We are very excited to announce that our book Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, A Fugitive Slave is now available in eBook through Amazon in the Kindle Store. 

There are a couple of versions for sale but ours is unique, with an introduction documenting references in the narrative and testimonials, footnotes, and a bibliography of source materials.

This autobiography of John Brown, who spent thirty years as a slave in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia was published in London in 1855 by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and again in 1972 and 1991 by Beehive Press. For the introduction in our 1991 reissue (now out of print), F. N. Boney, University of Georgia, researched records which show that this is an authentic historical source and no mere fabrication of Abolitionist propagandists.


An excerpt here from the Introduction in our print edition by F.N. Boney, University of Georgia:

“John Brown was a slave in Georgia during the prime of his life. He finally escaped bondage in the South, passed through the free states and settled in Canada, safe from American justice which could have returned him to slavery. Alone and homeless, he went to England where he worked at his slave learned trade of carpentry and served the abolition cause as a lecturer and author. [John Brown] died in obscurity in London in 1876, but he left behind a moving autobiography, a compelling story of his life as a slave and his eventual escape.

Like most other fugitive slave narratives, this book was a cooperative effort. An illiterate black man, known as Benford or Fed in slavery and renamed John Brown in freedom, dictated his memoirs to educated, cosmopolitan Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, Secretary of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Two men could hardly have been more different. Yet they were one in their opposition to slavery which, when Slave Life in Georgia appeared in 1855, was still a powerful, enduring force in the American South.”

We also have an audiobook version available here through Audible. This was narrated by Damian Salandy, who did an incredible job bringing John Brown and his harrowing story to life.



Speaking of Slavery…

Both the Savannah Morning News and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, published this article today by Will Peeples:

‘I have to push forward:’

Effort to change Savannah’s Calhoun Square’s name nears finish line

Pat Gunn performs with the Saltwata Players at Calhoun Square. (Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News)

A petition to rename Calhoun Square to Jubilee Square has made progress but is not yet ready for consideration by Savannah City Council.

The group pushing the effort, the Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing, needs to get signatures from 51% of the property owners in the surrounding area and attain a letter of endorsement from one of four elected officials.

The square in question, Calhoun Square, is named for John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician, U.S. vice president and a fierce advocate for slavery in the United States.

The greenspace that bears his name is the southernmost square on Abercorn Street, two blocks northeast of Forsyth Park and across Gordon Street from the Massie School Heritage Center. The square is not far from a burial ground that was the designated cemetery for both free and enslaved people of color, the Center for Jubilee points out in its application,

Center Co-founders Patt Gunn and Rosalyn Rouse have been working on this project for months, and the nearby residents’ signatures were initially something they decided to forego after some legal advice.

In the city ordinance for renaming public spaces, these signatures are required to change the name of “a park, playground, trail, recreational area or space.” Since the word “square” is not explicitly used in these descriptors, Gunn and company decided not to seek the signatures.

But after filing the initial name change proposal forms in May, the city has asked that the Center get the signatures. Gunn said it would take 19 signatures to get the 51% required for the name change.

Gunn and Rouse planned for the contingency and will solicit those signatures in the same way they’ve done everything so far: through grassroots, door-to-door outreach.

The group hosts an event called Come Sunday on the third Sunday of every month in Calhoun Square. These events were already a community outreach effort, where the Saltwata Players play music and Gunn and Rouse provide updates to the process.

The July event will be held on the second Sunday, July 11, due to a scheduling conflict, Gunn said. And after the event, the signature outreach will begin.

Gunn said she’s assembling a team of community members and local religious leaders to canvass the neighborhood after the event. The group plans to leave postcards at the houses and businesses surrounding the square beforehand, so residents know they’re coming on July 11.

“If a neighbor answers the door, we’ll talk to them. If not, then we’ll leave the information,” Gunn said.

Gunn said she plans to tell the story of the work done so far, such as research into the former burial grounds for enslaved people and its proximity to Calhoun Square as well as the Center’s efforts to rename it.

“This square is sacred ground. And we want to rename and honor those that are entombed there,” Gunn said.

Additionally, the Center also needs an endorsement of the name change from one of four council members — either at-large Alderwomen Alicia Blakely or Kesha Gibson-Carter; the representative for the district where the square is located, District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett; or Mayor Van Johnson.

Gunn said she hopes to have the endorsement secured by July 11 so the letter can be signed at the Come Sunday event.

Once those two pieces of the process are complete — and the group submits a check for $150 to the city as a processing fee  — the name change proposal can go before city council for a vote.

Despite the finish line being so close, Gunn said there’s still work to do, and she has no plans to slow down.

“I have to push forward. It’s bigger than me or any of the folks who are in our coalition. It’s something that has to be done, for history’s sake,” Gunn said. “Our ancestors need to be honored, and in a graceful way, and right now, we are not able to rest until this is done. It’s something that is not negotiable, in terms of righteousness.”

Will Peebles is the enterprise reporter for the Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at and @willpeeblessmn on Twitter.

This article originally appeared in the Savannah Morning News: ‘I have to push forward:’ Effort to change Savannah’s Calhoun Square’s name nears finish line


Pleasure and Pain, Indeed!

Pleasure and Pain
Reminiscences of Georgia in the 1840’s
By Emily Burke

This vivid description of people and places, adventures and discoveries was written by a New England schoolmarm who spent the 1840’s in Georgia. With charm, sentiment, affection and delightful details, she tells about life in Savannah, tours to several plantations, various aspects of slavery, poor whites in the countryside and a camp-meeting in the woods. She loves the South and its people, but she is surprised to find Georgia still a frontier and she is troubled by slavery. Thus, she leaves Georgia at last with “mingled emotions of pleasure and pain.”

Emily Pillsbury Burke

Here is an excerpt from Letter XXV, Farewell to Georgia:
“While I regret the oppression that exists at the South, I love her still. Her sunny skies and forests evergreen, her birds of song with voices sweet and plumage gay are painted in indelible characters upon the tablets of my memory and often present themselves to my mind with all the freshness and vividness of pleasing dream when one awaketh, and, if I did not hold in grateful remembrance a place where I have received so many favors, my conscience must plead guilty for the sin of ingratitude, for I never received any other treatment while in the Southern country, but that of the utmost politeness and kindness. It is with mingled emotions of pleasure and pain that I think of leaving a place that has become so dear to me.”

Lithograph of Savannah by Smith and Hill, 1856.

Emily Burke came to Georgia in 1840 to teach at the Female Orphan Asylum in Savannah, Georgia. This institution, originally a part of the Bethesda Orphan House started in the early eighteenth century, became a separate institution in 1801. Emily was one of many New England schoolteachers who came to the South during this period.

Archibald Campbell, (detail) Sketch of the Northern Frontiers of Georgia, extending from the mouth of the River Savannah to the town of Augusta, 1780. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Some interesting detail here about Emily Burke after she left Georgia. Here is an excerpt from the introduction  by Felicity Calhoun (pen name of Julianna Waring of Savannah):
“When Emily’s husband died after less than a year of marriage, she returned to the North in 1849. Settling at Oberlin, Ohio, she became principal of the Female Department of Oberlin College. Though described by her contemporaries as “plain-looking,” Emily was considered sociable, friendly, gentle and popular. She was remembered with gratitude by students for campaigns to provide them with bureaus and rag carpets for their rooms and to protect them from bedbugs.
But, alas, Emily’s popularity and success were short lived. In 1850 she made the mistake of kissing one of the male students, a shocking indiscretion for the time. The student was so upset that he reported Emily to the Ladies’ Board of the college. Emily was dismissed, throwing the college and the town into an uproar. In April 1850, she pleaded her own case before the trustees of the college, saying she had been treated unfairly and without Christian charity. Petitions were signed by the students of the college and by the citizens of Oberlin, but the trustees declined to reinstate the disgraced teacher.
Emily left Oberlin reluctantly and went to Chicago, where she married David Flanders Kimball, a trader in grains and feed who had also been born at her hometown of Boscawen, New Hampshire. During the Civil War, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball went to Pittsburg Landing (Tennessee) to care for wounded soldiers. After the war, they returned to New England and lived in Penacook, a village outside Concord, New Hampshire. There Emily’s husband died in 1875 and she died in 1887.”

It seems Emily was fired based on the word of the male student and was not given the opportunity to defend herself with her own account. We did some digging and found some very  interesting details about the cast of characters involved and the events leading up to Emily’s dismissal.

If you would like more information about Emily Burke’s life after her years in Savannah, here are a few resources:

Alexander Press provides a very detailed database for research on women and social movements. Here are two letters pertaining to the Oberlin College controversy here and here.

On the website, this document discusses the time leading up to and during which Emily Burke presided at Oberlin College.  Chapter XXX, MAHAN.


Recent debate has been sparked surrounding a proposed homeless shelter that would be built upon the grounds of what is thought to be the biggest slave sale in the US in 1859. 
From the Savannah Morning News May 6, 2021:
The Weeping Time. A Homeless Shelter and a blighted neighborhood: How conflicting passions created a big Savannah controversy. By Katie Nussbaum

“As Savannah’s homeless population continues to grow with more than 1,000 residents who are unsheltered, the Salvation Army has proposed a transitional use shelter in west Savannah to aid nearly 200 of those residents. The site of the proposed shelter has caused controversy due to its proximity to the location of The Weeping Time, which is believed to be the largest sale of enslaved people in U.S. history.”

“The question — what’s the best use for what’s considered coveted and sacred property that could change the face of one of Savannah’s historic neighborhoods — remains open months after the land currently owned by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entered into an agreement to sell the property at 2305 Augusta Ave. to the Salvation Army for $500,000. “
Read the full article here.

This article from May 6, 2021, also by Katie Nussbaum, gives an in depth description of this sorrowful time.

Here Mayor Van Johnson states the facts surrounding this controversy.

From this in depth study of the event and the site, Professor and Landscape Architect Kwesi Degraft-Hanson provides great detail.
Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale
In 1859, one of the largest slave sales in US history took place at the Ten Broeck Race Course, now an obscured landscape, on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. At the behest of Pierce Mease Butler (1810–1867), 436 enslaved persons from the Butler plantations near Darien were sold in an event known and remembered as “The Weeping Time.” Because of the size of this sale, its effects upon those who were sold and their descendants, and the extent to which it inflamed the tensions leading to the Civil War, the Ten Broeck Race Course is an important cultural landscape, a place of heartbreak. Yet it was not until 2008 that the city of Savannah and the Georgia Historical Society placed a marker near the site of the sale.The significance of the Weeping Time sale and how the Ten Broeck Race Course came to be marked is the subject of this essay.”

Here is a flyer that was posted notifying nearby residents of this slave sale.

This marker was erected in 2008.


Our book TEN YEARS ON A GEORGIA PLANTATION SINCE THE WAR is comprised of diary entries by Frances Butler Leigh, the daughter of Pierce Mease Butler and Frances (Fanny) Anne Kemble. Her father had squandered his money gambling and was in debt up to his ears. She was managing the plantation at the time and decided to sell a large portion of their slaves in order to keep the property. This slave sale is referred to as The Weeping Time.

A companion piece JOURNAL OF A RESIDENCE ON A GEORGIAN PLANTATION consists of diary entries of Fanny Kemble, Frances Butler Leigh’s mother, during the time she spent on her husband’s plantation early on in their marriage. She left after a year and a half due to the horrors of slavery that she could no longer tolerate.

The accounts of both the mother and daughter are available here on our website. 

In His Own Words | George Oglethorpe’s Georgia

Welcome to the newest addition to our website, the FEATURE page! Along with highlighting one of our titles, we will talk about its contribution as well as some goings on in Savannah. ENJOY! 

General Oglethorpe’s Georgia is a personal history of the first decade of Georgia between 1733, when James Oglethorpe came to America to establish the new colony of Georgia, and 1743 when he returned to England. The letters, more than two hundred, written by Oglethorpe himself as well as by nearly anonymous colonists, discuss grand strategies, public controversies and the problems of daily living. It is an exciting story, told in the first person on the spot in the midst of action.

To learn more about General Oglethorpe, visit this link from for a deep dive into his life and the founding of Georgia, and more specifically, Savannah.

Some excerpts here:
“As (a) visionary, social reformer, and military leader, James Oglethorpe conceived of and implemented his plan to establish the colony of Georgia. It was through his initiatives in England in 1732 that the British government authorized the establishment of its first new colony in North America in more than five decades. Later that year he led the expedition of colonists that landed in Savannah early in 1733. Oglethorpe spent most of the next decade in Georgia, where he directed the economic and political development of the new colony, defended it militarily, and continued to generate support and recruit settlers in England and other parts of Europe.”

“Oglethorpe worked tirelessly on behalf of the colony during the initial months. Sometimes violating Trustee policy, Oglethorpe permitted Jews, Lutheran Salzburgers, and other persecuted religious minorities to settle in Georgia. On the matter of importing enslaved Africans from any source, Oglethorpe never wavered in wholly opposing slavery in Georgia. With respect to Georgia’s Indians, he had an enlightened policy, always respecting their customs, language, and needs. Land cessions were always agreed to by treaty according to proper Indian custom. Also, Oglethorpe actively sought to protect the Indians from unscrupulous white traders.”

And here is a summary of the end of James Oglethorpe’s grand plan (from
“Here, the settlers would have to conform to Oglethorpe’s plan, in which there was no elected assembly. Three major laws governed the colony. The first dealt with the distribution of land. The second and third reflected Enlightened (sic) ideals. No slavery was permitted in Georgia, and the possession of alcohol was prohibited. Each debtor was to receive 50 acres of land to farm. This land could not be sold. Silkworms were transported from Europe with the hope of developing a silk industry in Georgia’s mulberry trees.”

“Unfortunately, the plan itself was a miserable failure. Georgia residents complained that some citizens received fertile land while others were forced to work uncooperative soil. Since they could not buy or sell their land, they felt trapped. The mulberry tree plan failed, because the trees in Georgia were the wrong type for cultivating silk. The alcohol ban was openly flouted. Cries to permit slavery followed as the Georgians envied the success of their neighbors. Eventually many simply fled the colony for the Carolinas. King George revoked the charter in 1752 and Georgia became a royal colony. One of the world’s best organized utopian experiments came to an abrupt end.”

And that was that.



Preserving the Past, Planning the Future

One giant thing that is happening for our beloved Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah is the creation of a Master Plan, initiated by the Trustees Garden Club. Creating a Master Plan to act as a guideline for the park’s use and development is the best way to protect this precious asset while also allowing it to evolve to meet the demands of modern life.

“This has been a wonderfully inclusive process which has included robust community engagement facilitated by Friends of Forsyth during each phase of the project. Every community member has the opportunity to play a valuable role in envisioning the future of the park. The goal of the process is a Master Plan that is reflective of the collective vision of the community as well as initiating the nomination of the park as a National Historic Landmark.”

Jump in and see what’s been going on and if you live in Savannah, get involved!  Click here to view the proposed design options and complete a survey. Deadline for submissions is April 30.

In the Most Delightful Country of the Universe

Teaching classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design kept me busy this fall, but I am now settling in for marathon winter writing. Before we delve back into the discussion about the other Mills Lane family construction projects, I have to mention some authors and books that have been a part of public discussions around Savannah in 2018. I am always amazed at how often connections to Mills Lane pop up.

Roger Smith, director of The Learning Center at Senior Citizens, Inc., talked about Savannah’s Literary Legacy at one of the Hungry for History lectures at Savannah City Hall. One of the first books he mentioned, The Most Delightful Country of the Universe: Promotional Literature of the Colony of Georgia 1717-1734, was published in 1972 by Mills Lane IV’s Beehive Press.

Smith said that as “chairman of the publicity committee” Savannah founder James Oglethorpe may have been a little too enthusiastic when he described the speculative colony called Georgia as an idyllic place where the “temperatures are temperate all year long, all year round, never uncomfortable, no mosquitoes to worry about.” Oglethorpe had not even visited yet. Perhaps that was a bit of early fake news.

General James Oglethorpe, Savannah’s founder   (photo,

Maybe a more realistic viewpoint was that of Royal Governor Henry Ellis, Smith continued. As Ellis was coming up on his second summer in the dusty, sandy streets of Savannah, he asked the English king if he could go to his majesty’s provinces in Canada for the summer saying, “The people of Georgia breathe the hottest air of all the peoples of the earth.”

While that title is no longer available through the Beehive Foundation, many others about Georgia history are.

Even the architecture where we listened to the lecture was touched by the hands of a Mills Lane. The original dome of City Hall was clad in copper. Mills Lane Jr. funded the gold leaf for the first gilding in 1987.

