Though named for the nation’s fourth president, Madison Square memorializes a local hero who gave his life for his city during the American Revolution. Irish immigrant Sergeant William Jasper, hero of the Battle of Fort Moultrie in Charleston three years earlier, was killed leading the American charge during the Siege of Savannah, when an allied army failed to retake the city from the British.
Though the monument in the square honors Jasper, he isn’t buried there. His body was interred in a mass grave near the battlefield along with other colonists and soldier-immigrants killed in the one-sided battle.
Though suitably warlike, the two small cannons in the square have nothing to do with the Siege of Savannah. They commemorate the first two highways in Georgia, today known as Augusta Road and Ogeechee Road.
Given the beauty and history of the Green-Meldrim House (1 W. Macon St., 912/232-1251, tours every half-hour Tues.–Fri. 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m., $7 adults, $2 children), visitors will be forgiven for not immediately realizing that the house is also the rectory of the adjacent St. John’s Episcopal Church, which acquired it in 1892.
Though known primarily for serving as General William T. Sherman’s headquarters during his occupation of Savannah, visitors find the Green-Meldrim House a remarkably calming, serene location in and of itself, quite apart from its role as the place where Sherman formulated his ill-fated “40 acres and a mule” Field Order Number 15, giving most of the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina to freed blacks.
A remarkably tasteful example of Gothic Revival architecture, this 1850 design by John Norris features a beautiful external gallery of filigree ironwork. The interior is decorated with a keen and rare eye for elegant minimalism in this sometimes rococo-minded town.
Nearby, the old Scottish Rite Temple at Charlton and Bull Streets was designed by Hyman Witcover, who also designed City Hall. A popular drugstore with a soda fountain for many years, it currently houses the Gryphon Tea Room, run by the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Directly across from that is SCAD’s first building, Poetter Hall, known to old-timers as the Savannah Volunteer Guards Armory. With its imposing but somewhat whimsical facade right out of a Harry Potter movie, this brick and terra-cotta gem of a Romanesque Revival building was built in 1893 by William Gibbons Preston. It housed National Guard units (as well as a high school) until World War II, when the USO occupied the building during its tenant unit’s service in Europe.
At the north side of Madison Square is the Hilton Savannah DeSoto. Imagine occupying that same space the most glorious, opulent, regal building you can think of, a paradise of brick, mortar, and buff-colored terra-cotta. That would have been the old DeSoto Hotel, which from its opening in 1890 was known as one of the world’s most beautiful hotels and the clear masterpiece in Boston architect William Gibbons Preston’s already-impressive Savannah portfolio. Alas, it didn’t have air conditioning, so the Hilton chain demolished it in 1968 to build the current nondescript box.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition