Wednesday, April 8, 2009

12 West Oglethorpe BURNED

12 W Oglethorpe, front
The newspaper said, "A vacant three-story house at 12 W. Oglethorpe Ave. was extensively damaged late Monday by a blaze that fire crews battled for several hours. The brick structure, near the corner of Oglethorpe and Bull Street, caught fire shortly after 9 p.m., said Master Firefighter Wayne Ifill, with Savannah Fire & Emergency Services. The upper walls folded on top of each other in a pancake fashion, making the fire difficult to reach, Ifill said." (MICHAEL ATKINS , Savannah Morning News)photos from the lane, at the west side and rear

The ballroom at the rear of the sprawling house was ablaze, likely from a fire that began in the adjacent dumpster in the lane. The scent lingers today. The wind was whipping all day and night. The power went out for a few minutes, here. Ripe conditions for a fire. Boys are clearing out the charred historic building fragments. I glimpsed some large-print vintage wallpaper in one of the front rooms as I skulked around the property tonight.
I thought, what a tragedy - historic fabric lost and I wondered about the house's evolution. I am certainly not qualified to deduce its history, but here is what my curiousity has landed so far in facts (and myths):
It was purported to be built in 1900, according to the seller who described it this way: "Features a foyer with hardwood floors, a large ballroom with includes five fireplaces, and a central skylight overlooking a dramatic dogleg staircase with iconic pillars. Last remaining renovation project on Oglethorpe in Savannah's Historic District." SAGIS substantiates the building date as 1900 and its material as brick veneer.

12 West Oglethorpe is said to be haunted, one of many such edifices in the city. The Ghost Tour claims "The house doesn’t look very inviting. The facade is somber and gloomy. The deserted interior can be seen obliquely through grimy windows. A prominent doctor lived here when a ghastly yellow fever epidemic broke out in 1820 that would eradicate a tenth of Savannah’s population...Yellow fever eventually took the lives of his wife and son. Out of his grief, and possibly guilt, the desperate doctor bricked himself up in the house and died." An 1888 Sanborn Map shows a smaller, wood-frame building on this site which may or may not have existed in the 1820s and later covered in brick in 1900 to become the existing house.

Sanborn Map 1888 shows wood structure at the site of 12 W. Oglethorpe

It was also purported to be the childhood home of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts. Fascinating! Her birthplace at 10 East Oglethorpe, just 1/2 block from 12 East, as well as her adult home are both restored and open as house museums while this abandoned home rotted for years. Juliette Gordon was born in 1860. I found the main house with its round portico on 1898 and 1916 Sanborn Maps, but the 1888 Sanborn Map shows a smaller, wood-frame building at 12 East Oglethorpe. The website of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace explains the history of the house and inhabitants. In the 1850s, William Washington Gordon, II, and his wife, Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, Juliette's parents, moved into 10 West Oglethorpe to help Mrs. Gordon, Sr., Juliette's grandmother, with expenses. William Gordon II purchased the estate in 1882 when his mother died. Girl Scouts and encyclopedic sites call 10 East Oglethorpe the "childhood home" of Juliette Gordon Low with no mention of 12 West Oglethorpe.
Sanborn Map 1898 - 12 W. Oglethorpe
Sanborn Map 1916 - 12 W. Oglethorpe

Like many Savannah mansions that become obsolete and unsustainable to smaller, less "royal" families in the early-mid 1900s, it transitioned to a civic use. 12 W. Oglethorpe became an Elks Lodge, as evidenced by the BPOE (Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks) inscribed in the sidewalk. It is labeled as such on the 1916 Sanborn Map. Subsequent additions, including the burned ballroom, occurred after 1916.

18 comments:

gina said...

I have some great ghost pictures taken at 12 W Oglethorpe in March 2006. I was in Savannah this weekend and saw that the house had burned. I took pictures but didn't capture any of "my" ghost!

Amy said...

The main block was built in 1898 (according to tax records) by Bierne Gordon, son of W.W. Gordon (president of Central of Georgia, monument on Wright Square). The Elks bought the property from the Gordon family in 1908. The building went through a lot of changes between 1934 and 1950, presumably an expansion of the Elks chapter, and the ballroom addition was part of those changes. The red brick side addition was put on circa 1970. The building was later used for a Montessori School, with dance classes taught in the ballroom. It was my building assessment project at SCAD... so sorry to see something like this happen.

kirsten sparenborg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kirsten sparenborg said...

What an interesting history the building's had in about 100 years. Thanks for sharing your research, Amy!

jenstar25 said...

Thank you for this. I accidentally was taken on a ghost tour to this building and was furious with the doctor/yellow fever story I was told, as the only history I knew of the building was the 9 years I went to school there and that it had previously been the Elks Lodge. The floor plan does not lend itself to being anyone's home at all. Were you able to find if anyone actually did live in it (Gordons or not) in those first ten years of its existence?

kirsten sparenborg said...

