The Davenport House: A Cherished Landmark

In Savannah, the Davenport House on Columbia Square is a beloved landmark treasured by locals and preservationists. As the first house rescued by the Historic Savannah Foundation, it holds a special place in the city’s heart. Its Federal-style architecture and historical significance make it a key part of Savannah’s story, and preservation efforts ensure it remains a point of pride for future generations.

The Historic Legacy

Situated at 324 East State Street, on the northwest corner of Columbia Square, the Isaiah Davenport House has been a museum since 1963, thanks to the Historic Savannah Foundation. Completed in 1820, the house is an excellent example of Federal-style architecture, though it didn’t appear on tax rolls until 1821. The home was crafted by Isaiah Davenport, a New Englander who became known as Savannah’s Master Builder. Despite the lack of portraits or detailed descriptions of him, his legacy lives on through his work.

Isaiah’s first known project in Savannah was Laura’s Cottage, constructed shortly after he arrived in 1808. His exceptional craftsmanship set him apart, and his perfectionist approach established high standards for builders in Savannah. Despite his Rhode Island roots, his residence, the Davenport House, is considered a masterpiece of Georgian architecture.

Isaiah Davenport’s Life and Achievements

Isaiah Davenport was born on November 3, 1784, in Little Compton, Rhode Island. He learned his trade under a carpenter in New Bedford, Massachusetts. At twenty-four, he moved to Savannah, where he met and married Sarah Rosamund Clark. The couple had ten children, though only six survived into adulthood. It is believed that the spirits of their four lost children still linger in the house.

Isaiah’s professional life flourished in Savannah. Besides building numerous private homes, he served as a contractor for the city, notably helping to restore Savannah’s historic squares and constructing temporary housing after the Great Fire of 1820. His skills also attracted federal projects, such as building a Martello Tower on Tybee Island for coastal defense.

Isaiah’s civic engagement included serving as a city alderman from 1817 to 1822, a firemaster, and later a constable for Columbia Ward. Tragically, his life was cut short by yellow fever on October 16, 1827, at the age of forty-three. Initially buried at Colonial Cemetery, his remains were moved to Laurel Grove Cemetery. His legacy continued through his tenth child, Dudley, born a month after Isaiah’s death but who also died young at forty.

The House After Isaiah

Following Isaiah’s death, his widow Sarah turned their home into a boarding house to support their six children. She eventually sold the house in 1840 to Benjamin Baynard. The house remained with the Baynard family until 1955, when the Historic Savannah Foundation purchased the deteriorating structure, marking the beginning of a significant preservation effort.

The foundation restored the house and opened it as a museum in 1963. By the mid-1980s, they sought to enhance the visitor experience by restoring the house to reflect its 1820s appearance. These efforts earned the Davenport House Museum the Preserve America Presidential Award in 2005 and the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2010.

The Paranormal Presence

Like many old houses, the Davenport House is known for its ghostly activity. Visitors often report seeing shadowy figures and hearing disembodied voices. One of the most famous apparitions is a ghostly cat seen darting through rooms or perched on window sills. Despite staff assuring that no live cats are in the house, many visitors describe seeing the same spectral feline over the years.

Another notable ghost is that of a young girl seen wandering the house and gardens. She has been spotted looking out of windows and playing in the attic, only to vanish when approached. It’s speculated that she could be one of the Davenport children or a child who lived there when it was a boarding house, likely a victim of yellow fever.

Experiencing History

The Davenport House Museum reenacts life every October during the 1820 yellow fever outbreak. This event is not a haunted attraction but an educational experience that delves into the epidemic’s impact on Savannah. The museum honors the work of Mary Lavinder, Georgia’s first female physician, who played a crucial role during the epidemic. Her dedication and the Davenport House’s history reflect Savannah’s resilience and spirit.