Autos in the Archives
The invention and popularization of automobiles changed nearly every facet of American society. Throughout February - August 2021, the Municipal Archives presented the series Autos in the Archives to share historical images from our collections, as well as snippets of automobile-related Savannah history, as part of a partnership with Telfair Museums as they presented the exhibit Vehicles of Change at the Jepson Center (February 27-August 22, 2021).
Dipping a tire in the archives: autos… discovery, identity, and memory, Presenter: Luciana Spracher, Director, City of Savannah Municipal Archives (Talk Recorded: August 2021)
Vehicles of Change: How the Automobile Fueled the Civil Rights Movement, Presenter: Anne-Solene Bayan, Assistant Curator, Telfair Museums (Talk Recorded: June 2021)
Transportation Technology Intersects at Broughton and Abercorn Streets
What better day to kick this series off than National Innovation Day (February 16) with images showing the intersection of new and old transportation technologies. This image from the Palumbo collection of photographs and tourism materials (Item 1121-070_006-06) was taken at the intersection of Broughton and Abercorn streets looking north circa 1915-1926, and shows both street cars and early automobiles. Streetcars traversed Savannah in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, carrying their last passengers in 1946 when public buses fully replaced them. Automobiles became more readily accessible for consumers after the release of the 1908 Ford Model T. By the 1920s, over fifteen million Ford vehicles had been sold in America establishing cars as fixtures in American culture.
Transportation Technology Intersects on West Broad Street
In this image from the W. W. Law photograph collection (Item 1121-100_1060), Union Station, which had welcomed passenger trains to Savannah since 1902, stands solidly in the background while a car flashes by on West Broad Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), symbolizing autos surpassing train travel in popularity. Union Station was torn down not long after this photograph was snapped in 1962, to make room for Interstate 16, and millions of cars since then, to enter Savannah.
City Automobile Registration Ordinance
For over a century now, citizens of Savannah have had to register their cars. As you can see from this ordinance passed on February 17, 1904, residents had to visit Savannah’s Clerk of Council to register their vehicles in order to be street legal. Before license plates were common place, registration information had to be displayed on the rear of the vehicle in lettering “not less than three nor more than four inches in height.” Penalty for driving an unregistered car in Savannah could be a fine of up to $25 (about $735 today), up to 20 days in jail, or both at the discretion of the Police Court. Wondering what a locomobile is? So were we. Made by the Locomobile Company of America, and named by combining the words locomotive and automobile, they were steam-powered vehicles that were among the first popular propelled personal vehicles in America. They were first produced in 1899, but their steam engines were notoriously unreliable and by 1904 the company was transitioning to using combustion engines in their vehicles. "The Code of the City of Savannah of 1907." Morning News Print, 1907.
Automobile Registration Books
Automobile registration was recorded in bound volumes and several of the earliest of these, dated 1909-1919, are accessible to the public in the Municipal Archives, as well as fully digitized and available online at http://bit.ly/2NbTUyE. Record Series 5600CL-320, Clerk of Council - Automobile Registration Books, Volume 1, 1909-1910.
City Hack Badges
Hacks (or taxi cab drivers) were required to wear their drivers licenses. Instead of our modern laminated ID cards, drivers were required to wear a badge on the outside of their lapels that was also provided by the Clerk of Council. "The Code of the City of Savannah of 1907." Morning News Print, 1907.
Exiting Mass Meeting at First African Baptist Church, 1960
For generations, African American mobility was limited through both codified laws and customary practices that dictated where people of color could work, live, and even where and how they could travel. The rising popularity and affordability of the automobile in the mid-20th century provided a glimpse of a new kind of freedom for Black Americans. In a time when many were still widely unable to buy houses, African American families were buying cars in record numbers. An estimated 475,000 Black families owned cars, half of which were purchased new, in the 1950s. Black workers no longer had to rely on public transportation, where they faced discrimination and feared for their safety, to get to and from their jobs. Automobiles were central to the development and success of the Civil Rights Movement, facilitating quick and safe travel. Bus boycotts were meant to impact revenue of public transportation systems until buses were desegregated, but riders still needed a way to get from point a to point b, and personal cars were the answer. Often during boycotts, elaborate carpool systems were established while women held bake sales to pay for gas and maintenance. In Savannah in the 1960s, voting rights activists helped bring record numbers of Black voters to the polls by offering them free rides. In this image taken on May 1, 1960, cars surround the First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square as people leave a mass meeting following the passage of anti-picketing laws. W. W. Law Photograph Collection, Item 1121-100_0801.
