Abandoned Sites · Savannah History · Sense of Place

The Roberds Dairy: A glimpse into Savannah’s agricultural past

On a recent winter morning, I took a trip with some friends to explore the site of an abandoned dairy. I had no idea anything like this even existed in Savannah,  being such a humid and urban place it’s hard to imagine cows grazing on a marsh. But apparently they did, and there is proof in the structural remains of what was once a thriving farm industry. In this era of mass consumerism where everything is available at one large store, it is easy to forget that in the not so distant past all grocery needs were from local sources.

As for how large it was and the area the farm served I was unable to find any information but then again, my research has been limited to the internet. What I have been able to find out though is that this was an operating dairy until 1986. Maybe one of these days I will have some time to get to the Georgia Historical Society and see what I can find. For the time being, I wanted to at least share some photos and talk a little about the experience as a whole.

Down a winding bumpy road we ended up in this field on the marsh. This property backs up to Bonaventure Cemetery.
Down a winding bumpy road we ended up in a field on the marsh. This property backs up to Bonaventure Cemetery.

Continue reading “The Roberds Dairy: A glimpse into Savannah’s agricultural past”

Abandoned Sites · Community Relations · Savannah History · Sense of Place

Adaptive Rehabilitation in Downtown Savannah: The Warren A. Candler Hospital

View of the south elevation of the 1876 hospital building as of 01 January 2013.
View of the south elevation of the 1819/1877 hospital building as of 01 January 2013.

With so many vacant and unused properties throughout downtown Savannah, it is nice to the transformation from vacant to vibrant in what is arguably one of the most captivating buildings in the city. The Warren A. Candler Hospital, or the Old Candler Hospital as it is commonly referred to, was the first hospital in Georgia. There has been a medical facility on this site since 1819, but the hospital had its earliest beginnings in 1804. The following timeline will provide a brief history of the hospital based on available information through my research. Some of these dates may be approximations but here is an overview:

1804: Established as a mariners’ hospital and poor house located at 23 St. Gall on Joachin Street, a private home in Yamacraw.

1808: Incorporated as The Savannah Poor House and Hospital Society.

1819: Hospital built at current site on Gaston Street for $30,000.

1835: The hospital is reincorporated as a private institution.

1863: During the War Between the States the hospital cares for Confederate soldiers.

1864: A stockade for Union prisoners is erected around the Candler Oak tree.

1864-1866: When Sherman arrives in Savannah in December 1864 the facility is taken over as a Union hospital.

1866: $4,000 is appropriated to reopen the institution after the war.

1871-1888: Location of Savannah Medical College.

1872: Renamed as Savannah Hospital with the main objective of treating illness.

1876-1877: Building is renovated to its present Italianate style appearance with the addition of two three-story wings, one on either side of the central block. A cupola was also added to the roof at this time.

1879: Savannah Hospital hires its first female night nurse.

1902: The city’s first nursing school is founded by Mary Ann Roberts and is located in the hospital.

1931: The Georgia Hospital Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church South acquires the property and renames it in honor of Bishop Warren A. Candler.

1936: Pediatric Department opens.

1941-1942: A three-story brick building at the east end of the main hospital building adds 40 more beds to the institution by way of a $100,000 Federal grant to expand the facility.

1955: A 77-bed International style four-story wing is added to the north side of the main building.

1960: Candler merges with the Telfair Hospital for Females (1886), the longest operating women’s hospital in the United States. It became Candler’s obstetrical unit.

1968: A Contemporary style three-story concrete frame building is erected as the Minis-Gilmer Diagnostic and Treatment Center.

1980: Candler Hospital moves to its present midtown location at Reynolds and DeRenne Streets.

2012-present: After a period of vacancy spanning three decades, Savannah Law School purchases the property and begins a multiphase rehabilitation project to open the school at the former hospital.

