With the largest urban landmark historic district in the United States, Savannah draws visitors from throughout the United States, as well as foreign countries around the world.
Events such as the upcoming annual Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens further showcase the city’s charm, beauty and history. But if it hadn’t been for the courage of seven local women, all that might have been lost.
Best friends Polly Cooper and Laura Lawton have written “Savannah’s Preservation Story,” which details the story of “the seven ladies” — Katherine “Kass” Judkins Clark, Elinor Adler Dillard, Anna Colquitt Hunter, Lucy Barrow McIntire, Dorothy Ripley Roebling, Nola McEvoy Roos and Jane Adair Wright.
“We are two old original Savannahians who have seen so many changes to our city — some good, some not so good,” Cooper says. “Our book honors the seven brave local ladies who saved our historic district after our old City Market was knocked down in 1954.
“Without their determination to save our historical architectural treasures from demolition, our city would not have the largest and most beautiful 2.2 square-mile historic district in the United States. Savannah is praised worldwide for its preservation efforts.
“We have interviewed families and grandchildren of these ladies and have a chapter on each with pictures of them as young girls at school, proms, as May queens, at their weddings, with babies and so on, so the reader can get to know them,” Cooper says.
“Polly comes up with wonderful ideas,” Lawton says. “She said, ‘We need to write about the seven ladies.’
“We were about 14 when these ladies were doing all their wonderful preservation work,” she says. “Our mothers played bridge and tennis with these ladies.”
Composer Michael Ching has been commissioned by the Savannah VOICE Festival to write an opera about the seven ladies by focusing on Anna Hunter.
“Anna Hunter was my mother’s first cousin,” Lawton says. “I live in the family home place that Anna Hunter’s grandparents lived in. I told Michael stories about Anna.”
The book isn’t just about victories. The demolition of the old DeSoto Hotel is included in words and pictures.
The book also features photos of Stella Henderson, who saved 30 downtown cottages from demolition before the seven ladies began their fight. The first was the 18th-century Andre Drouillard House, which now houses The Cottage Shop.
The book opens with the loss of the late, lamented City Market, which was replaced with a parking garage.
“It was so colorful and it had booths,” Lawton says. “You could buy peaches and persimmons.
“Farmers came with wagons and you could buy fresh shrimp and crab,” she says. “It was just a bustling place.”
“They had a fabulous ball the night before the demolition,” Cooper says. “People came dressed as things that were sold at the market. There was an undercurrent of determination never to have this kind of loss again.”
“Next year, the Davenport House was in the bullseye,” Lawton says. “That’s when the ladies decided to band together and form the Historic Savannah Foundation. Savannah has always been known for strong Southern women who stand up for their beliefs and causes.”
The authors did considerable research in writing the book.
“We feel we got to know them as people and not just as names,” Cooper says. “Although all seven ladies are deceased now, their children and grandchildren are here and know they were responsible for saving the historic district.”
The two have written together before, beginning in the 1950s with a social column for the Savannah Morning News.
“That gave us an excuse to go to parties in Tybee,” Cooper says. “We’d stick a pencil behind an ear and take a table.”
Their “Savannah Guidebook” is an updated version of Cooper’s previous book, the “Visitor’s Guide to Savannah,” which she wrote with the late Emmeline King Cooper.
The authors are now working on a book about the Hopeton plantation, which once stood on Ogeechee Road.
“Normally, we dream up something,” Cooper says. “This time, the publisher came to us and said they wanted us to write about it.”
Cooper and Lawton have done signings at the Davenport House, which sells the book in its gift shop. They’re also available for presentations about the book and can be reached at 912-308-0063 or 912-925-5644.
“So many people come to Savannah for the Tour of Homes every year because we have most the beautiful historic district in the United States,” Cooper says. “There’s a wonderful story behind it, the story of Savannah’s preservation history.”
Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens
The Great Depression put many Savannahians in need.
In 1935, the Women’s Auxiliary of Christ Church decided to do something to alleviate the problem. To raise money, the auxiliary showcased five homes in one evening, raising $50 for the community.
What today is called the Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens grew out of that event. In 1976, a partnership was formed with the Historic Savannah Foundation. Today, the tour still raises money for several charities, but it also promotes Savannah.
The 82nd annual Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens will be March 23-26 in cooperation with the Ardsley Park-Chatham Crescent Garden Club. Visitors will see architecture, interiors and gardens of some of Savannah’s most beautiful homes in the Historic Landmark District and Historic Ardsley Park that are not usually open to the public.
In addition, there will be special events, including walking tours, lectures, luncheons, book signings and much more. For a complete list of events and ticket availability, go to savannahtourofhomes.org.
IF YOU GO
What: Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens
When: March 23-26
Where: Downtown Historic District
Cost: Varies; some events sold out
Info: savannahtourofhomes.org or 912-234-8054