one of Savannah's best preserved historic homes
With double-story columns and a spacious, southern garden, the Harper Fowlkes House looks like something out of a magazine. And that’s because it is! This nineteenth-century mansion was distinguished as one of the top “25 Historic Homes in America” by Traditional Home. The architecture is elegant yet extravagant; the interiors are striking yet timeless. Visitors will find themselves dazzled by the chandeliers of Central Hall or Alida Harper Fowlkes’ collection of antebellum antiques.
Yet the property makes for more than a pretty picture. With over a century of history, the Harper Fowlkes House has been renovated, reimagined, and reassigned. There’s even an inheritance scandal. As for its namesake – think pioneer of the preservation movement, Savannah’s “First Restorationist.”
Whether you’re interested in its curious construction or “change of hands,” the Harper Fowlkes House is the “Must See” Mansion of Orleans Square.
Designed by Charles B. Cluskey in 1842, this Greek Revival mansion was first built for Stephen Gardner. Yet Gardner, a shipping magnate, owned the Harper Fowlkes House only briefly.
Once Gardner was muddled in monetary turmoil, the Harper Fowlkes House was forced to change hands. The Harper Fowlkes House then passed to the Champion Family, where it stayed until 1880. (There are rumors that Aaron Champion buried gold on the property!)
In 1880, the Harper Fowlkes House passed to James and Maria McAlpin. Maria was a Champion by birth, and the McAlpins were, by all accounts, a prominent Savannah family. The McAlpins had even founded the Hermitage Plantation, which Cluskey also designed.
The Harper Fowlkes House later passed to Henry Champion McAlpin, who lived in the mansion alongside his wife, Isabel. Isabel saw to the mansion’s renovations, improving the Harper Fowlkes House with a reconfigured stairway and third story. The third story, unlike the first and second, featured Empire details. It was likewise capped with a mansard roof, which increased the property by $6,000.
Isabel passed in 1905, and Henry followed in 1931. That’s where the “inheritance scandal” comes in... Although they were left with equal shares of the property, there was a feud between Henry’s third wife, Mary, and the daughter of Henry’s first wife, Claudia. The disagreement was only resolved upon Alida Harper Fowlkes’ purchase of the house in October of 1939.
But who was Alida Harper Fowlkes? How did this particular preservationist come to claim the Harper Fowlkes House?
Surprisingly, Alida was neither a Champion nor a McAlpin. Alida had actually purchased the house in 1939 through an auction held by the Citizens and Southern National Bank. Alida was, nevertheless, the longest occupant of the Harper Fowlkes House, and for whom the mansion is best known for.
Alida’s attachment to the Harper Fowlkes House predates her ownership. As a girl, Alida would take the Bernard Street trolley to catch a glimpse of this eye-catching nineteenth-century estate. Alida even declared that she would “someday own that house.” How excited she must have been to finally procure the property.
Alida’s legacy doesn’t stop there, of course. Alida was a savvy, self-made woman who would become the “Pioneer of Savannah’s Preservation Movement.” She was even declared Savannah’s “first restorationist in town.”
And, indeed, Alida restored ten homes throughout her lifetime. Alida even reestablished the Georgian Tea Room during the Great Depression. The Georgian Tea Room, located in the basement of the Pink House, was facing extinction. Yet the Georgian Tea Room was more than an eatery, and Alida more than an entrepreneur: Alida’s purchase of the Georgian Tea Room and saved the Pink House from foreclosure.
The Georgian Tea Room was Alida’s first foray into architectural conservation. It was likewise imperative to her participation in the restoration movement. In Alida’s efforts, she had attended the Society for the Preservation of Savannah’s Landmarks, which had been organized to protect the Pink House. The meeting, Alida claimed, “was the birth of interest in old things.” For her, “preservation and restoration [had] never been a dead issue” since.
Alida grew on to live through the Great Depression, First and Second World War, and the Vietnam War. Her contributions to Savannah throughout her lifetime were invaluable.
Alida bequeathed the Harper Fowlkes House to the Georgia Branch of the Society of the Cincinnati upon her death, desiring that others delight in the esteemed dwelling. After all, the Harper Fowlkes House had captured her attention since girlhood. Alida even stipulated that the property never be sold.
The architecture of the Harper Fowlkes House is, like its history, thoroughly fascinating. Grey brick upholds the Harper Fowlkes House, though the brick has been manipulated to imitate larger blocks of stone. Corinthian columns are bracketed by square pillars upon the portico, which features a two-story porch and dormer windows. With six chimneys, twelve fireplaces, and a double parlor, the Harper Fowlkes House has much to see.
Empire design distinguishes the third floor from the first and second floors, which are classically styled. The mansard roof features arched windows to admit light and air.
The garden is traditionally southern and features a red maple grown from George Washington's Virginia estate. The tranquil garden makes the Harper Fowlkes House a perfect place for a picnic, or photos to capture a special moment in life.
The chandeliers are some of the most striking features of the Harper Fowlkes House. Collected by Alida Harper Fowlkes, they were manufactured in 1847 by the Cornelius Company of Philadelphia. Although they are original to the mansion, they were once “gasoliers.” Alida herself converted them to electricity.
Visitors to the Harper Fowlkes House will also find a Federal-style, mahogany clock that dates back to 1815. The clock has been with the Harper Fowlkes House since the building’s completion.
The Harper Fowlkes House is furnished with Alida’s collection of antebellum antiques. From fabrics to carvings, Alida’s collection is not to be missed. Visitors will also find furniture from the eighteenth-century. Alida’s Queen Anne chair is of particular note, though the Persian rugs will catch the eye, too.
Visitors to the third floor will even find a model of a battleship from the Revolutionary War. This model was constructed by Alida Harper’s brother, William Harper.
We think that you’re going to take delight in this nineteenth-century dwelling. With an abundance of artifacts and antiques, the Harper Fowlkes House is an eye-catching estate.
Located at 230 Barnard Street, the Harper Fowlkes House sits at the southeast corner of Orleans Square.
Visitors are allowed to tour the establishment from 10 to 4 on Mondays and Wednesdays. Don’t forget to put the Harper Fowlkes House on your itinerary!