At its current state, the first two stories of the 1955 building have been completely restored and are functioning as part of the law school, with the third and fourth floors restored but not yet in use. The next phase of the project involves restoration, rehabilitation and selective demolition in the original buiding. Next Friday, I am taking a tour of the site to see the building right before the next part of the project begins. I will post any relevant photos and information. Until then, here are some other photos I took of the exterior on New Year’s Day.

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Abandoned Sites · oh no they didn't

The Weak and the Wounded: Film Explores and Embraces Asylum’s Dark Past

Photo: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41A0EXA27QL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

With the Halloween season in full swing, I find myself spending late evening hours watching creepy movies in the dark. One of my absolute favorites is the psychological horror film “Session 9,” a cult favorite filmed in 2000 at the now demolished 500 acre Danvers State Hospital site near Boston. When it still stood, the Danvers site was part of the Massachusetts Film Office’s Fee-Free Location Program, where qualified filmmakers could use state owned sites at no cost.

East aerial view of the ginormous Kirkbride Building (c.1874), as well as a few others prior to their demolition. Photo: http://www.opacity.us

 “Session 9” may provide one of the best visual records of the hospital buildings and landscape before the massive Gothic Revival Kirkbride building and grounds was no more. Although a listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent the demolition of a historic building-as was stated in the film-the site was eligible for rehabilitation tax credits that may have been available to help fund a reuse project. There is entirely too much controversy surrounding what went down with the demolition and subsequent construction of Avalon Danvers to get into in this blog but a Google search on the topic definitely makes for interesting reading.

An interesting side note: Danvers has been shrouded with eeriness for centuries before the state hospital came to be. The actual site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 took place in this same location, not in the present-day Salem as it is commonly attributed. At the time, Danvers was known as Salem Village and that is where the first accusations of supernatural-induced hysteria began. The main Kirkbride building of Danvers Hospital was situated on the exact site that was once the home of John Hathorne, one of the judges of the witch trials.

In any case, what remains today of  Danvers State Hospital is the centermost part of the main hospital building. Everything else was demolished and new construction has taken over. In my thesis research about this site, I came across writings by many individuals who expressed the view that there is no sense of history to this site after entering through the 19th century remains of the Kirkbride building. Never having been there myself-at least not yet- I can’t say for sure how good or bad of a job Avalon Communities did with this site but I do believe that the destruction of such a building is a loss on so many levels. Not only is it physically gone forever but there is one less piece of understanding who we are via how we got here that is missing. I think that’s a big reason why I love watching “Session 9” so much. At  least there is a way to see Danvers State Hospital in some detail while it was still there.

The tiniest little surviving bit of the Kirkbride building sits among generic looking new construction. Photo: http://www.kirkbridebuilings.com
Savannah History · Sense of Place · Victorian Outlook · Why I love the South

Final Resting Places of the Victorian Era

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This angel is pointing upward to signify the departed’s journey to eternal life in heaven.

I spent this sunny Sunday afternoon taking a long walk through Bonaventure Cemetery in Thunderbolt, GA. Although it is 10 minutes down the road from where I live, I don’t visit it nearly enough. Every live oak-shaded path on this vast 160-acre property is filled with epic monuments-large and small- celebrating lives who have moved onward to the next realm. Scattered among the older graves are very recent ones, as it is still an active municipal cemetery in Savannah.

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Looking from the bluff to the Wilmington River.

What fascinates me about this place is how serene and naturally beautiful it is. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, the choice of creating a cemetery here reflects an attitude of continued peace and beauty even after death. It got me thinking about how the societal views about death have changed dramatically from the Victorian era to now. The generic grave markers of today are a far cry from the final tributes the Victorians paid their deceased. They are a physical reminder of a time when people handled death in a more creative manner than we are used to seeing today. From picnics at gravesites, momento mori photography, to mourning jewelry and attire, the mid nineteenth and early twentieth century death rituals are quite interesting to look back on.

During the Victorian era it was common to see wreaths with draped with black crepe to alert passersby of the recently departed. People would also shroud mirrors inside the home with a black crepe material. The custom of the wake involved around the clock supervision of the body laid out in the house for three days. This interim period before burial would allow travel time for relatives and friends, and would hopefully be enough time to determine if someone was not actually dead.

