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Between the Boulevards

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Majestic allees of live oaks run along the parklike median strips of Oglethorpe Avenue and Liberty Street. Bracketed between these boulevards, a third row of wards developed between 1801 and 1847 that introduced subtle and not-so-subtle modifications to the ward plan formula conceived by Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe Avenue, originally called South Broad Street, first appears on a 1796 map as the southern border of the original six-ward town. At the intersection of Bull Street and Oglethorpe Avenue, a sarcophagus-shaped granite monument (1983) marks the original Jewish burying ground established here in 1733. The cemetery was officially closed by the colonial council in 1770, but it was also protected against displacement. The city reaffirmed protection of this site in 1790 as expansion of the town plan was being contemplated. It is possible, therefore, to explain the great width of the avenue and the presence of its median strip (originally planted with chinaberry trees) as an accommodation for this sacred ground.

Oglethorpe Avenue and Liberty Street (the latter named in 1801) are, at 140 and 130 feet respectively, the widest streets in the downtown historic district. It seems clear that both were conceived as multilane boulevards with central allees for public promenading, a fact sadly documented in an ordinance of 1827, which stated that “no negro or mulatto [shall] appear on the Public promenade on South Broad Street.” Liberty Street, which was never quite as elegant as Oglethorpe Avenue and provided a connection between the city’s two primary railroad depots, was bordered by a military barracks and factories, some stately houses, and, in the twentieth century, apartment buildings and hotels. A streetcar line ran down its length beginning in 1881. Both Oglethorpe Avenue and Liberty Street were significantly realigned in the 1980s between Montgomery Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in order to facilitate the flow of automobile traffic. These realignments further degraded the integrity of the Savannah plan in its western neighborhoods. The Distillery (1902, Kentucky Distilling Co.) at 416 W. Liberty Street offers a vivid reminder of the realignment as the sole surviving building on the former edge of the street, facing an anomalous spur north of the rerouted street.

Writing Credits

Robin B. Williams with David Gobel, Patrick Haughey, Daves Rossell, and Karl Schuler

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