Telfair Square in Savannah Georgia
Telfair Square has claim to being the last of the four squares to be laid out by Savannah founder, James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe constructed the square in 1733 before he returned to England for a visit. Oglethorpe had originally called it St. James Square (not sure if this is self-ego boost on the sly, however), and it was not until over a century later that it was called Telfair Square.
In fact, Telfair Square was named after an entire family: the Royal Savannah Family, if you will.
The Telfair Family
Patriarch Edward Telfair immigrated to Savannah from Scotland during the Colonial period, pre-Revolutionary War. Although he came with very little to his name, Telfair was determined to amass a large fortune. He established a successful export business in Savannah with business partner, Joseph Clay; married the daughter of a very prestigious South Carolina family; and ultimately climbed Savannah’s social ladder to the top rung when he became the Governor of Georgia.
But the Telfair wealth and lineage did not stop with Edward; over a century later, his last descendant, Mary Telfair, would inherit the entire Telfair fortune. Mary was a woman dedicated to reforming and funding religious, cultural and social causes in Savannah. And it was her brother, Alexander, who would build the opulent mansion at 121 Barnard Street with his inheritance. At the time of his passing, he left the home to his two sisters, one of which was Mary Telfair. When she passed away herself in 1875, her will mandated that the family mansion be used as a cultural center for the arts and sciences.
In 1886, the property reopened its doors as the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences. On the day of its grand opening, the Telfair Museum welcomed famous guests like Jefferson Davis and his daughter, General Henry R. Jackson and General Moxley Sorrel, as well as many other people. Today, the museum holds nearly 4,000 works of art from America to Europe, with most of them dating from the 18th to the 21st century.
This is not a sight to miss while in Savannah!
Attractions in Telfair Square
Trinity Methodist Church
No visit to Telfair Square is complete without a stop past the Trinity Methodist Church at 127 Barnard Street. The lot originally belonged to the Telfair family (it was their garden), and was purchased for a lofty $8,500. For an even more outstanding number, approximately $20,000, the Greek Revival Church was designed by architect John B. Hogg and was erected in 1848. Despite the church’s completion in the mid-19th century, the Church’s congregation proceeds this period by almost a century.
Early on, the congregation was actually known as Wesley Chapel after it was established by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, upon his arrival in the mid-18th century. (Read more about John Wesley here). During the early 19th century, the congregation of Wesley Chapel had about 70 members; half were white, and the other half African-American. Not long after the congregation purchased the lot on Telfair Square, the present Church was built and completed in 1850. For a period of time, two Methodist congregations existed in Savannah. In 1862, however, the Wesley Chapel shut its doors and the two churches united as one under the name, Trinity Church.
John Wesley once called Savannah the “scene of the second rise of Methodism.” Today, Trinity Methodist Church is both Savannah’s only Methodist church and also its oldest one.
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The Monuments: Telfair Square has two monuments, one of which which honors the Girl Scouts of America and another that is a cement image of a chambered nautilus. (If you’re wondering what in the world a chambered nautilus is, you are certainly not alone. View here.)
The Trust Lots: Before leaving Telfair Square, check out the east side of the square. Atop two trust lots are a pair of federal government buildings. Although nothing might seem particular special about these properties, one of them which is named in honor of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts
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