, and Brunswick. The city plan has been named a National Historic Civil Engineering landmark in recognition of its unique artistic achievement and widespread influence on urban planning.

The Hurricane of 1854

In September of 1854 a category 3 hurricane came ashore, hitting the city of Savannah. The hurricane flooded all of the local rice and cotton plantations and caused great physical damage to the port in Savannah. Buildings along the waterfront were severely damaged by the storm as well. One of the buildings, the Old City Exchange building, suffered great damage and the repairs cost the city more than $18,000 dollars in 1855.

Carriages

A carriage is a vehicle with four wheels, usually pulled by a horse, which can be used to transport people or goods. Developed in Europe in the 1600s, carriages were typically used for the transport of a few private passengers and were designed with an emphasis on comfort and elegance. Much like the various kinds of automobiles on the market today, carriages came in hundreds of different types and styles, and many people viewed their choice of carriage as a symbol of their status in society. By the 1820s, carriages were being used as public transport vehicles that could carry between 20 and 30 people at a time. These four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages, known as omnibuses, signaled the arrival of mass transit in American cities and were mostly limited to travel on designated routes within a particular city or town. With the arrival of the passenger train in the 1860s, the popularity of the carriage declined as it could not compete with the speed and efficiency of train travel. The development of the automobile near the end of the nineteenth century further contributed to the carriage's demise. Today, horse-drawn carriages are often used on special occasions, such as weddings, or for recreational purposes. Their use, however, is highly debated by many people who argue that operating horse-drawn carriages along congested city streets poses a danger to the horses, vehicles, and pedestrians.

Privateers

A privateer can be the captain of a ship, a ship's crew, or the ship itself, licensed by a government to prey on enemy ships during times of war. Because privateering is a government-sanctioned activity, it is sometimes viewed as a form of legal piracy. Originally, privateering was a method of restitution for merchants or ship owners who had been wronged by a citizen of a foreign country. Privateers would be commissioned to capture ships flying the flag of the wrongdoer's nation, sail them to a friendly port, and allow a neutral court to determine if capture of the ships was justified. If so, the ships and their cargo were sold at auction with the proceeds going to the owners and crew of the privateer. If not, the money paid to the privateers would be given to the owners of the seized ships. The cost of commissioning privateers was absorbed by investors hoping to make a profit from the prize money earned from selling the cargo of enemy ships. From the 16th through the 19th centuries, privateers emerged as a successful form of naval warfare. Motivated by profit and self-preservation, privateers made every effort to capture as many enemy ships as possible. In the United States, government-authorized privateers played significant roles in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 capturing numerous British ships.

Architectural Styles in Savannah

By the 1850s, high-style architecture in Savannah was primarily represented by four distinct architectural styles: Georgian, Federal, Early Classical Revival, and Greek Revival. While each of these styles consists of unique design features that distinguish them from the other styles of architecture, there is also a considerable amount of overlap and continuity between these styles:

Georgian: Georgian architecture was a prominent style between circa 1700 and circa 1830. Identifying features of this style include a paneled front door supported on each side by flattened columns; decorative moldings underneath the roof-line; windows comprised of double-hung sashes and several small window panes; and an overall symmetrical form in which the windows are aligned horizontally and vertically in symmetrical rows of either three, five, or seven across the front of the house. Entry porches are relatively uncommon. Brick is the primary wall material used on most examples of Georgian architecture in the southern United States.

Federal: This style of architecture, popular between circa 1780 and 1840, is also known as the "Adamesque" style and evolved from the earlier Georgian style of architecture. As a result, it shares the same symmetrical form, paneled front door, decorative moldings underneath the roof-line, and window configurations as its Georgian predecessor. Unlike Georgian architecture, however, a unique element of the Federal style is the presence of a semi-circular, or elliptical, window above the front door. Entry porches are also more common on this style than on Georgian architecture. Character-defining interior features include spiral staircases, elaborately designed fireplace mantels, and decorative medallions, swags, garlands of fruit, and flat columns based on the interior designs of classical Roman palaces.

Early Classical Revival: This architectural style was popular between circa 1770 and 1850. Like the previous Georgian style, Early Classical Revival architecture is defined by a symmetrical form. Like the Federal style, it often features a semi-circular window above the front door. The distinguishing feature of this style, however, is an entry porch that dominates the front of the house and usually equals it in height. The porch roof consists of a triangular, centered front gable and is usually supported by four or more columns of either a Roman, Doric, or Corinthian type. Wood, brick, stucco, and stone, are the primary wall materials in this style of architecture, with most examples comprised of either wood or brick. Interior decorations closely resemble the elaborate decorative details of Federal-style architecture.

Greek Revival: Greek Revival architecture was popular between 1825 and 1860. Like the architectural styles preceding it, the Greek Revival style is defined by a symmetrical form. However, instead of the semi-circular window above the front door prevalent on Federal and Early Classical Revival architecture, the Greek Revival style features a rectangular line of transom windows above the front door and narrow windows, or "sidelights", extending down each side of the door. This style of architecture is also defined by a wide band of trim just below the roof-line. Like the Early Classical Revival style, dominant front porches with support columns are a common feature. The main difference in the porch type is that Greek Revival porches feature either triangular gabled roofs or flat roofs, whereas Early Classical Revival porches do not have flat roofs.

Davenport House

The Davenport House of Savannah, Georgia, was built by master builder Isaiah Davenport for his family in 1820. It is a fine example of the Federal style of architecture. One of its unique features is that the first floor, where the formal rooms are located, is above street level on a raised basement to protect the occupants from the dust and mud on the road. The entrance is, therefore, considered to be on the first floor and not the second floor as it may appear. The raised entrance is an architectural design element that is still used in the design of houses today.

Additional Reading

History of Savannah (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Savannah City Plan (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Image of Savannah City Plan (New Georgia Encyclopedia)


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