The tranquility of Telfair Square serves as one of the highlights of the many squares of Savannah. Located on Barnard Street between State and York Streets, Telfair Square is one of the oldest in the city, as it was laid out in 1733. James Oglethorp soon return to England after the square was established. Originally named St. James Square, this area was noted for being among of the most fashionable in the city.
In 1883, Savannah elected to change the name of the area to Telfair Square to honor the Telfair family. This change is notable because the square was and is the only square named in honor of a family rather than an individual.
The Telfair family made significant contributions to early Savannah history and culture. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Edward Telfair managed to acquire land grants near Augusta. This allowed Telfair to prosper. He added to his fortune by building a thriving export business in Savannah. Working with business partner Joseph Clay, Telfair helped establish a strong trade presence for the city, leading to great prosperity. After marrying into a wealthy and powerful Southern family, Telfair set his sites on politics, ultimately becoming Governor of Georgia.
A descendant of Edward Telfair named Mary chose to use the family fortune for humanitarian purposes, provide funds for religious, cultural and social causes. Mary Telfair quickly became known for her generosity and willingness to help those in need. Upon the death of her brother Alexander, Mary inherited a large, beautiful mansion at 121 Barnard Street. After Mary's passing in the late 1800s, the city of Savannah was given the deed. It turned the property into the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences in 1886.
Other notable buildings along Telfair Square include historic Trinity Methodist Church at 127 Barnard Street. This church was built in 1848 in the Greek Revival style. Its designer, John B. Hogg, also designed the First Bryan Baptist Church on West Bryan Street in 1873. There are notably strong religious ties in this area, as John Wesley, considered the founder of the Methodist church, founded the Wesley church in 1812 on the site of Trinity Methodist Church.
Two federal government buildings sit on trust lots on the east side of Telfair Square. The tiled exterior of these buildings has caused some uproar among those devoted to historic Savannah. In fact, a historic red brick building known as the Helmly Building had to be torn down to make way for the newer structures. Even with this occasional controversy, great care was taken to keep these government buildings consistent with the scale and detail of other prominent buildings in the area. In fact, their designer, Hugh Jacobsen, has gone on to design other similar buildings throughout the city.