Monterey Square in Savannah Georgia
Monterey Square, located on Bull Street, between West Taylor Street and West Gordon Street, has a reputation to uphold: it is commonly referred to Savannah’s most picturesque square. But what makes Monterey Square so different than any other? Oh, perhaps one or two key different features.
What’s In a Name?
Monterey Square was laid out in 1847. It was named such in commemoration for General Zachary Taylor’s capture of the Mexican city Monterrey in 1846 during the Mexican-American War.
Seated in the center of current day Monterey Square, however, is perhaps one of the most iconic sights in Savannah’s Historic District: a tall, imposing obelisk honoring the General Casimir Pulaski, an eighteenth century Polish immigrant who, at the urging of founding father Benjamin Franklin, fought in the Revolutionary War against the Redcoats. (To learn more about Pulaski’s patriotic endeavors, click here). Pulaski would ultimately lose his life in the 1779 Siege of Savannah, but he was so adored by the locals that they wished to honor him in anyway they could.
Pulaski Square sits not so far away from Monterey Square, and was named such shortly after Pulaski’s death. The monument intended to honor him as a war hero took a wee bit longer to reach its completion. The cornerstone of the monument was originally laid out in Chippewa Square in 1825, nearly thirty years before the obelisk would be erected in its present location in Monterey Square. Then, for a time a monument existed in Johnson Square as a sort of joint memorial to Nathanael Greene and Pulaski, thanks to heavy financial burdens in Savannah during that period. It was not until 1852 that enough funds for a monument were raised, and it was not long after that Pulaski, the famed Revolutionary war hero, was honored with his own memorial. The sculptor chose Monterey Square as his ideal location and the original cornerstone from 1825 was moved.
Legend has it that the body of a Revolutionary War soldier is buried beneath the Pulaski monument. Is it Pulaski himself or another soldier entirely? Or no one at all? Although we will never know for certain (without some major demolition/moving projects in place), Pulaski’s memorial demonstrates that the monuments erected in a particular square have nothing at all to do with the famous person the square is named after. Not in Savannah, anyway.
Bull Street, between West Taylor Street and West Gordon Street
Attractions in Monterey Square
The Mercer Willams House
Perhaps the most famous house in Savannah sits on Monterey Square at 429 Bull Street.
The Mercer-Williams House's construction started in 1860 for Hugh Mercer. However, the Civil War erupted less than a year later and Mercer, like many of the other men during this period in Savannah, headed off to war. Throughout the length of the war, the house remained vacant and uncompleted until Hugh Mercer’s return to the city a few years after the Civil War ended. Even then, Mercer never resumed the house’s construction; it was not until the property was sold in 1868 to John Wilder that finally it was finished.
But it is the Mercer Williams House’s mid-twentieth century owner that is the most famous. In 1969, nearly a century after the home’s construction was completed, antiquities dealer Jim Williams purchased the property. He did so during a period in which many of Savannah’s historic homes were falling into extreme disrepair. Williams was not to be dissuaded: when he purchased the building at 429 Bull Street, he embarked on a two-year restoration project to return the Mercer Williams House to its former glory. (It seems he’s succeeded; one of the fire mantles was brought in from Italy). The Mercer Williams House is just one of Savannah’s historic homes that Williams has renovated and restored.
For those who have read (and loved) the nonfiction book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, look no further. Jim Berendt’s 1994 nonfiction book, which was later turned into a movie, is based off of real life events and real life people who lived the Mercer Williams House while Jim Williams owned the property.
And—get ready for it—tours are always offered at the House, so that fans of the book may step inside and personally see where many of the events unfolded. Anyone interested in learning more about the Mercer-Williams House and Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil can also take our sister company's nighttime walking tour: Beyond Good and Evil Ghost Tour, where almost all of the stops on the tour are based on the events that have occurred in the book. You seriously don’t want to miss out on this tour--it's rated the #1 ghost tour in Savannah!
The Mickve Israel Temple
Also situated on Savannah’s most picturesque square is the Congregation Mickve Israel, one of the few neo-Gothic style synagogues in the United States.
The Congregation itself is the third-oldest Jewish congregation in America, dating all the way back to 1733, just months after Savannah’s original founding. As the story goes, forty-two Jews had sailed from England aboard The William and Sarah. They arrived in the Georgia colony and put down roots, including establishing a congregation or themselves. It is said that the founders of the Congregation Mickve Israel came to the colonies “with little more than their beloved Torah.” That same Torah is still used during the anniversary Shabbat service at the synagogue.
Although the Congregation had been established in the eighteenth century, the current synagogue that sits on Monterey Square was only built during the 1870s. Designed and constructed by New York architect Henry G. Harrison, the neo-Gothic style was considered the height of fashionable architecture during the Victorian era. On a nearby lot, a similarly fashioned Protestant church once stood, but was demolished in the early twentieth century.
The Congregation Mickve Israel is certainly worth a visit, no matter one’s religious preference or denomination. The Congregation offers tours of the historic sanctuary and its museum next-door everyday, except on Jewish holidays. So, if you find yourself wandering Monterey Square, stop in, take in the sights, and certainly learn about the history of one America’s oldest Jewish congregations.
Visit Monterey Square on our Historic Savannah Tours
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