Due east of City Market , Oglethorpe’s very first square is named for Robert Johnson, governor of South Carolina at the time of Georgia’s founding. It was here thatSavannah ’s Liberty Pole was erected in 1774 to celebrate a new nation. And it was here that a gathering in 1861 celebrated Georgia’s secession, ironically with a huge banner draped over the Greene Monument bearing the words “Don’t Tread on Me”—a slogan used in the founding of the very union they sought to dissolve.
The roomy, shady square, ringed with major bank branches and insurance firms, is dominated by the Nathanael Greene Monument in honor of George Washington’s second-in-command, who was granted nearby Mulberry Grove plantation for his efforts. Marquis de Lafayette dedicated the towering obelisk during his one and only visit to Savannah in 1825. At the time it did not honor any one person. Its dedication to Greene came in 1886, followed by the re-interment of Greene’s remains directly underneath the monument in 1901. (In typically maddening Savannah fashion, there is a separate square named for Greene, which has no monument to him at all.)
A much smaller but more charming and personable little monument in Johnson Square, though, is the William Bull Sundial at the southside. Bull Street was named for this South Carolinian who accompanied Oglethorpe on his first journey to the new colony, helping him choose and survey the site—hence a sundial is an appropriate remembrance.
The southeast corner of Johnson Square is dominated by Christ Episcopal Church (18 Abercorn St., 912/232-4131, www.christchurchsavannah.org ), a.k.a. Christ Church, a historic house of worship also known as the “Mother Church of Georgia” because its congregation traces its roots to that first Anglican service in Savannah , held the same day Oglethorpe landed.
While this spot on Johnson Square was reserved for the congregation from the very beginning, this is actually the third building on the site, dating from 1838. Much of the interior is more recent than that, however, since a fire gutted the interior in 1895. In the northeast bell tower is a bell forged in 1919 by Revere and Sons of Boston.
For a special treat, walk right in to Christ Church’s Compline service, held every Sunday evening at 9 p.m., and enjoy a selection of calming liturgical music sung by Christ Church’s excellent Compline Choir. Colloquially known as “saying good night to God,” the Compline service is free and open to those of all faiths.