As for fashion customs, widows wore all black with a black crepe weeping veil for a solid year and one day. After that period of full mourning, they were gradually allowed to add colors and prints into their wardrobes. Mourning jewelry included brooches, rings and bracelets made with a lock of hair from the dead.

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Eternal life and eternal hope are represented in this design

As for the funerary monuments themselves, they are rife with symbolism. Common monuments include angels and crosses (spirituality), obelisks (eternal life), anchors (well grounded hope), urns (Greek Symbol of mourning), wreaths (eternal life), torches (eternity) and weeping women (self explanatory). Floral symbolism represents the frailty of life and lillies, ferns, daisies and ivy are just some of the common depictions seen on monuments in Bonaventure. To read more about it check out this glossary I found while doing some research:

http://www.vintageviews.org/vv-tl/pages/Cem_Symbolism.htm

The expectation was that a family would spend as much as they could on a monument, publicly displaying their social status. While these lavish displays are captivating, the money spent on monuments, mourning attire and mourning jewelry eventually just became too impractical for most people and by the World War I era, many of these Victorian customs had vanished.

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Community Relations · Sense of Place · Theorizations

Northern and Southern?!? The identity crisis of a state just below the Mason-Dixon Line

“I’m visiting my cousins from the south,” as my cousin Tim from Massachusetts referred to my brothers and I on a phonecall. “Y’all’s a bunch of Yankees,” said a Florida man my friends and I encountered in a town near Lake Worth, FL. When our Northern neighbors call us Southern and when our Southern neighbors call us Yankees, what do we as Marylanders consider ourselves? It really depends on what region and how many generations back one’s family goes in the state because various responses will happen based upon who is asked. So to try and settle the debate, let’s look at some relevant facts:

Geography

*Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line

*Along the east coast, Maryland is north of five states and south of nine

* Maryland is considered part of the Mid-Atlantic region which also includes VA, DC, WV, PA and DE and in more recent times has been included as part of the Northeast

* Though a small state, MD does have various regions including mountains in the western part of the state, flat farm land in the southern and eastern regions as well as a beach on the eastern shore. Due to these differences the climate will vary but in the geographic center, Prince George’s County, the summers are hot and humid and the winters can get into the 20s at night, sometimes lower and sometimes with snow and/or occasional blizzards.

A Bit of History

* Part of the original 13 Colonies, it was founded in 1633 by Lord Baltimore and named for Queen Henrietta Maria of the UK

*Its major industry came from shipbuilding/ ironworks and agriculture including tobacco, corn, indigo, rice and wheat

* Maryland was nicknamed the Free State as a place where  Catholics could leave New England and openly practice their religion.

* It is historically considered a Southern state whose cash crop was tobacco. The state was a plantation economy largely reliant on the labor of enslaved people and indentured servants. Harriet Tubman, from Dorcester County, MD guided many slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad network.

*During the Civil War, a major reason Maryland did not secede was based upon President Lincoln declaring martial law on the state in 1861. With Virginia already part of the Confederacy, Lincoln could not risk having the capital of the Union surrounded completely by Confederate states. That being said, there were many Union supporters in the state and MD was considered part of the Union in the War Between the States.

Present Day Culture

Currently, the state is comprised of people from various areas who have come to call Maryland home. In fact, my brothers and I are the first Maryland-born members of our family. In the face of the economic crisis,  the Washington, D.C. area was deemed one of the most recession proof in the nation. Montgomery County,  just outside of D.C., includes cities such as Rockville, Bethesda and Silver Spring, all of which have a high concentration of newer residents. This part of the state is also considered politically a more liberal region and may relate to the many government workers who arrived from the North, typically associated with more ‘blue’ states. Maryland itself is considered a blue state. There are also high Democrat populations in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. If you go to the more rural areas of Southern MD and the Eastern Shore, where it is more likely that people have been there for generations, there is more of a Republican leaning. But can politics alone define if Maryland is Northern or Southern?

