wright square history, savannah

Wright Square

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Why You Should Go

Savannah’s second square, Wright Square, was laid out in 1733. Originally named Percival Square, the square was later re-named Wright Square to honor the last Royal Governor of Georgia, Sir James Wright. Home to the city’s courthouse since Savannah’s earliest days, locals frequently refer to the area as “Court House Square.” In Oglethorpe’s day, Wright Square was the legal center of the Georgia colony, and a bustling hub of activity as the site for not only trials, but hangings, public auctions, and the reading of public announcements and decrees. In 1739, Wright Square gained the distinction of being the first of Savannah’s squares to be marked by a monument.

  • COURTHOUSE – Wright Square is dominated by the imposing yellow brick and terracotta courthouse, built in 1898. Constructed in the Romanesque revival style, the courthouse has been seen in many movies, including the original “Cape Fear” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The site was chosen by Oglethorpe himself for a courthouse, and various buildings served that purpose before the current building was constructed. Due to the presence of the courthouse, Wright Square was the seat of justice in the early days of the colony. The gallows once stood in Wright Square, a prominent place to remind the colonists of the high price of wrongdoing. While the gallows are gone, the square is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Savannah.
  • LUTHERN CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION – Next to the old courthouse, the church was built by descendants of the Austrian Salzburgers, who came to Savannah in 1734 to escape religious persecution in Europe. The Salzburgers impressed Oglethorpe so greatly that he invited more to join the young Georgia colony. Built in the late 1870’s, the current building serves as a legacy to those hardy pioneers.
  • WILLIAM GORDON MEMORIAL (center square) – More than 100 years later, a railroad was built to ease the transport of cotton from far flung plantations to the docks of Savannah, ushering in an age of wealth and comfort. As a tribute, Savannahians built an elaborate memorial to the railroad’s founder, William W. Gordon, in the center of Wright Square. In the process they destroyed Tomochichi’s grave, and it is said they scattered his remains in the process. Ultimately, it would be Gordon’s daughter-in-law, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, who would donate the granite monument to Tomochichi that is now seen in Wright Square.
  • TOMOCHICHI MEMORIAL – Also known as Chief or “Mico” of the Yamacraw, who had been such a good friend to Oglethorpe and his new colony, was laid to rest with full military honors at the center of the square and a stone pyramid was built there in his memory. The granite rock bears an inscribed bronze plaque and was erected in 1899 as a monument to Tomochichi. The inscription reads: “In memory of Tom-o-chi-chi. The mico of the Yamacraws, The Companion of Oglethorpe, and the Friend and Ally of the Colony of Georgia.” The rough hewn rock is said to reflect Tomochichi’s strong and rugged character. It is said that this may be the only memorial ever dedicated to a Native American by descendants of European settlers.

WRIGHT SQUARE GHOST – ALICE RILEY – Unlike many other reported ghost sightings, quite a few details are known about Wright Square’s resident haunt, the young Alice Riley. Ms. Riley was an indentured servant, cruelly mistreated by her master, William Wise. Much is known about the conditions of Ms. Riley’s servitude, including the fact that Mr. Wise required Alice and her husband to bathe him daily, and that he sexually assaulted the young woman. Desperate to be free, Alice and her husband drowned Mr. Wise in his bath and fled the city in March of 1734. Apprehended on the Isle of Hope, the couple was returned to Savannah for hanging. Alice’s husband was hung first, but when it was Alice’s turn she plead for mercy and for the life of her unborn child. It was discovered she was carrying Mr. Wise’s child and she languished in prison until the birth of her infant. In January of 1735, a crowd watched as Alice Riley was dragged onto the gallows, screaming for her newborn baby. She was quickly hanged, and her body was left on display for days. Sadly, her infant child died only 45 days later. Reports of Alice Riley’s ghost span hundreds of years, and it is said that the spirit most often appears to expectant mothers, or women with young children, searching for her baby. Interestingly, you will see little Spanish Moss growing in Wright Square, while it is found in abundance in other areas of the city. Locals offer up this oddity as evidence of Alice’s story. Native American lore tells us that Spanish Moss cannot grow where innocent blood has been spilt.

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