On our journey to Savannah, my daughter who is a Brownie in the Girl Scouts, was so excited to visit the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace and to get her pin and patch for her uniform. I was a Brownie as well for a short time in childhood and it was a great lesson in the history of Juliette Gordon Low, Savannah, and the Girl Scouts. Her home can be easily accessed from the Trolley tours that go through the historical district of Savannah.
Juliette Gordon Low is most famously known as the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Her childhood home is located in the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District in Savannah, GA. The home is also known as the Wayne-Gordon House. It is currently owned by the Girl Scouts of the USA.
History of the Home
The home was constructed between 1818 and 1821 for the mayor of Savannah, James Moore Wayne. The majority of homes in the Savannah area were constructed in much the same way and known as “Savannah Boxes”. The differences between the homes were in the finishes inside. When Mr. Wayne was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1831, he sold the home to his niece Sarah Sites Gordon, who was married to William Washington Gordon I. Sarah and William were the first generation of Gordons to live in the house and were Juliette’s grandparents.
In 1886, Juliette’s parents, William Washington Gordon II and Eleanor Kinzie Gordon made major changes to the home by adding the fourth floor and the side piazza. This process was a large-scale renovation that had several setbacks. First, the original contractor in charge of the project died shortly after it began. The family had a difficult time finding anyone to take over the work which furthered the delay. Second, an earthquake hit the Savannah and Charleston areas in August of that year which consisted of several aftershocks. The earthquake not only damaged the areas under construction but also damaged the plaster and stucco on the original areas of the home. The family lived in only 3 rooms of the home while all the damage was repaired. During this construction phase, Juliette announced her wedding and her desire to hold the reception at the home.
When William and Eleanor passed away in 1912 and 1917 respectively, their son Gordon wanted to live in the home. George Arthur Gordon was the youngest son of William and Eleanor. Changes were also made to the home during this time including enclosing the piazza with screening, converting the stable in to commercial space, and one of the gardens was converted into a playground for the Sunshine Day School which was run by his daughter Mary Stuart Gordon Platt.
In 1942, during World War II, housing was needed for military workers that were in the Savannah area. The decision was made due to finances and patriotic reasons to subdivide the home into 4 apartments. The division of the home was done in a way to ensure it could be restored back to a single family home at a later time and to keep as many of the architectural features of the home in tact. The Gordon family lived in one apartment and rented the remaining 3 apartments.
The Girl Scouts of the US purchased the home in 1953 and restored the home to its original 1880 Victorian state. The home opened as a museum in 1956. The home was designated as the first National Historic Landmark in Savannah in 1965 on the National Register of Historic Places. Family members still reside in the Savannah area and have been known to drop by the home and use the home for special occasions.
Touring the Home
In touring the home today, you notice the home itself is very much like a 4 square. Today you enter the home on the basement level which houses a store and some meeting space. However, when the home was being used the basement housed the kitchen, laundry, household offices, servant quarters, and pantries. As you ascend up the first set of stairs, you arrive on the main floor of the home with a large entry hall. On this floor you also have the 2 parlors, dining room, reception room, and butlers pantry. The reception room was converted into a library and was also used as a schooling room. It is said that it once housed a trap door in the floor.
The house today is restored with furniture typical of the period, including many pieces from the Gordon family as well as family memorabilia. The most noticeable feature of the home is the staircase. The wood railing is grand and beckons a child to climb on and slide down! That is highly discouraged during the tour which takes you up this beautiful staircase to the bedroom floor of the home which has four bedrooms with dressing rooms, a grand hallway, and there were possibly two bedroom passageways at one time. On the bedroom floor, you also see the bathrooms added during the major renovation phase prior to Juliette’s marriage. The final and top floor of the home had 2 servant quarters and today houses offices for the Girl Scouts of the US.
The original outbuildings of the home consisted of a stable, at least 3 one room servant quarters, and a privy. The servant quarters and privy were located between the brick garden wall and the location of the carriage house. Today, the gardens consist of ironwork art that Juliette created and a statue of Juliette sitting on a park bench. Girl Scouts that visit the home can have a pinning ceremony in the garden once they complete their tour.
Unfortunately, pictures inside the home are not allowed. However, the official website has many great photos of the various rooms in the home as well as the construction plans of the home. The site is a wealth of information including preservation of the historic home. I would highly recommend checking it out while you are learning about the history of the home.
Just the Facts!
- Built between 1818 and 1821 for the Mayor of Savannah, James Moore Wayne as a typical Savannah box home.
- Wayne sold the home in 1831 to his niece, Sarah Gordon and her husband William, Juliette’s Grandparents when he was appointed to the US Supreme Court.
- 1886, Juliette’s parents, William and Eleanor, made major renovations to the home prior to Juliette’s wedding.
- The renovation construction was delayed due to the death of the contractor and damage from an earthquake.
- George Gordon lived in the home last and made some additional construction changes including enclosing the piazza and turning the stable into commercial space.
- 1942, the home was sectioned into apartments during WWII to house military workers.
- The Gordon’s lived in one of the 4 apartments during WWII.
- 1953, the home was purchased by the Girl Scouts of the US and restored.
- 1956, the home was opened as a museum by the Girl Scouts of the US and included furniture from the Gordon’s and many pieces of Juliette’s artwork.
- 1965, designated as a the first National Historic Landmark in Savannah on the National Register of Historic Places.
- The Reception Room is said to have had a trapdoor in the floor at one point!
- Today, the home can be reached via any of the Trolley Tours that go through the Savannah Historic District and is often toured by Girl Scout troops and school groups.