Maybe other, lighter issues need to be considered. Many restaurants do not offer sweet tea, and the response ‘We have sugar on the table’ to put in cold tea just won’t cut it. However, many foods considered traditionally Southern are also part of the culinary offerings of Maryland. Fried chicken, corn bread, greens, veggies fresh from the garden, and seafood seasoned with Old Bay (the seasoning which was invented in Maryland) are all common at many tables throughout the state.

Because the regions in Maryland are so different, it is hard to speak for all of the state, but having grown up in the Southern MD/DC Metro area and living briefly on the Eastern Shore and Baltimore, I can relate my experiences best to these places. Many consider there to be an overall rude attitude in the city areas but I can say in SoMD and small towns on the Eastern Shore there is a more hospitable and laid back vibe among most of the people I have encountered. Plenty of people from P.G. County and all points south say “y’all” and much of the vernacular architecture (i.e. tobacco barns) reflects a more Southern style. One is just as likely to see Rebel Flags displayed in Southern MD as they are anywhere in the Deep South. Not condoning this practice, just noting as an observation.

The D.C. area definitely does have a more Northern vibe though. So for me to answer this question I think it is that Maryland has influences from both. Sprawl from D.C. to the suburbs is making Maryland as a whole seem more of a Northern state as an increasing number of people relocate here for jobs, but in the areas unscathed by the sprawl, we can also get a glimpse of the rural and the Southern roots of this state. No place is perfect, but maybe Maryland as a whole has just the right balance of both.

At this point you may be thinking, “why does this even matter?” and maybe many do not think on this as much as I have but with my background in historical research and reading about times when MD was considered part of the South, it got me thinking. And talking amongst friends brings so many differing opinions based on what part of the state they hail from. Never having lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I don’t have a lot of cultural reference points to go by, so I am just going on what I myself have lived. This isn’t meant to glorify or talk bad about either side, but being on the border of two regions, it’s inevitable that there will be influences of both. The local characteristics that create a sense of place make people feel comfortable calling a place home, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

I want to hear from you, especially Marylanders about what you think and why so go to the comments section and share your thoughts!

Maryland crabs, steamed with beer and Old Bay have reached legendary status. (Credit: captaindanscrabhouse.com)


oh no they didn't · Theorizations

McDonald’s Infiltrates Historic Savannah

This the first thing I saw on my way to work yesterday, and every day from now on. So out of place.

For the last two years, we knew it was coming. It just was put off for so long it still came as a shock to see the work begin on this historic building at the corner of Broughton and Jefferson Streets. Yesterday as I walked from the parking garage to work, my eyes were immediately drawn to the garish red and yellow sign pictured above. It is jarring against the historic landscape of Broughton Street. I can’t be the only one who is surprised that there wasn’t more of a fight to prevent this from happening at all, but even more disappointing right now is the simple fact that this sign was allowed. It really just is a distracting eyesore.

It’s highly unfortunate that they couldn’t arrange a different location for this. Although there are a few chain restaurants in operation on Broughton St., the loud presence of McDonald’s just cheapens the scenery. They are going to have a walk-up window on the Jefferson side of the building, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the foot traffic at certain hours, say when the bars let out, if they plan to stay open that late. I feel like allowing this caliber of fast food business into the historic downtown just starts a slippery slope of what’s next. Dollar Store? Burger King?

My main issue is that if the city of Savannah made it easier for small businesses to start up and thrive then this building could have gone to a local merchant. There are so many vacant and unused properties in this city, the wasted potential is maddening. Here was an opportunity to kickstart a new local venture, but instead the city chose to go with fast, cheap and easy. If that mentality sticks around, it won’t be long before the whole downtown is seen that way. Let’s hope it doesn’t ever get to that point and fight harder against similar situations in the future .

