By now, Faithful Reader, you have figured out that I am utterly enthralled by the city Savannah. Just about every one of its squares is filled with beauty, history and mystery. One excellent example downtown is Wright Square, which contains the unusual monument in the attached photo that I took over a year and a half ago, when I made a short dash into the city
Does the name William Washington Gordon ring a bell? If you think you vaguely recall it, I’ll give you a stronger hint; the phrase “Girl Scouts.”
Yes, Gordon was the grandfather of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts in America. But he meant a great deal more to Georgia in the antebellum period: its first West Point graduate, a prominent lawyer, state legislator, mayor of Savannah, and president of the Central Railroad and Banking Company, the state’s first railroad.
That last position consumed so much energy in the last six years of his life that he died exhausted in 1842, at only age 46. The Central Railroad had a monument erected in his honor 40 years later. That cenotaph, designed by the Boston firm Van Brunt and Howe, contains four red granite columns with Corinthian capitals supporting four winged figures that hold a globe. The four figures—agriculture, manufacturing, commerce and art—symbolize the fruits of the kind of prosperity hoped for in the railroad.
But placing this tribute in Wright Square meant displacing someone perhaps more essential to the very foundation and survival of Savannah. Chief Tomo-Chi-Chi had been a crucial ally of James Oglethorpe when the Englishman founded the colony in 1733, helping to establish a military outpost against Spanish invasion and assuring peace with the other tribes in the area. He had been buried in the center of Wright Square with a pyramid of rocks formed over his grave.
Gordon’s daughter-in-law, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, an admirer of the chief, was annoyed when the railroad placed the cenotaph directly over the Native American’s grave. She pushed to erect a large piece of Georgia granite in Wright Square, explaining Tomo-Chi-Chi’s significance. It was the first act of public service by the organization she founded, the Georgia Society of the Colonial Dames of America.