The Davenport House in Savannah, is one of the most historically significant houses in the Historic District. Today you can buy tickets to visit the Davenport House on one of their tours
Built 1820, this Federal-style home was designed by Isaiah Davenport. The Davenport House was the first project of the Historic Savannah Foundation, launching Savannah’s historic preservation movement. The Davenport House is three-stories high and features nineteenth-century furnishings. Fixtures, such as ceramics and textiles, have been selected to match Isaiah Davenport’s inventory. The Davenport House is an architectural treasure. You can find the Davenport House at 324 East State Street where it functions as a historic house museum.
Commonly known as “Savannah’s Master Builder,” Isaiah Davenport was, as well as an architect, a fire master, alderman, constable, and member of the board of health. Yet we know little of Davenport; there are no known descriptions of Davenport, and no photographs exist. We do know that Davenport was born in Little Compton, Rhode Island on November 3 of 1749. We also know that Davenport apprenticed as a carpenter in New Bedford, Massachusetts before leaving for Savannah at the age of twenty-four.
Although Davenport arrived at Savannah in 1808, his residency wasn’t recorded until 1809. He met and married Sarah Rosamund Clark the same year, and the two were wed at the Independent Presbyterian Church. The Davenports had ten children, though only six survived to adulthood.
Davenport’s first construction for Savannah was Laura Cottage, which Davenport built in 1808. Davenport’s other notable developments include the Martello Tower on Tybee Island and the Davenport House.
The Martello Tower, designed in defense against England during the War of 1813, was later destroyed. The Davenport House remains the apex of his architectural career.
Davenport was a contractor for the city of Savannah and is likewise known for his restorations of Savannah’s Squares. Davenport was further contributory after the Great Savannah Fire of 1820 where he built temporary shelters for displaced citizens. Davenport’s involvement with Savannah extends past carpentry or restoration, however: Davenport served as a Savannah alderman from 1817 to 1822, and later became a fire master for the wards of Greene and Columbia.
Like many Savannahians of the nineteenth century, Davenport died from yellow fever in 1827. He was forty-three years of age. Davenport was buried at Colonial Park Cemetery yet was later exhumed and interred at Laurel Grove Cemetery. Davenport’s tenth child was born one month after his death, though, like his father, died in his forties.
Davenport’s contributions to Savannah are inestimable. Historic Savannah Foundation’s Daniel Carey agrees, stating how “Isaiah Davenport professionalized the building industry in Savannah. He didn’t just roll into town and move on. He brought professional practices that became the benchmark or the standard.” Davenport is memorialized through the house as well as through the annals of Savannah’s preservation movement.
Isaiah Davenport resided in the House until his death in 1827. Sarah Davenport, now widowed, partitioned the home as a boarding house. She and her children remained at the Davenport House until 1840 when Benjamin Baynard arrived at Savannah from Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Benjamin Baynard bought the Davenport House from Sarah for nine thousand dollars. The Baynards kept the Davenport House from 1840 until 1955. In 1955, the Davenport House was sold for a second time.
The Davenport House deteriorated throughout the later twentieth century. Despite the deterioration, the Davenport House was listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey in the 1930s. However condemned, the Davenport House was architecturally significant.
The City of Savannah proposed demolishing the Davenport House in the 1950s, yet the House was purchased by the Historic Savannah Foundation in 1955. The Historic Foundation, then comprised of seven women, saved the Davenport House with their efforts – launching Savannah’s historic preservation movement.
The Davenport House was the first enterprise of the Historic Savannah Foundation, later becoming the foundation’s headquarters. They began to slowly restore the Davenport House so that the Davenport House could be opened to the public.
In 1963, The Historic Savannah Foundation established the Davenport House as a historic house museum. The Davenport House underwent further renovations in the 1980s when the Historic Savannah Foundation installed nineteenth-century fixtures to further the experiences of visitors. The foundation’s incorporations match the contemporary furnishings of Isaiah Davenport.
The Davenport House is a three-story gallery featuring 500 collectibles. Davenport’s rooms are furnished with nineteenth-century fixtures, providing period-specific experiences for Davenport’s visitors. The fixtures, such as ceramics and textiles, have been selected to match Isaiah Davenport’s inventory and the sale of the Davenport estate. The house sits at 6,800 square feet and features three dormer windows, a double staircase, and an imported brick façade. An ornate garden is located at the rear of the house.
The Davenport House received a Preserve America Presidential Award in 2005, presented by President Bush and Laura Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House. The Davenport House later received the Georgia Governor's Award in the Humanities in 2010. Director Jamie Credle recognized the award in a press release: “The museum was honored for its fifty years plus journey to create an accurate, well-preserved, sustainable, vital and exciting place to learn history. This includes its reinterpretation efforts, the raising of an endowment, its education programs and the energized and growing community of volunteers, staff, and supporters who feel a part of and share the fine house museum on a regular basis.”
During October, The Davenport House offers visitors the opportunity to experience life in the nineteenth century.
The exhibition centers around the Yellow Fever Epidemic, showcasing vignettes that depict daily life during the outbreak. Actors perform as nineteenth-century doctors and locals, illustrating how Savannah reacted to death and disease. “There is relevance to seeing how people heard about and handled the 1820 yellow fever epidemic when a tenth of the population of the city – over 600 people – succumbed,” Director Jamie Credle maintains.
Want to learn more about this architectural treasure? Visit the Davenport House Museum at 324 East State Street; located on the northside of Columbia Square, on the northeast of Savannah’s Historic District.
The museum is open from Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM -5:00 PM. Guided tours are available. Watch out, though – There are rumors that the Davenport is haunted.