The Squares of Savannah are rightly named the “crown jewels” of the city. Their contribution of historic value and beauty is recognized locally, regionally and nationally. The New York Times says, “Across East Bay Street is the heart of downtown, with its symmetrical grid of remaining squares full of live oaks and dogwoods, azaleas and camellias, serving as graceful counterpoint to the city's riches of restored architecture”. Southern Living follows stating, “In the spring, mounding azaleas topped by the graceful boughs of magnolias and white-blossomed dogwoods create a postcard scene”. Any visitor would agree, the Squares are destined to impart undying affection!
Created through necessity, the original Squares were designed to procure an advantageous lifestyle in coastal area previously ravished by war. Established by General James Oglethorpe, the town of Savannah began development in 1733. As the settlement began to find permanence, the General sought order for the military camp and others. Settlers were accustomed to hampered living conditions and a sullied environment. Determined to establish a more beneficial way of life, Oglethorpe conceived a landscape that would easily serve both living needs and military operations. The resulting configuration, enjoyed by sightseers today, is noted by Architect John Massengale as "the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world". Landscape strategies from all over the world were considered during the planning phase, but, one stood out as most practical.
The Beijing formation served as the most influential to Oglethorpe’s final plan which promoted sectioning land into “wards”. Within each ward lay a central square surrounded by outlying rectangular common use parcels. The internal squares were fashioned to better serve the troops during training and meeting times. Exploiting shade from the overgrown oaks allowed the troops to build both momentum and stamina during the frequent sweltering southern days. "Trust lots" lay on either end of the center square and were reserved for public buildings such as churches, schools, or banks. The remaining land was divided into four areas, called “tythings”, allowing for a total of 40 residential lots per ward. Looking closely, you will notice, these wards are still intact with the focal point of each being the glorious center square.
Today, monuments honoring heroes from decades past stand proud among many of the 22 remaining squares. The statue of General Oglethorpe regales from Chippewa Square reminding passersby of the leadership he provided the troops during the years in which the Georgia settlement was cultivated. The Gordon Monument honors the first president of the Central Railroad and Banking Company who died in Savannah from pleurisy 1842. Monterey Square holds an Italian marble pillar honoring Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish general who was killed in battle at the Siege of Savannah in 1779. Possibly the most noble of all is the extraordinary granite stone placed in Wright square. This exhibit honors Tomochichi, the Native American Chief, who gifted to Oglethorpe the land on which Savannah is founded. On this very special tribute, a bronze tablet declares “In memory of Tomochichi, the Mico of the Yamacraws, the companion of Oglethorpe and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia”.
Developing aesthetics throughout this contemporary urban grid falls to various city planning committees all of who aim to preserve the spirit of the land. Improvements are on-going and only seek to contribute to the resounding splendor. Recently, an elegant lighting system was added to a handful of the monuments and other structures to enhance night time appeal. Using a lantern light approach, the embellishment creates ambiance while increasing visibility. Scattered among the Squares, sit more than 2,000 noteworthy buildings which add to the significance of this National Historic Landmark District. The 2.5 square-mile downtown area forms this district in in which restoration is continuous and covers all aspects of including fountains, park areas and various other structures located among the Squares.
Enlightening landmarks help to inspire the desire to learn by offering a creative history lesson laid out on the veritable treasure map of Squares in downtown Savannah. The Juliette Gordon Low House, Savannahs first National Historic Landmark, holds memorabilia of the girl Scouts of the United States of America. The Olde Pink House, built in 1789, is an architectural piece of art and now serves as a fine dining establishment. Bonaventure Cemetery holds a number of fascinating tombstones and vaults and is the famous location of the story In the Midnight of Good and Evil. Noted in the Historic Registry of churches the “First Bryan Baptist Church is the oldest continuous African-American Baptist Church in the United States”. Offering other items such as stained-glass windows, a giant chessboard, marble facades and intricate adornments, the Squares are a literal trove of once in a lifetime sight-seeing experiences.
Seeking out the secrets of the Squares, one has several options. Of course, because of its size, walking the area is almost effortless. Visitors can capture literally thousands of ornate details by choosing a half-day stroll. If a more relaxed approach is needed perhaps one would prefer to take the advice of NBC News. They suggest, “Savannah's tours include those devoted to the Civil War, art, architecture, African-American heritage, gardens, and of course ghosts, with a choice of transportation from limos, trolleys and buses, to horse-drawn carriages”. Modes of transportation are almost endless with a wide range of pleasurable opportunities.
The township of Savannah, first offered by telegraph as a gift to President Lincoln, was vital to the creation of the Squares as they exist today. The original note from General William Sherman read, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton”. The enjoyment provided for locals and tourists alike feeds the soul and helps the past live on. Oglethorpe's vision for the lay of this land has survived with integrity for over a quarter millennium. The squares, functioning today almost identically as they did in Colonial times, truly are the crown jewels of this town.