photo courtesy of rbabiera
The Davenport Museum located on Columbia Square was originally a Federal-style home built by Master carpenter, Isaiah Davenport. The Davenport Home is one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the country and has served many purposes over the years. Today, it stands in remembrance, as a museum, dedicated to telling the story of the Davenport Family who once called the house their home. The house, built in 1820, was intended to suit Isaiah and his growing family. In an untimely event, Isaiah Davenport died just seven years later, leaving the home to his wife and family. His wife, Sarah Clark Davenport, then converted the family home into a boarding house for visitors to the Savannah area. The establishment lasted until 1840, when she chose to sell the home to the Baynards. The Baynard family settled in quite nicely, going on to keep the home in their family for over a century!
In the mid 1950's the Davenport Home was purchased through the Historic Savannah Foundation. This particular sale rescued the home from demolition. The intent of the newest owner was to tear it down to create a parking lot for the Goette funeral home, which is now the Kehoe House Inn. After negotiation of the sale, a twelve year renovation took place. The Museum was opened to the public, for the first time, in 1963. An archeological dig in the lot behind the home and the installment of the museum shop are among other interesting activities sponsored by the Foundation and its members.
The Historic Savannah Preservation Committee was founded to help preserve historic buildings in Savannah. The group’s first purchase was the Davenport House. Today, the Davenport House is converted into an award winning museum in the historic district of Savannah, Georgia. Starting in the mid 1980′s the Committee began making efforts to adhere to the high standards of museum protocol. Restoration of furnishings and wallpaper occurred only after an immense amount of period referencing. Several renowned scholars and historians were commissioned throughout the refurbishments. Painting analysis was performed by artists, such as Sarah Chase, in reference of other period structures.
Mandatory regulations also came into play during renovation with improvements for items such as lighting fixtures, fire alarm systems and accessibility issues. Acquisition plans for the furnishings were crafted from research of the Davenport family using photos and other regalia deemed authentic of the time. For instance, the set of six Hitchcock chairs were chosen because of their similarity to those originally owned by the Davenport family. Susan M. Hays was one of the professionals chosen and focused her efforts on research pertaining to Mr. Isaiah Davenport himself.
Since, a guidebook, website, two DVDs and other public-friendly bits of historical information were developed. Awareness is key in bringing the mission to life and all publicity efforts aim to increase the benefit for the local community. Efforts, past and present, are driven by the mission to "preserve and interpret the American Federal-style house, and the artifacts within, built by master builder Isaiah Davenport for his household with an emphasis on e years 1820-27, in order to educate, enrich and inspire visitors and the community, as well as recognize the historical role of the house in the founding of Historic Savannah Foundation". Adopted in 2005, the intent of the statement was to set a high standard for the quality of preservations tactics and the professionalism for all who give service to the ongoing project. Taking care to meet industry standards contributed to a heightened awareness and the opportunity for the Museum to have its fair share of local, state and national publicity.
In 1965, the Davenport House was the featured cover for the Savannah phonebook. Two years later, several more notable mentions were secured. For instance, the House was included in the local architectural survey and shown in Antiques magazine. For decades, articles, awards and celebrations have been dedicated to the promotion of the Davenport House. Its intriguing history and significant contribution to the town of Savannah also led to a showing on the popular television network, A&E. A lengthy list of prestigious awards, the most recent being the Governor's Award in the Humanities, also add clout to the integrity for which the House is so widely known.
Annually, tours and events embellish the everyday goings on for staff members and community members alike. February brings lots of excitement with the Potable Gold Madeira Tradition which celebrates the centuries old wine making tradition by which Washington’s Inauguration was toasted! After world travels, those returning to the coastal area thought it worthy to bring with them the ideas for social events surrounding the vibrant taste of the wine. Valentine’s Day also holds tradition at the House, hosting several weddings each year. The spring season makes room for various tea parties and walking tours include the Tour of the East Side and the Discovering the 1820’s Tour. Autumn brings the living history experience of the Yellow Fever Epidemic. Colonial Park Cemetery, holding most of those who lost their lives to the epidemic, speaks to the dreadful occasion through which nearly 700 Savannahians perished. December Candlelight Tours close the year with a celebration of the early 19th century.
Commendably, the museum takes full advantage of service learning, volunteer and internship placements. Over the years, several students from local universities have offered their services to assist in the preservation activities of the Davenport House. Indexing items from archeology digs, transcribing Isaiah Davenport’s biography and inspecting collection inventory are just a few of the important tasks. Another special placement program is the Junior Interpreter program during which youth ages 14-18 are trained over an eight week period. Upon completion, they commence giving tours themselves. Through a valiant commitment to community involvement, Raven Bryant was recently the very first recipient of the Davenport Community Service Scholarship in May of this year! "Raven Bryant embodies the excellence and commitment that set the standard for future scholarship recipients," said Director Jamie Credle. These instances along with the many others continue to give added value to all who come to experience the Museum.
General admission is $16.00 which includes a half hour docent led tour. The Museum is opened daily and invites all to come explore the 6,800 square feet of the establishment. With around 35,000 visitors per year, the programs at the Davenport house are designed to captivate the audience and inspire a love for the rich history of this area.