Savannah brings history to life with museums with 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. Local philanthropist Mary Telfair founded in the museum in 1883. She left her home and its belongings to the Georgia Historical Society to be used 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 houses nineteenth and twentieth century American and European art. English architect William Jay designed it in the Regency style.
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, houses all contemporary art. Internationally-acclaimed architect, Moshe Safdie designed the Center.
The Railroad Museum is located at the old Central of Georgia Railway Savannah Shops and Terminal Facilities. The facilities served as a major repair facility for the Central of Georgia Railway. Today, the Georgia State Railroad Museum is a National Historic Landmark. The Museum is one of the largest and most complete 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.
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
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. The house was built in 1819 for William Scarbrough. Scarbrough was one of the main owners of The Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The Historic Savannah Foundation restored the house in the 1970’s. The foundation restored the house again in 1996, building a new roof based on another William Jay design. The design added a new rear portico, and a larger garden.
The museum commissioned most of the ship models, including colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships. The Steamship Savannah, The Anne, The Wanderer and City of Savannah are some of the ship models on display.
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 Central of Georgia Railway passenger shed built in the 1850s houses the museum. The passenger shed is now home to over 10,000 artifacts, one of the largest collections in the coastal community!