Located on Barnard between Bryan and Congress Streets, Ellis Square is one of the oldest squares in Savannah. However, for many years, this square was replaced by a large parking deck that set in motion the preservationist movement in the city.
The area was originally named Decker Square when it was laid out in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. It was created to honor Sir Matthew Decker, a member of British Parliament and one of the 21 Trustees. The area became commonly known as Marketplace Square shortly after the square's creation. It was known as the center of commerce in Savannah as it was home to several market houses.
At some point, the area was renamed Ellis Square to honor Sir Henry Ellis. Ellis served as the second royal governor of the colony of Georgia. Born into a wealthy English family, Ellis found roots in Savannah and became one of the city's most colorful personalities. Ellis was known for walking around the square that now bears his name, commenting on the hot summers in Georgia. He often referred to Savannah as the hottest place on Earth outside of the Seychelles.
Ellis Square has a significant place in the preservation movement in Savannah. After the first City Market was constructed in the area in 1763, Augustus Schwaab built a large brick building in the 1850s to house the next city market. That building stood for more than century until the city choose to build a parking deck at this spot in 1954. This galvanized those in the community that wanted to see the structure saved. The outrage over the decision to demolish a historic building in favor of a parking deck soon led to the creation of the Savannah preservation movement and the Historic Savannah Foundation.
After waiting patiently for 50 years for the lease on the parking deck to expire, preservationists worked with the city to restore Ellis Square in 2004. The parking garage was demolished two years later, with a new parking garage moved underground. Since a dedication ceremony in 2010, Ellis Square has been turned into a beautiful open public space that is often home to many public concerts. To coincide with Ellis Square's restoration, several of the residential and commercial properties have also undertaken restoration efforts, including the creation of a new city market that houses restaurants, shops and artist studios. Area hotels have also joined the effort to create a seamless historic experience for those visiting the area.
A bronze statue of Johnny Mercer, a songwriter and lyricist from Savannah, now stands in the center of the square. It was dedicated during the square's restoration in 2009.