That's a great question, jenstar. I don't know if the house was inhabited in the ten years before it was sold to the Elks. I thought perhaps the occupants might be listed in SCAD's Virtual Historic Savannah Project but the earliest occupants were recorded in 1920, the Elks:
:http://vsav.scad.edu/cgi-bin/vhs/model_link2db.cgi?BuildingId=000537

drew said...

i walked around in this house last night at about 2:30 in the morning shortly after i just got off work with other tour guide friends.

We all give the haunted history and pub crawls, so we had all heard the stories of this house but none had ever been inside. So we snuck in, stayed quite (as quite as you can be after a couple drinks to think its a good idea to go inside).

So I will say thought it was dark, it was absolutely amazing inside. It was everything you could want in an old creepy abandoned house. The wallpaper was still on some of the walls of the early 1900 paisley patterns.

I would suggest anyone go in the house, just be careful, because you will probably get attacked by a hobo, or get taken to jail.

Enter at your own risk.

foreverandforallways said...

thats cool that you got in, but i hope you stayed respectful to those who inhabit it. it saddens me that any harm would come to such a wonderful place. its such a beautiful house, i fell in love my first time to savannah when i 14 4 yrs ago, and i swear that one day i will have that house, i just feel drawn to it for some reason. absolutely beautiful mansion.

88curious88 said...

What is the reason why the Elks left the building. Has no one wanted it since thee early '90s and why?

Rob said...

I'm a developer and know the current owner if anyone is interested in buying the property let me know.

Renee said...

Hi Rob...I would be interested in knowing more about this property. We have been to Savannah several times and have always been drawn to this house. I am not sure if it is something we would be able to do, but I at least have to ask.

Phoebe said...

On a recent visit to Savannah, I was taken to this house by some friends who had taken a ghost tour the night before. They knew I "feel" and "see" things, so they wanted to get my take on it. They didn't tell me the story of the house, just asked me what I felt. I said, I feel nothing. Just a strong sense of sadness and loneliness from the house. Nothing fearful, not evil...just sadness. I quickly took several pics of windows on the front of the house. When I got home and uploaded the pics, there was nothing there so I deleted them. All except one of the right side long narrow window next to the front door. There in the bottom of the pic, peaking out at me was a little green face with bright gold eyes. Only way to describe what it looks like is a malevolent yoda. I would like to know more about the house and the property. I don't believe the doctor and the yellow fever story because the house is just not that old. But could there be something with the ground itself? Not sure. Either way, the house is sad. I would like to see it bought and restored. Surely it would make a fine restaurant/banquet hall even if it's haunted.

JessicaDesiree!! said...

We were told that that entire block was built over the oldest cemetery in Savannah. They desecrated seven over the years (they just paved over them). I did not get any "sad" feeling. It was just something you didn't want to mess with. I didn't want anything to do with it.

Shanokie said...

Foreverandfiralways I swear I could have written your post! I too was 14 when I first saw this house and absolutely fell in love. Every summer after until I was 17 I visited it and was so sad to leave it behind knowing deep down inside that this house was a piece of me. I'm 23 now and got to visit the lonely shell that is now there for the first time in years. I nearly cried when I saw the damage to the ball room. However I once again felt a strong bond with this house. My fiancé has agreed to let me buy this house when we have the money for it and to help me restore it. I am absolutely excited that I may actually one day own this home. I was devastated when I read this article but my mood improved when I saw all is not lost!

Litleelee said...

Hi Rob, I would love to get information on this house as just like everyone else, we love it, We have been trying to find the owner as well but since we do not live in Savannah, we have had no luck. I would greatly appreciate anyone who can give us that information and e-mail us at litleelee@yahoo.com. We would greatly appreciate it. :) Thanks everyone who can help.
Leane

Litleelee said...

Hi there Rob or anyone who can help us. :) We also visited Savannah for a few years and would love to find the owner of the house as we have been looking for that information for some time and can not seem to get connected with the right people. If someone could e-mail us the information, we would be greatly appreciative as our e-mail is litleelee@yahoo.com. So if anyone can give us that info, I would be very happy. We would like to see if it would ve feasable to purchase it and restore it. Thanks again, Leane

Litleelee said...

As previously mentioned, we are interested in this home in order to save and restore it to its original conditional when built. We are in the final stages of a renovation in our small town in North Carolina and have always wanted to restore the Oglethorpe home. Any purchase information for this property would be appreciated.

Jennifer Cox said...

The Elks moved in 1980ish to a new property on the southside of town, which is when they sold it and shortly thereafter the Savannah Montessori School started there. My school was there through the 1980s and moved to a more up-to-date facility in 1989. Lots of work to be done to bring utilities up to date so no one ever felt called to take on the expense of it all. Amazing building, but NOT A HOUSE!!