Savannah Reclaims Historic Square
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 24, 2010
One of Savannah's original squares has come full circle.
The city's founder, Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, planned Ellis Square and 23 others in 1733. A bustling market thrived there from 1872 until 1955, when the city erected a parking deck in its place. In 2004, when the 50-year lease on the garage expired, the city held a series of meetings to ask its residents to decide the future of Ellis Square.
In the largest capital project the city has ever undertaken, the concrete garage was demolished in 2006, and an underground parking lot was constructed. Earlier this month, several hundred people attended a rainy ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"This is a proud day in the history of Savannah," Mayor Otis Johnson said at the Mar. 11 event. "It's been a long time coming."
Now boasting a fountain, a life-sized chess board, touch-screen information kiosks, and statue of Savannah native Johnny Mercer, the new Ellis Square has already become a popular gathering place, says City Manager Michael Brown. "Residents are amazed at how much this project opens up the Historic District," he said in an e-mail. "For the first time in their lives, they can see the City Market entertainment district … People are looking at the Savannah they grew up with in a whole new way."
The loss of Ellis Square—and its 1880s market building—in 1954 helped jumpstart a preservation movement in Savannah. A year later, seven women founded the Historic Savannah Foundation.
"We're all glad to have the square back. Everyone is pleased that the eyesore of a parking garage is gone," says Daniel Carey, president of the Historic Savannah Foundation. "Somewhere I think General Oglethorpe is smiling."
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