Revolutionary War Barracks and Fortification

The Revolutionary War Barracks and Fortification historical marker was dedicated in 1952. View the Revolutionary War Barracks and Fortification historical marker listing.


Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Lauren Studebaker as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.

The development of the city block located between Bull and Drayton Streets and Liberty Street tells a story of different eras of urban development in Savannah. First used as a military barracks in an area of high combat during the Revolutionary War, what is now 15 East Liberty Street in downtown Savannah has always been used for short-term housing; first as barracks, and later in the form of hotels.

The Oglethorpe Barracks were completed in 1834, after an 1823 petition by the City of Savannah to the secretary of war at the time to construct barracks within the city. The government provided the materials and the soldiers for construction, while the city purchased and provided the plot of land in Jasper Ward.[i] At this time, Liberty Street was one of the farthest-south areas of development in Savannah, so the barracks sat on the outskirts of the city. Volunteer militia occupied the housing until it was captured by United States soldiers during the Civil War, who then occupied the barracks until 1878, when the land was sold to Savannah Hotel Corporation for $75,000.[ii]

Nearing the turn of the century in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction period, the South was becoming more industrialized and more leisure time and expendable income was available to Americans. Railroads increased the ease of travel, and tourism was booming. Many traveled down to the south in the winter months, and there was demand for luxurious accommodations in between South Carolina and Florida. Funds for a luxury hotel were gathered by George Baldwin, the first president of the Savannah Electric and Power Company,[iii]  among others; the hotel’s construction was financed in part by $75,000 of hotel stock from investors.[iv] William Gibbons Preston, a successful Boston architect who had just taken over his family’s firm after his father’s death, submitted a bid for the design of the hotel.  Preston was invited to Savannah by George Baldwin and became a well-known architect in both Boston and Savannah, sister cities at the time.[v] Preston designed many buildings in Savannah in the late 19th century, such as the Savannah Cotton Exchange, the Savannah Volunteer Guards Armory, and the Chatham City Courthouse. Preston’s bid was accepted on July 1, 1888, and construction of the hotel was completed for the grand opening on New Year’s Day of 1890.  The hotel was named the Hotel DeSoto at the suggestion of the editor of the Savannah Morning News, after the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto.[vi]

The hotel cost $410,000 to construct, as opposed to the original $250,000 estimate provided by Preston, and had 206 guest rooms. The DeSoto Hotel was designed in the Richardson Romanesque style, which was extremely popular in Northern cities such as Boston and Chicago.[vii] This style depended on asymmetrical facades, rounded and square towers with conical roofs, Romanesque arches, polychromatic color schemes and contrasting building materials, and rounded rooms and walls, (Figure 1) all of which can be observed in photographs of the DeSoto, which was constructed with red brick, detailed terra-cotta, tile, marble, slate, crystal, and copper (Figure 2).[viii] The hotel was a marvel of turn-of-the-century luxury, with endless amenities; the DeSoto had a solarium with a glass roof,  restaurant and lunchrooms, separate entrances for men and women, over 8,000 square feet of verandas with rocking chairs, a pharmacy, tennis courts, a barbershop, ballrooms, and a miniature golf course. A 1923 renovation added a tiled swimming pool (Figure 3) and Japanese gardens (Figure 4).[ix]

The Hotel DeSoto quickly became a bastion of society in the Savannah social scene. Many clubs, such as the Rotary Club and Junior league, had meetings in the Sapphire Ballroom, and there was dancing and merriment to be had “every night of the week except Sunday” (Figure 5).  Many celebrities and political figures stayed at the Hotel DeSoto, including Katherine Hepburn, Babe Ruth, and five presidents (McKinley, Taft, Hoover, Wilson, and Truman).[x] Brochures for the hotel marketed the multiple amenities in addition to the sights to see in Savannah, such as the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Bonaventure Cemetery, and the Georgia Historical Society. With the rising influence of automobile culture at the turn of the century, a large draw of the DeSoto was the opportunity for scenic drives on the paved asphalt roads in and around Savannah, along the easy access to the city by train or boat. The Ocean Steamship Company, a subsidiary of the Georgia Central Railway, advertised their Savannah Line with images of the Hotel DeSoto. Passengers and freight travelled up and down the East coast on these steamships, and the line had three main routes: Savannah-Boston-New York, Savannah-Philadelphia, and Savannah-Fernandina-Jacksonville (Figure 6).

The Hotel DeSoto was purchased by Jerome Pound, a Savannah hotelier, in 1923 (Figure 7). Pound invested almost a million dollars into the hotel to modernize the amenities and renovate the rooms, adding air conditioning and murals to the hotel’s lounge.[xi] The historic appearance and tradition of the DeSoto was strictly protected during this renovation. In 1939, Pound built the DeSoto Beach Club on Tybee Island, which was open for guests of the hotel to enjoy the nearby amenities of the beach, which was accessible by train.[xii] Interested in broadcasting, Pound also invested in the creation of a new radio station in 1926 with the Savannah Broadcasting Company. The station, WTOC, ran out of the top floor of the DeSoto Hotel and was the first radio station based out of Savannah (Figure 8).[xiii]

