Savannah’s Best Historic Squares
When British General James Oglethorpe founded Savannah, GA in 1733, he had a plan. It was a plan to design a city of squares, a public gathering place for residents of this new city in the New World. Today, architects continue to admire Oglethorpe’s vision as a utopian ideal for urban planning, while Savannah’s 22 scenic, Spanish-moss-draped squares continue to captivate residents and visitors alike. Start at City Hall, located at the top of Bull Street, and work your way down toward Forsyth Park to see many of the city’s most well-known squares.
1. Johnson Square
Built by Oglethorpe himself, Johnson Square was the first to emerge from his grand city plan in 1733. Named for Oglethorpe’s friend and South Carolina’s first Governor, Robert Johnson, it pays tribute to George Washington’s second in command, Nathanial Greene, with a gleaming white obelisk at its center. The first president himself may have even spoken from this spot. Georgia's first church, the marble-columned Christ Church, is also located here. People-watch under the gigantic live oak trees and reflect on just how old this place is while sitting on a bench near the marble one dedicated to Savannah’s native son, the prolific songwriter Johnny Mercer of “Moon River” fame.
2. Wright Square
Savannah may not have existed if it weren’t for the gracious Native American Chief Tomochichi, who welcomed the British settlers and gifted his land to Oglethorpe. The Yamacraw chief is buried in the city’s second square and a huge granite stone memorializes his generosity and instrumental role in the birth of Savannah. Slip into nearby Wright Square Café for coffee and a handmade chocolate treat.
3. Chippewa Square
Some of Savannah’s squares have been made famous by their star turns. Chippewa Square got its big screen moment in “Forest Gump,” as one of the prettiest bus stops on film. You can’t sit where Forest sat with his box of chocolates—the movie-prop-bench resides in the Savannah History Museum—and you can admire the grand bronze statue of Georgia’s founder, James Oglethorpe, framed in Spanish moss. Designed in 1815, the square commemorates the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812 and is home to the Historic Savannah Theatre, one of the oldest theaters in the US.
4. Monterey Square
If there is a square more famous than Chippewa Square, it’s Monterey Square. Located here is Mercer House -- a model of Italianate architecture and the exquisite, mysterious home of Jim Williams, the wealthy preservationist made famous by the murder chronicled in the best-selling book and movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” While the house draws visitors intrigued by his gripping tale, the square itself is a peaceful oasis of oaks with a monument to fallen Polish soldier, Casimir Pulaski, who fought to protect Savannah in the American Revolution. Monterey Square leads right into picturesque Forsyth Park, featuring one of the most visited spots in Savannah, a cast-iron fountain modeled after the fountains at Place de la Concorde in Paris.
5. Franklin Square
The oldest black church in North America sits on Franklin Square, named for Benjamin Franklin. First African Baptist Church, established in 1777 and built by slaves in 1859, was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. A tour draws attention to the church ceiling’s quilted design, representing its role as a safe house for runaway slaves, along with the tunnel used as an escape route. The square itself tells another little-known story with a monument to the Haitians that fought in the Siege of Savannah during the American Revolution.
6. Ellis Square
There were once 24 squares in Historic Savannah; some were lost to urban development. But a revival in historic preservation resurrected Ellis Square in 2006. One of the first squares in the city, Ellis Square was home to the “Old City Market” where crops and other goods were sold. Today, new merchants and hotels have taken up residence along the square and there’s a new City Market, showcasing Savannah’s arts scene, local handicrafts and cuisine. It’s the perfect place to take a break from exploring and enjoy a scoop of artisanal gelato at Café GelatOhh.
7. Telfair Square
Savannah’s arts, past and present, are well represented in Telfair Square, named for Edward Telfair, a former 3-time governor of Georgia and patron of the arts. A National Historic Landmark, the Owens-Thomas House exemplifies the English Regency architectural style of the 1800s with a decorative arts collection to match. The home provides a glimpse into life in early Savannah with tours beginning in the original slave quarters. The collection of 19th and 20th century works at the Telfair Academy, the oldest public museum in the South and another gorgeous mansion converted into a museum, serves as a bridge between more modern collections at the Jepson Center, featuring the works of Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein.