1. The George Baldwin House, 225 East Hall Street
At the corner of Hall and Lincoln streets, hidden unassumingly between a parking lot and Forsyth Park, is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne style architecture in the city. The house, built in 1887 for George Baldwin, is wide, heavy and stately. Its ribbed chimneys, bottle glass windows, and round (almost Medieval) tower give it the look of an old and half-forgotten stronghold, digging in its heels as modernity creeps up outside its hedges.
George Baldwin, who was only 31 when his house was built, came from an old Massachusetts family. Perhaps it’s odd that a family of Yankee merchants should build one of the grandest houses in Savannah. Then again, the house’s scrolling terra cotta, odd roof line and weave-work of bricks and archways seems very much at home beneath the drooping live oaks and blue-grey moss.
2. Smithfield Cottage, 118 West Hall Street
Just off Forsyth Park on West Hall Street sits Smithfield Cottage, a house that looks as though it was plucked from the pages of an old English picture book. With its bold half-timbering, stained glass and casement windows of thin, patchworked frames, Smithfield looks almost Tudor.
The house was built for Jesse Parker Williams in 1888. Far from a Savannah blueblood, Williams served in the Confederate army before finding his way into the timber business. By the time he built Smithfield, however, he was said to be worth over $20 million. His house was the first in the state with air conditioning.
A true Queen Anne belle, Smithfield’s wide verandas, riot of gables and red brick chimney seem to sit squarely in the middle of an English garden.
3. The Noble Hardee House, 1 West Gordon Street
Across the street from Savannah’s much more famous Mercer House, the Noble Hardee House sits and slumbers on Gordon Street. A tall, rusted Italianate mansion covered in flaking, spotty stucco and swirling ironwork, the house looks just as at home in Savannah as it might in Venice. It’s not a stretch imagining the waters of the Grand Canal lopping up against its cracked and foot-worn steps. Quite comfortably, the house molders behind a screen of stiff palmettos.
Noble Hardee, a cotton merchant, began work on the house in 1860, just months before the outbreak of the Civil War. He would die before the house was ever finished. Later, in the 1870s and ’80s, it was one of Savannah’s most fashionable addresses. President Chester A. Arthur even stayed the night. Today, it’s perhaps the only unrestored mansion in the city. Its tarnished Baroque window frames and cast iron balconies look the better for it.
4. The Bonticou Double Houses, 418 East State Street
Savannah was a much different town 200 years ago. Then, it was not a city of mansions, cobbled streets and fancy shops, but a port town of dirt roads, taverns and rough-handed laborers. Around the corner from Columbia Square on East State Street sits a little piece of that old Savannah. The double houses at number 418, built for Timothy Bonticou in 1815, are plain-faced and simple. As cottages built for wage-earners they were certainly never meant to be grand. The coarse and weathered clapboards, low-hipped roof and squat, Puritan chimney are all typical of early American homes.
The houses are remarkable, however, in the haint blue painted over the otherwise sparse porticos and casements. Haint blue, a milk-based paint made with indigo dye, was a popular color in the colonial Low Country. Made by the Gullah people enslaved from West Africa, “haint” was another word for haunt, or spirit. Painted around doorways and windows, haint blue was a protection spell against unwanted visitors – alive or dead.
5. The Knapp House, 11 West Jones Street
The Knapp House at 11 West Jones Street sits on the shady, cobbled corner of what’s been called the prettiest street in America. Built in 1857, the house was one of the first on Jones Street. Its ruddy, weathered bricks, some chipped and whittled, seem warm and smooth beneath the shade of heavy live oaks. Built for Noah Knapp, a Connecticut native, saddler and harness shop owner, it’s said the house’s architect was John Norris, now more famous for the Low House, Mercer House and Massey School.
Like many townhouses built for the Antebellum well-to-do there are four stories – the ground floor reserved for slaves. The house is a classic example of the Greek Revival, a favorite among the newly-rich planters and merchants of the Old South. A handful of fluted columns frame the narrow portico, and modest, almost bland, pediments cap off each window. The house stands firm and satisfied, the very height of 19th century respectability.
6. The Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 341 Bull Street
Jutting out like an elbow onto Madison Square, the Scottish Rite Masonic Center is a dizzyingly tall Beaux Arts display. Five stories high, it dwarfs townhouses, treetops and steeples cluttering in its shadow. Begun in 1913 as the Scottish Rite Temple, the Center once housed an order of Masonry open only to Master Masons. Its towering Ionic pilasters and wide, rusticated girth seem, unashamedly, to announce the Center’s importance.
It was completed in 1923 and, like many Beaux Arts buildings, sits flamboyantly on a busy corner lot. Its immense and curving keystones can be seen across the street, and its lapis-inlaid cornices are layered, like a cake, one on top of the other. It’s no wonder such a building is known to blot out the sun.
7. The Asendorf House, 1921 Bull Street
Several blocks south of Forsyth Park, tourists rarely see the Asendorf House on Bull Street. Built in 1889, the house is perhaps the most striking showpiece of Steamboat Gothic in the country. Most Savannahians, however, know it as the “gingerbread house.” A fitting nickname, its oval picture frame brackets covered in lacy scrollwork run the length of its two front porches. Even on a hot day, the house looks cool, glazed in a layer of sugary candy floss.
Cord Asendorf, for whom the house was built, was a German immigrant who arrived in Savannah in 1872. An industrious Lutheran, Asendorf set up shop as a grocer. It’s curious that he chose to build a Steamboat Gothic house. The style emerged along the banks of the Mississippi where steamboat captains designed houses to look like their trimmed and decorated steamboats. So curious was Asendorf’s house, that in 1933 President Roosevelt stopped his motorcade in the middle of the street so his mother could have a better look.
To read more from guest writer Nick Dephtereos, visit his website here.