As a part of the same lecture series, Tania Sammons, a Savannah-based curator and writer, had earlier this year talked about architect William Jay. In addition to the Telfair Academy, and the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House, Jay designed the William Scarbrough House that Mills IV restored in the 1990s and turned into the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

Links to the talks, organized by Luciana Spracher, Director of the City of Savannah Municipal Archives are at

Orlando Montoya, WRUU Savannah community radio host and area tour guide, organized his annual program on author and poet Conrad Aiken with help from the Unitarian Universalists. It was hosted by The Book Lady, whose owner Joni Giusti started the program reading notes from Aiken to his neighbors across Oglethorpe Avenue, Antonio and Henrietta Waring. Our last blog talked about Mills IV’s mother’s family, the Warings. More stories from the Waring family will be forthcoming.

When writer Harlan Greene spoke about the flamboyant Harry Hervey, author of The Damned Don’t Cry, last spring, he started his lecture with a story about arriving in Savannah and asking Mills IV whom he needed to talk to for research into Hervey’s life.

Mills Lane IV is connected to a large part of Savannah’s story. The next blog post will explore that connection in Chatham Square.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy. For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

One house and a couple of confusing Waring names

Mills Lane IV had colorful characters on both sides of his family. These stories take us into his mother’s side, and since it is the week of the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to use a picture of a house with a flag.

During an early renovation of 3 West Perry St. a balcony was added on the upper floor

His parents, Mills Lane, Jr. and Anne, tended to renovate neighborhoods rather than just individual houses as they worked to improve the fabric of Savannah. So on the map showing the Lane family work in the Landmark Historic District, the single dot on Chippewa Square was something of an anomaly.

Lane restoration map – thumbnail highlighting the house at 3 West Perry St. in Chippewa Square, Brown Ward

The plaque at 3 W. Perry St. posts that master carpenter Joseph R. Thompson built the house in 1831. That much everyone seems to agree on, but the big type on the sign describes it as the home of Dr. James Johnson Waring from 1864 to 1915.

Plaque on the front of 3 West Perry St.

A more current photo shows the top balcony and front window ironwork removed. Fish downspouts were added. The carriage step is gone.

The 1970s renovation allowed for parking in the back

The west side of the house opens to a large garden

That information shows the connection to Anne Waring Lane. She was the niece of Dr. James Johnson Waring, her father Dr. Antonio J. Waring’s younger brother. But Anne’s uncle was born in 1883 and died in Denver, Colorado, in 1962. While at some point he might have lived in the six bedroom house that had been enlarged in 1839 and 1874, it seems unlikely that he bought it 19 years before he was born.

Then there is Dr. James Johnston (Johnston with a ‘t’) Waring who was born in Savannah in 1829 and died in 1888. He is Anne’s great uncle (her father’s uncle) and was perhaps an early owner of the house.

He had left Savannah to teach medicine in Washington D.C. and was called upon to be a surgeon for the Confederacy, according to a biographical sketch written by F.T. Hambrecht and J.L. Koste about Confederate medical personnel. In 1862 he was relieved of his duties for undescribed “misconduct.” Those charges were dismissed.

But back in Savannah after the war, Dr. James Johnston Waring was expelled from the Medical Society of Savannah in 1869 “for providing surety on the bonds of people of color who were charged with riotous conduct.”

In Civil War Savannah: Savannah, Immortal City, Waring was given credit for playing “a courageous role immediately after the war by supporting the right of elected black officials to hold office.”

In 1869 the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the expulsion from the Medical Society, and Waring became a leader in public health in Savannah “by promoting drainage of swamps and installation of a sewer system,” according to Hambrecht and Koste. He was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in 1888.

Then there are the Yale records that show additional Waring ties to the house. The War Record and Record of Quindecennial Reunion by Yale University class of 1903 shows Anne Waring Lane’s father, Dr. Antonio Johnston Waring, living at 3 W. Perry St. in 1938.

No wonder Anne Waring Lane was interested in renovating the house in the 1970s. I just wish she had left clear notes about who had lived in it. My recommendation for all parents is to give children their own names and save the following generations much confusion.

The Warings and Lanes have been an integral part of Savannah for centuries and there are many more stories, as soon as I figure them out.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

The Gingerbread Village, a warehouse and an alcohol license

Through the mid and late 1970s, Mills B. Lane, Jr. and his wife, Anne, continued their renovations down Habersham Street around Whitefield Square and on Price and Gaston streets.

Map of Wesley, Stephens and Davis Wards combined

When young real estate agent Dicky Mopper saw that he had a phone message from Lane, Mopper thought friends were playing a joke on him. When he returned the call from his office in the Realty Building at 24 Drayton St., Mopper listened carefully as Lane said he was looking for a new real estate agent. “Come across the street and see me.” When the still dubious Mopper appeared at the Citizens and Southern National Bank on Johnson Square, he was very pleased to hear, “Mr. Lane is waiting on you.”

Lane, Jr. and his wife had bought many dilapidated properties around Whitefield Square, dubbed the Gingerbread Village, and had completed many renovations, but usually not the kind of restorations his son, Mill IV, later meticulously completed. Near Gaston and Price an old warehouse was in bad shape, and Mopper said that the elder Lane had decided in the early 1980s he was done with renovating property and wanted to sell it. Mopper said he brought Lane a full price offer in the $20,000s, a significant amount of money for the times and property conditions.

“I can’t accept this,” Lane said, according to Mopper. While Mopper was scratching his head trying to decide how to tell Lane that he was obliged to accept it since it was a full price offer, Lane was scratching through the figure.

“He writes something,” Mopper said. “It was $10,000 less than the offer. I asked, ‘Mr. Lane, are you sure?’ He had decided the price was too high, and I’m not sure why. It might have been for tax reasons or he knew something about the family,” but a seller cutting the price after receiving a firm higher offer was a shock.

The Lanes purchased more than 60 units in the area and invested about $1.5 million including renovations. In the half century since the Lanes renovated much of the area, some of the properties are still grand, some have been renovated again, and some have fallen into disrepair or been demolished. Most of the houses were built in the last half of the 19th century.

Some seem to have been built on speculation for groups such as the Chatham Real Estate and Investment Company, and several houses were built for one person such as Sarah Sexton. The Lanes renovated one of her houses built in 1890 at 403 E. Gordon St. They purchased it for $26,100 and spent $76,354 on renovation for a total cost of $102,454 in 1975. The house sold in October 2017 for $650,000.

403 E. Gordon Street, before renovation

403 E. Gordon Street, before renovation, rear view

403 E. Gordon Street, after renovation

The house with Gothic windows and a turret with portholes at 408 E. Gaston St. was built for Laura Jones in 1892. The Lanes purchased it for $13,500. It became famous as the home of Savannah artist Myrtle Jones. Current property records show a taxable value of $1,224,400.

408 E. Gaston Street, before renovation

408 E. Gaston, before renovation, rear view

408 E. Gaston Street, today

408 E. Gaston Street, turret detail

408 E. Gaston Street, entry

408 E. Gaston Street, front door detail

408 E. Gaston Street, porch lacework detail

The double house at 405-407 East Gaston Street with distinctive domes and porch woodwork was built for John H. Entelman in 1892. The Lanes purchased 405 E. Gaston for $6,000 and 407 E. Gaston for $10,600. Unfortunately the row of modest houses in the lane behind the big houses has been demolished.

405-407 East Gaston, before renovation

405-407 E. Gaston Street, rear view, before renovation

405-407 E. Gaston Street today

405-407 E. Gaston Street, porch detail

The house at 313 E. Gordon built for Henry Hermann in 1861 was one of the most expensive the Lanes acquired in 1973 for $36,500.

The Lanes purchased 439 Habersham for $7,896. According to Chatham County property records, it has a current taxable value of $764,300. The house at 433 Habersham was one of the three built for John Entelman on Habersham in 1896 and 1897.

439 Habersham, before renovation

439 Habersham, before renovation, left side

439 Habersham today

439 Habersham today, corner view

433 Habersham, before renovation, rear view

433 Habersham, after renovation

433 Habersham today

433 Habersham, porch detail, today

For efficiency in the 1880s and the 1970s, construction and renovation often worked row at a time.

The row of houses from 414-420  E. Gordon St. were built by R. K. Bragdon for Abraham Samuels in 1888. The Lanes bought them for $20,000 and spent $57,349 for the renovation of each unit from 1974-75 for a total of $249,396.

414-420 E. Gordon Street, before renovation

414-420 E. Gordon Street, after renovation

414 E. Gordon Street, today

The Sulters built rows on Price Street. Houses from 422-428 Price St. were built for Henry Sulter in 1881  and 430-438 Price St. for Martin Sulter in 1888. The Lanes bought them for $25,000 and spent another $246,017 on renovations through 1974-75.

430-438 Price Street, before renovation

430-438 Price Street, after renovation

430-438 Price Street today

The Lanes paid $6,846 for underground cables, $1,886 for paving, and $655 for planters. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The ward maps show the properties marked in blue where the Lane renovations extended.

Several years later Mopper sold the building on Broughton and Price streets to the couple who established the restaurant La Toque, where East End Provisions is today. The owners wanted an alcohol license, Mopper said, but neighbors were opposed. Mopper said he went to war to get them a license, but he didn’t think City Council was likely to approve it. At the hearing, an attorney for the couple handed an alderman a token. The token was for a free beer at the establishment at the location in the early 1900s. The Council agreed alcohol was grandfathered, so the license was approved.

“Mills Lane Jr. called and reamed me,” Mopper said. He told me I was personally responsible for ruining his neighborhood, and he would never forgive me. This was from a man with two wine cellars in his house. About three months later Mopper received a handwritten note from Lane saying that he had gone to La Toque and loved it. He was pleased it was there and wanted to apologize. Mopper said, “I was a young punk and he was head of a large bank. That said something about his character.”

A decade later Mopper received a call from lawyer Wiley Ellis. He said he represented a wealthy client who wanted some property that was not on market. Frank Mathews of Mathews Seafood owned the Frederick Ball Houses on the southeast corner of Columbia Square. Mopper said he worked on the property sale without knowing who the buyer was. It was the beginning of a long working relationship and friendship with Mills IV and his mother.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


Renovating houses by the row

In The Wonderful World of Mills B. Lane, Jr., his son, Mills IV, describes how his parents got into the renovation and restoration business in Savannah while they were still living in Atlanta.

“In 1961 Mills and Anne decided to restore an old house in Savannah where they could spend weekends when they visited the town.”

Mills IV quoted his father, “When we went to Savannah to go to the [Citizens and Southern National] Bank’s board meeting, we had to choose each time between whether we were going to stay with Anne’s family or my family. Neutral territory solved the problem.”

The first house they restored had been built in 1868 at 420 E. St. Julian Street.

420 East St. Julian Street, before restoration

420 East St. Julian Street, the first house restored by Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. (Watercolor by Christopher Murphy)

“You should have seen the place before Anne started on it.” Mills, Jr. wrote. “My mother, charmed though she was with the little place, wanted to know why in the world we were living in the slums.”

During the 1960s and 1970s the Lanes worked primarily in the east side of Savannah, beautifying squares;purchasing, rehabilitating, and restoring individual and blocks of run-down houses; and adding trees and brick sidewalks.

In Greene Ward, named for Revolutionary War Hero Nathanael Greene, the Lanes purchased and renovated a row of houses from 502-12 East State Street that had been built for the estate of Edward C. Anderson in 1890.

In addition to rehabilitating the square, they purchased and renovated the house at 513 East York Street that had been built for the estate of Catherine DeVeaux in 1853. She was a free woman of color and part of a prominent African-American family who educated enslaved children when the practice was illegal.

Farther south on Price Street the Lanes looked west toward Troup Ward, named for former congressman and Georgia governor George M. Troup, which also offered blocks of houses that called for extensive work.

Page 209 of Historic Savannah, the 1968 1st edition book published by Historic Savannah Foundation. Nos 13 and 14 in this map are the row houses discussed below.

In Wonderful World Mills IV said his father financed his renovations “sometimes with Bank money, sometimes with gifts from the Lane family foundation and sometimes from his own pocket.”

In the 2nd edition of “Historic Savannah: Survey of Significant Buildings in the Historic and Victorian Districts of Savannah, Georgia” edited by Mary Lane Morrison, Mills, Jr.’s sister, the preface describes the Troup funding.

“In the 1960s Troup Trust, two outstanding rows of nineteenth century houses were saved and privately restored using Federal Housing Authority 312 loans as part of an Urban Renewal program, in which $4 ½ million in low interest loans produced over $40 million in restoration.”

View of the 19th century row houses at Troup Square before restoration began

In typical Lane fashion, Mills IV accepted no credit for helping Mary Morrison with her book, and the Lanes were not named as the power behind the restoration of the houses in the book.

The Troup Ward Conservation Project rehabilitated the rows of houses on the north and south sides of Macon Street that stretched from Habersham to Price streets.

414 East Macon Street, before restoration

414 East Macon Street today

412-420 East Macon Street as restored

410-418 East Charlton Street, before restoration

410 – 418 East Charlton Street today   (Photo by Google Earth)

410 East Charlton Street as restored

The Lanes also renovated the square and put in the original Armillary Sphere in 1968. The skeletal globe is a sundial with zodiac signs on its rings.

Armillary Sphere, Troup Square   (Photo from Google Earth)

When Mills IV was in the Navy, his mother had written to him about the progress on different projects and lamented that plans had had to be changed on Troup Row.

Mills IV appealed to his parents: “How about giving me a chance to try an economy renewal of the end house of Troup Row as a demonstration upon my return.”

While it is not clear how much Mills IV influenced his parents on the houses of Troup Ward, his later work with the Unitarian Universalist Church on the west side of the square was a signature project you can read about in a previous blog post.

Restored façade of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Troup Square

Mills IV also describes a conversation between his parents and landscape designer Clermont Lee. She asked Mills, Jr. and Anne, what color flowers they wanted in Troup Square. Mills, Jr. blurted out, “Gold and blue.” Anne began laughing and said, “Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s color blind and went to Yale.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

The Lanes wove their creations throughout the city’s arteries

Columbia Ward – Houses at nos. 3, 4 and 6 are the focus of this blog

Our final look at the Mills B. Lane family efforts in Columbia Ward unites the work of parents and son.

Lumber merchant Patrick K. Shiels built the house at 417-421 East Broughton St. in 1843. It was raised and enlarged in 1905. Anne and Mills B. Lane, Jr. knew it as the home to Pike’s Variety Store, and from 1967-69 they renovated it, leaving space for retail on the ground level and apartments above.

Mills Lane IV, after originally setting up the Beehive Press in his basement on Pulaski Square, moved the operation of his book publishing enterprise into the east side of the ground level of the Shiels House and worked there in the 1970s and 80s.

Northwest view of Patrick K. Shiels House, 417-421 East Broughton St., before renovation

Northeast view before renovation

Rear view before renovation

Northeast view during renovation, 1969

Rear view during renovation

Renovation complete (minus a few shutters)

State of the house in 2018, shutters gone (photo from Google Maps)

Two blocks south on Price Street, shoe merchant Abraham Scribner had built a Federal style house in 1810 on the eastern side of the northeast trust lot. Double stairways lead to the central, narrow arched entrance with a Federal fanlight. That entrance opens to a large central hall between two parlors. Rooms were added to the rear of the house in the 1890s.

Abraham Scribner House, 424 East President St., before renovation

Rear view before renovation


Front view after renovation

View today (photo from Google Maps)

The fireplace mantels on the first and second floors feature sunburst motifs and are original to the 1810 structure. The stairway railings and landings banisters are a mixture from the original work in 1810 and the remodeling of 1899, according to SCAD professor Daves Rossell writing in the Vernacular Architecture Forum 2007: Savannah and the Lowcountry Field Guide.  The newel post on the first floor is from the later period.

When Anne and Mills Jr. remodeled the house from 1967-69, they excavated the basement to add ceiling height and installed ornate mantels on that floor.

In 1964 Anne and Mills Jr. had also renovated the Frank Douglas Houses originally built from 1883-1892 at 302-308 East President St.

Frank Douglas Houses, 302-308 East President St., after renovation

View today (photo from Google Maps)

Mills Jr.’s nephew, Howard Morrison, spoke last week at the Senior Citizen’s Learning Center, and gave another example of the Lane family architectural connections or maybe disconnections. Mills B. Lane Sr. was responsible for tearing down buildings along Liberty Street and starting construction of the original DeSoto Hotel in 1888. Mills Jr. was responsible for tearing down the old DeSoto and putting up the new one in 1968.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


Heineman House Puzzle and Artistry on Columbia Square Trust Lot

The Frederick William Heineman House at 125-127 Habersham St. is no. 2 on this map of Columbia Ward

Southeast room fireplace, cooking crane

A cooking crane, an arm that would have held a pot, still hung in the basement fireplace of the brick  Heineman House in 1991. Victorian coal grates had been added to other fireplaces. A boot scraper was in the iron work of the front stairway. Chiseled Roman numerals on joists, typical from 1800 through 1860, marked the build-by-number wooden pieces as they had in the houses across Columbia Square.