Bus in front of Garvin Temple Missionary Baptist Church
For some the 1960s bus boycotts hurt their ability to navigate Savannah. This image, donated to the Municipal Archives by Shawanda Passmore-Jeffs, shows Mildred Ruth Passmore outside the former Garvin Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Poplar Street. Ms. Passmore-Jeffs noted that you can see the bus pulling right up to the entrance of the church and for this reason during the Savannah bus boycotts attendance suffered at many churches for those who did not have another form of transportation. Savannah History Round-up – Frogtown/Yamacraw/West Broad Street Collection, Passmore-Jeffs Donation.
Gas Stations & Garages: 222 Drayton Street
What is an automobile without gas or someone to repair it when it breaks down? Ever since cars cemented their place in American culture, so has the infrastructure that supported them. As the popularity of “mom and pop” auto repair shops and gas stations declined and Savannah expanded into the suburbs, many of the local businesses that once populated the Historic District moved out of downtown leaving their buildings to be repurposed or demolished. Perhaps one of the better-known repurposed auto garages is located at 222 Drayton Street and known today by many as the “Fancy Parkers” (MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_02-5-1812). In the 1950s, this building was home to Helmey’s Mac Auto and Boy Tire Company. In the late 1990s, Parker’s Market renovated the building into the gas station and market active today.
Gas Stations & Garages: 110 East President Street
110 East President Street was once home to the Standard Oil District Headquarters while serving as a gas station with pumps beneath the canopy (MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_03-5-0660). In the 1950s, the building was home to the US Army Corps of Engineers Motor Pool and has recently been home to several banks, with the former canopy repurposed for drive-up ATMs.
Gas Stations & Garages: 625 West Broad Street
625 West Broad Street was home to a service station operated by Standard Oil of Kentucky (SDRA West Broad Street Appraisals, 3205-040, F3, P107). The building was demolished in the 1960s during Urban Renewal efforts along the West Broad Street corridor.
Gas Stations & Garages: 122 East Liberty Street
Bob’s Garage at 122 East Liberty Street is now J. Christopher’s, and the restaurant left the façade’s industrial feel of the auto garage intact (MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_03-3-0105).
Autos on Parade: St. Patrick's Day, 1960s
A parade has been held annually on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah since 1824, though it has been postponed or canceled a total of nine times in its history. Originally, the parade was a processional on foot by Irish families, then later involved military groups and bands. The first floats were entered in the parade in 1875 and dignitaries began riding in carriages in 1905. Savannah Mayor J.C. Lewis smiles above a shamrock in this image from a late 1960s parade (City Manager’s Office Photograph Collection, Item #0120-006_01-14-002).
Autos on Parade: St. Patrick's Day, circa 1990s
In the 1991 St. Patrick’s Day parade, City Manager Michael Brown and Police Chief David Gellatly ride in style in a red convertible (Public Information Office Photograph Collection, Item #0123-045_07-68-021). The modern St. Patrick’s Day parade features over 300 groups walking on foot, riding in classic cars, and driving floats.
Autos on Parade: "Daddy Grace" Parade
Many Savannahians remember the popular “Daddy Grace” parades, held annually by the United House of Prayer for All People. These parades drew African American parishioners and community members, as well as white spectators, who gathered to watch the church’s flamboyant leader, Charles Manual Grace (known as Daddy Grace), parade down West Broad Street (now known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd). A January 1960 Savannah Morning News article described the eagerly anticipated scene, “There was always the West Broad street parade, with Daddy riding regally in one of his Cadillacs, preceded by brass bands and surrounded by his handmaidens in long bright gowns.” In this image from the W.W. Law Photograph Collection (Item #1121-100_1219), followers of Daddy Grace ride on a car’s sideboards with a large sign for the leader mounted on the top.