The Hotel DeSoto retained its popularity through WWII and beyond, but an influence on modernist ideals in the late 1950’s and 60’s led tourists to desire more economical and updated amenities. The DeSoto closed its doors in 1966, and was demolished to make way for the Hilton DeSoto Hotel that still stands today (Figure 9). A large jubilee ball was thrown on the last night of the DeSoto, and revelers danced all night long in the ballrooms that had fed the Savannah society for 75 years. The Hilton DeSoto is part a 16-story mixed-use complex, including 246 guest rooms, apartments, and businesses. The Hilton pays homage to the Hotel DeSoto in its incorporation of crystal chandeliers and terracotta tiles original to the previous structure. Images of the Hotel DeSoto can be seen throughout the lobby (Figures 10-11). Although the Hilton provides the modern amenities visitors of Savannah require, many question if the destruction of the historic DeSoto was too hasty. The 75-year reign of the Hotel DeSoto as the “Queen of the Southern Hostelries” lives on today through colorful records and images and a tradition of hospitality that is a staple of Savannah’s culture (Figure 12).


[i] Gary Grice, History of Weather Observations: Oglethorpe Barracks, Georgia. Midwestern Regional Climate Center, June 2005.  

[ii] Hotel DeSoto Collection, MS 010. From the Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

[iii] Maureen Burke and Connie Capozzola Pinkerton, The Savannah College of Art and Design: Restoration of an Architectural Heritage. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004, 126.

[iv] Hotel DeSoto Collection, MS 010. From the Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Whip Morrison Triplett, Postcard History Series: Savannah. Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2006. 11.

[vii] “Romanesque Revival,” Architecture Styles of America and Europe, 2012. Accessed May 30, 2016.  https://architecturestyles.org/romanesque-revival/.

[viii] Timothy Daiss, Rebels, Saints and Sinners: Savannah’s Rich History and Colorful Personalities. Grenta, LA: Pelican Books, 2002, 86.

[ix] Hotel DeSoto Collection, MS 010. From the Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

[x] Daiss, 86.

[xi] Jerome B. Pound, The Memoirs of Jerome B. Pound: With Histories of Pound-Murphey-Willingham-Palmer-Pitts- Families Bound to me by Ties of Blood. 1949.

[xii] “About Us,” DeSoto Beach Hotel Website, 2014. Accessed May 30, 2016. http://desotobeachhotel.com/.

[xiii] Hotel DeSoto Collection, MS 010. From the Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

1. Miscellaneous architectural drawings of the DeSoto Hotel, 1888. From William G. Preston architectural drawings, MS 1399.

2. Architectural illustration by W.G. Preston detailing a facade of the DeSoto Hotel and its numerous materials, 1888. From William G. Preston architectural drawings, MS 1399.

3. Postcard depicting the pool at the Hotel DeSoto, which was added in a 1923 renovation. From the Savannah Postcard Collection, MS 016. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

4. Postcard depicting the Japanese Garden at the Hotel De Soto, which was added in a 1923 renovation. From the Savannah Postcard Collection, MS 016. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

5. A roadside billboard advertisement for the DeSoto Hotel.Cordray, Agusta Klask,1931. From the Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960 Collection, MS 1360.

6. Ocean Steamship Company advertisement pamphlet for the Savannah Line. Color Lithograph. 1890. From the Images of Savannah Collection. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections.

7. Photograph of Jerome B. Pound and Charles G. Day at the Hotel DeSoto. Image courtesy of Pound, Jerome B. The Memoirs of Jerome B. Pound: With Histories of Pound-Murphey-Willingham-Palmer-Pitts- Families Bound to me by Ties of Blood. 1949.

8. Postcard depicting the DeSoto Hotel with the radio station WTOC call letters on the roof, 1937. From the Savannah Postcard Collection, MS 016. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

9. The DeSoto Hilton Hotel. Courtesy Google Maps.

10. Inside of The DeSoto Hilton Hotel. Courtesy of Lauren Studebaker.

11. Terracotta fountain and crystal chandeliers in the Hilton DeSoto, original to the Hotel De Soto. Courtesy of Lauren Studebaker.

12. An original roof tile from the DeSoto Hotel, painted with commemorative details after its demolition, 1961. From the Hotel DeSoto Collection. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections.

13. A postcard depicting Montgomery Square and the southern side of the DeSoto Hotel, 1913-1930. From the Savannah Postcard Collection, MS 016. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections, the Savannah College of Art and Design.

14. A Menu from the Hotel DeSoto’s Flamingo Dining Terrace, 1947. From the Hotel DeSoto Collection. Courtesy of Jen Library Archives and Special Collections.

15. A photograph of the historical marker “Revolutionary War Barracks and Fortification,” on Liberty and Bull streets in Savannah. Courtesy Lauren Studebaker.


Further Reading

Maureen Burke and Connie Capozzola Pinkerton, The Savannah College of Art and Design: Restoration of an Architectural Heritage. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Timothy Daiss, Rebels, Saints and Sinners: Savannah’s Rich History and Colorful Personalities. Grenta, LA: Pelican Books, 2002.  

Gary Grice, History of Weather Observations: Oglethorpe Barracks, Georgia. Midwestern Regional Climate Center, June 2005.  

Jerome B. Pound, The Memoirs of Jerome B. Pound: With Histories of Pound-Murphey-Willingham-Palmer-Pitts- Families Bound to me by Ties of Blood, 1949.

Whip Morrison Triplett, Postcard History Series: Savannah. Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2006.

“Romanesque Revival,” Architecture Styles of America and Europe, 2012. https://architecturestyles.org/romanesque-revival/