Mills Lane IV and his mother, Anne, working with architect Harvie Jones and Turner Construction, had just finished the restoration of the c. 1810 wood frame Ball Houses on the southeast side of the square. They had more projects under way.

The brick house on the southwest trust lot was built for Frederick William Heineman in 1842 at 125-127 Habersham Street. He owned a store where he auctioned his wares, and he served as landlord of other properties. Heineman died in Savannah at age 54 in 1848.

Before restoration

Views showing two entry stairs  (northeast entry not original)

The Heineman House during restoration, 1991

Mills was still traveling in 1991 as he was finishing his Architecture of the Old South book series but would return to walk the streets of Savannah with Harvie, discuss details, and check progress on projects. Harvie put notes, drawings, instructions, photos, and letters in a signature 2-inch black binder. He said that he examined approximately 250 photographs of the Heineman house conditions and similar intact houses such as Remshart Row at 102-112 West Jones St. built in 1854.

William Remshart Row, 102-112 West Jones Street, 1854

Denticulated cornice

Mills wrote to Harvie who was based in Alabama: “The third story [of the Heineman House] does not appear in the 1871 bird’s eye [map] view. I would remove the third story and recreate the typical parapet wall with denticulated cornice seen on other Savannah houses of the period. As my mother has so wisely suggested, I would add a cast-iron balcony along the north side of the first (parlor) story, overlooking a small side garden. The house is utterly ordinary except for an unusual stair arrangement.”

Ultimately the third story stayed and the balcony scheme did not, although a page of traditional ironwork patterns from a Birmingham foundry is in the notebook as well as photos of houses with side balconies.

“We will tentatively plan the house as a basement apartment and a three-story apartment above that,” Mills wrote to Harvie. “We will delete the proposed side balcony and turn the existing door into a window. The original stoop will be retained, but a modern enclosure on the front, within brick piers, will be removed.”

The Heineman House had always been planned as more of a renovation rather than a true restoration.

Cove joints were carved into the stucco in an alternating ashlar pattern  (in this view they await their pencil stripes)

“I have discussed the project with Jim Turner,” Mills wrote to Harvie. “We want to take a somewhat different approach to this project than with the first two on Habersham Street, which deserved the absolutely purist approach. With the Heineman House we want to spare no expense with the new stucco, and penciling the joints (something that has never been done in modern times in Savannah), but with the interior I want to use stock materials where new materials are needed and would ask to try to keep costs down as much as possible, but keeping in mind the general standards of historical appearance I would wish.”

Harvie sent plans to Ralph Anderson who was working for Turner: “Attached are 4 copies of the ‘ashlar layout’ elevations. … I’ve laid them out so the ‘stones’ should be more or less equal in size.”

Harvie regularly made notes about what methods and materials would last and be helpful to craft workers in the future.

“The historical examples I’ve seen of this treatment (including the 136 Habersham ‘north house’) have a slight cove joint of about 1/4 inch wide by 1/8 inch deep, plus the ‘penciled’ paint stripe. I recommend we use the cove joints as well as the paint stripe so that when the stucco is repainted in 6 to 8 years, the joint pattern will remain to serve as a guide in the re-penciling work. If it doesn’t get re-penciled at some point, we’ll at least have the cove joints to relieve the big stucco surfaces.”

Harvie relied on Ralph to double check materials.

“I’m concerned about the proposal to nail galvanized lath to the existing wall, for it is inevitable that this lath will rust (and expand) at some point. Please ask your stucco sub to see if there is a system and material he has confidence in that does not involve metal lath. Today’s galvanizing is so thin that it is not much better than a coat of paint in delaying (not preventing) rust. If your sub does not know of such a non-lath system, I’d ask to see a metal-lath installation that is at least 20 years old. Mills should participate in this important technical decision.”

Harvie repeated the need for durability: “A copy of a simple leader-head [the device that catches the rain water from the gutters on top of the downspout] design is attached. It should be made of either copper or solid zinc. Galvanized metal will rust-out in 10 to 14 years and is a waste of time and money. The copper can be painted if you prefer, with proper preparation and paint.”

Stucco, old and new, was a big concern.“ Most modern stucco is done with a ‘sand-texture’ finish. Historically, this stucco should be as smooth as interior plaster. Get a sample for Mills to approve before you begin,” Harvie wrote to Ralph.

“If you end up with conventional (but smooth) stucco, it is critical that it be properly cured to minimize cracking, either with a curing agent or several days of damp-curing,” Harvie emphasized.

Gunite, a mixture of sand, cement, and water had likely been sprayed over the Savannah gray brick in the 1960s. “We will need to check with an experienced plasterer on the technical feasibility of placing a new layer of stucco over existing paint and old cement-plaster stucco,” Harvie wrote.

One company recommended sandblasting to remove the old paint and to roughen the old stucco, then to wash off the stucco dust. Harvie compared costs and specifications on two companies’ products for their “smooth texture (not ‘sand’ texture) stucco which contains a curing and elastic mix which they report can be applied as thin as 1/4 – 1/8 inch over the old stucco.”

The artistry was the next step. “The ‘penciling’ must be done neatly and straight. A small artist’s brush (a ‘pencil’) is used, with a guide-dowel to slide the brush along in a mechanically straight line. Mills has had someone do this in his entry hall, and he may be able to give you some craftsmen’s names,” Harvie wrote to Ralph. “I doubt that a regular commercial painter would have the temperament for this sort of painting, but you could give them a try.”

Mills wanted the pencil joints to be striking, “perhaps painting the stucco a dark peach or eggplant color, or a dark gray, with cream joints.”

Discussion of the parapet and third floor also absorbed pages and time.

“When Ralph uncovered the top of the exterior wall, the evidence is clear that the Heineman House never had a parapet,” Harvie wrote. But Mills decided he liked the typical parapet example of Remshart Row even if it wasn’t original to the Heineman House.

Harvie scribbled in his notes: “Esthetics over historic accuracy.”

Mills based many decisions on Ralph’s investigative work.

“Ralph has found no evidence that the stucco had projecting lintels [support above windows and doors], so we are planning to repair the stucco without them; we are also increasing the height of the roof parapet by about three brick courses.” Mills wrote to Harvie.

Sketches and photos provided details for discussion. Ralph traced a plaster crown moulding remnant in the entry hall, an interior window stop, an original mullion, and a mortise.

There is foot-wide heart pine flooring on the third level, sash-saw marks on joist and deck boards, jack-planed plank walls on the fourth floor, and an original lock.

Extra wide heart pine flooring

Lock with trademark seal

Harvie wrote to Ball and Ball of Exton, Penn., to track down the brass trademark seal on the rimlocks: “The seal reads ‘Pendulum Latch’ on top and a name that may be ‘J.Young, Patentee’ on the bottom. A circular coat of arms with adjoining floral/animal figures (not clear) is in the center.

Lock with trademark seal

“We would greatly appreciate it if you could shed any light on this lock-maker. Do you have a reproduction lock that is similar to this? We will be needing about 15. Ball & Ball is currently furnishing hardware for three c. 1810 houses on Habersham Street nearby.”

The window under the northeast stoop has no jack-work above, pointing out it was cut in later. Broken brick ends indicate a door was once a window. Paint showed the basement floor had been lowered.

Annotated letters flew back and forth. Harvie and Mills didn’t always agree. Ralph noted that they removed plaster on level three despite Harvie’s recommendation to try to save the old plaster.

“On the enclosed plan,” Mills wrote, “I have marked my current ideas for interior planning and would appreciate your redrawing these so that I can present them to my mother by September 9th. The red markings are my latest thoughts – ignore the others. We will raise the level of the basement floor as you suggest.”

Harvie thought there would be a moisture problem if they didn’t raise the floor back to its original level, but they would still retain a basement ceiling height of 7 feet.

Copies of pages from Savannah’s building code are copied in the notebook. The code required stair rails to be 36 inches high. The ones in the house were 35 inches. Harvie asked Ralph to check for a variance.

3rd floor stair hall before restoration

Stairwell before restoration

Stair after restoration

Basements and attics produced clues for the renovations.

“Ralph found what appears to be an original 6 X 6 back-porch column in the basement similar to the one found under the Habersham Street houses,” Harvie wrote to Mills. “I’ve asked him to use it as a model since it is similar in design (and therefore cost) to the one I’ve detailed.”

A mid 1960s renovation enclosed the whole rear balcony, shown here in extreme disrepair

Back porches after the restoration

Mills wrote back: “Though it may be against Classical precedent, do you think we could have only one column in the middle of the back porch, instead of paired columns – a single one works better with the windows and actually makes a better spatial proportion?”

Shutters were also a question. “The sash-blinds Ralph found in the attic have mortise, tenon and peg joints, but narrow rails and stiles,” Harvie wrote to Mills. “My guess is they are Victorian, from the second set of blinds on the house. Unless you decide otherwise, I’d use heavier proportions more like the 1840’s blinds I’ve typically seen.”

Shutter durability has been an issue throughout the historic district. “The redwood ‘stock’ blind dimensions Ralph describes sound tolerable,” Harvie wrote. “I wish that the rails were wider and that they had through-mortise and tenon joints. Ralph will reinforce the concealed side with metal ell-brackets to try to keep them from falling apart.”

The Historic Foundation selected the Heineman House for a 1992 Preservation Award.

Southwest 3rd floor bedroom before restoration

First floor kitchen before restoration

Fire evidence in 4th floor bedroom

Parlor after restoration

Southwest bedroom after restoration

Heineman House after restoration

Southern side view after restoration

Today foliage covers more than half of the house that was so carefully renovated. Shutters are falling in pieces off the exterior. It is a sad state of affairs for a stately house on a trust lot of one of Savannah’s most famous squares.

State of the house in 2018  (photo from Google Earth)

Dilapidated and missing shutters  (photo from Google Earth)

Vines encroaching  (photo from Google Earth)

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Finding the restoration clues on Columbia Square

The Frederick Ball Houses at 136, 138 and 140 Habersham St. are no.1 on this map of Columbia Ward

Save the carved door stops; toss the pigeon dung.

Restoring derelict houses requires detective work and housecleaning skills. After a century or so of neglect and remuddling, beautifully built houses and cottages can become unrecognizable and appear irredeemable.

Mills Lane IV saw through the agglomerated, boarded up mishmash on the southeast corner of Columbia Square at Habersham and York streets and saw three Federal-style gems waiting to be cut back and polished to their original shine.

Photo collage of jumbled accretions to the rear façades of the Ball Houses

Frederick Ball, a builder from New Jersey, constructed the two-and-a-half story wood frame corner house circa 1805 – 1810 for his residence at 136 Habersham St. and the small double house at 138 and 140 Habersham for rental properties next door. He died 10 years later from yellow fever. During the next two centuries, the houses were serially neglected, abused, chopped up, and distended. Half of the double house at 138 was split into three apartments.

The Frederick Ball Houses, front full view before restoration

Another view before restoration, illustrating long-boarded-up windows

138 Habersham, left half of the double cottage before restoration

Note the unusual 12-over-12 pane configuration of the window sash in the upper story of 140 Habersham, right

The Frederick Ball Houses after restoration

The main house, left, and the northern half of the double cottage, right, after restoration

These were the first houses Mills IV restored with his mother, Anne Lane, after his father, Mills B. Lane, Jr. died. In 1989 Mills and architect Harvie Jones, from Huntsville, Ala., started corresponding about the houses.

Mills IV wrote to Jones: “The exterior of the two houses should be restored with the utmost care, sparing no reasonable expense. The interior, however, should be handled in the simplest and most economical style, but respectful of the original architecture and modern comfort.

“It is my hope that we can do an excellent job but conserving money, so that my mother will have a good experience with this project and so she will have the means and desire to do other similar projects with you, Gerry (Cowart) and the team of craftsmen you will gather.”

Jones created a two-inch-thick notebook that outlines the astounding attention to detail of Mills IV and Jones working with Cowart Architects, Ralph Anderson and Jim Turner at Turner Construction, and a myriad of craftsmen with expertise in plaster, masonry, carpentry; and engineers to handle electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems.

They used 19th century carpentry and finishing techniques where practicable.

At one point they reproduced 20 sets of plans to keep everyone up to date. Jones credited Bernie Thuersam of Gerald Cowart’s office for finding original items during measuring and drawing.

The notes outline the challenges of the endeavor.

“The project is quite complex due to the hundreds of differing conditions and 1810 details not familiar to today’s craftsmen. Executions will require careful study of the existing conditions and the drawings. … Each craftsman and supplier needs to be aware of the objective of the project, which is to preserve every piece of 1810 work practicable, and to accurately replicate or repair in good material only those items that require it.

“For example, a slightly ‘checked’ or warped piece of original clapboard should be retained, not only because it is original and of historic importance but because the wood is more durable than any new wood (probably including heart redwood). All these decisions require individual judgement, care, and cost evaluation.”

They looked on the grounds for evidence of former separate kitchen buildings, but no evidence was recorded.

More than a dozen pages outline how to remove and save parts big and small in the houses. They outlined when and how to save plaster and original pine flooring underneath mid-20th century additions.

“Do not remove the iron lamp-hook on the bottom of the upper newel” or the built-in attic access ladder, which probably are original. “Do not remove the two carved doorstops.”

Remove pigeon dung from the attic “in a safe manner per EPA and local requirements.”

“Remove the Victorian iron coal-grate and the later masonry infill to expose the original firebox masonry … if remnants of a brick hearth remain … record its pattern and save it in place if practicable.”

All workers were asked to look for clues for original placements: “small scraps of dropped mouldings, paint traces on siding. Small items can be very important. This was not ‘production work’. ”

“Rotary-saw marks indicate Victorian framing. Straight saw-marks across the framing members at about ¼ inch apart indicate Federal (original). Framing members about 3 inches thick indicates original, whereas Victorian framing would be about 1 7/8 inch thick.”

The original window configuration of the corner house had more windows, typically six per room, than any other downtown house. They gave Ball, his wife and their nine children good views into Columbia Square.

At some point many windows were boarded up and some in addition to doors had been relocated. Jones makes reference to the 1853 “Vincent Map” of Savannah, and the 1891 “Birds’ Eye View.” The latter indicates the north house north wall windows were already closed. During restoration the original window locations were reopened.

In a March 12, 1990 Savannah Evening Press article, Beth Reiter, historic preservation officer for the Metropolitan Planning Commission, pointed out two unusual “12-over-12 windows” in the small house. The windows that have 12 panes of glass on the top and 12 on the bottom, she said, are thought to be unlike any others in Savannah.

There are pictures of beams of wood joined and chiseled with Roman numerals in an early 19th century pre-fabricated building pattern.

Roman numerals stamped into pre cut lumber

Unique joinery

The north wall of the north house was leaning four inches. They ordered needed repairs but warned to not “plumb-up the house unless it is found to be easy to do, for this typically has many repercussions at plaster, doors, sashes, trim joints etc.”

They measured each firebox and chimney shape so they could be taken apart brick by-brick and rebuilt with the same degree of out-of-plumb and square as existing. “It would look bad to plumb and square the chimney when nothing else is plumb.” They removed and rebuilt by hand a 1,000 cubic foot chimney almost 50 feet tall.

“Even with lots of measuring, detailing and care, we can be sure the fireboxes, mantels, chair rails, etc. will never go back just as they are, and a degree of history will be lost.”

None of the porches, front or back, were original and Mills wanted to distinguish the Ball house from the cottages next door. Columns were investigated and rejected.

Since Mills was in New York and Baltimore working on his architecture book series during parts of the restorations, Jones spent time with Anne Lane discussing color and details. “We agreed the north house color needs to be slightly ‘grayed’ and perhaps darkened to differentiate it from the recently painted house across the street. …. Mrs. Lane is interested in changing the double house columns to more strongly differentiate them from the north house. … A possible solution … would be to use columns similar to those at c. 1828 Belle Mont near Tuscumbia [Alabama].” Six colors of paint were eventually incorporated on the big house and another seven on the small houses.

New porticos of the Ball Houses  (Note wood burglar bars covering the lower window and custom lattice under the steps)

For porticos they originally looked at the Steele-White house (1824) at 130-132 Lincoln Street for the corner house and at the 1813 Oliver Sturges house at 27 Abercorn for the double house, always with modifications. For the north house verandah they looked at other federal style buildings including the c. 1790 Stephen Miller house at 204 State Street (now demolished). For the double house verandahs they looked at the Thomas Bennett Jr. House in Charleston.

