Tuesday, April 22, 2014

4/21/14 Trolley stops #7 & 8 - Oglethorpe & Columbia squares

     As is the case with every stop on the trolley, there are so many things of interest around that I am forced to select a few from many compelling stories.  The one that intrigued me the most on this stop is the story of William Kehoe.  William was an Irish immigrant in the 1800's, and no one seems to know when he immigrated or even when he was born.

     What is known is that he arrived dirt poor and started working as an apprentice for an iron worker.  In those days many of the Europeans who arrived here were indentured servants who had to labor 5 to 10 years to pay off the expense of their boat fare to America. 

     At age 14 he was fighting for the Confederate Army in Gettysburg Pennsylvania.  After the battle he had to walk back to Savannah.  After all the carnage and death he saw at Gettysburg, he swore he was going to live a worthwhile life.  He started sweeping floors in a local shop, still an illiterate and now war torn child. 

     He ultimately built his own iron-works, and became one of the most successful men of his time in Savannah.  The old factory still lies just outside town, perched on a hill overlooking where ships arrive and depart on the Savannah River.  But Mr. Kehoe appears to have been a humble man - there are almost no records of his life and the above portrait is the only likeness I could find.  

     The old works are currently being restored, and although workers were pretty close-mouthed about the project, I did find out that it is being done by an individual from Savannah with private monies.

     Anyway, along Columbia square he built his first in-town home in 1883.

     9 years later, he built his second on the other side of the square.  By most accounts he had 12 children, two of which (twin girls) died in a fireplace while playing hide-and-go-seek.

     The neat thing about this house is that all of those things on the outside of  house that are usually made of wood or stone are made of cast iron on this house.  The window sills, the front steps and banisters, the railings on the porches and the decorative trim - all cast iron.  Even downspouts with decorative ends and hitching-posts for horses are of cast iron.

     The Kehoe house is now a bed and breakfast.  I met Russ Mitchell who oversees this property and the Marshall House, another old mansion in Savannah that has been restored and turned into a bed and breakfast inn.

     Russ talked about the difficulties that are encountered when turning these old properties into inns with modern amenities for guests.  Each guest room has its own bath, and plumbing presents a big challenge.  Air conditioning has to be done in zones, and often the units are positioned above ceilings that are 12 feet tall or higher.  Old electrical wiring can be a nightmare, and they constantly find themselves trying to walk the line between meeting building codes and satisfying the Historical Society.

     In this house it looks like they did a great job, as it has 13 guest suites and ample common areas for visitors.  The house has a few tidbits of history since the Kehoe's owned it.  Joe Namath, an American football player bought the house and tried to convert it into a "discotheque" -  some locals thought he had more of a bordello in mind.  The city council nixed the plans, and Joe's only legacy is an elevator he installed outside the building.  The home also served as a funeral home for a while.

     Another neat house that is restored and serves as a museum is the Owens-Thomas house, the home in view behind the first photo of the trolley stop.  I didn't tour the house, but the story here appears to be the architect.  William Jay designed this house when he was 22 years old, and supervised the construction which commenced in 1817. Numerous notables, including Jean Lafayette stayed here as a guest while visiting Savannah.  I love the arched stairways and gracefully curved from entryway.  If I had more time this would be a place to tour.

     Just around the corner lies the old Savannah Fire Station #3,  established in 1759.  Savannah's first fire was in 1737, and records show that all of the townspeople formed a line with buckets to try to put it out.  Only one man, a "Mr. Jones," refused to help and stood by with his hands in his pockets.  The townspeople subsequently arrested and jailed him for failing to aid them.

Shannon Bancroft

     I met Shannon Bancroft, master firefighter who has been with the force for ten years and showed me around the firehouse a bit.  Since the large freight vessels pass right by downtown Savannah carrying all manner of cargo, there are numerous certifications and much training required to be prepared for all the various types of calamities that today's society might meet.  I am always grateful for all the work these men to in order to be prepared to help us when we get in a jam.

     The alarm bell from the old firehouse is mounted on a frame outside the new house alongside a memorial for the 26 firefighters from Savannah who have lost their lives in the line of duty in the past.

     I always wanted to slide down one of these brass poles as a kid - somehow it doesn't hold the same allure it once did.

    I have also always been fascinated by these "jaws of life" that they use to cut people out of wrecked vehicles.

     A big sign on the bulletin board makes it clear that the "good-ole-boys" club approach to firefighting is not being tolerated here.  

     And in my travels with Old Savannah Tours, I met Crystal Braden, who works as a ticket sales associate.  Her story is a compelling one that illustrates what this journey is about to start with.  Old Savannah Tours is just one of three jobs Crystal holds down trying to keep her family afloat.

     You see, Crystals husband Shaun started having epileptic seizures a while back.  He was working a certified meat cutter and was working toward becoming a chef.  But having unpredictable seizures around that type of equipment has made it impossible for Shaun to continue his career.  This is precisely the type situation that the clinic is getting such good results with.

     So Crystal and Shaun, along with sons Devon and Colin are working along the best they can.  They have a couple of acres where they board horses and Crystal gives riding lessons.  They grow their own garden and raise poultry which they sell along with eggs to local restaurants.  

     Shaun takes anti-seizure medications which don't work - he still has seizures at the most inconvenient times.  But he takes care of the boys, tends to the animals and a day at a time, these two are making it work.  Which brings me to the parting shot of the day.  Aspiring photographer Collin Braden insisted on taking my picture.  

     I am his request came before he took a took a face-first tumble while running across the garden.

Have a great Tuesday all !!

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