Bicycle Speed Limit, 1897
Did you know that it was once legal for bicycles to travel faster than automobiles in Savannah? In 1897, Savannah City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting a “person operating a velocipede, bicycle, tricycle, or other such vehicle…to proceed at a speed greater than ten miles per hour.” [proceed to the next image to find out about Savannah’s first automobile speed limit]
Automobile Speed Limit, 1902
In 1902, while cars were still in their infancy, City Council passed the first automobile speed limit ordinance in Savannah, limiting the rate of speed to a mere eight miles per hour! To put these speeds in perspective, a horse drawn carriage can go an average of 15 miles per hour, a 1908 Model T could top out around 45 mph, and the winner of Savannah’s 1908 American Grand Prize automobile race averaged 65 mph. In 1902, Savannah streets were bustling with all kinds of vehicular traffic – horse drawn carriages, bicycles, streetcars (also limited to a maximum speed of 10 mph), and newly emerging automobiles – without having a modern traffic code in place that dictated the finer points of the rules of the road. Laws managing how different vehicles could operate were an attempt to keep passengers, operators, and pedestrians safe while taking into account the different risks posed by each vehicle type. By 1913, the rate of speed for civilian automobiles had been raised to 15 mph while driving straight and 8 mph while rounding corners, such as those around Savannah’s famous squares. Police and Fire vehicles were permitted to drive a maximum of 30 mph while rushing to an emergency call.
The rise in popularity of portrait photography gave people a new medium to express their personality. Choices made by photographers and subjects can tell us a lot about someone’s class, occupation, and the time period in which they lived. These images show two groups of people seated in the same automobile in front of a realistically painted backdrop inside a photographer’s studio (images from the W.W. Law Photograph Collection, Items 1121-100_1693 and 1694). Through the 1890s and the first decades of the 20th century, cars were a status symbol and a luxury that only the wealthy could afford to buy and maintain. Studio automobile portraiture became a popular genre as these vehicles gained popularity in American culture, something akin to a modern “Glamour Shot.” Even with a small child driving the car, what might look silly to us today, by having their portraits taken while sitting inside a car in their fine clothes, these individuals are sending a strong message about how they would like to be seen by the world.
Autos and the 'Burbs - Ardsley Park
Automobiles helped usher in the age of the suburb in Savannah and changed urban planning and domestic architecture across the nation forever. Developed in the 1910s, Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent are considered some of Savannah’s earliest suburbs. These suburbs resembled urban centers with their grid patterns, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and parks, but their simultaneous development with automobiles allowed their residents to spread out and locate farther from the city center. This early undated image shows a car driving down an Ardsley Park street (MPC Historic Preservation Photograph Collection, Item 8126-006_01-1-0202).
Autos and the 'Burbs - Gordonston
Homeowners often built stand-alone garages on their properties to protect their vehicles from vandalism and weather. Soon developers were planning neighborhoods and homes around the automobile. Instead of front porches, driveways became the entryway to the home and attached garages (which evolved from porte cochères and carports) were considered a necessary convenience and a symbol of an increasingly private culture. Here we see a car parked alongside a Gordonston home in an undated image (MPC Historic Preservation Photograph Collection, Item 8126-006_01-2-0401).
Autos and the 'Burbs - Wide Neighborhood Streets
Wide, curving streets helped traffic flow smoother and sidewalks disappeared as people relied on cars to get where they needed to go, as seen in this unidentified Savannah neighborhood in the late 1960s (City Manager’s Office Photograph Collection, Item 0120-006_01-25-001). Front yards, formerly social spaces to interact with your neighbors, became dangerous due to their proximity to fast moving vehicles and families started shifting to their backyards instead.
Autos and the ‘Burbs – Shopping Centers
By the mid-20th century the automobile was King, and the new concept of urban sprawl was synonymous with cars’ dominance. Suburban subdivisions were popping up rapidly across America. Cars allowed residential development to be spread farther and farther from the urban cores into undeveloped areas since they allowed people to get to work, school, and shopping with unprecedented ease. This required trading the convenience of walking to a corner store with the efficiency of newly developed shopping centers where consumers could park their car in a big centralized parking lot and then hop from store to store, getting all their errands completed in one place. (Garden City Shopping Center, 1980. MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_05-5-0287).
Autos and the ‘Burbs – Chain Stores
The rise of the strip mall meant that more shopping and business could be done in a single day for the average consumer than ever before. Suburban areas often had a few large, often chain, grocery stores where shoppers could load their cars with a greater quantity and wider selection of groceries than were available at an average urban market. (Byrd Bros. Super Market and Revco Drugs, 1982. MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_05-5-0302).
Autos and the ‘Burbs – Shopping Malls
The first shopping malls sprung up in America in the 1950s, imagined as an antidote to the disconnect and isolation that also came with the increasingly mobile suburban life. By creating spaces that incorporated shopping, food, and relaxation in the deserts of suburbia, malls were intended to lure people from their cars and into contact with one another. Oglethorpe Mall (seen in this undated image from the MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_01-2-0100) is Savannah’s oldest mall, opened to the public in 1969.
