A Symbol of Savannah’s Commitments: Massie School, 207 East Gordon Street on Calhoun Square, Savannah, Georgia
A Symbol of Savannah’s Commitments
Massie School, 207 East Gordon Street on Calhoun Square, Savannah, Georgia
At No. 207 East Gordon Street facing the southeast corner of Calhoun Square, Savannah’s oldest free public academic building still stands as a testament to public education–now in operation as the Massie Heritage Center or more commonly called the local History and Architecture Museum. The Massie Common School House (known today as simply Massie School) was designed and constructed in three parts—the central and largest portion between 1850-56; the western annex in 1872; and the eastern annex in 1882. These dates generally represent the major construction phases of what is now considered the MassieSchool. Each building is seperated by breezeways (with connecting hallways) that are hidden behind privacy walls at the primary facade. Designed by New York native and American architect John S. Norris (1804-1876), this particular building the witholds an institutional presence indicative of the Greek Revival style, but with a simple, refined treatment. While the 1850-56 building has the feeling of a quaint temple, it becomes school and/or church-esque due to the extant wood bell tower. Norris designed other buildings in Savannah such as the local U.S. Custom House and several large residences, including the Andrew Low House.
Like other public institutions of the early days, Massie School stated out as a single building just as one might have speculated upon noticing the three individual physical units of the institution. All and all, the school consists of a larger central temple flanked by smaller versions. And in Savannah, Greek Revival architecture is highly represented from the lowest to the absolute highest in its manifestation. Starting in the 1830s, both detached and attached buildings alike were constructed in the Grecian taste, as were other institutional buildings in which the architects were prone to adapt the ancient styles as well. Buildings like the Andrew Low House and even more so the Philbrick-Eastman incorporate elements of style that achive the Greek Revival. This was and remains the prominent style in the National Landmark District.
With restoration of Massie School in progress, the Savannah Chatham County Public School System, along with an organization of the Friends of Massie, has committed to not only maintaining the landmark, but also has pledged to stabilize the building, repoint the brick, repair original windows and sensitively restore the original 1856 classrooms of the central building’s interior. While the entire school is largely intact, the exterior stucco walls have lost some viability due to surface erosion and numerous paint jobs that varied in quality.
“The Symbol of Savannah’s Early Commitment to Public Education”
You may be wondering why we care… Well, in this day and age opinion rarely enters the public institution and if it does, its certainly silenced. Normally, such a sign might say:
Massie School, Est. 1856
The Oldest Public School in Georgia
With the current description, the sign is asserting that not only is the building old, historic and reused from its former purpose, but the sign is clarifying that the place stands as a symbol of the educational history in Savannah—as a symbol of priorities in Savannah’s early days, a standard of priorities that, along with the building, exist today. The sign articulates an opinion and/or an analysis that has a didactic quality and this, my friends, is a quality long since removed from popular use…
Thank you Massie and thank you Savannah…