Visit Juliette Gordon-Low Birthplace in Savannah Georgia - A National Historic Landmark, the Wayne-Gordon House, is an outstanding example of 1821 Regency architecture. Saved from demolition by the Girl Scouts, the house has been returned to its 1886 glory.
Authentically furnished with family pieces and 19th-century decorative art, the room arrangements and collections interpret the lifestyle of a fascinating Savannah family.
In 1818, Savannah Mayor James Moore Wayne (1790-1867) purchased a double house lot on the northeast corner of Bull and South Broad Streets. The architect for the English Regency townhouse is unknown. The house constructed for Wayne, at a cost of $6500, consisted of a two-story, double town house over a raised basement.
A double house has a center hall flanked by rooms on both sides, instead of the two rooms and side hall of a single house. Houses of this type were frequently contractor built from plan books without benefit of architects on site.
Many single and double houses built in Savannah from the 1780s through the 1870s share a basic floor plan that differs only in details such as fireplaces, cornices etc., are referred to locally as "Savannah boxes." This simple, practical floor plan was expanded and transformed through choices of building materials, architectural details, and millwork, into a Regency townhouse of imposing proportions. The overall four-square quality of the floor plan, given a Regency veneer by the addition of the two curved bays at the rear of the house and the clever use of decorative elements resulted in a surprisingly sophisticated house.
The exterior was faced with stucco scored to simulate costlier stone blocks. Recessed elliptical arches around the second floor windows gave interest to the two street facades. These shallow arches created the illusion of an elegant arched second story without the expense of true arched windows. This detail was not used on the garden side and the rear of the house where the luxury would be wasted on family and servants.
There was a hipped roof with four dormers (two in front and two at the rear) concealed by a parapet and molded cornice before addition of the top floor. The parapet formed the base of the top floor addition reducing the visual mass of the top floor. The formal portico, flanked by brownstone steps, projects from the front of the house. Modified Tuscan columns screen the recessed double doors. A small balcony, used by the Gordon family servants, is hidden behind the parapet surmounting the portico.
The parlor floor consisted of an entrance hall, reception room, two parlors, dining room, and butler's pantry. The contained four bedrooms with dressing rooms, a trunk room, a hall, and possibly, two small bedroom passages. Servants may have been housed in two to four garret rooms in the attic and in two rooms in the raised basement. The basement also contained the household offices which included a kitchen, laundry, and three pantries. Original outbuildings included the stable, three one-room servant's houses and a privy. The servant houses and privy were located between the pierced brick garden wall and York Lane where the carriage house now stands.
Mayor Wayne and his wife evidently intended for their residence to be among the most fashionable in Savannah. The prominent location and stately exterior of the house expressed the social position of the Wayne family. The interior details were personally supervised by both Mr. and Mrs. Wayne. Letters indicate that Mrs. Wayne was constantly on the site even to the extent of sitting in the parlor and "instructing" the plasterers as to the exact motives and designs to be used in each location. One can only imagine the discomfiture of the workman as Mrs. Wayne sat and rocked, watching as each molding was run and each acanthus leaf installed. Given such close attention to detail it is no surprise that the interior of the house was not completed during their tenancy.
The classally proportioned rooms of the house were embellished with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian details that were the hallmarks of the neoclassical period. Elements common to all the rooms include high ceilings, large windows, decorative cornices, ceiling medallions and decorative casework. Regency Style is also reflected in the elaborate mill work surrounding the doors and windows through out the house. Stock moldings were combined to form the high profiles of the door and window casings. The carved wood Egyptian heads and oil lamps, found over the parlor windows and doors, were ordered from catalogs (a common practice from the eighteenth century to the present).
The entrance hall sets the decorative theme of the house. The acanthus leaf cornice leads the eye to a ceiling spangled with rosettes, centered with a circlet of bellflowers encompassing a larger rosette of acanthus leaves. Acanthus leaves are repeated on the corner blocks of the door casings. The solid mahogany doors that were used throughout the parlor floor attest to the rich ambiance to which the Waynes aspired. To the left of the entrance hall was a rectangular reception room for business callers and strangers to the household. The Wayne family also used the room as a school room for their children. There was at one time a trap door in the floor to the left of the doorway. The room was converted into a library by the Gordon Family.
Opposite the library are the formal double parlors of the house. The larger rectangular front parlor is divided from the smaller rear parlor and its curved bay by mahogany pocket doors framed by an Ionic entablature. The Ionic entablature between the two parlors was the focal point of these rooms.
Stylized floral patera, used to decorate the area between the top molding of the entablature and the ceiling cornice, further emphasized the importance of this architectural feature. Paint analysis of these rooms suggests that the Waynes may have intended to gild the engaged columns flanking the mahogany pocket doors. These rooms were treated as a pair so that they could be used as one room or separated by the doors into intimate spaces easily heated by wood fires. The Egyptian marble mantels echo the Ionic motif of the entablature.
The rear hall of the house was a stair hall, service area, and ventilation shaft. The simpler decorative details and the doors which separate this area from the front hall indicate that the space was most used as a private area the house not generally seen by visitors. The lack of second stair for the use of the servants reinforces this conclusion.