Squares versus Cars
When General Oglethorpe planned Savannah's famous squares, he certainly didn’t have cars in mind. As transportation technology has developed, Savannah's built environment has adapted to meet the needs of its modern citizens, and along the way Savannah’s squares were sometimes sacrificed and sometimes preserved. Today, cars flow in one direction around Savannah's squares as they serve like giant roundabouts calming traffic throughout the downtown. We can thank landscape architect Clermont Lee partially for the safe flow of vehicles around Savannah's squares. Before she proposed rounding the corners of the squares, it was challenging for large vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances to rush to emergencies at a high rate of speed. But what about Savannah’s two “lost” squares of Liberty and Elbert? They were early victims of the automobile. In 1935, the City granted the federal government a right-of-way through Franklin, Liberty and Elbert squares for US Highway 17. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a national push to revamp America's highway system to accommodate urban sprawl and a workforce that increasingly commuted to work. While the goal was increased connectedness and economic prosperity, often the new highways decimated urban neighborhoods. In Savannah, Interstate 16 and the I-16 flyover spanning West Broad Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) and Montgomery Street transformed Savannah’s westside forever; buildings were torn down, families and businesses were displaced, and the historic street grid was rerouted to support the increased number of vehicles flowing in to Savannah. In 1967, Montgomery Street, previously two-way, was changed to one-way north bound traffic from Jones Street to Bay Street. In 1985, to facilitate the restoration of Franklin Square, this street was partially restored to two-way traffic from Bay to Broughton. In 2019 with the opening of the Cultural Arts Center, two-way traffic was further restored from Broughton to Liberty streets, where the I-16 flyover enters town. However, Elbert and Liberty squares are still bisected (with only landscaped slivers on the sides of the road) to facilitate the high volume of traffic flowing off of the flyover and they represent the legacy of the early preservation battles between autos and squares. Image of Montgomery Street/US Highway 17 cutting through Franklin Square prior to the square’s restoration, circa early 1980s, MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_01-4-0137.
On the Move - Bonticou House 1
Often when we think about preserving old houses, we think about uncovering and refinishing floors, stripping layers of paint from fireplace mantels, or removing vinyl siding to find original wood beneath, but sometimes more drastic measures are necessary. Sometimes buildings are physically moved in order to ensure their protection. (Bonticou House on the move, January 31, 1972. MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_04-1-0609)
On the Move - Bonticou House 2
The Timothy Bonticou Double House is one of many structures in Savannah that made the move in the name of preservation in January 1972. Originally located at 419-421 East Broughton Lane, this structure was built circa 1815 and is an excellent example of early 19th century workers housing that was found along Savannah’s lanes. The building was moved from its position facing the lane to the front of the lot (418-420 East State Street), where the main formal house had once stood. (Bonticou House on the move, January 31, 1972. MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_04-1-0615)
On the Move - In the Victorian District
In March 1979, with a little help from a big red truck, this unidentified green house was also on the move, this time in Savannah’s Victorian District. (MPC Historic Preservation Photographs, Item 8126-006_05-1-1254)
Too Much of a Good Thing
Getting the perfect parking spot is always a satisfying victory, but we often take for granted what that parking spot, surface lot, or garage means to our city and our history. These photographs of the cars parked around the old City Market building and Ellis Square show just how much the need for parking has altered our urban environment. Automobiles revolutionized nearly every facet of American culture, providing unprecedented convenience and accessibility, but perhaps along with them came too much of a good thing. Historic cities like Savannah were not originally planned with the auto in mind, so the need for a place to store them forced creative solutions at best, and at worst the destruction of historical sites and landmarks. Downtown businesses at risk of losing customers to suburban shopping centers advocated for more and more parking. Unused lots were converted to surface parking lots and eventually multilevel parking garages were deemed necessary to house the overabundance of vehicles that flooded downtown streets (Ellis Square parking deck surrounded by on-street parking and surface parking lots in August 1970; Item 8126-006_01-4-0119, MPC Historic Preservation photograph collection). When it was built in the 1870s, shoppers used to visit the old City Market building on foot, by horse and wagon, or via streetcar. By the 1950s, vehicles were crowded around it on the street (Item 8126-006_01-4-0124, MPC Historic Preservation photograph collection). When the Market was torn down in the 1950s, it was replaced by the multilevel Park & Shop garage (shown here exhibiting auto related business signs for rental cars, gas, and tire; Item 8126-006_01-4-0125, MPC Historic Preservation photograph collection). While the increased density of parking that the Park & Shop offered surely made life more convenient for downtown shoppers, Savannah lost one of its most important landmarks. Another proposal in the 1960s suggested that River Street be turned in to additional parking for Broughton Street shoppers. Luckily for us today, architects Eric Meyerhoff and Robert Gunn instead envisioned a pedestrian plaza that transformed the riverfront from a neglected and abandoned port into an international destination through the Riverfront Urban Renewal Project. When the Park & Shop lease expired in 2004, the garage was torn down and through an extensive public-private partnership Ellis Square was renovated in to a dynamic public gathering place with parking relocated to a large underground lot opened to the public in 2007.
