Old Sorrel-Weed House

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Brenna Marlow as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.

The Old Sorrel-Weed House historical marker was dedicated in 1954. View the Old Sorrel-Weed House historical marker listing.

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1. Old Sorrel-Weed House. Courtesy of Brenna Marlow, 2016.

2. Weed Family Hardware. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.

3. Lady Jane Shop. Courtesy of Stephen Bader.

4. Lady Jane Store Comparison. Courtesy of Brenna Marlow, 2016.

5. Savannah Grey Bricks. Courtesy of Brenna Marlow, 2016.

6. Demolition of Lady Jane Shop. Courtesy of Stephen Bader.

7. Restoration of Regency Stairs. Courtesy of Stephen Bader.

8. Regency staircase floor board. Courtesy of Brenna Marlow, 2016.

9. Original Paint Color. Courtesy of Stephen Bader.

The following essay is by SCAD student Brenna Marlow, 2016.

Most of the Old Sorrel-Weed House’s historical marker’s text highlights the history of the Sorrel family, and much less is known about the Weeds, the other family for whom this house is named (Figure 1). Even on the current home’s historic house tour, the tour guides are not likely to mention much about the Weed family other than they still have a few pieces of their furniture. So who were the Weed family? What else happened in this historic home after the Weeds no longer lived there?

Henry D. Weed was born in Darien, Connecticut on August 30, 1803. The Weeds were a very well-known family in their town for being a part of the local legislature, and for their family farm, Nearwater Farm.[i]

Henry Weed relocated to Savannah in 1821 from Darien, he joined his brother Nathaniel in his hardware business in Savannah; their store was located on Broughton Street.[ii] Henry Weed’s other brother Joseph took over the family business, later to be named J.D Weed Hardware (Figure 2). Once Nathaniel moved away to New York, Henry took full control over the business in Savannah.[iii] Henry D. Weed purchased the Savannah home in 1859 after the tragic death of Francis Sorrel’s wife. Francis Sorrel’s wife had caught Francis having an affair with their head servant. The discovery was too devastating for her that she threw herself off the third story balcony. (This scandal laid the foundation for contemporary ghost tales and “ghost tours” of the house.) Francis sold the house immediately after his wife’s suicide because it was too difficult for him to live there without his wife. When purchasing this home, Henry was declaring his social status and prosperity in the city. As one surprising and enlightening fact, Henry asked Francis Sorrel to board the windows up to keep men from peaking in at his daughters from the street.

When Henry D. Weed passed away in 1875, the house remained in the Weed family and continued to up until about 1914 when the home was taken over by the bank due to the family going bankrupt. However, the Weeds remain a prominent family in Savannah today and still operate J.D. Weed & Co., now located on East Anderson Street, as their family antique store.

Once the bank took over, the home was turned into a museum for a temporary time before the Cohen family purchased the home and turned the lower level into a department store known and the Lady Jane Shop in 1941 (Figure 3).

The Lady Jane Shop wrapped about 270 degrees around the house itself.[iv] The house was completely unrecognizable from its former function as a stately home. The store even extended out through the courtyard and into the garden. The Cohen Family boarded up all of the balconies that overlooked the garden as well. The shop remained in business until 1991 when the house was privately purchased and restored back to its original domestic form. Figure Four depicts a before-and-after image of the store when it was transformed from a shop back to its original state (Figure 4)

The Old Sorrell-Weed House is constructed of Savannah gray bricks, which were handmade by the slaves who worked on the Hermitage plantation in the 1800’s.  As a way of preserving that history, the bricks were used in the restoration of the home. If you look down at the bricks in the garden, you may be able to notice some of the fingerprints of the slaves who created that brick (Figure 5).

Stephen Bader is the most recent person to own the home. He purchased the building in 1996 during a visit to Savannah and decided to restore the home back to the way it was when the Sorrel family occupied it.[v] Several features were restored. The first thing was that the store had to come down (Figure 6). Bader wanted to restore the basement back to when it was used for the slave kitchen. Bader’s next project was to the restore the staircase back to a regency style staircase (Figure 7). While restoring the stairs he discovered that the stairs in the house were not true to the Sorrel family but were dated to the Weed family. Bader found a floorboard with “Henry D. Weed” written on the bottom, similar to a cornerstone in a building (Figure 8).[vi]

During any restoration process, it is always assumed challenges will arise. One of Bader’s challenges included the paint color. By stripping the building down to its original walls, he discovered that the house was originally a bright orange color (Figure 9). As he started to re-paint the house the bright orange color it once was, the Historic Savannah Foundation encouraged him to rethink his decision.[vii] Many in Savannah were not pleased with the paint color decision and referred to the house as the “pumpkin house.”  Even though others expressed many concerns, Bader kept the orange color true to the original owners.

[i] Kenneth M Reiss, The Story of Darien Connecticut. 2009. Darien: Darien Historical Society, 2009.

[ii] Andrew Morrison, The Industries of Savannah: chief cotton port of the South Atlantic coast and the principal shipping point of the world for naval stores : her trade, commerce, manufactures and representative establishments. Savannah: J.M. Elstner & Co., 1886.

[iii] Lucian Lamar Knight, A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians. Vol. 5. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1917.

[iv] “Sorrel- Weed House Website,” http://sorrelweedhouse.com.

[v] Stephen Bader, Tours of Savannah’s Historic District at the Sorrel Weed Mansion. http://sorrelweedhouse.blogspot.com.

[vi] “Orange House Causes Stir,” Florida-Times Union. August 21, 1997.

[vii] Ibid.

Lucian Lamar Knight, A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians. Vol. 5. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1917.

Andrew Morrison, The Industries of Savannah: chief cotton port of the South Atlantic coast and the principal shipping point of the world for naval stores : her trade, commerce, manufactures and representative establishments. Savannah: J.M. Elstner & Co., 1886.

“Orange House Causes Stir,” Florida Times-Union. August 21, 1997.

Kenneth M. Reiss,The Story of Darien Connecticut. Darien: Darien Historical Society, 2009.

Jonathan W. Tweedy, The Weed Family of Noroton: A History and Genealogy. New York: 1997.