What makes Savannah unique-or any interesting locale, for that matter- is not the familiarity of commonplace chain stores and restaurants, but rather the things that stand out and make it unequivocally feel like Savannah. The sense of place experienced in a stunning historic city like this is not something that should go down without a fight.

Community Relations · Local Business

They Fix Anything But A Broken Heart: Bradley’s Lock and Key is a Savannah Gold Standard

Front view of Bradley's Lock and Key photo:http://baldaquin.com/blog/

After living in Savannah for 2.5 years, I finally had the chance to go into this amazing little shop. It always drew my interest when passing by, but it wasn’t until my boss needed copies of a key made that I went in. Upon entering, I was immediately taken back to another place and time. The building smelled like the garage at my paternal grandmother’s house and had a similar vibe. All the walls are decorated with old photographs, and keys and locks from all different eras adorn much of the free wall space. I made two subsequent visits for other copies and kind of get the feeling I will be finding more keys to get copies of. The shop is owned by Mr. William Houdini Bradley, and it is likely that the man himself will make your key copies while you wait, just as his family has done for Savannah for three generations. Everyone in the shop is more than friendly, and they have some comfortable antique chairs to sit in while you wait, but the wait is never very long. Among the interesting artifact collection inside the shop are various safes-one dating from the 1700s, and a set of orange stools that were once part of the Savannah lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement.

For residents needing a key copied, or even for those just passing through the city, Bradley’s Lock and Key is a shop everyone should visit at least once. Although, once is enough to want to keep coming back. It is places like this that make Savannah such an interesting city.

My favorite sign in Savannah, outside the shop. photo:http://baldaquin.com/blog/
Community Relations · Theorizations

Shopping Local for Christmas and beyond

Every winter the holiday season seems to get more and more commercialized, with corporate greed seeming to trump common sense and the whole holidays bringing people together idea. This concept is not lost on many people, as evidenced by the recent Occupy movement, as well as just conversations I have had with various friends and family members. As a retail worker, I was surprised at how dead my store was on Black Friday, but it seems most of downtown Savannah experienced a slower than usual start to the holiday shopping season. Even now, during what should be a very busy time of year in our store, it is slow enough for the company to cut back on our hours.

Clearly the current economic situation faced by many citizens is affecting the turnout in popular downtown destinations, but maybe people are just tired of all the commotion of the holidays. But this really got me thinking, maybe there is another reason keeping people from shopping on Broughton Street. Because downtown Savannah is filled with many small and independently owned businesses, they cannot offer the same pricing options that entice customers into the larger big-box retailers. I don’t know what the answer is, and I am not writing this as any kind of political statement, it’s more just my own observations of my local surroundings and the current economic climate across the nation.

This year I plan to do all of my holiday shopping in local stores for a few reasons. First, I have always been in support of local business and keeping basic principles of the ‘American Dream’ going for future generations. I believe that anyone who  wants to be an entrepreneur should have the opportunity to flourish without the threat of retail giants crushing their chances to make a living doing something they love. Second, finds in these downtown shops are more unique and can usually be of better quality than their ‘Made in China’ counterparts. That’s not to say everything sold in the larger stores is pure crap and vice versa, but just in general this is how I see it. Since the rest of my family lives in Maryland, I want to bring them something back that is special to Savannah. I just really like the idea of still only getting things made in certain places, things that make a place stand out. Finally, I just prefer the atmosphere of smaller shops where the owners are usually on hand and even if not, there are people who are highly knowledgable  about the products in the stores. It just feels more personal and being in these stores brings about a connection to the community.

Supporting small businesses is good for the economy even if it does not seem like it on the surface. Shopping at Walmart is not something I do any time of the year, but even if you can save money there, what is the greater cost? Walmart employees are among America’s working poor and if the corporation did not decrease the probability for small businesses to thrive, these workers might find better paying jobs with local entrepreneurs. It’s not just Walmart, this is merely one example. It is very difficult to get by as a modern American without having to shop and eat at any big box stores or chain restaurants/retailers, etc. but if I can make at least a little bit of a difference, then I’m all for it.