Mills IV wrote to Jones on Sept 25, 1989: “I would suggest you consider slender Tuscan columns spanned by a shallow arch: I will show you some Charleston examples from 1810-1820, an appropriate parallel since this house in Savannah boasts Adamesque details, unusual for Savannah but common in Charleston.” Four Adam-style mantelpieces survived in the corner house.

Tuscan column spanned by a shallow arch

Jones wrote back: “This is a more elaborate verandah than this house probably ever had, but since we have no evidence of any sort, we can consider this element as remodeling rather than restoration.”

In order not to confuse future historians and save costs, these designs use properly scaled but readily available mouldings and colonettes.

Mills always reserved the right to change his mind.

On Aug. 13, 1990 Jones wrote to Turner: “Inasmuch as the plan of the double house has been radically altered at a time when the detailing was 85% completed (Nov. ’89) there may be some item not caught on the drawings that pertain to the previous plan that will be void. I would appreciate your careful study of the drawings to help uncover any questions.”

Jones wrote to Mills at the Peabody Court Hotel in Baltimore asking about the kind of brick or stone that would cover the sidewalk drains. Again he mentioned that re-paving and landscaping caused streets and yards to rise about 6-12 inches a century. “The ground floor at 136 Habersham probably was originally one step above the walk.”

Jones and Lane talked about the livestock guards, the original burglar bars that were added to keep the livestock from intruding on the ground level of the corner house. Lane preferred wooden ones rather than iron to keep out man and beast. He described the slats as quirks that make the building sing and hadn’t heard of anyone breaking through them. Betty Ann Lichner, Mills’ office assistant, mentioned that Mills insisted that the lattice work be handmade of thicker wood than the prefabricated product.

Carpenters built new free-standing wardrobes. A Jones & Herrin 1991 press release stated the reason: “Since 1810 bedrooms typically had no closets, appropriate wardrobes were provided for clothing storage (to ‘ward the robes’) in the manner of the early 19th century, rather than disfiguring the rooms with chopped-in closets.”

Restored fireplace and new free-standing wardrobe, created by Greg Guenther, engrained by Malcolm Robson, at the main house, 136 Habersham

Bathrooms were tucked under stairs or in stairwells where possible to further preserve original rooms.

The cottage at 140 Habersham has substantial original fittings including mantels and surround marble, wainscoting and an archway leading from the front hall into a rear room that was turned into the kitchen. The mantels at 138 Habersham were gone as were many other features, but the floor plan was restored to mirror 140. Since 140 had apparently been less tampered with, Lane and Jones decided to restore it more authentically. They also took the original clapboards left on the north side of 138 to replace missing boards at 140.

The elegant original fireplace at 140 Habersham, the southern half of the double cottage, was restored

The restoration of the three houses received a 1991 Preservation Award from Historic Savannah Foundation. Since then, the cottage at 138 Habersham has undergone substantial interior and exterior changes by several owners. The back porches have been altered and enclosed with glass.  Except for its front façade, it no longer resembles Mills Lane IV’s restoration of 1990-91, nor does it retain its meticulously restored 19-century floor plan. As a result of the many changes to 138, 140 is now under protective covenants through The Beehive Foundation.

Rear view before restoration

Rear view after restoration

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Stone House expands and contracts with the times

Columbia Ward is one of the most famous in Savannah, and the Lane family put their time and money into restorations of houses on the square and side streets.

The Francis M. Stone House at 402 East State Street is no. 5 on this map of Columbia Ward

An earlier post about signs in Savannah described Mills Lane IV’s restoration of the Humphrey Gwathney House on Broughton Street at Habersham. A block south down Habersham on Columbia Square, Francis M. Stone had built his house across from the more famous Isaiah Davenport House.

Stone, born in 1789, became an alderman, a trustee in the Methodist Episcopal Church, an arms dealer with a specialty in muskets, a city marshal, and someone the state sent to find enslaved people who had escaped. He built the house from 1821 to 1823, sold it to Samuel House in 1828, but remained in Savannah until his death in 1864, the year Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched into town.

Stone’s adopted son, Francis R. Stone, as executor of his father’s estate petitioned the wonderfully named Court of Ordinary in 1866 for a commission payout of $300 in confederate money, which in “present currency would equal Thirty Dollars,” according to a paper about the family by Steven Knapp as part of The Savannah Biographies filed in the Lane Library at Armstrong State University.

The front porch of the Francis M. Stone House at 402 East State Street had been expanded in an 1880s renovation

Mills worked with his mother, Anne Waring Lane, on restorations in the 1990s, and since Mills spent time in Florida and New York in addition to Savannah, there are volumes of letters and drawings posted between him and his Alabama-based architect Harvie Jones. They would use their research to try to determine the original structure of houses and take the restorations back to those periods. In the Stone House restoration, Mills was interested in removing the 1880s changes and highlighting features from 1821.

They discussed the evidence that the wide wood floors had been salvaged from another building. They also debated the front door and porch, which had been expanded.

Mills wrote: “The door to the Stone House is to be replaced with a simple Federal-style door with a rectangular transom but no sidelights. The porch can be narrowed accordingly, making the pediment of the porch shorter and allowing you to make the column a little taller.”

Jones replied in a letter that the columns couldn’t be taller without changing the shape of the portico roof.

Porch detail before the 1990s restoration

Mills wanted the new porch copied from a Georgia example from the early 1800s. The scallop trim is modeled after the Thomas Carr House near Thomson. The Carr House had been built between 1803 and 1806 and documentation shows the “Scallop board for the portico” had cost $1.75.

The portico of the 1990s restoration with its scallop trim and chamfered columns

The passage of time and road buildup affected placement of the 1990s basement door.

Jones explained that the entrance to the basement probably shouldn’t go back to the west side of the house, where evidence showed it was originally. “The sidewalk has over 170 years been raised about 9” above its original elevation, so this door could only be about 6 feet tall; too low. It appears we need to keep the door under the portico, where we can step down to the door. It is common for streets and walks to ‘rise’ 6 to 12 inches per century.”

Mills wrote to Jones about the bottom floor: “Basement fenestration is crazy – the fault of crazy-quilt, enigmatic changes. Let’s regularize the openings in the basement façade, by placing windows at the corners under first-story windows and a board-and-batten door directly under the front portico.”

Mills said he would take new drawings to his mother, and local architect John Reiter would take drawings to confer with the Historic Review Board.

Stone House, basement door and window configuration, before the 1990s restoration

Francis M. Stone House after Mills Lane IV’s restoration

Between the time of Francis Stone and Mills Lane, the Unitarians made their mark on Columbia Square. Moving into the Stone House in the 1960s, the Unitarians worked for integration and set up a drug rehabilitation halfway house, a coffeehouse and a counseling service.

In the 1970s the Unitarian Universalists moved across Columbia Square into the Abraham Sheftall House, which is now home to the Historic Savannah Foundation.

Francis Stone would likely have been happy to see the liberal religious group go.


Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


Wending Our Way Through Washington Ward

Washington Ward Map

Mills Lane IV wholeheartedly entered the family discussions of Savannah restorations and renovations with his pied-à-terre at 14 Price Street in Washington Ward. His parents, Anne and Mills B. Lane, Jr., had purchased the half block of Price Street between Bay Lane and Bryan Street and completed the restorations in 1967.

12-16 Price Street (nos. 1, 2 and 3 on map) before restorations

The scarred walls of 14 Price Street (no. 2 on map)

14 Price Street during restoration (no. 2 on map)

Mills IV was in the U.S. Navy stationed in Charleston as he consulted mainly with his mother about the dozen restorations in Washington Ward and those in other parts of downtown Savannah. Though his parents were still based in Atlanta, they frequently traveled to Savannah for bank and family business.

Through letters Anne would meticulously keep Mills IV updated on restoration details and what he could expect to see and needed to decide on his next trip to town. In the age of cell phones, it is amusing to read paragraphs of descriptions about where the phone jacks needed to be installed in each room.

The Lanes worked with premiere landscape designer Clermont Lee and prominent architect John LeBey on their favorite restorations. In August 1967 Anne wrote to her son about 14 Price St.: “You will be disappointed to see no change – but Clermont  is working on the garden plans and John is beginning work on the balcony and front door shelter. They should both be ready to discuss things and start work on your first weekend in Savannah.”

Joseph Sullivan House, 14 Price Street, restored

In addition to the Joseph Sullivan House built in 1866 at 14 Price St., Anne and Mills Jr. restored the D.D. Williams House that had been built in 1816 at 12 Price St., and they recreated the William Williams House that had been built at 16 Price St. to adhere to its original 1809 appearance.

12 Price Street (no. 1 on map) before restoration

D. D. Williams House, 12 Price Street, restored

Rear facades of 12 and 14 Price Street

View of 16 Price Street, heavily altered in the 19th century

William Williams House, 16 Price Street (no. 3 on map) recreated based on its Federal era design

All three houses, 12, 14 and 16 Price Street, as finished by Anne and MIlls Lane, Jr.

Also in 1967 around the corner at 508 E. Bryan St. the elder Lanes restored the Margaret Prindible House that had been built in 1892. The restored 508-512 E. Bryan properties have become Savannah’s “Rainbow Row.”

508-512 E. Bryan Street (no. 4 on map) before restoration

Margaret Prindible Row, 508-512 E. Bryan Street, after restoration

The Lanes had also purchased the north side of the block of East Saint Julian from Price Street to Houston and completed their restorations in 1966. The Anne Pitman House had been built in 1842 at 504 E. Saint Julian St.

504 E. St. Julian Street, (no. 5 on map) before restoration

Anne Pittman House, 504 E. St. Julian Street, after restoration

The Charles Oddingsells House was built from 1798-99 at 510 E. Saint Julian St. for the lawyer and Revolutionary War veteran. Porches and other appendages had been added during the years. The Lanes removed the additions and rebuilt the front stoop with wooden steps.

510 E. St. Julian Street (no. 6 on map), an early photograph

Charles Oddingsells House, 510 E. St. Julian Street, after restoration

The Daniel Philbrick House had been built in 1849 at 512-516 E. Saint Julian St. and the Lanes completed their restoration circa 1966. Next door at 23 Houston St. in 1964-65 the Lanes had reconstructed the Joachim Hartstene House that had been built in 1803.

512-516 E. St. Julian Street (no. 7 on map) before restoration

Work commences on 512-516 E. St Julian Street

Daniel Philbrick House, 512-516 E. St. Julian Street, after restoration

23 Houston Street (no. 8 on map) before reconstruction

Joachim Hartstene House, 23 Houston Street, was rebuilt using original materials  (watercolor by unknown artist)

On the southwest corner of Washington Square the Laurence Dunn House had been built at 31 Houston St. in 1875, and the Lanes also restored it in 1964-65.

31 Houston Street (no. 9 on map) before restoration

Laurence Dunn House, 31 Houston Street, after restoration

Washington Square was created in 1790 and named for the U.S. president who visited Savannah in 1791. The area had been part of the original Trustees Garden, the agricultural experiment of Savannah’s founders. Many of the those experimental plantings are now being grown in the north garden of Scarbrough House, home to Ships of the Sea Museum created by Mills Lane IV.

Washington Square is also a good place to think about the start of a new year. In the first half of the 20th century the square was the site of a giant bonfire each New Year’s Eve.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


African American Folk Tales contribute context and controversy

Joel Chandler Harris, author of Uncle Remus

NPR aired an All Things Considered segment last week with Robert Siegel interviewing Harvard professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Maria Tatar about a book they have just edited: The Annotated African American Folk Tales. In the interview they talk about Joel Chandler Harris and the different ways they see his role as an author.

Gates says: ” Joel Chandler Harris did an enormous service. We can debate the fact that, well, he certainly wasn’t a black man, and we could debate what his motivation was, and we can wonder, did African Americans receive any percentage or share of the enormous profit that he made? The answer is absolutely not. But on the other hand, a lot of these tales would have been lost without Joel Chandler Harris.”

Tatar counters: “Did he kill African American folklore? Because after all, if you look at the framed narrative, who is Uncle Remus telling the stories to? A little white boy, and so suddenly this entire tradition has been appropriated for white audiences, and made charming rather than subversive and perilous, dangerous — stories that could be told only at nighttime when the masters were not listening.”

Gates adds: “But think about it this way: It came into my parlor, it came into my bedroom, through the lips of a black man, my father, who would have us read the Uncle Remus tales but within a whole different context, and my father, can we say, re-breathed blackness into those folk tales. So it’s a very complicated legacy.”

Uncle Remus Combo

Uncle Remus is one of the best-selling books in the Beehive Foundation catalog. The Beehive edition contains 64 stories with some of the original illustrations. Mills Lane IV, who created the foundation, called Uncle Remus the most famous personality of all Georgia literature and saw the tales as “a unique record of African American animal folklore” and social history with “a melancholy undercurrent about the changing postwar South.”

Harris was an editor of the Savannah Morning News from 1870-1876. For several years as the executive editor of the paper I sat in the same office where Harris had worked in the Bay Street building. In 2003 in the 100 block of West Bay Street across from the old News-Press building newspaper staff participated in erecting a Georgia Historical Marker acknowledging Harris’s contribution to Savannah.

Antagonists Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit about to get into an adventure (drawing by Harris’s ideal illustrator, Arthur Burdette Frost)

The Marker reads: “Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908), New South journalist and author of Uncle Remus tales, Free Joe, and many other works, was associate editor of the Savannah Morning News from 1870 until 1876, under William Tappan Thompson, an established writer of Southern humor. He published comic stories in his ‘Affairs of Georgia’ column, which was often reprinted around the state. Rooming at the Florida House, which merged in 1880 with the Marshall House on East Broughton Street, Harris married Esther LaRose in 1873. The couple and their two children left Savannah in 1876 to avoid the yellow fever epidemic. Harris served from 1876 until 1900 as associate editor of the Atlanta Constitution.”

The Annotated African American Folk Tales is set for release this week by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Siegel mentioned that in a chapter called “Defiance and Desire” there is a section devoted to flying Africans. If you visit the SCAD Museum of Art to see the current Jacob Lawrence commemorative exhibit called “Lines of Influence,” you can see Faith Ringgold’s take on that tradition.

Gates says, “The relationship between flying, freedom, and death is one of the curious things about the African American oral tradition.”

Harris’s Free Joe is also available through Beehive as is Slavery Time When I Was Chillun down on Marster’s Plantation, which contains first person accounts of slavery from interviews with writers from the Federal Writers Project.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Another Eppinger House Makes a Move

The face of Warren Ward took shape in the 1800s, but a major facelift in the 1960s brought a new energy and glow.

“Warren Square has a well-worn rather woebegotten look about it,” Kathy Palmer wrote in The Savannah Evening Press on Sept 21, 1961, “…the park is wrinkled with sandy paths which slice through in all directions. Its grass grows sparsely inside a high wire fence that partially surrounds it. The park’s beauty lies in about a half dozen oaks and several palms which scatter their shade about the square.”

Savannah’s Park and Tree Department gave permission to Mills B. Lane Jr., president of Citizens and Southern National Bank to renovate the square, Palmer wrote, and continued with Joseph Harrison, executive vice president of the bank, describing plans that included low redwood and pipe fences, similar to the cypress ones of the 1800s and adding shrubbery and flowers. The planners looked to Williamsburg, Va., as a model.

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. had moved several houses from the area of the planned civic center to new home sites in Warren Ward, so they had a vested interested in improving the square.

Two of the houses were tied to John Eppinger, a bricklayer from the German community of Ebenezer in Effingham County, Ga. who became a United States Marshall. The saga of one of the houses appeared in the previous blog.

John Eppinger House at Jefferson and Hull Streets, its original location.

The Lanes moved the second, the Dunlap-Eppinger House built in 1809 at 219 Jefferson St., to 425 E. Bay St. in the late 1960s. Anne Lane told Annie Rockwell, who worked with her later, that there were some cold Sunday suppers when the power lines were taken down so the houses could move along the streets.

Eppinger House on the move down Bay Street.

Eppinger House gets its finishing touches.

Eppinger House at its new location, 425 East Bay Street.

The Lanes renovated this Eppinger House from 1969-71, retired to it after returning from Atlanta, and lived there until their deaths.

The Lanes worked with architect John LeBey on the restoration of the Federal-era house. Much of the original fabric of the house remains intact.  Mantelpieces in the double parlors are framed by pairs of colonettes. Two chimneys of Savannah gray brick serve six fireplaces on three floors. The Lanes added a new kitchen and a side service entrance hall with a flower sink and powder room. They installed an elevator that runs from the basement with its laundry rooms, wine cellar, two bathrooms and servants’ apartments to the first and second floors. A sunroom overlooks the garden created by landscape designer Clermont Lee. LeBey designed a two-car garage, and a greenhouse was also added to the property.

