The face of Savannah’s historic City Market has seen many changes over the years. It all began in the early 1700’s, when farmers and fishermen brought to market such wares as scuppernongs, pigeon peas and fresh seafood of every description. Horses pulled wagons brimming with rabbit tobacco, watermelon and okra. Farriers shod horses and barbers trimmed hair. The market was Savannah’s social and commercial center of life.
The first two Market buildings were destroyed by fire in 1788 and 1820. A third was torn down after being used as a dressing station during the Siege of Savannah in the Civil War. The Market building that Savannahians remember nostalgically was built in 1872. It was an ornate brick structure with Romanesque arches, large circular windows, and a soaring 50-foot roof line. The City Market area survived for 200 years, weathering many hardships and even a hurricane in 1896.
But it could not weather the age of air-conditioned supermarkets. The Market became a relic and plans were made to tear down this part of the historic downtown area in favor of progress and a parking garage. After years of heated debate, the grand old Market building was lost to the wrecking ball in 1954. With a final hurrah! – and in keeping with true Savannah style – the old Market building was honored with one of the city’s most elaborate parties. On October 31, 1953 citizens said their last good-byes during the Market Ball, or so they thought.
The controversy around demolishing City Market fired the flames of determination for many historic-minded Savannahians who vowed to protect and preserve historic structures in the city. This was especially true for seven women who were unwavering in their efforts to keep the Market alive. While their efforts could not save the old Market building, their determination ultimately paid off as they went on to form the Historic Savannah Foundation. This organization still works to preserve and protect historic Savannah.
Today, the Market is thriving once again. People come to meet, to do business and to talk of the day’s events. It is once again a social and commercial center of Savannah. And yes, there are still horse-drawn carriages.