Across the rear hall from the back parlor is the dining room which probably also served as a morning room and family parlor. Since the dining room was originally smaller than its present dimensions and treated in a simpler style than the parlors, this room even if not exclusively used by the family, was not suitable for large entertainments. Room use in the early nineteenth century was not as rigidly defined as today. Dining rooms frequently doubled as sitting rooms, sewing rooms schoolrooms etc. depending on the needs of the family.
The butler's pantry, used for the storage of china, crystal, silver and linen, was originally located on the south side of the dining room and contained a dumb waiter that descended to the kitchen below.
The second floor was strictly for the use of the family. Four large and airy bed chambers housed the six members of the Wayne family. Children shared rooms and dressing rooms served each bedroom. Guests were accommodated on this floor as well. Servants, like the children's nurse and body servants, may have shared the bedrooms and dressing rooms, a customary procedure in the South.
Mr. & Mrs. George Arthur Gordon
George Arthur Gordon and his family moved into the house during the early 1920's. They enclosed the piazza with screening. Later the stable was converted into a commercial rental space. Eventually, the formal par terre garden was replaced with a play ground for the students in the Sunshine Day School operated by his daughter, Mary Stuart Gordon Platt in the 1930s.
The Second World War brought changes to the house as well. In 1942, the house was converted into apartments under one of the war worker housing acts passed at that time. The parlor floor and first bedroom floor were converted into four apartments by architect, Mark Sheridan.
In December of 1953, the house was purchased from the Gordon family by Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. 1954 was spent on a number of fund raising campaigns, including the famous "Dimes for Daisy" and making plans for restoration of the structure. Many Girl Scout volunteers, board members, and professional staff served on the Birthplace Committee to oversee the restoration of the site. The house was opened to the public in 1956.
Explore the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Gallery as an introduction to Daisy’s childhood home and the significant collections visitors can enjoy at this National Historic Landmark. Discover original artwork by Juliette Low, family furnishings and a wealth of decorative arts and other objects owned by the Gordons.
The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is fortunate to have a collection that represents a large number of pieces that originally belonged to the Gordon family and Juliette Gordon Low. The collection supports our interpretation of the life of the Gordons, an important American family. Using family inventories, wills, letters and photographs, we have identified the following categories for our collection:
- Gordon family possessions used in the Wayne-Gordon House;
- Objects that belonged to Juliette Gordon Low during her lifetime, including memorabilia associated with the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912;
- Objects that approximately represent documented Gordon possessions.
Nellie Gordon undertook a complete redecoration of the Wayne-Gordon House as the final part of the 1886 major renovation of the family home. She was an early proponent of the aesthetic movement and was inspired by the writings of Clarence Cook. Her choice of textiles, paint colors, furniture makers and dealers were all influenced by Cook’s opinions.
Due to the upcoming December wedding of Daisy Gordon and William Mackay Low, there was a flurry of letters between mother and daughter. The letters deal with furniture purchases for the redecoration, wedding plans and family updates. The detailed and candid letters have informed our decisions about room arrangements, paint colors, fabric choices and collections policies.
When the house was purchased from the Mrs. George Arthur Gordon in 1953, a substantial number of family pieces were included in the sale. In addition, after Juliette Low’s death in 1927, a group of interested women began collecting artwork by Juliette Low and other early Girl Scout memorabilia. The collection, known as the Juliette Low Museum, was exhibited in New York City and in Savannah. These materials were given to GSUSA for display at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Over the years, Gordon family members and friends, have continued to donate family furnishings and decorative arts to the museum to enhance our interpretation.
Family Furnishings and Decorative Arts
After one of the first Girl Scout meetings in Savannah, one of the participants reported to her mother that Mrs. Gordon had chandeliers made of diamonds. And in fact, Nellie’s matched pair of parlor chandeliers are one of the most impressive additions the Gordons made to their home.
One chandelier was purchased from the Rauer family in Savannah and a copy made by Tiffany and Co. in New York. A pair of handsome 1880’s Regency-style cabinets or vitrines by Marcotte and Company of New York flanks either side of the mahogany pocket doors between the parlors.
The cabinets were designed to display objects d’art, curios and sentimental family memorabilia. The cabinet’s decorative ormolu details echo the earlier Egyptian wood trim and plasterwork from the original 1818 parlor decor. A stunning pier mirror sets off the rooms and reflects the vibrant colors, furnishings and elegant chandeliers. The mirror is decorated with gold acanthus leaves and an Egyptian head in early Art Nouveau style.
Art Work by Juliette Gordon Low
Artistic pursuits were important to Juliette Gordon Low throughout her life. Even in boarding school art was her favorite subject though she would have preferred to excel in more academic studies to please her parents. She often illustrated her letters home with drawings of clothing designs, caricatures and scenes from her life. By the time Daisy was in finishing school, she was convinced that art would be her life’s work. She was allowed the unusual privilege of taking art instruction with a painter at his studio in New York City.
In 1886, Daisy married the love of her life, William Mackay Low and expected that like her parents, she would have an idyllic marriage. She earned the reputation as a hostess of considerable charm and skill amongst her friends and associates in England and Scotland.
Over the years,as her marriage began to disintegrate, Daisy turned more and more to her art work for consolation. She sculpted, painted, and one year she even enrolled in a blacksmithing course. She later built a forge on her estate and with the help of a local blacksmith, designed and made a handsome pair of gates for the entrance of her home, Wellesbourne House. We are fortunate to have those gates on display in the garden of the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.