The Lanes’ son, Mills IV, had planned a second move for the house to Congress Street on Washington Square where he thought it better fit the neighborhood. His death in 2001 preceded his mother’s in 2003, so the house was not moved and is run as an inn.

Margaret Pendergast House, 420 E. St. Julian Street (right)

While they were still living in Atlanta in 1961, the Lanes restored the Margaret Pendergast House built in 1868 at 420 East St. Julian St. This was the first Savannah house they restored and lived in as they retreated to Savannah and planned other restorations. They changed the stoop and added a side porch. Mills IV later wanted to restore the stoop to its original design but decided it was too complicated.

420 East St. Julian Street, the first house restored by Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. (Watercolor by Christopher Murphy)

Before the era of strict regulations about what could  be demolished, Anne and Mills, Jr., tore down the house at 426 East St. Julian and moved the Henry Willink House onto the lot. The white cottage was originally built at 231 Price St. and they restored it in 1963-64.

This cottage, the Henry Willink House, was also moved and restored by Anne and Mills Lane, Jr.

The William Pope House was originally built in 1826 at 419 E. St. Julian St. When the Lanes purchased it, they decided with their architect that they could not salvage it, so they deconstructed it and rebuilt in 1963-64 using measured drawings and some of the original fabric of the house.

Anne and Mills, Jr. continued their work in the Warren Ward with three more houses: the Thomas Magee House built in 1892 at 421-425 E. St. Julian St. was restored in 1962, the Mary Driscoll House built in 1898 at 418 E. Bryan St. was restored in 1965, and the Elizabeth Heery House built in 1857 at 17 Price St. was restored in 1964-65.

The Heery House at one time housed a grocery, and Mills, Jr. considered it as a location for his maritime museum that he eventually put on River Street.

Mills IV moved his father’s collection from River Street to the Scarbrough House on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Houses and collections have been sailing and rolling around Savannah for generations.

Elizabeth Heery House, 17 Price Street

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.
For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Warren Square Encircled

Two more houses complete our walk around Warren Square.

The Warren Ward in Savannah. Addressed in this blog are number 5, Dr William Parker House, and number 6, John Eppinger House.

A 19th Century view of Dr. William Parker House before it was remodeled into a double house.

The William Parker House built 1806-1809 sits on the square’s northwest corner at 324-326 East Bryan St. It was built for Dr. William Parker, 1766-1838, who volunteered to visit houses of both black and white families living in Warren and Washington Wards to register births and deaths for the newly formed Georgia Medical Society, according to Nancy Leavitt in a paper for Armstrong State College in 1978. The paper is filed in the Lane library of the university named for the first Mills B. Lane.

Parker’s grandparents had arrived with Gen. James Oglethorpe in 1733.

Dr. William Parker House after it was restored by Mills Lane IV in 1991-92.


But perhaps the name of the house should be the Louisa Guerard McAlister Parker House since Dr. Parker acquired the land by marrying the widow Louisa in 1804.

The east side of the house, 326 E. Bryan, was also more recently the home of Noel Florence and Jo Stanley, a nationally known architect and the chairman of the Savannah Historic Board of Review when Mills Lane IV served on the board and the Jepson Art Center was going through the approval process at the turn of the century.

We can assume the Parker House had an easier time than the Jepson with the Review Board process when Mills was restoring the house from 1991-92. It had been converted from a single family house with a center hall plan to a double house by shifting the front windows and adding a second door and passage in the 1890s. Mills’s work 100 years later was awarded a 1993 Historic Savannah Foundation Project award.

Across the street at 404 East Bryan sits a John Eppinger House built from 1821-23 originally on West Perry Street. It was part of a migration of houses Anne and Mills Lane Jr. orchestrated when the City of Savannah was clearing the area for the new Civic Center. They restored the house in 1967-68.

The Eppinger House at its original West Perry Street site before it was moved.

The big move begins in 1967. Here the house is being turned onto Bay Street from West Broad Street, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

The house is hauled slowly along Bay Street past City Hall.

This auto shop was taken down to make way for John Eppinger House.

Eppinger House comes to rest on its new lot.

Eppinger House in its new location, restored by Anne and Mills Lane Jr.

We will walk around the block to Bay Street to talk about the other Eppinger House that the Lanes moved and turned into their own home in the next post.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.
For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

































Spanning the Gap with Names

One of the ways we tell our stories is by the way we choose to name our children, our places, our monuments.

One of the reasons behind this blog and the resulting book is to describe the men named Mills Bee Lane and some of their family legacies. To recap, the first was a banker from Valdosta who expanded his banking expertise into Savannah. Mills B. Lane Jr. extended the bank’s empire into Atlanta while also using time and resources to rebuild and rehabilitate his hometown of Savannah. Mills III was a nephew who became famous as a boxer and TV judge. Mills IV, son of Anne and Mills, Jr. took his parents’ legacy to a new level with restorations and recreations throughout Savannah’s landmark historic district, became an author, publisher and philanthropist, and is the ultimate focus of these narratives.

Mills Bee Lane IV named his pride and joy the Beehive Press, a play on his own name Bee IV. But for the most part, the Lanes were not interested in having their name in lights or attached to monuments. Mills Jr. liked to joke that each morning he would read the newspaper to see what illegal activity had occurred on the street named for his father, Mills Bee Lane Boulevard. He might have liked it better now that the street also offers fine art for sale.

The Talmadge Bridge is visible from the recently constructed North Garden of the William Scarbrough House. New perspectives add to the discussion of Savannah’s history.

Former City Manager Michael Brown told me that he had discussed with Mills IV naming the new bridge across the Savannah River after his father. Mills IV wanted no part of it. More’s the pity, but that ship has sailed.

The “Savannah Bridge” seemed to register as a favorite of the audience at a recent Span the Gap forum held to discuss the renaming the current Talmadge Memorial Bridge opened in 1991. It is burdened with the namesake of Eugene Talmadge which was the name of the old bridge built across the Savannah River in 1953. Talmadge used white supremacy as a pillar of his political strength as Georgia governor in the 1930s and 40s.

The Savannah Theater was a fitting location for the lively and well-attended discussion. The building was originally designed by William Jay, that name behind some of the most important buildings in Savannah: the Scarbrough House, home of Ships of the Sea Museum and former home to West Broad Street School for African-American children; the Telfair Academy, now an art museum that was originally built as a home for Alexander Telfair, son of another former governor; and the Richard Richardson-Owens-Thomas House with its well-preserved housing for enslaved workers. The moderator, Otis Johnson, Savannah’s second African-American mayor, said he wasn’t allowed in the Savannah Theater when he was a boy.

Mills IV had talked with the Historic Savannah Foundation about trying to restore the Savannah Theater to a state that William Jay would have recognized, but Mills decided the project was too costly and complicated for the turn of the current century.

Panelist and SCAD Professor Robin Williams gave examples of how historical priorities and politics have changed the names of streets in Savannah: King Street is now President Street, Duke is now Congress and Prince is State. Even the road that leads up to the new bridge has changed from South Broad Street to Oglethorpe Avenue.

Williams talked about how the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House “was a symbol of white wealth.” Expanding the discussions of the role and quarters of enslaved people “is not negating history but understanding the complete picture.” Williams and another panelist, community activist Pamela Oglesby, talked about how now is a teachable moment as people consider changing the name of the bridge.

Panelist and newspaper columnist Dr. Mark Murphy said, “We are not rewriting history but reinterpreting it.”

Minister and former state NAACP leader Francys Johnson drew a gasp from the audience when he said from the stage that his grandfather was named after Eugene Talmadge. He explained later that his grandfather was one of 12 children and the midwife delivering him on Millhaven Plantation could have picked the name from a vegetable bag since Talmadge was involved in Georgia agriculture long before he was governor. Johnson was not random with the names of his own sons: Thurgood Marshall Joshua Johnson, Langston Hughes Elijah Johnson, and Frederick Douglass Caleb Johnson.

People “are branded by the eras they were born in,” Francys Johnson said. While he loathed the politics of the man whose name is on the bridge, Johnson said, he is more offended by the people who are compelled to live under it.

In my last blog I promised to continue our stroll around Warren Square, so we’ll head back to Congress Street, or Duke Street if you really want to walk through history. Since the Lanes were responsible for renovating or recreating all of the houses around the square, we will concentrate on a couple at a time.

As Savannah started to grow, a new ward and square were named after General Joseph Warren who died in the American Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Laid out 16 years after his death, Warren was part of the Sons of Liberty but didn’t seem to have any direct connection to Savannah.

Schroder House, 32-34 Habersham Street, restored by Anne and Mills Lane, Jr., c. 1965

Between the recreated Dennis Tenement and the John David Mongin House that we mentioned in the last blog post, the Harry Schroder House was built on the corner of Congress and Habersham in 1898, much later than others on the square.  Anne and Mills Lane Jr. restored it circa 1965. They were especially busy during that period working with landscape designer Clermont Lee on renovating squares and gardens for the houses.

North of the John David Mongin House (his father was David John Mongin) on the adjacent trust lot sits the George Spencer House. Built circa 1791 with an addition in the 1830s, it was renovated in the 1980s and Mills Lane IV restored the house in 1993.

George Spencer House, early to mid 20th-century views (left and right)

George Spencer House, 22 Habersham Street, after its restoration by Mills Lane IV in 1993

The earliest front rooms of the house now constitute a five-bay center-hall clapboard frame house. Architectural clues indicate that the narrow center hall may have been the result of modifying what was a hall-and-parlor plan or that the front rooms were built at different times. The portico and rear addition date from the early 1830s.

Parlor of George Spencer House embellished with a panelled overmantel and chimney piece with projecting corner blocks

When Mills IV restored the house in 1993, he wrote that “balusters were copied from Abraham Swan’s The British Architect, a handbook used by many builders in the 1790s to suggest that pieces from an old porch might have been salvaged for use in the 1830s portico.”

Taking the latex paint off of the main floor mantel showed original faux marbling of black and gold paint.

The original builder of the house is a little more complicated to uncover. Some records show the house was built by George Basil Spencer, but he died in February 1791. Records place the building being built between 1790 and 1804, one of the oldest still standing in Savannah. Some records indicate the builder was his brother William H. Spencer, who lived until 1817. Some call the house the Spencer-Woodbridge House, since William Woodbridge became the next owner.

Mills usually used the first owner’s name, so in his books, the name is the George Spencer House. Mills also referred to the Richard Richardson House although the Owenses and Thomases used it longer. Surviving family members can strongly influence the names edifices continue to carry. The Talmadge family has emphatically made their wishes known about the bridge name through the years.

History may be exact, but our records and memories aren’t. We curate our lives and times. We choose what we want to display and what we want to call it.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.






























The squares are staged better for walking

The Mills Bee Lane family was instrumental in the house ballet that moved buildings around Savannah. Those houses have played musical squares and filled in the streetscapes. The Lanes were key players in the rehabilitation of public and private buildings and the squares themselves.

Their renovations, restorations and reconstructions circle Warren Square and expand through the entire Warren Ward and several others.

We’ll take a trip around the wards in the next several blog posts, and we will start where Mills Lane IV planted another of his hand-painted signs.

The John David Mongin House was built on the tithing lot on the southwest corner of Warren Square in 1797. It was moved diagonally east across the corner of the square to the trust lot at 24 Habersham Street. Mills Lane Jr. and his wife, Anne, restored the house from 1965-66. Originally on a higher foundation, they lowered the elevation and added a new portico.

This photo shows the much-neglected Federal-era Mongin House in its original location at Habersham and East Congress Streets.

The Mongin House was moved to the nearby southeast trust lot on Warren Square.

The Mongin House in its new location at 24 Habersham Street, as restored in the 1960s by Anne and Mills Lane, Jr.

Mills Lane IV recreated the Dennis Tenement in the mid-1990s. It was built on Warren Square at 321-323 East Congress Street, on the site left vacant after the moving of the Mongin House.

Their son, Mills IV, built a new double house on the lot where the Mongin House originally stood. He recreated the Richard Dennis Tenement that had been on Lincoln Street facing west between Congress and Bryan streets. The square pillars, cast iron, and heavy brick stairs of the Dennis Tenement were probably added in the 1850s. In the recreation, Mills IV planned the front stoop and stairs to reflect the correct style of an 1820s house.

Painted sign announcing the recreation of the lost double house.

This double house known as the Dennis Tenement was built c. 1820 on Lincoln Street. It is seen here as altered in the 1850s. The house was later demolished.

The original Dennis Tenement had been demolished to make way for a parking lot. Lots of the historical fabric of 18th and 19th century Savannah have been lost to the rise of the automotive landscape. A parking lot today covers the west trust lots of Warren Square. Even the actual squares were threatened more than once as people wanted to dismantle barriers to speed.

This tour works better as a stroll.


Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.







































Signs of history, signs of change.

“We have caught the sunshine in the bricks and mortar of our homes and have builded therein not one ignoble prejudice or memory,” said Henry Grady, managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution in the 1880s.

Mills Lane IV quoted Grady in the introduction to the 1971 Beehive Press edition of The New South: Writings and Speeches of Henry Grady. Lane wrote that Grady fostered the idea that “slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction were in the past” and “had faith in industrial development, economic nationalism and orderly social change.”

Events Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., show that we seem to take one century step forward and two century steps back. I tell my Chinese and Korean language students that we are a baby country compared to their ancient civilizations. It does often seem when we talk about race, we babble, or talk around the issue, or ignore it for as long as we can.

Painting by Panhandle Slim installed on side of 19th-century house in Savannah

Paul Suszynski certainly spoke clearly at the most recent Historic Site and Monument Commission meeting when he said that the only people opposed to the Panhandle Slim painting of Nina Simone on the side of his historic home were “old white guys.” He said it while acknowledging himself as one of the same. He said tour buses would stop, tell the story of the Simone song, “Sunday in Savannah,” and people would take pictures with the sign.

Few people were in the audience, but one man rose quickly in protest and board member Delores Engle said she resented that board members could be considered racist for opposing the sign on a historic house. She said she liked the art. She just didn’t think it was appropriate where it was currently placed and pointed to the objection of Historic Savannah Foundation about the lack of visual compatibility.

This was round two of the homeowner’s attempt to keep the Nina Simone art on the wall.  Round one had been at the Historic District Board of Review. Both boards had to OK the placement.

Preservation staff for Savannah had also originally cited lack of visual compatibility, but they changed their recommendation to approval once the review board had ruled the painting was compatible with its surroundings.

Ellen Harris, Director of Historic Preservation and Urban Planning said once that was decided, staff moved on to the other standards such as theme, design and artist qualifications.

The Historic District Board of Review had had a somewhat nuanced discussion of the breadth of history and whose history the board was charged with preserving before they voted 4-3 to approve the art.

When the issue moved to the Site and Monument Commission for round two, chairman Eli Karatassos led the discussion about frustration with signs going up willy-nilly without permission and applicants asking for forgiveness. He pointed out that the Walls of Hope project that had put Panhandle Slim paintings on multiple buildings had already had art approved after the fact and had even been given dispensation so that staff could give approval.

Although the picture and words of Simone look much like the Walls of Hope art, and it was listed as such in the staff report, Erika Hardnett, a representative of that group said the Simone art was not part of their efforts, although she supported the Simone petition.

The 3-3 vote of the Site and Monument Commission meant Simone had lost round two and she came down, but Harris said Friday that Suszynski has already reapplied to put Simone back up. The board seemed to suggest they might look more favorably on a request for permission rather than forgiveness especially if the artwork had a coating to protect her from the weather and possible graffiti.

The only other mural on the Site and Monument Commission agenda was the botanical illustrations proposed for the façade of Carlstedt’s Wholesale Florist warehouse on Barnard Street. One neighbor objected, but the board passed that project unanimously.

Carlstedt’s Wholesale Florist successfully petitioned the Site and Monument Commission and the Historic District Board of Review to change these panels on their shop at 515 Barnard Street.

SCAD graduate and artist Kyle Millsap will paint the botanical panels that will be installed on Carlstedt’s. He has painted large scale murals for Parker’s Market, Byrd Cookie Company, and is working with the new West Elm Hotel.

Gene Carpenter who worked with Mills Lane on his books and other projects said she thought he had his hand-painted signs commissioned as an education tool about the Beehive Foundation. “I think they were just an extension of his restorations – beautiful signs for beautiful restorations and a way to cohesively tie all of his restorations together — an ID, so to speak, for his work.”

