Tag Archives: National Historic Landmarks

The Pirate’s House, Savannah

The history of the so-called Pirate’s House is as colorful as the history of Savannah itself, and like many landmarks in the city, its origins and history are often the subject of debate. I’ll open the proverbial can of worms here and note that though it often appears on superlative lists as the “oldest building in Georgia”, this claim is spurious at best. The Herb House, built in 1734 in General Oglethorpe’s Trustee’s Garden, has been absorbed into the structure you see today. Because its historic integrity has been almost completely lost by centuries of remodeling and expansion, though, the ‘oldest in Georgia’ qualifier is dubious to many, particularly architectural historians. I concur completely. This is not an attack on the present institution housed here but rather an attempt to consolidate disparate histories. Scores of websites, especially ‘ghost’-related sites, are driven by myth and therefore confusing to say the least.

The Pirate’s House Restaurant has been a leading tourist attraction in Savannah for decades, and though their website claims that it was built in 1753, the city’s own tourism website dates it to circa 1794. It’s clear that it had its origins as a tavern, frequented by sailors for its liberal atmosphere and proximity to the Savannah River. Tunnels were actually dug beneath the property in its early days with the purpose of smuggling rum and kidnapped sailors to the riverfront. The site gained literary immortality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, as the scene of Captain Flint’s death. The character of Long John Silver noted that he was with Captain Flint when he died in Savannah. Of course this is a fiction, based loosely on stories a young Stevenson heard as a guest here in the early 19th century. The stories are harmless as long as they’re not posited as fact. And they are, often.

The house was purchased by the Savannah Gas Company in 1948 and subsequently restored and expanded to accommodate its present-day purpose.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Humphrey B. Gwathney House, 1823, Savannah

Built between 1822-23 and remodeled in 1883, the Gwathney House is the residential gem of Broughton Street, known as Savannah’s “main street”. It was restored by the Beehive Foundation in 1994-95. The nonprofit Beehive Foundation is one of Savannah’s greatest assets, publishing fine books about the history and culture of Georgia and the South. Founded by Mills Bee Lane IV as the Beehive Press in 1970, Beehive has been at the forefront of historic preservation for nearly five decades. Lane’s monumental 11-volume series, The Architecture of the Old South, has done more to bring attention to Southern architecture than any other source. And Lane wasn’t just a cultural observer, he was actively involved in saving and preserving landmarks throughout his life.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Lawrence Dunn House, 1875, Savannah

This Italianate townhouse was designed by Savannah architect Augustus Schwaab.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

 

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Joachim Hartstene House, 1803, Savannah

This house was rebuilt in 1964 incorporating many of the boards and other architectural features of the original. The only Joachim Hartstene I’ve been able to locate in Savannah records was born in Germany in 1732, with no date of death given. I’ll update when I have more information.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Henry Willink Cottage, 1845, Savannah

The home of Henry Frederick Willink is one of many early Savannah landmarks that have been moved to the vicinity of East St. Julian Street. Willink was the son of a successful German immigrant, Frederick Henry Willink. He was born in Savannah in either 1825 or 1827; the date and location of his death are unknown. After time spent at the Chatham Academy, the younger Willink apprenticed at his father’s shipyard before moving to New York to improve his skills. Willink returned to Savannah in 1851 to start his own shipyard. [His home, originally located near Oglethorpe Aveune at the intersection of Price and Perry Streets, is said to have been built in 1845, but since he didn’t return to Savannah until 1851, there is some debate about the date].

By the outset of the Civil War, his business, Willink & Miller, was in full swing garnering commissions to build the gunboat Macon, as well as the ironclads Savannah and Milledgeville. After the war, he did quite well with other shipbuilding projects, as well as a wrecking  business and a marine railway on Hutchinson Island. From at least 1864 to 1877-79, Willink served as a Savannah alderman, but it is unclear if he served consecutive terms. Little beyond this time is known.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Major Charles Oddingsells House, 1797, Savannah

Revolutionary War veteran Major Charles Oddingsells (1754-1810) came to Savannah as a young man, and he soon became a prominent planter and state legislator. He owned land all around Savannah but spent most of his time on Skidaway Island, where he died at the age of 56. He and wife Sarah Livingston Oddingsells had two children, neither of whom lived to adulthood.

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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Federal Cottage, Circa 1820, Savannah

Savannah Historic District, National Historic Landmark

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