Savannah is home to over 20 unique and exciting museums. We all know that Savannah is a wealth of art and history, so here are the ones you definitely need to check out to make sure you’re getting as much information as possible in this culturally rich city!
Today, the Telfair Museum is the oldest public art museum in the South. It was founded in 1883 by local philanthropist Mary Telfair, who left her home and its belongings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. Fast forward to the present, and Telfair Museums is made up of three buildings, each holding collections that feature the era in which it was built:
The Telfair Academy was designed in the Regency style by English architect William Jay, and houses nineteenth and twentieth century American and European art.
The Owens-Thomas House, also designed by William in the style of English Regency architecture, is not only a house museum but also features decorative art ranging from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century.
The last building, the Jepson Center, was designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Moshe Safdie, and houses all contemporary art.
The Railroad Museum is located at the old Central of Georgia Railway Savannah Shops and Terminal Facilities, which served as a major repair facility for the Central of Georgia Railway, and was a big part of the origins of industrial Savannah. Today, the Georgia State Railroad Museum is a National Historic Landmark, and is one of the largest and most complete antebellum railroad repair facilities in the world.
On your visit, you’ll be able to get a closer look at a fully operational turntable, learn about the railcars and rolling stock, and experience the handcar. Be sure to check the schedule for train ride dates and times, which rotate between the No. 30 steam locomotive built in 1913, and the modern No. 119 diesel locomotive built in 1947.
Also, stop right next door to the outdoor Children’s Museum that has new featured interactive exhibits for kids all the time!
Civil Rights Museum
The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum is named to honor the late Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert, father of Savannah’s modern day Civil Rights Movement, leader of the NAACP, and 16-year pastor of the historic First African Baptist Church. The museum building itself is more modern, built by Robert Pharrow, an African-American contractor from Atlanta in 1914. It has, however, played a very important part in Savannah’s African-American history: the building was once home to the Wage Earners Savings and Loan Bank, once the largest bank for blacks in the county.
Today, the Museum follows the civil rights struggle of Georgia’s oldest African-American community from slavery to the present. All together there are three floors of historic, photographic, and interactive exhibits capturing the experience of the civil rights struggle in Georgia, as well as adjoining museum lecture halls, classrooms, a video/reading room, an African-American book collection for children, and a gift shop.
The SCAD Museum of Art is the museum associated with the locally based Savannah College of Art and Design, showcasing work by acclaimed artists, students, and faculty. The museum hosts around 20 exhibitions each year, and has featured artists like Uta Barth, Alfredo Jaar, and Fred Wilson.
The museum’s permanent collection includes the Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, the Modern and Contemporary Art Collection, the Earle W. Newton Collection of British and American Art, the 19th- and 20th-century Photography Collection, and the SCAD Costume Collection.
True to the SCAD legacy, the museum is a great example of historic preservation and reuse. What started as the oldest surviving antebellum railroad depot in the country constructed in 1853, is now a National Historic Landmark, transformed into an award-winning museum by architect Christian Sottile, a SCAD alumnus and current Dean of the SCAD School of Building Arts. The $26 million expansion added 65,000 square feet to the former facility, features an 86-foot-high steel and glass lantern entrance; a façade joining original 19th-century Savannah gray brick with modern materials; a beautiful courtyard; outdoor lecture and performance spaces; and an events terrace and atrium.
The Ships of the Sea Museum resides in what is known today as the The Scarbrough House, home to nine galleries of ship models, paintings, and maritime antiques. The architect, William Jay, created one of the earliest examples of domestic Greek Revival architecture in the South, and built the house in 1819 for William Scarbrough, one of the main owners of The Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The house was then used as a public school from the 1870’s – 1960’s, and after being briefly abandoned, it was restored by the Historic Savannah Foundation in the 1970’s. The museum restored the house again in 1996, building a new roof based on another William Jay design, added a new rear portico, and enlarged the garden.
Most of the ship models were commissioned by the museum, and includes colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships. They have all been delicately detailed and researched, and are all built to the same scale: 3/8″ = 1′. Some of the ship models on display include the Steamship Savannah, The Anne, The Wanderer, City of Savannah, and the Titanic.
Savannah History Museum
The Savannah History Museum showcases all things Savannah, from its founding in 1733, to the American Revolution and Civil War, and from the Industrial Revolution beyond. There’s also a great focus on the city’s musical, cultural, and artistic contributions, such as the bench used in the Forrest Gump movie, Johnny Mercer’s Oscar and Grammy Awards, and a 1902 Crestmobile: a car that pre-dates the Ford Model A. The museum is housed in the old Central of Georgia Railway passenger shed built in the 1850s, and is now home to over 10,000 artifacts, one of the largest collections in the coastal community!