Gwathney House with sign announcing it would be restored

When Lane started the restoration of the 1823 Humphrey Gwathney House on Broughton Street, his painted sign showing the new façade competed for attention with the glowing “Used Car” sign next door. The business that had installed the Welsh Pawn Shop signs on the basement floor of the house had moved down the street and later to the southside.

Gwathney House before restoration

The Gwathney House has seen its ups and downs. It was raised to make space for the pawn shop in the 1880s when Grady was writing about the New South. In the early 1990s Lane worked with architect Harvie P. Jones and had the building lowered to return it to its original elevation. Hydraulic jacks were used to prevent damage to decorative elements and preserve the interior plaster. The late 19th-century alterations such as Victorian window headers and brackets were removed. When the wall around the side porch was removed, louvers in the porch rail were found and restored.

View of Gwathney House, 401 E. Broughton Street, after the house was raised an extra story and a pawn shop set up on the ground floor

The description of the restoration of this house and others in these blog posts are based on Lane’s records; discussions with architects; and coordinated writing efforts with Gene Carpenter; Lane’s partner Gary Arthur; and Dirk Hardison who from 1998 to 2006 worked as the Architectural Design Consultant for Historic Savannah Foundation, a position that Lane funded to assist homeowners to achieve historically accurate renovations. Versions of the descriptions have appeared in publications that the Beehive Foundation has helped produce.

Completed exterior restoration of Gwathney House at 401 E. Broughton Street

Enslaved people likely helped build the Gwathney House and most of the other early downtown grand houses. How we show signs of that history and contributions of the many who followed and continue to lead will fill more than one agenda.

Simone sang after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed:

One more
Sunday in Savannah
Hear the whole creation shoutin’
Praise the Lord

See them flinging out the banner
While the congregation says amen

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Signs of art, possibility and wayfinding

If you are up for a lively discussion or a good argument in Savannah, civic engagement can provide the agenda.

My favorite is the Historic District Board of Review. I grew to love it when Mills Lane IV served on it. He knew his subject, did his homework and doggedly questioned petitioners. While the discussions can delve into mind-numbing detail, it is one of the best places to learn about architecture in Savannah without paying tuition, especially if you walk across the historic district going and coming.

Signs drew me to the board’s July meeting. I was curious how the discussion would go on the request to keep a Panhandle Slim (Scott Stanton) painting on a wall on Habersham Street in the Landmark Historic District. It was listed as an application for a mural.

Painting by Panhandle Slim hanging on the side of the house at 611 Habersham Street

The board members were torn: technically it isn’t a mural. The painting is on wood attached to an 1886 wall. It could be removed anytime. But homeowner Paul Suszynski was asking for permission to leave up the painting and words of Nina Simone rather than asking permission to put it up. Board members do not like after-the-fact requests although some are fans of Panhandle Slim’s Walls of Hope that have added inspirational words and portraits to buildings around town.

Stanton talked about the importance of Simone’s lyrics to the history of the country, state and city. Simone sang “Sunday in Savannah” soon after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Several board members agreed with the relevance of the board preserving that kind of history and public art.

“Art introduces itself into an environment,” board member Dwayne Stephens said.
Board member Mic Matson said the Simone sign made her smile. But photographer and neighbor Tim Coy, who had complied with a city demand to put the s-shaped shutter dogs to hold open his window coverings, was not smiling. Historic Preservation and Urban Planning Director Ellen Harris and Historic Savannah Foundation CEO Daniel Carey also expressed mixed feelings but could not justify the art as visually compatible with the historic buildings.
In the end, temporary inspiration won out, and the sign was preserved at least long enough to go to the Historic Site and Monument Commission for evaluation in August.

As the board members closed in on their seventh hour of deliberations on a multitude of projects, not counting the pre-meeting briefing, the sign master plan for Plant Riverside on West River Street was on the agenda. Architect Christian Sottile talked about the types of signs they would like to use in the massive project – banners, painted signs, freestanding signs, above-parapet signs – eight types of signs, four requiring variances. Plant Riverside could become its own sign district as is the City Market area.

I was happy to hear about the possibility of painted signs, currently not allowed to be directly painted on masonry although ghost signs appear from the past throughout the district. Painted signs add a vibrant touch of information.

Sign commissioned by Mills Lane IV announcing the construction of a new Greek Revival-style house on the southwest trust lot of Chatham Square

Mills Lane IV commissioned hand-painted signs to post in front of his classically inspired infill buildings and restorations as they were under construction in the historic district. The signs made a statement about what was coming. They were unique, hand-crafted, and illustrative of possibilities for Savannah.

Flint North, owner of Speedi Sign, was with Banana Graphics in the 1990s when Mills requested those signs. Flint worked from renderings and blueprints. Mills would walk by the office to check on progress.

“I would tell him I would be finished by so and so, and he would come by, and I would be half finished,” Flint said. “I remember painting those individual bricks” on the sign for the Greek Revival house on Chatham Square.

Flint said that Mills “liked the feeling of the layering. It would take about a month to do one. Now nobody can wait a month for a sign.” As a shop owner whose work today is mostly digital, Flint spoke with pride of the craftsmanship and collaboration of the painted signs. “Mills wasn’t doing it like a contractor. It was his project. The sign was a part of the building.”

When restoring the exterior of the little Gothic church on Troup Square, Mills asked for something different.

Sign heralding Mills Lane’s exterior restoration of the Unitarian Meeting House on Troup Square

“He wanted the background of the Unitarian Church to be kind of ominous,” Flint said with a grin, and he took extra care “to get the patina on the roof.”

After the review board meeting I walked under the Zunzi’s lightning bolt and curved letters to order a sandwich and wait at an outside table, taking in the architectural features of the 1889 Chatham County Courthouse and shapes of the raised masonry letters of the old courthouse sign.

Also across Drayton Street, a door sign, window signs and neon announced the home of a tattoo parlor.

Sottile had described some signs as providing identity and wayfinding. Even in the Landmark Historic District, Savannah finds multiple methods to mark the windows and ways.

Mills Lane IV, Panhandle Slim, the minds behind Plant Riverside and the volunteers who wear out chairs making city decisions have all had aspirations for Savannah. Sometimes the signs are good.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


Buildings and cities as living organisms

“Buildings are three-dimensional history books that reflect the comings and goings, successes and failures, aspirations and follies of real people.” – Mills Lane in the foreword to Architecture of the Old South: Georgia.

We come to everything with our own experiences in tow, so when I attended Christian Sottile’s recent lecture at the Massie Heritage Center, I was looking for connections with what Sottile had to say about “A New Humanism” in architecture and what I had learned about Mills Lane IV’s observations as he studied, wrote and created.

 Sottile, who has developed an international reputation in architecture and civic design, says, “Cities are people.” He talked about the importance of centering and the importance of the street that is Savannah’s center, where east and west meet: “When you walk Bull Street, you’ve found balance.”

In the 1990s, Mills had strengthened that spine, putting more than five years and $1.5 million of Lane family money into the Bull Street streetscape from Bay Street to Forsyth Park: brick sidewalks, cast-iron Bishop’s crook streetlamps, French trash receptacles, and tree lawns. He hoped to make the city stand taller with Bull Street as a model for other projects. The complementary City Sign Improvement Project created new street and square signs and traffic control sign frames. At the recent lecture, Sottile showed an image of the hodge-podge confusion that can result from uncoordinated signage efforts undermining a clear “city as information.”

The Savannah Streets and Squares Project and Landmark District Tree Fund were Lane-led extensions of the Bull Street Improvement Project working with the Historic Savannah Foundation and the city to continue to beautify the public realm. Sottile said that Savannah has been recognized as having more streets per square mile than most cities, and 40 percent of its area is used as public space where the national average is 25 percent.

Anne Lane documented family building renovations and bank celebrations for her son, Mills Lane IV, when he was away at school and in the Navy.

Mills had inherited the love of the organism that is Savannah from his family. Even when he was sailing the seas in the U.S. Navy he shared passionate letters about family restorations, especially with his mother. Anne Lane was the woman with the details. She observed and noted and kept Mills apprised of how the world was working in Atlanta and Savannah. She wrote from the vantage of a family with money, influence and historical perspective. She had married an ambitious, outwardly optimistic, iconoclastic banker, Mills Lane, Jr.

On April 12, 1968, she wrote to her Dearest IV about the spring tour that brought visitors to his 14 Price Street renovation in Savannah.

“We ended up unexpectedly in Savannah on the weekend of the Garden Tours. Momma Sue and Aunt Mary had your house fixed up in a very manly fashion – using a sparse arrangement of pear blossoms and a few camellias. I sent over the iron bench from my yard which helped fill out the bare patio. Father was so funny! As evening began to fall and as we sat in our grass garden protected from foreign eyes, the chatter and patter of passing groups of people, making their rounds from … [house to house, and he] pricked up his ears. Pretty soon he was peering through the gate grills; then, he was opening the gates; and, then, he was wandering across the street to your house giving every one the wonderful world salutation.… Your house sitters took turns having a break at our apartment. Father also discovered a few Atlantans to invite over so we had a continuous party from 6 to 10. I think it all went exceedingly well; and the Church made money! And Father had the time of his life!”

Her notes about politics and banking can seem almost contemporary, but the gender roles were much less fluid in 1968. In January, Anne had written to Mills IV:

“Father says the Copenhagen Monetary Conference scheduled for May has been called off in deference to President [Lyndon] Johnson’s plea to keep American money in America. It will be held somewhere in our part of the world – or in our country; and I don’t know whether ladies will be involved or not.”

But just a couple of months later she was on the way to the opening of the Jamaica Citizens Bank. Just as she noted the details of construction in Savannah, she recorded the oddities of the new bank and its entry into the life of Kingston.

They arrived in Jamaica on March 5 on “a short sweet flight on the Winn-Dixie Gulfstream. Kingston was cooking, not only from the natural noonday heat.” The new Citizens Bank had some fiery plans.

“The Jamaica Citizens Bank was almost – but not quite – completed.  [Atlanta] architect Dick Aeck told us that the contractor there worked hard every day, but not necessarily on the right things. For example, he knew he had planned a ladies room on the third floor. He looked and he looked but he could not find it. Finally, after inquiry, he found the room, but all doors had been sealed up. Also, he would discover a wall where no wall had been planned and the contractor would say ‘No trouble,’ and start chipping the wall down.… They were still hauling wet concrete in buckets through the main lobby, and walking up to the third floor, until Dick stopped them. He suggested they use a pulley and rope up to the windows.”

Anne vividly described the reception Mills Jr. hosted at the bank: “ The Jamaica Citizens Bank was decorated with flowers, and paintings from local artists – some very good, and all very colorful. No one had had time to sweep the floors after sweeping out the construction crew. Everyone ignored … dirty floors. Cold drinks and mixed drinks were served on trays and really quite good hot and cold hors d’oeuvres as well.… Every kind of dress you could possibly imagine came to the party. There are a number of Chinese there: the ladies came in long oriental dresses slit up to the hip bone. One … came in a cutwork … a mini dress with nothing but a bikini underneath.”

The next morning, the women shopped at the straw market and visited a restored house that reminded them of Savannah “with its high ceilings, and verandahs, doors and windows built for cross ventilation. You would have loved it. It had an old elegance.

“That afternoon, at 4:30 we were sitting on the reviewing stand waiting for the great parade. We seemed to wait eternally, but finally the parade band started down the street. This was promptly stopped by one of the Jamaican Bank Directors because the Governor General had not arrived, and nothing can start in Jamaica until the Governor General comes to de party. It seems the G.G. had been delayed by parade traffic. Meanwhile the Prime Minister arrived and was thoroughly booed by the nearby populace, which made him so mad that he extended his say-nothing speech to about ½ hour.”

Anne said the ensuing parade “gave almost everyone in town a chance to participate.”

A band set the tempo followed by Boy and Girl Guides and bank officials on floats. The banners told the stories: WE GUIDE THE BANK. The new bank personnel wore green dress uniforms, with a banner proclaiming, WE RUN THE BANK. There was a pantomime actress and farm scene: THE BANK HELPS OUR AGRICULTURE.

“Then all sorts of motley citizens [appeared with the] banner WE OWN THE BANK.” Today it would be hard to imagine so much hoopla for the opening of a bank. But there was more.

There was “a float with the Rock Steady Girls – all rocking steadily,” with a banner WE LOVE THE CITIZENS. A band on a truck advertised SWING WITH A SWINGING BANK. And bringing up the rear were “all the construction workers slinking with averted eyes with the banner WE BUILT THE BANK.”

This city’s people were flowing through the streets announcing that this new building was adding to the public body in a loud and enthusiastic way.

Anne continued: “The speeches followed. Everyone talked much too long except Father, who as you know is always short and sweet.”

“After the parade the bank’s Chairman of the Board, a very distinguished looking golden-brown man with a mustache, had an outdoor buffet supper at his home for about 600 people. It was a beautiful night; the steel band was alternately playing popular and classical music. In conversing with the Jamaicans, I mostly talked about children. They were very proud of the fine education that they had given them, even though it meant in most cases that the children would never return to Jamaica. Father and I departed before the dancing began.

“We flew back to Atlanta the next day in Lockheed’s demonstration Jet – Star. Left at 11:45 – [arriving at their home at] 2 West Muscogee at 3:15. I could hardly believe it!”

Mills IV responded from his seaside post that “the Jamaica opening sounded terrific: don’t let the Metropolitan Planning Commission bluff you at the corner of Price and Bryan; what about Jefferson Street and Troup Row: how about giving me a chance to try an ECONOMY renewal of the end house of Troup Row as a demonstration upon my return; could someone plant a big bed of mint in my 14 Price Street for summer juleps?”

Mills wanted to expand his hand with renovation and restoration when he returned to Savannah.

At the Massie Center, Sottile said, “Buildings have souls. We save what we care about.”

Mills Lane was ready to start saving souls.


Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.


Ships, space and reworked history

Mills Lane IV completed his first edition of SAVANNAH REVISITED in 1969 while he was in the U.S. Navy

The cover of Savannah Revisited shows the 1837 painting of Savannah by Fermin Cerveau, which hangs in the Georgia Historical Society’s Hodgson Hall.

Where is Mills Lane IV when I need him?

A Navy destroyer collided over the weekend with a freighter in the seas south of Japan, and I want to hear what he would say about it.

Immersing myself in files and letters from Mills’s time in the Navy has made the current news story pop out more than it might have previously. I keep thinking about the people on that ship, their lives, their training, their jobs, and the equipment. Of course, they were different times and different kinds of ships, but I wonder about the camaraderie of the service members and their relationships with people at home and in the ports.

In 1968 after returning from the Mediterranean on the USS SKILL, and respites in Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta, Mills was headed back to the Med on the USS OZARK, a minecraft support ship.

He described his new duty in letters to friends and family.

“It will be hard, I think, to adjust to a much larger ship, for OZARK is much, much larger, six times larger, than the SKILL. I think it has more than four hundred men and at least twenty officers.… I have never been up an officers’ brow [gangplank] before; I have never eaten in a formal wardroom; I have never stood an OOD [officer of the deck] watch at the quarterdeck. On the SKILL there was always an element of a great joke, all of our operations were just training, really, and therefore didn’t really count.… If there was some emergency, it was simple just to scream back to the fantail to get help.… But with a larger ship, things become more serious, the job more important, and safety at sea harder to control. Certainly with Lane as Navigator.”

He mixed his tales of the Navy with updates on a book he had commenced writing, his first.

Mills Lane IV shared a Time magazine with a new friend at a Mediterranean port.

“The last prose for Savannah Revisited should be complete and turned in to my editor – Cousin Fred Waring – by next weekend. The last photographs are still expected from the Library of Congress and Duke shortly. On or about March 15th 1969 you should receive a handsome package from this youthful sailor and aspirant author.

“There will be about 120 illustrations – old maps, drawings, prints, and photographs with, of course, the anonymous author’s inspiring delightful history of a wonderful old port city.”

Mills also continued to lure his friends to Savannah with promises of entertainment.

“Life in Savannah is more and more pleasant. I have found two delightful feminine companions and an occasional stream of ex-Harvard friends keeps things amusing down here in the sticks. One of my best old friends came down with his wife and all Savannah was charmed by that delightfully radical couple from Berkeley, where they’re now studying. I gave a great bacchanalia in their honor behind my house, the garden filled with yellow flowers, a piano player, a generous bar, and all overflowing with people in the late summer afternoon. We’ll have just that sort of party when you come to town.”

