This is one of numerous support structures transformed into private residences after 1945, when Fort Screven was declared surplus by the War Department.
Fort Screven Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Built as the winter residence of Dr. Henry Norton Torrey, Ossabaw’s Spanish Revival “Main House” was designed by Swedish-born Savannah architect Henrik Wallin [1873-1936]. Its pink stucco walls, whose tones vary widely with the changing light of the day, are a defining feature. Red clay roof tiles and wrought iron ornamentation complete the Mediterranean character of the house. [There is no public access to the house, which the Ossabaw Island Foundation hopes to eventually stabilize and restore].
The Torrey family had owned a 40-room winter residence, Greenwich, in Savannah. They bought Ossabaw Island after Greenwich burned, and built the house between 1924-1926. Dr. Torrey was a prominent Detroit physician whose wife Nell Ford Torrey was the granddaughter of John Baptiste Ford, the founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG). Dr. Ford died in 1945 and upon his wife’s death in 1959, the island was inherited by their daughter Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West and her late brother’s heirs. But Sandy was the only one interested in living there full-time and it became her domain.
In 1961, Sandy and husband Clifford West established the Ossabaw Island Foundation, which served as an artist’s colony from October until June each year. Sandy sold the island to the State of Georgia (via the Nature Conservancy) in 1978, retaining a life estate. She lived in the Main House until 2016, at which time she moved to Savannah to an assisted living facility.
At 105, Sandy West remains a beloved symbol of independence for her tireless efforts to protect Ossabaw from development. Jane Fishman profiled her in a fascinating book, The Woman Who Saved an Island: The Story of Sandy West and Ossabaw Island, (Real People Publishing, Savannah, 2014).
The rear of the house features a loggia opening onto a patio. A tennis court and formal gardens have long since been reclaimed by nature.
Outbuildings, like the house, are in a bad state of repair today.
National Register of Historic Places
The old dock here is no longer used due to disrepair but the dock house is a survivor. [As the sign clearly states, don’t trespass]. Beth Walters-Parker notes that this was Captain Hunter’s place. The Valona Shrimp Company, which operates in this area, is perhaps the oldest shrimping businesses in Georgia.
Due to the success of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the book Savannah loves to hate, the Mercer House is perhaps the most famous in town. T0day, it’s officially the Mercer-Williams House Museum. [I added the hyphen; I don’t know why they don’t use one]. It is owned by the sister of Jim Williams, the antiques dealer who shot and killed one of his lovers, a hustler named Danny Hansford, in the house. Everyone knows the story. Wiliams’s eclectic collections are highlighted throughout.
The house was designed by John Norris [architect of the Savannah Custom House and the Andrew Low House, among many others] for General Hugh Mercer, great-grandfather of Johnny Mercer, though the general nor the songwriter ever lived here. Construction began in 1860 but was interrupted by the Civil War. It was completed about 1868 by its new owner, John Wilder. In the 20th century it was used for a time as the Savannah Shriners Alee Temple and was purchased and restored by Jim Williams in 1969.
Two other tragic deaths are associated with the Mercer House. An owner tripped over a banister and eventually died from a concussion in 1913 and a boy chasing pigeons on the roof fell off and impaled himself on one of the iron fence posts in 1969.
Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark