The Jepson House Education Center
This summer, the Georgia Historical Society will expand its Savannah footprint with the much anticipated completion of the Jepson House Education Center. Located across the street from Hodgson Hall, the 8,000 square foot historic structure named in honor of Savannah philanthropists Robert S. and Alice Jepson will be the new home of the GHS executive and administrative offices and become the location from which all future GHS educational programming will emanate.
The home, originally built in 1856 for Savannah businessman Thomas Holcombe (1815 – 1885) was sold just prior to the Civil War to help weather a variety of financial setbacks. Its second owner, Robert Falligant (1839-1902) served in the war as a member of the Pulaski Guards. Following the war he became a respected attorney, Superior Court Judge and ultimately served in the Georgia House of Representatives. Since that time the residence at 104 West Gaston Street has been home to several families but will assume a new role in Georgia history when it opens this summer as the hub for history based education across the state.
The transformation from mid-nineteenth century mansion to modern commercial office space was approached with the greatest of care. Located in Savannah’s Historic Landmark District the structure’s architectural and historical integrity both inside and out were of great importance. At the same time the interior space had to meet the demands of a twenty-first century business and meet the necessary requirements for the American’s with Disabilities Act. Lynch and Associates served as architects for the project while Martin + Zittrouer Construction served as contractors and Linn Gresham as interior designer. Shoring up the foundation and creating a second floor addition were top priority in the early days while later upgrades to the building included new wiring and HVAC as well as task lighting above work stations and abundant light, cabinetry and storage to meet the needs of the ever-growing institution.
While the majority of the professional staff will occupy the second floor level with additional workstations, storage and organizational spaces in the basement level, the crown jewel of the Jepson house will be the first floor and garden. Upon entering the Jepson House all visitors will be greeted by an inspiring Scenic by internationally-renowned artist Bob Christian. The Scenic will reflect the diverse landscapes of Georgia – the rustic mountains of the north, the moss and marshes of the Lowcountry and the rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau — the diversity of the four corners of Georgia will be represented and make all Georgians feel welcomed.
Beyond the Foyer overlooking Whitaker and Gaston Streets is the beautifully appointed Thomas Leverette McMullan Boardroom. Named for the late father of GHS Board Curator John F. McMullan of Atlanta, the room will feature subtle faux marble paneling in grisalles, enhancing the antebellum acanthus plaster crown moldings and nine foot window casings that framing views of Savannah’s lush Forsyth Park. A custom bookcase makes use of an existing pediment encasement, refined for the new use of the space, now fitted to house a commissioned painting of the room’s namesake. Over the antique heart pine floors, an azure antique Turkish Ushak awakens the room. Cotton velvet lambrequins frame a view veiled by printed sheers featuring Muir-inspired scenic panels. This room will host future GHS board meetings, dignitary receptions and select corporate events.
The Founders’ Room is dedicated to the visionary leaders who not only established the Georgia Historical Society in 1839, but also to those who have guided the historic institution, serving in the role of President or Chairman of the Society into the present day. The Founders’ Room is located beside the Thomas Leverette McMullan Boardroom and has the capacity to serve as an extension of the meeting room through the opening of the generously scaled pocket doors, original to the 1856 parlor level. It will function as the venue for exclusive events, such as donor receptions, intimate dinner parties with visiting lecturers, and board functions. This space features a built-in wet bar with leaded-glass doors which were in place at the time of renovation. There is a carved oak Edwardian fireplace and re-purposed lighting from the previous dining room. A portrait from the Georgia Historical Society’s priceless collection will hang above the mantle.
On the West side of the parlor level, opposite the McMullan Boardroom and Founders Room will be the new office of the Georgia Historical Society President. Dr. W. Todd Groce will be the first occupant of the President’s office and so it was fitting that it reflects his leadership and style. This former grand dining room will now be an astounding private library and meeting place for the GHS President. The room’s architectural character is preserved with the original plaster ceiling medallion, later added built-ins, fireplace, antique heart pine flooring, and pediment casings consistent with the parlor level intact. In order to meet the President’s need for extensive book storage and display, the designer worked closely with the cabinet-maker and architects to reinterpret the pediment casings from the doors onto the top of a new large library bookcase. Many of the furnishings are refurbished donations as well as lighting from the previous formal living space. Exquisite etched glass pocket doors spill light into the space and open the room to the parlor overlooking Gaston Street. When opened, the president’s parlor will serve as additional seating for meetings and when closed it will serve as the waiting area for GHS visitors.
The Jepson House garden is quintessential of the outdoor sanctuaries of Georgia’s first city and will offer beautiful spaces for covered and open al fresco entertaining.
It is fitting that several pieces of furniture, rugs and accessories have been donated by members and friends of the Georgia Historical Society but there is still need and anyone wishing to donate items for the Jepson house can do so by contacting GHS.
The Georgia Historical Society is grateful to Bob and Alice Jepson as principal benefactors and to everyone who contributed to the Jepson House Education center. Their combined efforts make it possible for GHS to reach an even broader worldwide audience as we foster educational programming and expand our collections and publications for years to come.
In the summer of 2013 Bob Jepson was interviewed by Savannah TV Station WTOC and when asked about the Jepson House he replied, “I think the Georgia Historical Society has its future all in front of it.” We share your vision, Mr. Jepson, and we look forward to watching it unfold and honoring your gift with the opening of the Jepson House Education Center.