SHIPS OF THE SEA MARITIME MUSEUM
WILLIAM SCARBROUGH HOUSE AND GARDENS
"Buildings are three-dimensional history books that reflect the comings and goings, successes and failures, aspirations and follies of real people."
MILLS LANE, benefactor of Ships of the Sea and author of the ten-volume survey,
Architecture of the Old South.
The Scarbrough House is the elegant setting for the Museum's collection of ship models, paintings, and maritime antiques. It was built in 1819, for one of the principal owners of the Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Scarbrough's architect, William Jay from Bath, England, created one of the earliest examples of domestic Greek Revival architecture in the South. Used as a public school from the 1870's - 1960's the mansion was then abandoned until rescued by Historic Savannah Foundation in the 1970's. After another period of vacancy, Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum restored the the house again in 1996-97, building a new roof based on a documented William Jay design, adding a new rear portico and enlarging the gardens.
William Scarbrough was a shipping merchant, born in North Carolina and educated at the University of Edinburgh, who came to Savannah in 1802, at the age of twenty-six. Soon prosperous and respected, he became a bank director, manager of elections, member of the Board of Health, vestryman of Christ Church, Vice Council of Denmark and Sweden, and Council General of Russia. In 1818, at the zenith of his wealth and importance, he became president of the Savannah Steamship Company which launched the SS Savannah - the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He also began construction of a new house- which her later called "The Castle" - on West Broad Street. In the early 19th century this was one of Savannah's most fashionable neighborhoods.
Scarbrough's architect and builder was William Jay, only twenty-five years old when he came to Savannah from England in December 1817. Born in Bath, Jay had apprenticed to David Riddall Roper, an architect and surveyor in London who participated in the rebuilding of Regent Street for George IV's favorite architect, John Nash. Jay brought to Savannah the opulent architecture of the great city during this high-living, luxury-loving period, with lavish Classical ornament, the new Greek Revival style, and the pioneering use of cast iron for structure as well as decoration. During a stay of about four years, Jay produced at least five houses, a school, theatre, custom house, bank and a hotel. Scarbrough House is the earliest example of the domestic Greek Revival in the Deep South. Jay moved to Charleston in about 1820, and returned to England in 1822. His time in America was brief, his influence limited and his later career an anticlimax. Fifteen years later Jay died on the remote, storm-tossed island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where he was working as a low-paid civil engineer.
Despite all the fanfare, the steamship Savannah was not a commercial success. In November, 1820, forty-four-year-old William Scarbrough, in the midst of an emotional and physical collapse, was declared an insolvent debtor by the court and his house and furnishings were sold to a relative who allowed the Scarbroughs to remain in the home. In 1878, the house was purchased and given to the Board of Education which used it as the West Broad Street School for African-American children until 1962.* In 1972, Historic Savannah Foundation began restoring the house and in 1974, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1995, the building was acquired by Ships of the Sea Museum and another restoration began. This restoration, completed in 1997, featured a new roof based on a documented design by the original architect as well as a new rear portico and an enlarged garden.
*To learn more about the West Broad Street School please visit our Online Exhibits page.