When Mills was out of town, he sent a stream of requests to friends and relatives in Savannah:

“In the big chest in the upstairs hall at 14 Price, you’ll find a drawer filled with old prints, both framed and unframed. Hunt until you can find three particular items. (1)  a page from Ballou’s Drawing Room Companion showing Monterey Square, (2) a page from Ballou’s showing Franklin Square, (3) a page from Harper’s – I believe – showing a meeting of the citizens of Savannah at Johnson Square mourning the death of President Lincoln, about April, 1865. Would you take these items to Gerald Storey, the photoengraver at Standard Engraving Company, and ask him to reproduce them for me? Ask him to forward the finished prints to me … USS OZARK … (He’s very nice and agreeable, but check every two or three days to be sure he does the work.)

“The Savannah Public Library has an old print of the Telfair.… Ask Margaret Godley to let you have it … take it to Mr. Storey.… Finally, in the cabinet where my high fidelity music box sits, you’ll see a pile of folders on the bottom shelf. In a file marked Georgia Historical Society, there is a group of photographs showing the plans for Hodgson Hall. Would you please send these to me, carefully packaged to prevent damage?”

Although he had started on the OZARK with a sense of anticipation and fear, Mills soon decided that a big ship came with advantages.

“Our crossing was gentle and sweet, lasting just ten days instead of the minesweeper’s thirty days. For a few days at first, I was ready to turn in my Navigator’s badge and try another job, but now things seem to have caught on and LTJG Lane will make a good navigator after all.”

It wasn’t hard to adjust to the comfier accommodations.

“The OZARK should be called the Ozark Hilton, whose advertising could boast of spacious rooms with unending supplies of hot water, fine cuisine from exotic Philippines, and an unparalleled ocean front view.”

And he was happy that again he was able to visit sites of Mediterranean history.

Mills Lane IV completed his first edition of Savannah Revisited in 1969 while he was in the U.S. Navy.

“Our first landing was at Gibraltar.… Like Malta on the first trip, the Navy took us to a place I would probably not have visited on my own, but a unique spot, anyway. We took the cable car up the Rock, ate a ham sandwich with sweet butter and tea atop its pinnacle, and wandered through the town during the evening. By chance, we arrived in time for the annual celebration of the famous siege of 1781 and watched the Governor General of the fortress, in silver spurs and epaulettes, inspect the assembled troops, accompanied by brass bands and massed pipers in kilts.”

Mills would later sail on the OZARK when it would earn a place looking more to the future of the United States as one of the backup rescue ships for the Apollo 10 and 11 moon missions.

But in the meantime on the OZARK at Christmas in Naples, the crew celebrated with Neapolitan spaghetti instead of Georgia tom turkey or roast goose. “But deprived of all the usual social, gastronomic, and commercial diversions of Christmas, the naked truth is that we do miss our families, the most important part of the holidays.”

Over the holidays he put the final revisions on Savannah Revisited, but he worried that the engraving company was slow, “and I still have not received the last prints … which I need before the manuscript and illustrations can be sent to Vermont [to the printer]. Perhaps in the end I’ll not be able to mail it off until February after all.”

Mills worked with the Telfair Art Museum for an exhibit of Savannah prints that would tie in with his publication and happily purchased an engraving of Tomochichi, the Yamacraw Indian chief instrumental in the early English settlement, and his nephew Toonahowi.

Mills also assured his family that he had marked two milestones: “I now weigh less than ever before in recorded history”and his “little book on Savannah, [is] surely the most elaborately worked and reworked twenty pages in literary history.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Taking a slow boat to the Med

As many college friends continued to learn more about the geography of Southeast Asia, Mills Lane IV was back from the Caribbean, thinking about historical sites near ports in the Mediterranean and the supplies his ship would need when they set sail in January 1968.

Mills Lane IV in the Navy

“We are now busy ordering all sorts of paraphernalia for the trip, from two thousand plastic garbage can liners to green peas.”

Consequences of bad planning would be easily evident: “We leave for the Mediterranean in just one week. … I am still plagued by the fear that we might run out of food and that the supply officer will be horribly embarrassed by the captain’s furor.”

However, there were possibilities for excitement.

“At one time, there was the remote threat that we might sweep a live minefield left from the Second World War off the coast of Jutland [Denmark]; despite the prospects of infinity which actual minesweeping would involve, there would be the delectable prospect of visits to northern European ports. But … at least I can tell my unborn children how their father NEARLY swept a live minefield during his Navy tour on the ocean blue.”

While he was still in the American Southeast, he described weekend outings to local sites in letters to friends. He visited Hofwyl Plantation and talked with Ophelia Dent who was the last member of the family left on the land. He writes about the lye-scrubbed, not polished, floors in the house that had once been surrounded by rice fields. After a hurricane, family deaths and financial woes, the Dent sisters had started raising cows and driving their own milk trucks. “Remember now that this lady was educated in the East, and her family had always traveled to Europe for their education and delectation.”

Mills played up his Southern roots to his Northern friends. “Ensign Lane had a delicious, delightful Christmas holiday in Atlanta, where Gone with the Wind is still showing and where all the girls still look like Scarlett O’Hara.”

But he sympathized with a friend complaining about parents: “Sometimes even MY devoted parents make me claustrophobic, but that’s usually my own fault.”

The Navy had contacted his parents in Atlanta, and his mother planned to track his route: “We had a letter from your skipper – very nice – explaining how we parents should take your deployment. I was impressed that the Navy would consider parents’ or wives’ attitude at all.”

In addition to watching over the renovation of his getaway at 14 Price Street in Savannah, she said she would pay his bills, and he could repay her. “I will pay them like a computer without approval or censure.”

Four U.S. ships started off from Charleston Naval Base, as Mills told the tale, along with two Turkish ships. One of the U.S. ships didn’t make it out of the Cooper River and had to be towed back to the base. “So the first fourteen hours of our cruise east were spent circling around the entrance to Charleston Harbor.”

They eventually proceeded “less one ship. … Our progress was further hampered by a brisk wind … which prevented the small Turkish ships from maintaining our proposed course. So we had to steer toward Africa rather than Spain.”

Another of the U.S. ships had a refueling crisis and “we are towing her back to Bermuda, which takes us five hundred miles and three days out of our way.”

Mills wasn’t that upset with the trip or detour. He was impressed with the beauty and people of Bermuda and told his father that a driver “remembered those wild American bankers on the BRASIL three years ago and he said, ‘How could I forget that wild man who called himself Lucky Lane?’ ”

Mills IV fared well physically: “Since I have that Lane-Waring nautical tradition in my blood, there was no queasy unseamanly uneasiness for Ensign Lane, but green faces and prostrate bodies were common. … Having water and salads dumped into your lap, and finding all your gear strewn on the deck is just part of life …imprisoned on this 182 foot island of wood.”

His skills improved as “the only officer bringing the ship into the port. … It is very exciting to cruise up to a dock, with two hundred tons of hull and hulk grinding to a halt.”

Finally, he wrote on February 3, 1968, “We arrived at Rota [Spain] this morning after one of the longest Atlantic crossings in recent naval history.”

From there the crew soaked in lessons on international relations. They went to Gallipoli [Turkey] “for a week’s minesweeping operations with the Italians, French, English, and Belgians.”

But they “could not sweep or locate any mines at all.” The Americans and Belgians teamed up and “got along famously, partly because the French and British looked down on both the Americans and Belgians and partly because the Belgian ships have a bar on board to entertain their American sailor friends.”

The crew felt welcomed by the Corsicans. “Despite Gaullism and the troubles of NATO, the French officers have been excessively cordial. It has been fun to try my untested French and, with my pig French and with the pig English of many French people here, it has not been hard to communicate. I made friends with two Corsican students, and we shared reciprocal tours of the SKILL and the town of Ajaccio. When they came for supper last night, they brought with them a fine bottle of champagne and, not to be outdone, I presented them with two cans of peanut butter, U.S. Navy regulation stock number 3941-431-3491.”

In a thank you note, one of the students wished there would be “another French president in order to have better connections with the great people of the United States.”

Mills perceived the Continental French officers looking down on the islanders and attributed it to the food: “The best local fare includes sautéed trout about the size of goldfish, roast mutton from the Corsican mountains, baked blackbird complete with grotesque head and beak, bulging eyes and withered claws, and a delicious soft local cheese served with sugar and rum on top.”

Everyone on the ship was ready for Genoa, “our first major city, complete with magnificent hills, heavy Italianate buildings, some good restaurants with lots of pasta and vino for the officers and seaside bars and brothels with a plentiful and voluptuous supply of sin for the crew. … I’m still pure more because of inbred inhibitions than lack of desire; vice is insinuatingly alluring from a distance but pretty repulsive up close.”

Former college friends were also seeing the world through new eyes. One wrote as he was “steaming past Taiwan en route to our station south of here. To think that there is as much history over here in the Far East as there is in Europe can really stir the imagination, especially with all the recent turmoil this end of our globe has been seeing.”

On March 27, 1968, Mills became a lieutenant (junior grade), but he was unsure what would happen when they returned to Charleston. “I may find myself anywhere from a river patrol boat in Asia to officer-in-charge of the frigate CONSTITUTION permanently moored at Boston.” Employees in the Citizens and Southern National Bank in Macon signed a letter congratulating him on his rise in rank.

Italy provided opportunities on sea and land: “We had a tour of the sailing ship of the Italian Navy. Naturally, my own pleasure was considerably heightened by thoughts of my father’s envy. The ship is called the AMERIGO VESPUCCI.

“From La Spezia, we also drove to Portovenere, a Roman fortress city, hanging on the brink of a precipice at the very edge of the sea. We saw the old church, whose foundations go back to near-heathen Rome and, window dressing, there was even a boy soprano struggling to learn Ave Maria.”

Mills was awed at St. Peter’s Basilica “just gawking at the brilliance and space,” but was less enthusiastic about the Vatican. “The Vatican Museum was a great disappointment and the throngs of noisy, pushing people made it unpleasant, and finally, the Sistine Chapel was weak after the grandeur of St. Peter’s.”

In May they were off the coast of Crete for their last minesweeping, and Mills was dreaming about a return to Savannah that he described to his Grandmother Waring, Mama Sue.

“I’ll have that first weekend in Savannah and I hope you will be ready to share mint juleps, salmon, fresh crab, and all the other good delicacies I’ve been dreaming about for the last five months, including a LONG, hot shower, two clean PRESSED sheets, and the Savannah panorama.”

Giving a nod to his uncle, Antonio Waring, Jr., Mills described more of his adventures to Mama Sue.

“With Waring archaeological blood coursing through my veins, I responded with appropriate genuflections at the Colosseum and Forum.” He took a train to Paestum, to see the Greek city that his mother and father had raved about. He in turn thought those ruins showed examples that “surpassed the Roman buildings in freshness, vigor, youth and virility.”

He also thought one of the best parts of the trip to the Greco-Roman city “was watching the local farming people resting in the shade from their labors and envying their innocent sort of lives.” While the reality of local life may have belied that description, Mills wrote that in the peace and solitude of the town, he “heard birds for the first time in six months.”

As his ship moved through the Caribbean, Mills Lane IV would meet people from the ports of call and sometimes offer tours

From Naples the next port was Bizerte, Tunisia, where Mills said making friends “was the most rewarding opportunity of our whole trip.”

He later wrote to friends he had met in Bizerte: “I really meant what I wrote in French about the friendliness and gentleness of your people. In the United States people are very busy and sometimes they forget the humanity that ties us all together.”

He gave one young man money for throat surgery and told him: “I hope that someday you will have a chance to come to the United States. People there are not as rich and happy as the people of Tunisia may believe, but we do have a great country where most of the people have a chance to make a good life for themselves doing what they desire.”

He thanked another Tunisian “for the rose you gave me while we were waiting for the ferry to take our bus across the canal. And I still promise to send you a little gift once I get back to the United States.”

Mills was also fascinated with Malta, “an exotic spot” with a long history of invaders and adventurers and “a fascinating little theatre in miniature, built about 1750, where I watched a play in rehearsal.”

By June 5 Mills was lamenting that the trip home was also going to be long. “At the halfway point, we were diverted northeast to hunt for the lost submarine SCORPION.”

After a five month voyage, “a small ship is a constricted place and all the officers are very tired of each other’s company.”

The routine had grown old.

“Most of our time was spent wasting time. Our participation in large amphibious exercises was usually limited to a few hours of minesweeping, all against imaginary mines, two days of beach patrol, and several days at anchor. One time, we spent two days going in circles, pretending to minesweep against mines which did not exist against an enemy which did not exist as part of an exercise which had not yet commenced to impress a superior commander who didn’t even know we existed.

“Last week, when we searched for the SCORPION at a place where another ship had earlier sighted an oil slick, we continued to steam in wasted circles twelve hours after all debris in the area had been identified as non-sub-like and twenty-four hours after we had received permission to resume our trip home.”

Mills also gave a dim assessment of their replacements. “Of the four ships scheduled to relieve us in the Mediterranean last month, only two were able to get underway from Charleston. Even worse, a controlled minesweeping experiment at La Spezia, Italy, proved beyond a doubt that, if we actually tried to sweep a minefield, our ship would be blown up before we actually swept any mines.”

However his early planning was successful: “I did get to visit Florence, Pisa. … I established myself at the Hotel Excelsior on Via Veneto in Rome, toured each morning, lunched leisurely at a trattoria at noon, shopped afternoons, took a quick whiskey sour at cocktail time, and took in the Rome Opera. I had five days of this good life, and they kept me sane.”

The shopping yielded presents that included “a fine French engraving of an African tribal king back in the 18th Century,” a recording of The Sound of Music in Italian, liqueur chocolates, and an inflatable plastic chair.

“While I lampoon this cruise and the condition of many minesweepers, my eighteen months on SKILL have been a humbling, chastening experience. The Captain’s ‘Goddammit, Mills, why haven’t you/didn’t you do blankety-blank’ ring in my ears. On a small ship, too, the gold stripe on my sleeve doesn’t protect me from the sailors’ cool perusal; perhaps my ONLY success has been that the men have come to like me after all, but maybe that means I’ve given up trying to be a good officer. I can tell you what a bull nose, turk’s head, monkey fist, … and pelican hook [knots] are.”

Although the ship arrived several days late into Charleston, by mid-June Mills was writing to friends, “As I peck out this parchment, I sit at my plush pad at Fourteen Price Street at Savannah, sustained by Flying Dutchman played at full volume in stereophonic grandeur, by a full stomach of rice and gravy Georgia style, and by further expectations of a delightful seventy-two hour weekend in this shrine of the gentle life in a cruel, ambitious world.”

He wasn’t yet ready to think about the next deployment. “On the SKILL, we are all hoping that our engineering difficulties will prevent us from getting underway for our scheduled exercise in July and, with our shared experiences in the Med, history has taught us that the chances are excellent that we will not make it.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

SKILL on the water and on Price Street

With friends in Vietnam and on Navy ships throughout the world, Mills Lane IV continued to maneuver minesweepers out of Charleston and negotiate renovations on his “plush little pad” at 14 Price St. in Savannah on weekends he could get away.

He wrote to several friends that he looked forward to his extended cruise in the Mediterranean.

The USS SKILL, 1967

“Following the chaste example which I set during my Cambridge youth, my Navy sexual experiences have been limited so far to several exciting haircuts and one especially vigorous shoe shine, so I’m hoping that this cruise, far away from the Lane Banking Tradition and long enough away to spare me any diseased shame, will provide an opportunity for that.”

While he praised the food on his ship – honeydew melon, hare, duck, and lobster – all was not smooth sailing as supply officer on the USS SKILL in 1967.

“We flunked our annual supply inspection.… In addition to a vast collection of errors and omissions, we committed the sin of purchasing unauthorized pretzels and corn chips and charging them to the government as potato chips, for which we have a contract. From the government’s view, we were helping to corrupt a Navy supplier: from our view, we were just using money appropriated for the ship for foods the crew wanted. Anyway, we did deserve to get nabbed, since we had not bothered to hide the loot and since … according to our records, SKILL had consumed more than two hundred pounds of potato chips in two weeks.”

It was not only the inspectors who were dissatisfied.

“My morale had a strong set-back last week. My men all put in transfer requests because they were unhappy and our supply department reports were late beyond reason.… The Captain cornered me between the port side and the motor whale boat and told me how disappointed he had become with Ensign Lane’s performance as supply officer.… The supply department seems to rush from crisis to crisis. The Captain is convinced that I am too much in the hair of my men, harassing the troops; but he is wrong, because my real fault is not demanding proper performance and just letting the men do the job on their own, a kind of negative leadership.”

In another letter he explained it slightly differently.

“The captain feels that this lowly and youthful Ensign has grown too familiar and friendly with the troops and he demands that I be cool, distant, and aloof.… Partly because I’ve been taught that to show temper is a sign of weakness, partly because I’m essentially an affable, gentle civilian at heart, and partly because I’ve enough outside interests to keep all this military business in perspective, Ensign Lane has found it hard to frown, growl, and grow tense over trivial incidents.”

