Feb. 28, 2017 | By Hayley Larson
This 144-Year-Old Savannah Inn Has a History You Won’t Believe
Savannah is filled to the brim with history from the roads to the trees to the very architecture most buildings reside in now. Even when visitors take a room in one of the many lodgings scattered around the city, they are unwittingly adding to that location’s charm and history. Hamilton-Turner Inn is no exception; if anything, it’s a prime example.
It all started in 1873 when an architect named J. D. Hall built a park side carriage house with Italianate and Second Empire style influences for Samuel Pugh Hamilton and his family. Hamilton boasted several professions. He started off as a naval officer in the Civil War, became a prominent jeweler, was president of the Bush Electric and Power Company, and later became Mayor of Savannah and Grand Master of the Knights Templar. He was a man who wore many hats, figuratively and perhaps literally! Unsurprisingly, Hamilton also was known as “The Lord of Lafayette Square” as he was part of Savannah‘s elite inner circles and hosted a number of lavish parties with his wife Sarah.
Not only was the house beautifully designed, but for its time, it was a work of innovation. Hamilton’s home was built with what can be considered “modern luxuries”. Voice Pipes were installed through each of the home’s four floors. A dumb waiter, skylight and tin roof were also installed as were an indoor bath and privy. To add to its awe-inspiring charm, electricity was installed in the parlor in 1883, making it the first house in Savannah to have electricity. What an honor!
Sixteen years after Hamilton’s mysterious death, Dr. Francis Turner bought the estate in 1915. He was an osteopath known for hosting decadent parties with his wife, and he was one of the first to own an electric car in Savannah. The Turners lived in the house until 1926 when it was used as a boarding house. The Marine Hospital Nurses took up residence there until 1940 when the Turner family decided to move back in.
From there, the home was sold again in 1965 and bought by the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It was completely vacant during the late 1960s, and after a long period of vacancy, it was opened as an apartment complex in the early 1970s. As was in its nature, the property switched hands several times, but was ultimately bought by Charlie and Sue Strickland who converted it into a bed and breakfast. The current owners, Steve Cohn, Robert Pritikin, and Susie Ridder, make the inn as prolific as it is today.
The home has survived destruction two times. The first was in 1898 during the Savannah Fire during which its tin roof saved the house from a fiery demise. The second time was during the time the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist owned it. The Cathedral planned to tear down the Hamilton-Turner estate to turn it into a playground, though some claim otherwise. The Savannah Historic Foundation actually stepped in to stop this leisurely but untimely fate.
While the Hamiltons and the Tuners were known for their lavish parties, neither were as notorious as former property manager Joe Odom who held wild, dance-your-hair-down kind of parties as detailed in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
But where it was once used for opulent parties, the Hamilton-Turner Inn is also surrounded by delightful rumors. As the Hamilton estate was one of the first homes in Savannah to ever have electricity installed, it’s been said that numerous citizens would gather in Lafayette Square just to watch the lights come on in the evening time. Back when Dr. Turner owned the property, he used to perform autopsies in the basement.
The inn has been said to have a number of ghostly residents as well. One such resident is a Confederate soldier who wanders about the inn it is suspected that the property was built on top of his grave to explain his almost nonchalant hauntings. There was also a rumor floating around that the Hamilton-Turner Inn was used as one of the models for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. However, the rumor has been debunked.
But who could fault the person who started the rumor? Once known as the “Grand Victorian Lady”, the Hamilton-Turner Inn stands as one of the best, romantic inns in Savannah and has been coined “The New Gem on Lafayette Square”. And with such a hefty but exciting history behind it, one can only wonder what the future holds.