BACKSTORY: Madison Square was named after the fourth President of the United States, James Madison. The square was laid out in 1837 and commemorates a Savannahian of the Revolutionary War, Sgt. William Jasper. There is a large monument dedicated to him in the center of the square, but the granite marker also defines the southern limit of the British defenses. In addition, there are two cannons on the southern margin of the square, which represent Georgia’s first two highways.
On the southwest corner of Madison Square stands the Masonic Temple. This was formerly a Scottish Right temple. Note what appears to be terra cotta decoration under the eaves at the top of the building, along with beautiful blue and gold mosaic or tile work. On the ground floor of this building is a tea room, the Gryphon Tea Room, which is open for lunch and high tea in the afternoon. Step into this establishment for a minute and note the beautiful stained glass dome, surrounded by the silk-upholstered ceiling. The décor here is decidedly Victorian-era Pharmacy, which indeed did exist on the site.
On the northeast corner of the Madison Square is another Greek Revival treasure, which has been beautifully restored. This mansion was built in 1843 and is in private hands. Adjacent to it and integrated into the structure, however, is one of Savannah’s oldest and best-known independent bookstores, E. Shafer Books & Maps.
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BACKSTORY: Orienting by looking at the west side of Madison Square, there is a church and cloister on one of the trust lots and a large home to the right on the other. The church is St. John’s Episcopal Church. The church parish itself was organized in 1840 and the church building was completed in 1853. The architect Calvin Otis designed the church. On the lot immediately next door is probably one of the most historically significant private homes in Savannah, the Green-Meldrim House. It was designed by John Norris and also completed in 1853. Beautiful and ornate iron work surrounds the house, enclosing a covered porch on three sides. The oriel windows are distinctive and allow a great deal of light into the house. The home contains many unique features and adornments, including the original large mirrors which were brought from Austria in their original gold leaf frames.
However, there is more to the story of this home. When it became apparent that General Williams Tecumseh Sherman was going to reach Savannah imminently, Charles mounted his horse (so goes the legend), rode out to meet Sherman and offered his home for Sherman’s use as a residence and headquarters.
BACKSTORY: Run by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) the Gryphon Tea Room occupies the former A.A. Solomons & Co. drugstore in Savannah's 1923 Scottish Rite building. The family-owned business, which dated to the 1840s, once filled a prescription for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Diners can still read the name of the drugstore in the ceramic tile flooring and admire the Tiffany-style lamps, as well as a mahogany clock with a carved griffin on either side. Gryphon's restoration was spearheaded by SCAD faculty, and the tea room opened for business in 1998.
BACKSTORY: On the northwest side of Madison Square is the Sorrel-Weed House. Also done in Greek Revival style, it was built in 1841 and was one of the city’s most imposing mansions. Note the color of the house. When it was originally restored, the Historic Savannah Foundation did not want the owner to use the color, as it was not considered one of Savannah’s original colors. The city attempted to prevent them from using the color. However, the then-owner claimed he would not use a different color and showed where he had scraped off over 20 layers of paint and that the color that remained was indeed the original color. End of discussion. The color stayed.