Tag Archives: Houses of Coastal Georgia

Mercer House, Circa 1868, Savannah

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

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Filed under -CHATHAM COUNTY, Savannah GA

Andrew Low House, 1849, Savannah

Built between 1848-1849 on a trust lot facing LaFayette Square by architect John Norris, the Andrew Low House is one of Savannah’s most iconic residences and its most popular house museum. Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray described it as the “most comfortable accommodations in America”. Low was self-made, with early  success in retail and shipping. He eventually became Savannah’s premier cotton factor and wealthiest man.

Andrew Low persevered through numerous personal losses and a Union blockade and was even captured and briefly imprisoned for his part in procuring the largest successful shipment of guns and munitions to reach the Confederacy. Losses brought on by the war and the instability of the cotton market led Low and his remaining family to relocate to Leamington, England in 1867. Andrew Low, who always maintained ties with Savannah, died at Leamington in 1886. He was buried alongside his wives and son at Laurel Grove.

Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was married to Low’s son William Mackay Low. They planned to divorce but before it was final, Low died in 1905. Juliette, known to friends as Daisy, inherited the house and lived here until her death in 1927.

Juliette Gordon Low Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Silas Fulton House, 1860, Savannah

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Patterson-Brown House, Circa 1870, The Ridge

William Henry Patterson came to Darien after the Civil War and purchased the land on which he built this house from the Blount family. The neighborhood on the Old Shell Road (Georgia Highway 99), known as The Ridge, was an exclusive retreat for river pilots and timber brokers who worked in Darien, three miles to the south. Captain Patterson was a successful bar pilot who guided timber in and out of Darien.

The house was originally a Georgian cottage with a central hallway, two rooms deep, and featured a detached kitchen and shed veranda porch. Captain Patterson lived here for just two years before building a more formal house across the street.

The Redding family later owned the home and “modernized” it in 1938, adding the bay windows, an attached kitchen, front and rear foyers within  the central hallway, and hardwood flooring over the heart pine. Hannah deSoto Brown and Andy Tostensen purchased it in 1973 and restored many of the original features, including the hallway, high ceilings, and rough plaster walls. It’s a very welcoming space and I’m grateful to Hannah for sharing the history.

The Ridge Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Club House, Circa 1886, Ossabaw Island

The Club House was constructed during Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker’s ownership of Ossabaw Island. Some sources state it was originally built for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and moved to Ossabaw and reconstructed; other accounts suggest that it was simply a kit house, without the Philadelphia history. Either way, it’s the place where most visitors stay on the island today.

National Register of Historic Places

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Boarding House, 1918, Ossabaw Island

This structure, also known as the Bachelor’s House, was built for partners of the Strachan Shipping Company who purchased Ossabaw Island from Henry Davis Weed in 1916. During their ownership it was used primarily as a hunting plantation and at least one superintendent (Hinely) and his family lived here.

National Register of Historic Places

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Slave Cabin, McIntosh County

I was recently contacted by some friends in McIntosh County about the opportunity to photograph a slave cabin on their property. Of course, this immediately piqued my interest and when I learned it was of wooden construction, I was even more intrigued. Most slave dwellings on the coast are of tabby construction and nearly all are documented, so to have the opportunity to see an undocumented wooden example was extraordinary. The owners have shared its history, which I will update soon. The property is not publicly accessible.

The structure has been preserved by a couple families for at least 150 years and likely housed black domestics well into the late-19th/early-20th centuries. It’s presently in vulnerable condition, but the owners have expressed an interest in having it properly restored to historical specifications.

Since stories of slave cabins are nearly as abundant as those relating “Sherman’s troops slept in Granddaddy’s barn” and “George Washington slept here”, it’s important to “read” the structure to validate its age and history. There were myriad variations as to style in slave dwellings, so that alone can’t be used to confirm such a structure’s use. Most were very simple single- or double-pen cabins. Some were saddlebags, with a chimney in the middle, while others had the chimney located on one side (as in this example). Nails are a good way to make general assumptions as to age, and this one features Type B cut nails, which were in common use between the 1810s and 1900. The lack of glass windows is also a good indicator, though not definitive.

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