One element of the infrastructure needed to support automobiles as they became more commonplace on American roads was traffic signs. Did you know that stop signs haven’t always been big red octagonal signs on the side of the road? Some, like this early Savannah stop sign, were embedded in the pavement. This cast iron stop sign (circa 1910s from East Broughton Street near the intersection with East Broad Street) was placed in the center of the driving lane and featured domed glass reflectors that would catch the headlights of approaching vehicles (from the Traffic Engineering Artifact Collection). Only one of these stop signs is known to still be in place in Savannah, resting in the pavement of a Chatham Crescent neighborhood street.
Street signs have evolved to be more visible to cars whizzing by, especially at night. Early street signs were often plaques attached to the buildings at the intersection of two streets, or even carved blocks built in to the structure themselves. As Savannah’s early auto suburbs were developed, streets were marked with concrete pillars either stamped or painted with the streets’ names on their four sides. As Savannah continued to expand and car technology continued to improve, these were replaced by the reflective green signs atop metal poles which we are more familiar with today. This photograph from the corner of Abercorn and East 49th streets captures the evolution of street signs, side by side (from the MPC Historic Preservation Photograph Collection).
The Great Savannah Races
Between 1908 and 1911, Savannah played an important role in the popularization of the automobile by hosting several high-profile automobile races. Drivers and spectators from around the world came to participate in and watch the American Grand Prize Races hosted by the Savannah Automobile Club in 1908, 1910 and 1911. The races introduced the thrill of the automobile to many middle-class American families, and paved the way (literally) for the development of Savannah’s suburbs. The first race course, in 1908, was extended from a traditional 17 mile stock car track to a 25.13 mile long track. Large stretches of Skidaway, White Bluff, and Montgomery Cross roads were laid out as part of the race course and gravel paving was laid using convict labor. (Thomas-Detroit automobiles during the 1908 races. Image courtesy of Nick Palumbo.)
The Great Savannah Races
The Great Savannah Races started and finished near Daffin Park, where a festival atmosphere permeated the crowds and grandstands were placed for spectators to enjoy the races. Two Strobel Airships, which were renowned traveling steerable air balloons 53 feet long by 14.5 feet in diameter and capable of lifting one man, made appearances for the festivities. The races also brought President William Howard Taft to Savannah, who was greeted with much fanfare, including banquets and a parade. Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, was a frequent spectator of the races and the president of Firestone Tires demanded that the City Jail be turned into a suite when he was unable to find other lodging in town. (“Repair Pits in front of Grand Stand, Grand Prize and Vanderbilt Cup Race, Savannah, Ga.” Postcard courtesy of Nick Palumbo.)
Monumental Drives: Estill Avenue
The history of many of Savannah’s roads can be just as captivating as the arching live oaks and hanging Spanish moss lining them. Victory Drive is one of Savannah’s oldest and most prominent east-west corridors. The western portion was originally named Estill Avenue, while the eastern stretch was called Dale Avenue. Planting of the iconic palmetto trees that line Victory Drive began as early as 1910 when the Park and Tree Commission planted 460 palms along Estill and Atlantic avenues as part of the Chatham Crescent development (as seen in this photograph of Estill Avenue from the V. & J. Duncan Postcard Collection, Item 1121-057_112).
