When James Ogelthorpe returned to Savannah, Georgia from England in 1742, two of the first wards and squares he laid out were Anson Ward and Ogelthorpe Square. During the time Ogelthorpe resided in the colony, he laid out a total of six squares.
Anson Ward was named for the Admiral of His Majesty’s Fleet, Lord George Anson, who was assigned to protect the coastal regions of the Carolinas and Georgia. Following the Revolutionary War, several of the streets that run through Oglethorpe Square were actually re-named. For instance, President Street had originally been known as King Street. State Street was originally known as Prince Street. Congress Street was originally known as Duke Street. While many people might initially assume that Lincoln Street was named for President Abraham Lincoln, that is not actually the case. Instead, the street was named for General Benjamin Lincoln, a resident of Savannah and local Continental Army hero. General Lincoln was actually involved during the Revolution in a siege of Savannah that ultimately proved to be unsuccessful.
Without a doubt, Owens-Thomas House Museum is one of the most historically and architecturally important buildings located on Ogelthorpe Square. The museum is situated at 124 Abercorn Street and is one of only three houses in the Regency Style that were designed by William Jay. The house is now one of the most treasured examples of the preservation movement in Savannah. To this day, the house is the most sophisticated in Savannah.
William Jay was born and raised in Bath, England. It was there that he initially became involved in architectural design, a passion that he would eventually incorporate in his work in Savannah. It is believed that within five years of arriving in Savannah, Jay was able to completely transform the city into an elegant city. Even today, as visitors stroll the many squares of Savannah, the imprint of Jay’s work is very much still in evidence.
The house in which the museum is now housed was originally owned by Richard Richardson, a well-to-do cotton broker and banker. Due to financial difficulties, Richardson later lost the home shortly after its completion. The home was owned by the Bank of the United States for eight years before it was finally purchased for just $10,000 by George Welshman Owens. The house remained in the hands of the Owens family until 1951 when it was bequeathed to the Telfair Museum by Margaret Thomas, George Welshman’s granddaughter.
In 1859, a Savannah developer by the name of Mary Marshall worked diligently to pair a set of Greek revival homes on old trust lots in the square. These brick homes once featured raised basements. Today, entrances still lead down into what once formed these full basements. Architect Charles Cluskey, who also worked in Washington on the design of the capitol, collaborated on the design of these homes. The similarity of these homes can be attributed to the large number of rental homes that were constructed during the time, when it was far more efficient and economical to construct rows of homes in a similar manner.
As visitors continue around Ogelthorpe Square, they will notice a number of brick homes and row houses, many of which were saved from destruction by the Historic Savannah Foundation. Another Greek Revival house can be found on Lincoln Street. Robert E. Lee was once a visitor of the home in 1870, when it was owned by General Alexander Lawton. Facing East President Street is a home that was once lived in by Judge William Law. In 1986, the home was restored and is now known as the President’s Quarters Inn.