Savannah Irish and Robert Emmet Park
This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Lorie Forton as part of her SCAD art history department coursework, with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2014.
The Savannah Irish and Robert Emmet Park historical marker was dedicated on March 9, 2003. View the Savannah Irish and Robert Emmet Park historical marker listing.
1. Irish Celtic Cross Memorial, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
3. Korean War Memorial, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
4. Chatham Artillery Memorial, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
5. Dr. Noble Wimberly Jones Memorial, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
6. Old Harbor Light, Emmet Park. Courtesy of Lorie Forton.
7. Watercolor of the Propeller Club’s Three Savannah Fountain. “Parks and Squares – Emmet Park” Vertical file. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.
The following essay is by SCAD student Lorie Forton, 2014.
The Savannah’s Irish and Robert Emmet Park celebrates the park’s Irish heritage. However, the marker does not discuss the various other cultures, events, and memorials that the park now contains. When this park was added to the city’s register in 1902, the name was simplified to Emmett Park with a second “t” added through clerical error.[i-ii] This patch of greenery on Bay Street has evolved into a place of remembrance for everyone who steps onto its ground.
Whether due to the plot’s large amount of free space or the particular attention this area draws, it boasts four historic markers and six memorials. The markers differ in type, including one named “Savannah, Birthplace of Prince Hall Masonry in Georgia,” another honoring Jane Cuyler, and one dedicated to the Old Harbor Light. Information on all of these markers is available on the Georgia Historical Society website.
The history of the site stretches back farther than written history; it was once the site of a Native American burial mound. Known as “Indian Hill” in colonial times, “the [Native Americans] who were here when the colonists came told Oglethorpe that a great white man with a red beard had been interviewed by a Yamacraw King on top of the mound.”[iii] The group of Native Americans commonly known as the Yamacraw is one of the cultures that should be remembered at this location.
The Irish community of Savannah had a memorial placed in the park in 1986, preceding the Georgia Historical Society marker. Dedicated to Irish brethren of the past and the future, the memorial is a Celtic cross (fig. 1). The cross houses a time capsule within its base, which contains information as well as objects about the Irish community as it stands now. Included in this capsule are fourteen different societies’ membership lists and heraldic emblems, identifying the Irish inhabitants at the time it was placed in the Celtic cross base.[iv]
There are a few different war memorials positioned in various sections of the park. Depending on which direction one enters the park, one will first see a Vietnam memorial, a statue for the Korean War, or a memorial dedicated to the Chatham Artillery (figs. 2-4). Though dated 1786, the latter is also dedicated to those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The last two memorials that are located within Emmet Park differ in nature from the others. The first is a bust commemorating the work of Dr. Noble Wimberly Jones (fig. 5). This statue shows the dedication of Noble Jones, and was intended to include plaques listing the major milestones of the Georgia Medical Society in the 200 years prior to the statue’s dedication.[v] The second, an old lighthouse lamp, contains no information itself and relies on the marker text to convey its story (fig. 6). At one time considered the most impressive feature of the park, the lamp was placed by the United States in 1858.[vi]
A place for remembrance such as Emmet Park also has a past memorial that has been forgotten. There was once a fountain dedicated to the three ships named after Savannah (fig. 7). It was given to the city by the Propeller Club, using donations from the 131 clubs throughout America who financed the fountain’s construction. The memorial fountain cost $6500 and included a five-foot base of Savannah Grey Brick.[vii] The date of the marker’s completion is unclear. Later, according to one article, “the Propeller Club has agreed to the removal of the existing monument, providing the plaques and anchors are displayed appropriately elsewhere.”[viii] By November 1989, the fountain had been removed. The Vietnam Veteran Memorial is now located where the fountain once stood.[ix]
Emmet Park still has value to the Irish community in Savannah. According to Betty Schwarz, Savannah resident and Daughters of Ireland president, the park still holds a great deal of importance for its Irish heritage. The Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day is called Celtic Sunday; it kicks off all of the festivities for the city. This includes a parade that starts in Lafayette Square and ends in Emmet Park, with representatives from the nine male and the two female Irish groups that exist in Savannah. The park stands as a place of remembrance for their culture for as long as there is an Irish connection.[x]
[i] “City Beat,” September 11, 1974.
[ii] Dorothy Lowe, “Ordinance by Mr. Horrigan: Emmet Park on Bay Got Its Name 60 Years Ago,” Savannah Evening Press.
[iii] Lilla M. Hawes, “Riverside Park and Village Once Fortress and Gardens,” Savannah Morning News, February 27, 1956.
[iv] Photocopy of a handwritten list that states what the Irish community placed into the capsule. Vertical file “Parks and Squares – Emmet Park,” Georgia Historical Society.
[v] “Georgia Medical Society to unveil monument of its founder on Sunday at Emmet Park,” Savannah Morning News, April 2, 2005.
[vi] Hawes, “Riverside Park.”
[vii] Joe Flanders, “New Park Fountain Dedicated,” Savannah Morning News.
[viii] Betty Darby, “Savannah Officials Shift Their Position, Pick Emmet Park For Vietnam Memorial,” Savannah Evening Press, February 17, 1989.
[ix] Michael Homans, “Emmet Park Plan Proposed,” Savannah Evening Press, November 24, 1989.
[x] Betty Schwarz, phone interview by Lorie Forton, Savannah, May 19, 2014.
“City Beat,” September 11, 1974.
Darby, Betty. “Savannah Officials Shift Their Position, Pick Emmet Park For Vietnam Memorial.” Savannah Evening Press, February 17, 1989.
Flanders, Joe. “New Park Fountain Dedicated.” Savannah Morning News.
“Georgia Medical Society to unveil monument of its founder on Sunday at Emmet Park.” Savannah Morning News, April 2, 2005.
Hawes, Lilla M. “Riverside Park and Village Once Fortress and Gardens.” Savannah Morning News, February 27, 1956.
Homans, Michael. “Emmet Park Plan Proposed.” Savannah Evening Press, November 24, 1989.
Lowe, Dorothy. “Ordinance by Mr. Horrigan: Emmet Park on Bay Got Its Name 60 Years Ago.” Savannah Evening Press.
Photocopy of a handwritten list that states what the Irish community placed into the capsule. “Parks and Squares – Emmet Park” Vertical file, Georgia Historical Society.