Laid in 1733, Wright Square was the second square established in Savannah’s Historic District. Wright Square accommodates two remarkable tributes, the Monument to William Washington Gordon and Tomochichi Memorial. Wright Square is commonly referred to as the Post Office Square and Courthouse Square and features the Tomochichi Federal Building and Chatham County Courthouse. Wright Square is also known as the “Hanging Square,” or the execution site of Alice Riley. Visitors to Wright Square will additionally find the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Wright Square is located at Bull Street and President Street.
Wright Square didn’t receive its moniker until 1763. Wright Square was formerly Percival Square, named after Viscount Percival, Earl of Egmont. Percival was associated with the founding of Georgia, though is best known for his contributions to the War of 1812, the campaign against West Indies pirates, and the Mexican-American War. The site was later changed to Wright Square in commemoration of Sir James Wright, the last Royal Governor of the Province of Georgia.
It is heavily debated, but it seems like Wright Square was the original hanging square in Savannah. Death by hanging was a common punishment during the early days of Savannah, and it seems like Wright Square played a key role in these punishments.
Perhaps the most famous person to be hanged in the colonial days of Savannah was Alice RIley. Alice Riley was the first woman to be hanged in Georgia. Riley was executed in 1735 at Wright Square for the murder of William Wise. Riley had immigrated from Ireland in 1733, yet was indentured at the age of fifteen. She was then trafficked throughout the Colony of Georgia. William Wise, a plantation owner, was an especially sadistic master who subjected Riley to physical and sexual abuse. Riley, along with her suspected lover and fellow indentured Richard White, allegedly, drowned William Wise in a large bucket of water. Riley and White fled to the Isle of Hope, yet were apprehended and relocated to Wright Square. White was soon hanged, but Riley, pregnant, was spared until childbirth. She was later executed on January 19, 1735. Riley was interred in a plot on North West York Street.
The monument to William Washington Gordon was established in 1883. The monument commemorates Gordon, the founder of the Central of Georgia Railroad. Gordon was also the railroad’s first president. Van Brunt and Frank M. Howe designed the monument, intending to commemorate the colony’s commercial prosperity. The monument is made from red granite and comprises four columns with Corinthian capitals. Respectively, the columns represent agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, and art.
Tomochichi, Chief of the Yamacraw Indians, was buried in Wright Square in 1739. Tomochichi is known for his inestimable assistance to James Oglethorpe. Tomochichi negotiated a treaty with Oglethorpe that provided the land for Savannah’s construction. Tomochichi likewise mediated affairs between the native population and the colonists.
The Chatham County Courthouse was built in 1899. The courthouse occupies the southeast trust lot of Wright Square. Designed by William Gibbons Preston, the structure features Romanesque architecture and yellow brick. Preston’s 1899 construction replaced the former 1833 Courthouse, which had been considered “one of the finest examples of the Greek Revival in Georgia.” The Chatham County Courthouse was, however, the site of tragedy. Enslaved Africans were sold at the location on the first Tuesday of each month.
Built in 1889, the Tomochichi Federal Building is adjacent to Wright Square. The structure was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival Style with terracotta ornamentation. It’s attributed to Jeremiah O'Rourke, Irish-American architect and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Although the building was initially built for the Savannah Post Office, it was later designated the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. The structure also held the U.S. Courts, the U.S. Engineers, and the U.S. Weather Bureau. It was later renamed for Tomochichi, Chief of the Yamacraw Indians in 2005. The Chatham County Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and is regarded as one of Savannah’s most distinguished structures.
Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA, was born a half and a block south of Wright Square. Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912, though relinquished her presidency in the 1920s. Low’s birthplace is also known as the Wayne-Gordon House. The Wayne-Gordon House was built in 1820 for James Moore Wayne, former mayor of Savannah and future Supreme Court Justice. William Washington Gordon, the founder of the Central of Georgia Railroad, purchased the house from Wayne in 1831. Today the Wayne-Gordon House is owned by the Girl Scouts of the USA and operates as a National Program Center and historic house museum.
Protestants from Salzburg, Germany arrived at the Colony of Georgia in 1734. The Salzburgians organized Savannah’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension in 1741 but were unable to purchase the property of the site until 1771. Their charter was granted by Governor Edward Telfair in 1790. A brick structure was established on the location in 1844, though was later devastated during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Church was rebuilt and continuously remodeled throughout the nineteenth century. The Church installed stained glass on the North and South walls of the sanctuary in the 1930s and 1940s. It became known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension in 1879. Savannah’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is best known for its Salzburgian history.
Visitors to Wright Square will be fascinated by the site’s history and horticulture. Wright Square’s attractions are, too, remarkably varied. From Tomochichi to the Central of Georgia Railroad to the inception of America’s Girl Scouts, Wright Square has something for everyone. Wright Square, or “Hanging Square,” is also considered a “haunted hotspot.”
Located at Bull Street, Wright Square is a must see in Savannah. Stop by and let it stimulate the imagination.