Don’t look for a monument to Georgia’s founder in the square named for him. That would be way too easy, so of course his monument is in Chippewa Square . Originally called “Upper New Square,” Oglethorpe Square was created in 1742.
Oglethorpe Square’s main claim to fame, the Owens-Thomas House (124 Abercorn St., 912/233-9743, www.telfair.org , Mon. noon–5 p.m., Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m., $15 adults, $5 children), lies on the northeast corner. Widely known as the finest example of Regency architecture in the United States, the Owens-Thomas House was designed by brilliant young English architect William Jay.
One of the first professionally trained architects in America, Jay was only 24 when he designed the home for cotton merchant or “factor” Richard Richardson, who lost the house in the depression of 1820 (all that remains of Richardson’s tenure are three marble-top tables).
The house’s current name is derived from Savannah Mayor George Owens, who bought the house in 1830. It remained in his family until 1951, when his granddaughter Margaret Thomas bequeathed it to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, which currently operates the site.
Several things about the Owens-Thomas House stand out. First, it’s constructed mostly of tabby, a mixture of lime, oyster shells, and sand. Its exterior is English stucco while the front garden balustrade is a type of artificial stone called coade stone.
Perhaps most interestingly, a complex plumbing system features rain-fed cisterns, flushing toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and a shower. When built, the Owens-Thomas House in fact had the first indoor plumbing in Savannah.
While inside the house, notice the unusual curved walls, with doors bowed to match. While many Owens family furnishings are part of the collection, much of it is representative of American and European work from 1750 to 1830. On the south facade is a beautiful cast iron veranda from which Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette addressed a crowd of star-struck Savannahians during his visit in 1825.
The 1990s marked the most intensive phase of restoration for the home, which began with a careful renovation of the carriage house and the associated slave quarters—discovered in a surprisingly intact state, including the original “haint blue” paint. The carriage house, where all tours begin, is now the home’s gift shop.