Monumental Drives: Victory Drive
In 1919, City Engineer William O’D. Rockwell proposed a military memorial boulevard along Estill Avenue to be called “Victory Avenue” in honor of those who died in World War I. His design was inspired by the existing landscape of palms along Estill and Atlantic avenues. On April 5, 1922, City Council renamed both Estill Avenue, between Bull Street and Waters Avenue, and Dale Avenue, from Waters Avenue to the eastern City Limits, Victory Drive as a memorial boulevard. At its peak, there were approximately 2,600 palmettos lining Victory Drive, making it one of the longest avenues of palms in the country (V. & J. Duncan Postcard Collection, Item 1121-057_329).
Public Safety Vehicles: SPD Motorcycles
Police and Fire vehicles are some of the most recognizable automobiles on the road. Nationally, the first motorized police vehicles were on the road by 1900, replacing bicycles and horse-drawn buggies as police officers needed a way to keep up with criminals who increasingly used automobiles. The Savannah Police Department began integrating motorized vehicles into the force in 1913 with the introduction of motorcycles. In 1914, they set up a motorcycle substation in Thomas Square, and along with a motorcycle officer at Headquarters, the force could more quickly respond to calls throughout the city than ever before. (SPD three-wheeled motorcycles, circa 1940s-1950s, Savannah Police Department photographs)
Public Safety Vehicles: SPD Mobile Crime Lab
Within the following decades, the Savannah Police Department utilized a variety of auto types, including patrol cars and mobile crime labs. (SPD mobile crime lab outside Hagan’s Market, November 1968, Savannah Fire Department photographs)
Public Safety Vehicles: Fire Fighting
Fire trucks got their start as horse-drawn hand-pumped basins that could be filled with water by a “bucket brigade” and then manually pumped onto a fire. Eventually steam powered pumps replaced manual force, and then in the 20th century internal combustion powered fire trucks equipped with ladders enabled firefighters to fight ever bigger fires on taller buildings. (Driver William Boyd “Snooky” Smith, circa 1921, SFES Collection-Frank Cook Donation, Folder 5100D-001-003-07)
Public Safety Vehicles: SFD Fire Engines
In 1911, the Savannah Fire Department ordered its first auto-combination chemical wagon from American LaFrance Fire Engine Company. It was so successful that the department ordered another eleven motorized apparatuses, making Savannah the first fully motorized fire department in the nation. (Engine No. 6, the “Harry B. Grimshaw,” Chief Blanton and Commissioner J. McKenna, circa 1930s, SFES Collection-Frank Cook Donation, Item 5100D-001-003-04_003)
Bay Street: Savannah's First Main Street (Cars and Streetcars)
Bay Street can be considered Savannah’s first “main street.” Long before cars and tractor trailers rolled along this busy street, Bay Street was a central corridor for transportation, government, industry, business, and social life in Savannah. With the development of the Port of Savannah, freight offloaded from ships or railcars was hauled by livestock and carts over Savannah’s early streets, and over time Bay Street naturally evolved into a major east-west thoroughfare, in part due to its width and its proximity to the ports and rail yards. In the 1850s, citizens complained about the dust generated by the “great burden of traffic” passing over the macadam, or crushed gravel, pavement and in the 1870s a new wood block pavement material promised to “do away with the vehicle-destroying and animal-murdering stone pavement” that was then in use on Bay Street, both instances of paving testament to the volume and impact of traffic on the street. By 1905, Bay Street was paved with asphalt block and brick, another innovation aimed at streamlining traffic flow along the corridor. As Savannah’s new City Hall (completed in 1906) ushered in an era of modernity on Bay Street, streetcars traveled alongside horses and carriages, bicycles, automobiles, and pedestrians (as seen in this postcard showing an early automobile and streetcar traveling down Bay Street with horse-drawn buggies parked along the side of the street, circa 1906-1910, V. & J. Duncan postcard collection Item 1121-057_035).
Bay Street: Savannah's First Main Street (Cars and Trucks)
In the 20th century, the volume of vehicle and truck traffic on Bay Street altered the way people interacted with the street, as parking changed from angled spots to parallel parking, and most recently when large stretches of parking were removed to better facilitate the flow of traffic. (Bay Street looking east from in front of City Hall, February 1971, MPC Historic Preservation photograph collection, Item 8126-006_01-5-001)
Related Archival Collections digitized and available online:
- W. W. Law Photographs
- Palumbo collection of photographs and tourism materials
- 1907 Savannah City Code
- 1909-1910 Automobile Registration Book
- MPC Historic Preservation photographs
- SDRA West Broad Street Appraisals
- City Manager's Office photographs
- Public Information Office photographs
- Savannah Fire and Emergency Services Collection-Frank Cook Donation