William Scarbrough House

The William Scarbrough House historical marker was dedicated on May 22, 2010. View the William Scarbrough House historical marker listing.


 Historical Background

Created by SCAD student Chelsea Lockhart as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2015.

As is evident from the marker text, the William Scarbrough House has been home to many different things. Besides being the main residence of the Scarbrough family, it served as a school for African American children, the headquarters for the Historic Savannah Foundation, and a museum for Maritime ships. A historically significant time to focus on is the period in which this home became the West Broad School.

In December of 1878, the Board of Education was the first in the state of Georgia to allow its charter to include the education of African American children. There were four schools at this time that were dedicated to this matter: Maple Street School, Duffy Street School, East Broad Street School, and the West Broad Street School. [i] Throughout its time as a school, the home endured architectural and pedagogical changes in order to meet the needs of students and the DeRenne family.

The West Broad Street School found its home at the William Scarbrough House in 1878 after George DeRenne, an aristocrat and bibliophile, deeded the home to the Board of Education. [ii] DeRenne’s deed stated that the home was only to be used as a school to educate African American children.  If this was not met, then the home was to be returned to the estate of the DeRenne Family. [iii]

The school’s previous home was at the St. Stephens Episcopal Church, which burned down, and the school’s first principal was James Porter. Porter started the inaugural school year at West Broad in 1873 with 231 students. [iv] When the school moved to the Scarbrough House in 1878, James Butler took over as principal and the school underwent a few changes. A new staircase was added to accommodate the growing number of students, as well as another building in the back to be used for classrooms. At one point in time, almost all children living in the Westside of Savannah were attending the West Broad Street School, and many children were being turned away due to lack of space and teachers. [v]

Overcrowding was not the only problem the school faced.  Many parents were beginning to complain about teachers that were being brought in from New England. Parents believed these teachers were going to teach African American children that they were equal to their white counterparts. The school eventually fired all their Northern teachers, and hired ill trained, poorly paid African American teachers. The new teachers were not properly educated, and since the school was having trouble funding all of its students, there was a lack of supplies and textbooks. [vi]

In 1915, the school had 836 students. By the 1920s it needed more repairs and additions. George DeRenne’s family was now watching over the property after his death, and his grandson wrote a letter to the Board of Education asking that the property be updated to reflect the ideals of George DeRenne’s deed. The Board granted those wishes, and by 1930 West Broad Street School had fourteen classrooms, a wood working shop, a glee club, and a cafeteria. The school even boasted a theatre program with notable alumni such as Adrienne Herndon, who became the Head of the Atlanta Drama Department in the early 1900s. [vii]

With the verdict of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, desegregation was starting to sweep Savannah. There was an immense pressure to desegregate the West Broad School, and with more updates and funds needed, the school closed its location at the Scarbrough House in 1962.  Students were sent to nearby schools that were implementing desegregation, like Savannah High School and the Barnard Street School. [viii]

After a few years of vacancy, the Scarbrough House became the Headquarters for the Historic Savannah Foundation from 1972-1995.  In 1995, the home was sold again to its current owners, The Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. [ix] The museum underwent a brief renovation before opening its doors to the public; it added a new roof, a portico, and a large garden. Today, visitors from all over can visit Savannah and see what this museum has to offer. The large garden is still very well kept and is often used as a venue for weddings and concerts, and it is free to the public. The museum itself pays homage to William Scarbrough and the president of the Savannah Steamship Company. Visitors can view numerous replicas of ships from the Steamship Savannah to the Titantic.


[i] Charles Hoskins, “Black Hunger for Education in Savannah” Connect Savannah. February 25-March 2, 2000. African American Education Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

[ii] Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, William Scarbrough House: History & Restoration Savannah, GA: Maritime Press: 1998.

[iii] Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, “When West Broad Was the Main Drag: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Before 1950: a Multimedia Exhibition of the Sights and Sounds of the Historic Savannah Community,” 1996. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

[iv] Wendy Melton, Ships of the Seas Maritime Museum Presents “A Thirst for Learning: A History of the West Broad Street School 1873-1962”. Online Exhibit. http://wendymelton.wix.com/west-broad-school accessed May 3, 2015.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Frank Jossi, “Getting Education a Battle”, Savannah Morning News. February 24, 1985. African American Education Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

[vii] Melton.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum website, http://www.shipsofthesea.org/#!scarbrough-house/c24i2 accessed May 17, 2015.

Figure 1. Historic American Buildings Survey, Branan Sanders, Photographer, March 1934 – William Scarborough House, 41 West Broad Street, Savannah, Chatham County, GA. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS GA, 26-SAV, 39–5.

Figure 2. Scarbrough House, Savannah, Ga. Foltz Photography Studio, 1360-08-19-06. Courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.

Figure 3. South Elevation – William Scarborough House, 41 West Broad Street, Savannah, Chatham County, GA. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS GA, 26-SAV, 39–5.

Figure 4. Historic American Buildings Survey Lawrence Bradley – Photographer April, 4, 1936 – William Scarbrough House, 41 West Broad Street, Savannah, Chatham County, GA. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HABS GA, 26-SAV, 39–4.

Figure 5. Scarbrough House, Savannah, Ga. Foltz Photography Studio, 1360-08-19-03. Courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.

Figure 6: Scarbrough House, Savannah, Ga. Georgia Historical Society Collection of Photographs, 1870-1960, 1361PH. Courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.


Further Reading

Hoskins, Charles. “Black Hunger for Education in Savannah” Connect Savannah, Febraury 25-March 2, 2000. “Savannah- Schools- African American Education” Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

Jossi, Frank. “Getting Education a Battle” Savannah Morning News. February 24, 1985. “Savannah- Schools- African American Education,” Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

Melton, Wendy. Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum Presents, “A Thirst for Learning: A History of the West Broad Street School 1873-1962,” Online Exhibit. http://wendymelton.wix.com/west-broad-school accessed May 3, 2015.

Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. “When West Broad was the Main Drag: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Before 1950: a Multimedia Exhibition of the Sights and Sounds of the Historic Savannah Community,” 1996. “Savannah-Streets-Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard,” Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.

Ships of the Sea Museum. William Scarbrough House: History & Restoration. (Savannah, GA: Maritime Press, 1998).

Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum website. http://www.shipsofthesea.org/#!scarbrough-house/c24i2 accessed May 17, 2015.