The city of Savannah has a downtown that is, I believe, unique among American downtowns. It is certainly not the only planned city in the country, and it may not even have been the first — some of those New England factory towns were drawn out from the beginning — but it may be the most beautiful.
The original city was built in 1733 and included 24 squares, designated as public parks and meeting places, sprinkled every couple of blocks. At the northern end of downtown is the Savannah River, which provides a natural border between Georgia and South Carolina, and at the southern point is Forsyth Park with its signature fountain. In roughly the center of downtown is Colonial Cemetery, which has been shrinking over the centuries as the need for wider roads came about and some of the ground was paved over (the headstones have been moved to a wall of the cemetery).
My wife and I undertook to walk all the squares one lovely morning recently. Here you’ll find photos from all 22 squares, Forsyth Park, Colonial Cemetery and Emmet Park, which lies above the river. We started at Forsyth and then moved on to Chatham Square, working our way west through the squares to Whitefield Square, then up to Troup Square and east through the squares to Pulaski; you’ll get the idea if you follow the map from our starting point to our ending point.
We did stop to look around the Scottish Rite building, which, at six stories, is among the tallest buildings in town, and we stopped at a couple of shops along the way, as well. All told, we walked a bit over five miles from Forsyth to Emmet; we then walked to lunch at the Pirates House, took a tour there, and took a more direct route to our car back near Forsyth; probably closer to a mile, maybe a little more.
You can see the squared version of the photos on Instagram, or continue reading for the full versions.
As I mentioned, we started at Forsyth Park. The decision to start at a southern point and walk north instead of going the other way was based entirely on the abundance of free parking near Forsyth. Here’s the park’s famous fountain:
Next up was Chatham Square, a shady spot with several large live oaks.
Then over to Monterrey Square, home of a monument to Casimir Pulaski. Monterrey is, I think, my favorite of the squares. It is close in proximity to two of my most common destinations downtown (Congregation Mickve Israel and the Scottish Rite building), and some of its benches are outside the flow of most of the foot traffic.
Then to Calhoun Square.
I’m not sure I’d ever made it out to Whitefield Square, but there were about a dozen people there, though none sat in the gazebo.
I’m very curious as to why there’s an armillary sphere in Troup Square. I do know that a drunk driver once ran it over and people really missed it while it was being repaired.
Lafayette Square, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who was famously a visiting orator in Savannah, is one of many squares with a fountain in it.
Sgt. William Jasper stands guard over Madison Square.
Pulaski Square has some of the gnarliest oaks downtown (some of the midtown parks compete well, though).
Orleans Square is another one of my favorites. It tends to stay quiet, but there is often a child balancing along the fountain wall. The low-hanging oak branches provide plenty of shade.
James Edward Oglethorpe, the man who founded the colony of Georgia (named for King George) and the city of Savannah, watches over Chippewa Square, which is what you see in the background during the bus stop scenes in the movie “Forrest Gump.” Trivia: In the film, the bus goes the wrong way around the square. Also: The bench is in a museum; don’t visit the square looking for it.
This arch is the entrance to the Colonial Cemetery, which sits at the intersection of Oglethorpe and Abercorn.
This little gazebo sits next to a basketball court in Crawford Square. Thanks to the kind gentlemen who didn’t mind us taking photos that included them.
Oh, look, there’s a tour going on in Greene Square.
Another fountain, this time in Columbia Square.
More shade, in Oglethorpe Square — where, apparently, it’s autumn.
Wright Square has a really, really tall monument.
I don’t have a lot to say about Telfair Square, other than it’s fun to see the view at the rear of the Jepson change every now and then. But you can’t see it in this photo, so I guess you’ll just have to come visit.
This monument in Franklin Square is dedicated to the chasseurs voluntaires, who came to help fight the British in the Battle for Savannah in 1779.
Ellis Square is known for its fountain (which a lot of people and animals cool off in), but I love this sculpture of Johnny Mercer reading a newspaper while leaning on a fire hydrant. I’ve said, “good morning,” more than once.
Johnson Square has two of these fountains.
John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, preaches in Reynolds Square.
Despite the fact that it sits next to a parking garage and boasts some of downtown’s only 10-hour parking meters, Warren Square is really quiet. And green.
Washington Square is named for the volunteer fire company that was once at that site.
And finally, anchoring our walk, is Emmet Park, overlooking River Street and the Savannah River.
If you live in the Savannah area or have visited, what’s your favorite square? Why?