Lawton Memorial: St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church

The Lawton Memorial: St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church historical marker was dedicated on May 22, 2001. View the the Lawton Memorial: St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church historical marker listing.


Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Leif Carlson as part of his SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2014.

This site is fascinating for the building’s changing purpose, use, and cultural history. The building was erected in the name of a Confederate general. It was to be used for cultural events in Savannah, a place in which no one could be rejected due to religious differences. It was eventually sold to a Greek Orthodox community, to be used as their sanctuary for over 70 years.

General Alexander Robert Lawton was born on November 4, 1818 in Beaufort District, South Carolina (fig. 1). He graduated from West Point in 1839, but resigned his commission in January of 1841 to pursue the study of law at the Dane Law School, Harvard University. He gradated in June 1842. He soon after settled in Savannah, and two years later he married Sarah Gilbert Alexander. He served as the president of the Augusta-Savannah railroad from 1849 to 1854 (figs. 2-3).[i]

Gen. Lawton served in the state’s House of Representatives from 1855-1856, and then as a member of the Georgia Senate from 1859-60. During these years, he also served in the state militia and was elected Lieutenant Commander of the Independent Volunteer Battalion of Savannah in 1852. In 1856, he was promoted to Colonel Commander and was then promoted to Brigadier General in 1861. His final promotion in 1864 was to Quartermaster-General.[ii]

Prior to the Civil War and before Georgia had even seceded, Gen. Lawton was ordered by Governor Brown to capture Fort Pulaski. This was possibly the first hostile act of the war.[iii] When the war broke out, Lawton took his brigade to Virginia and joined Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign. It was during his command at Sharpsburg that he was severely wounded. When he finally recovered, he was tasked with finding food and supplies for the army as Quartermaster-General. He was stationed in Richmond until the city was evacuated.[iv]

After the Civil War, Lawton resumed his law practice in Savannah. He returned to the state House of Representatives from 1870-75.[v] His daughter, Corrine Lawton, died in 1877 at the age of 33 (fig. 4). Her name is also on the historical marker.[vi] Lawton served as the president of the American Bar Association from 1882-83.[vii] President Grover Cleveland originally nominated him to serve as ambassador to Russia, but this caused a clash in the Senate due to his service in the Confederate army.[viii] Gen. Alexander Lawton is also mentioned in another historical marker in Savannah (see Telfair Academy of Arts & Sciences).

Once the eligibility of Confederate officers was settled in the Senate, he was appointed ambassador to Austria from 1887-89. Gen. Lawton, his son-in-law H.C. Cunningham, and his son A. R. Lawton formed the law film of Lawton & Cunningham in Savannah.[ix] He also organized and became the first president of the Savannah Bar Association in 1894. Gen. Alexander R. Lawton died in Clifton Springs, New York in 1896. He is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah (figs. 5-6).[x]

After his death, Gen. Lawton’s wife and his remaining family commissioned Lawton Memorial building to commemorate his and his daughter’s lives (fig. 7). The building was used as a cultural center, with many lectures and concerts held there over the years. The Lawton family trust gave the building to the city of Savannah in 1937, with the condition that the city continue to use the building for the benefit of the city and Armstrong Junior College. The deed also stated that no one could be denied entry because of religious beliefs.[xi]

Armstrong Junior College chairman Thomas Gamble had interesting plans for the building. He wanted to use the space as a museum to “present the life that existed here before the white men came.”[xii] The college had already seen the benefits of an archaeological dig at Irene Mound, and hoped that the existing artifacts and future discoveries could become the center of various exhibits of national interest. Gamble also hoped that “[u]sed in this way the Lawton Memorial Building could become an extremely valuable adjunct and asset.”[xiii] Within four years, however, the city sold the building to St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church.

The Greek presence in Savannah traces back to the early 1900s, when Greek immigrants started coming to America through Ellis Island. Men came to America hoping to work and eventually return to Greece with the money they made here. In 1900, the first Greek Orthodox congregation in Savannah was organized. However, it was not until the 1907 purchase of a building from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church received its charter (figs. 8-11). Located on Barnard and Duffy Streets, this is where the Greek Orthodox church took its name.[xiv] The parish remained at the location for 37 years.[xv]

During that time, the parish built a school to teach Greek language and history, and eventually also purchased a neighboring house to serve as the pastor’s residence. As the church grew dramatically, the parish realized that it needed a larger building. In 1941, it purchased the Lawton Memorial building for $50,000 (or $832,300 in 2014, adjusted for inflation). The parish made many extensive renovations, both internally and externally, in order for the building to emulate other Greek Orthodox churches in America (figs. 12-13). A cupola was added to the second story as well as stained glass windows throughout. The parish also purchased the neighboring block of buildings to serve as offices and school classrooms. In order to fund the large building project, the Greek Orthodox community built modern stores and offices. These buildings were in fact the first local structures to be built under the new Georgia Fire Safety Law.[xvi]


[i] Gen. Alexander R. Lawton vertical file.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] “Lawton Memorial Gift to Savannah,” Savannah Morning News, October, 1937. Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Gen. Alexander R. Lawton vertical file.

[vi] “Lawton Memorial Gift”

[vii] Gen. Alexander R. Lawton vertical file.

[viii] “Lawton Memorial Gift.”

[xi] Ibid.

[x] Gen. Alexander R. Lawton vertical file.

[xi] “Lawton Memorial Gift.”

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Dana Clark Felty, “The Faith Begins: Savannah’s nearly century-old Greek Orthodox Church,” Savannah Morning News, October 14, 2006.

[xv] Rev. John Hondras, “Greek Orthodox Community was founded 42 years ago,” Savannah Morning News, January 15, 1950.

[xvi] Ibid.

1. Lawton Portrait. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

2. Photograph of Lawton Augusta-Savannah Railroad Correspondence 1. From the Railroads – Augusta-Savannah vertical file.

3. Photograph of Lawton Augusta-Savannah Railroad Correspondence 2. From the Railroads – Augusta-Savannah vertical file.

4. Corrine Lawton Grave, 2014. Courtesy of Leif Carlson.

5. Alexander Lawton Grave, 2014. Courtesy of Leif Carlson.

6. Alexander Lawton Grave, 2014. Courtesy of Leif Carlson.

7. Lawton Memorial Building, 2014. Courtesy of Leif Carlson.

8. Photograph of St. Paul Duffy Street. From the Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

9. Duffy Street location, 2014. Courtesy of Leif Carlson.

10. Photograph of St. Paul Duffy Street. From the Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

11. Photograph of St. Paul Duffy Street. From the Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

12. Photograph of St. Paul Church Renovations. From the Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

13. Photograph of St Paul Church Interior. From the Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.


Further Reading

Dana Clark Felty, “The Faith Begins: Savannah’s nearly century-old Greek Orthodox Church.” Savannah Morning News, October 14, 2006. Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

Hondras, Rev. John. “Greek Orthodox Community was founded 42 years ago.” Savannah Morning News, January 15, 1950. Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

“Lawton Memorial Gift to Savannah.” Savannah Morning News, October, 1937. Churches – Savannah – Greek Orthodox vertical file.

Gen. Alexander R. Lawton vertical file.