Since he confessed his weaknesses in letters to family and friends, his mother would update him on house restorations in Savannah and then scold him for his Navy shortcomings.

“It worries me that you have taken a reprimand from the Captain so lightly. I think your mind has been wholly on the house – and your job in the navy has not gotten the attention it requires. Now that your house is pretty well completed – you must do the best job of anyone aboard SKILL. You must work for commendation and make up for a poor start.

“For heavens sake, start doing a good job for the Navy and your skipper.”

By the time his minesweeper headed to the Caribbean, things were looking better.

“We are now at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an island of democracy surrounded by a sea of despotic Communism. Though there is much raw concrete and haze gray Navy paint surrounding us and not many palmy shores and native dancing girls, it is exciting to have my first trip away from our native shores to foreign parts.

“Things have picked up considerably now, since I have passed the captain’s threats on to my men and now we seem to be able to turn out the work. I’m standing watches alone now on the bridge, alone responsible for the safety of the ship at night when the other officers are asleep. Yesterday, with considerable help, I made my first landing at the pier. I’m sure you would be impressed to see this young Lord Nelson and John Paul Jones, standing proudly on the bridge, coolly and confidently commanding ‘Right standard rudder! All ahead two-thirds.'”

The ship also gave him plenty of time to think about his place in the world.

“I will definitely travel as long as money, endurance and respectability last. But after that I must decide whether to become a bankerish titan of corporate finance in my family tradition or a well-to-do ne’er-do-well or something in-between. Educated people must struggle with vague aspirations, hoping for some usefulness and meaning to their lives. Everything in me cries out for a gentle, cultivated life with time for good friends, good works and the pleasures of the mind; but everything I’ve been taught tells me I have an obligation to face the world, not escape from it, and to compete and make my mark.”

One of his friends wrote about seeing his father’s name in Time and Newsweek. One article was urging a wait-and-see attitude on recently elected Georgia Governor Lester Maddox and the other commented on the banking and financial situation at the time.

Mills IV used 14 Price Street, brick carriage house, left, as his Savannah retreat

Meanwhile his mother, Anne, continued to work on Maddox’s gardens at the Georgia Governor’s mansion and Lane projects in Savannah. She wrote to Mills IV about architect John Lebey having troubles with the city fire marshal – and the plans had to be changed on Troup Square. She met with Lebey and Oscar Hansen who was assisting with the Rainbow Row houses. She wrote that Mills Jr. thought they could get $6,000 each for houses on Barnard Street, and she wanted Mills IV to look at rough plans for the Cohen row houses that Lebey had drawn.

She also made sure to hide the liquor from the help at 14 Price St.

“I put your whisky in one of the cupboards – too much temptation out where you had it. I returned one bottle of Beefeaters Gin to you because we had had a couple of drinks out of yours.… Then, I discovered that one drink of Bourbon is out of your Bourbon bottle – but I did not switch that bottle in spite of the fact that it had been opened.”

His mother was just as detailed listing particulars on the nuts and bolts of Price St. that would be ready for his inspection, including shutters, security lights and décor. Landscape designer Clermont Lee had been on vacation, “but has your garden on the drawing board. I called Jim Williams about the Catesby prints – which we have held too long. He says it is OK to keep them until your return. He also brought you two chairs over, which I took up to the bedroom. John [Lebey] is beginning work on the balcony and front door shelter.”

There were (Mary Comer Lane) Mama Lane’s watercolors for the bedroom and Christopher Murphy art to hang.

Mills IV wrote to his Harvard friend, Lincoln Borglum, that he was refurbishing “an old carriage house into a den of carnal corruption and civilian civilization. It is being planned with a prominent spot for the Stone Mountain plaque in mind.”

Lincoln is the grandson of Gutzon Borglum who had started the Stone Mountain carving in Atlanta. He was best known, however, for creating Mount Rushmore, which his son, James Lincoln Borglum completed. Mills IV asked his friend for casts of the Stone Mountain coin eagle and an early scheme for Mount Rushmore.

“I plan to move in, right behind the carpenters and right on top of some still-remaining sawdust and plaster. I’ve collected … some fancy French cooking gear, and three cases of wine for a nascent wine cellar.”

It was the perfect retreat: “A narrow brick building about 15 feet wide, it has one living room, one bedroom and bath, plus a garden in back. I’m feeling a little guilty now, since I have splurged on some very fine furniture and furnishings, including some outstanding Chinese lamps and Chippendale chests and Persian carpets.”

He thought one friend “would call it the Pussy Palace. I do not.”

Mills IV still had the big Mediterranean trip in front of him, but he was already thinking about the years ahead: “Active duty ends in September, 1969. I’m planning now a real orgy of a trip, a Grand Tour of Europe imitating the young men fifty years ago. Though there is only one remote marital possibility in view, we could make it a Wedding Trip instead. Then I’d return from the trip for Christmas and begin work at the bank on January 2, 1970, in Atlanta.

They were not the best laid plans.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Bumper boats at sea and the lure of lusty men

“Anyone who can fathom the mysteries of celestial navigation must be a wizard.”

As Mills Lane IV explored the seas and stars in the Navy, he watched and learned in awe as he discovered lives of others in the intimacy of a small minesweeper.

Navigator, U.S. Navy, 1966-67

Always evaluating what different stations in life meant, perhaps a bit jealously, he writes with a sense of romance and exaggeration. Maybe being on a minesweeper will “rub off some of my Harvard arrogance.”

Many of his buddies from Harvard and OCS have married and started the baby making. He wrote to several and invited them to meet him in his little house in Savannah where he escaped from the Navy on weekends.

“If you have not been to Savannah before, we can offer a marvelously cultured old city, with a gentleman’s reading society, a very faded luncheon club, parks and squares all over.”

During the week, Mills settled happily into Charleston attending Mine Warfare Training Center and living with his first cousin, Howard Morrison, at the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. “Though I’m of course a very temperate fellow, our room is only ten paces from the officers’ bar,” Mills wrote to friends and family.

“We have an aunt and uncle in Charleston, and they have given us keys to their home and promised to usher us into the MOST inaccessible crannies of Charleston society. … Savannah is only two hours away and there I have doting relations, my parents’ small apartment downtown, and my cousin’s farm out in the country.” That was before the city moved to surround Lebanon Plantation.

Mills marked occasions great and small with descriptions of food: “Usually I rush to Savannah.  The drive is good therapy after a tedious week of school, and it is pleasant to drive a narrow road overshadowed with Spanish moss and bordered with South Carolina fireworks vendors. … Aunt Mary (Morrison) dotes on me with Friday night fried chicken.”

He trades stories about Yucatan excursions and agrees “that the Mayas were an amazing, eccentric piece of cultural history. Palenque was really a highlight. … We crawled inside the temple to see the crypt burial chamber and then ate roast chickens on top of the temple, where we also could overlook the entire archaeological area.”

He is happy that he has been assigned to the minesweeper, USS STURDY. “Small ships, with only five officers, means that there will be a considerable burden on all of us, but the rewards of really knowing the crew and the ship and also the opportunity for lots of ship-handling. … The Caine Mutiny, was, of course, written about minesweeper problems.”

Correspondence with his father in Atlanta shows Mills IV shopping in Charleston for the Ships of the Sea Museum. “Here are photographs of two very handsome ship’s ornaments outrageously priced, and I do not recommend that you purchase them. However, they could make outstanding symbols for your museum.”

For good measure he comments to his father on a C&S Bank advertisement: “Here also is a copy of a bank ad from the most recent Time magazine. It seems to me that this is poor representation for the bank, especially in such a high-priced periodical.”

Mills continues his interest in publishing Georgia history in conversations with his father and talks about ways their family foundation could contribute.

“I spoke with Walter Hartridge this weekend, and by next weekend he will have a review of Forsyth Park’s history ready for us. I’ve asked him to outline the alterations to its original design and also tell us about some of the events that went on there in the good old days.

“If the Foundation does proceed with this project, it would be marvelous public relations for the friendly C&S to sponsor band concerts in the park from time to time throughout the warm months, perhaps adding free ice cream as well. I have visions of delighted children and parents gobbling ice cream on a warm Sunday and coming in to make deposits on Monday morning. Banks in New York have sponsored similar outdoor events in Central Park.”

His father agreed about the price of the wooden sailors in the antiques store: “The price was way yonder too high.” But he disagreed about the ad buy: “We buy only the regional issue of Time magazine so we don’t pay the price for advertising The C&S all over the world. We think it’s a pretty good buy for the money.”

The activity in Forsyth Park today has come full circle from its beginnings, but 1966 was a different story.

Mills Jr. wrote: “Tickled to death you’ve gotten Walter Hartridge to go to work on Forsyth Park. … There used to be a bandstand in the park and concerts were tried out on Sunday afternoons when I was a youngster. I like them, but they didn’t draw very much and were discontinued. Back in those days though the park was a very popular place. Children lived in the neighborhood and on Saturdays and Sundays the place was jammed with nurses and children. People have moved away and the park has become a very, very lonesome spot.”

After finishing his minesweeping studies, Mills IV would report aboard the STURDY. He could look forward to being home regularly at night, except during the cruises to Caribbean and Mediterranean waters and six weeks in drydock for overhaul every two years.

Drydock could be near Charleston or Savannah. “So I’m hoping that I’ll be stationed at Savannah Machine and Foundry for my first two months on board!” The Savannah Machine and Foundry built minesweepers for the U.S. Navy. (Started in 1912 and sold in 1968 to Aegis Corp., it has moved through many owners since, including Intermarine, and Palmer Johnson and Colonial Terminals.)

With great detail Mills outlined his specialized responsibilities as a Mine Countermeasures Officer. A partial list includes Communications Officer, Censorship Officer, Electronics Officer, Intelligence Officer, Photographic Officer (“When your ship cruises the Caribbean you will photograph Russian vessels going to Cuba”), Postal Officer, Underwater Search Officer, Administrative Assistant for the XO, Assistant Training Officer, Assistant Legal Officer, Assistant Personnel Officer, Public Information Officer, Lookout and Recognition Officer, and Crypto Security Officer.

“We had some excitement leaving Charleston harbor for a sealab on another minesweeper. As we tried to pull away from the pier the tide took us and we banged into another ship, bending stanchions all along one side of our ship. (Incidentally, my ship, the STURDY, apparently had a steering casualty two days ago and really hit another ship in mid-channel.)

“Then, a little later, as we cruised out of the harbor, we had a fire in the engine room and sounded general quarters, ready to abandon ship – which we did not have to do. (Fire is really feared aboard minesweepers, since they are made of wood: twenty percent of the ships in our class have been seriously burned during the last eighteen months and one, STALWART, sister ship of the STURDY, burned to a crisp shell in San Juan last summer.) Ah, the excitement of the rigorous, vigorous military life!”

Interspersed with the sailing experiences, he was a salesman for Savannah to friends up north: “The family has just purchased another small block of houses down near the River in Savannah and we are just about to begin restoring them. They are quite small and just right for you. Please come down to Savannah for a visit soon, eye these little palaces, and decide that you want to move in and take a hand in refurbishing them with us. Incidentally, rent would be reasonable, $100 monthly.”

Eventually he had a change of Navy orders: “I reported aboard SKILL, another minesweeper out of Charleston, early in December. SKILL is a small ship, dirty, disorganized, undisciplined and rough-riding even in calm weather; but she is small enough for junior officers to have much more responsibility than they could have on larger ships and much more than they deserve, I’m afraid.

“By far the best things is the crew, men who are utterly straight-forward, uninhibited, and naturally lusty. Most OCS types have grown up in a rather protected little world of well-mannered, carefully-behaved people, who are cautious about what they say and do. Sailors, however, have little to gain or lose during four years in the navy, so they are almost completely natural.

“It has been a rewarding thing to deal honestly, face-to-face with people for the first time. Even though white hats must salute you and say “sir” with proper deference, you must earn their respect for yourself aboard ship. OCS didn’t teach me that.

“Sailors like nothing more than an officer with a willing, patient ear – perhaps because no work can be done while talking is going on. … Whether you were a wild or a chaste young man, I’m sure you were touched by the humanity of people who must depend on you.

“There is no opportunity to be remote and isolated on a small ship when you hear the troubles of a man who has finally married the mother of his year-old son and must now try to support her on $125 a month or of another man who got drunk aboard ship because his fiancé had written to tell him that she was marrying another man who had fathered a secret child by her. In the civilian world of genteel people, these things are hidden; aboard ship, we must deal with them.”

Mills loved the sea stories and gossip: drunken officers in charge; the first lieutenant who liked his first-class boatswain’s mate too much; the illegal bowling team shirts and posy-covered toilet paper on the subs; petty criminals forced into the service rather than court; the Filipino bartender who knows more about Naval operations than the officers aboard ship.

He was happy “to escape the little world of C&S banks and the recognition of the name Lane.” And he felt lucky about his upcoming adventures:

“The Navy can be an exotic, exhilarating experience … first opportunity to command the respect and admiration of men … glamorous service, with its lure of the ships and the sea. Many people justify their time in the service by saying that they are serving their country and the cause of Democracy. I doubt that my efforts will really make much difference, but I’m glad to spend three years of good education and good experience.

“Meanwhile, with salt on my brass bars, and with corrosive, authoritative façade, I remain your very own, Ensign Lane.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Scrimshaw, swords and sailing away

As Mills Lane IV is finishing Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1966, mail call continues to connect him with friends and family. His father sends him on weekend errands for the Ships of the Sea Museum and his mother offers tidbits about Georgia politics, house restorations and family gossip.

IN THE NAVY, Rhode Island, 1966

Mills shares descriptions of his current duties and dreams of what life might be after September graduation:

“Of course it is fun to contemplate the possibilities for duty assignments from plush military attaché duty in Paris to the most excruciating assignment as engineering officer aboard a rusty, forty-year old auxiliary. … Perhaps it is just as well that we have no voice, since there would certainly be self-recriminations of the bitterest sort if a young ensign found himself in a horrible duty that he had chosen for himself.”

If school is tough, he can make up for it on weekends.

“The OCS struggle has been soothed by weekend liberties back in Cambridge, the scene of my college debaucheries. I’m in Cambridge now, typing in the garden of my college club, sun overhead and iced tea – with mint, too! at hand … good escape and effective therapy.”

To a young friend at his prep school, Middlesex, Mills recommends what he is rereading, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, and offers a bit of sword play:

“I was especially interested in reports of your 50-inch, nine pound sword. … As a Navy officer, a sword is required costume and I already have my own from Germany. I am sure it is not as glamorous as yours but I am equally proud of mine.”

Mills expresses interest in the ship models a friend’s father was selling and goes shopping at his own father’s request for scrimshaw from a Boston antiques shop.

“I purchased some magnificent pieces – one shows a whaling boat capsizing, another shows lady Liberty America, and four others show fully-rigged sailing ships.”

He keeps up with much of the family through his mother, Anne. She makes regular trips from Atlanta to Savannah to see family members and take care of “house business.” She talks about selecting paint colors and light fixtures for their many restorations and the distribution of patriarchal portraits. She takes time off to have lunch with family at the Oglethorpe Club and decries a young girl’s white lipstick. She describes a wild family wedding with an uncontrollable 3-year- old flower girl and hopes “that older man can make the bride happy.”

Anne and Mills Jr. plan a trip to Estill, S.C., to see an 1830s house that is scheduled for demolition and talk about putting it on a Bay Street lot.

Not all the renovations are of houses: The bank’s “Cruz del Sur is now having its masts rigged. … When the masts are up, it will be as tall as a 10 story building – can you imagine?”

There were also the gardens. While her own tomatoes, “regular and cocktail were starting to come in,” Anne served on the Gardens Committee for the new Georgia Governor’s Mansion. She “tramped around the grounds with the landscape architect.”

She writes that “politics in Georgia is getting more and more frantic.” On the day of the runoff between Ellis Arnell and Lester Maddox for governor, Mills Jr. takes off for a short retreat with business associates and family members to avoid the phone. The men are later picked up by the bank’s helicopter, and the women “cleaned up and drove back home in a black, foggy, rain.”

Anne sends money and good wishes to her “Dearest, darlin’, adorable Birthday Boy” when he turned 24 on August 22.

Mills sends requests that his father send a “copy of the Venture article on ship museums” and his mother “copies of the Foreign Affairs Quarterly which have been piling up while I’ve been away.”

He emphasizes his new fitness by asking his mother to send him two of his suits to see if they need to be altered by his favorite Boston tailor: “Let me suggest you send the light-grey pinstrip (sic) and one other.”

She sends his grey pin stripe suit and the July issue of Foreign Quarterly to his Cambridge Phoenix Club.

His mother says his parents would be flying to Savannah when Mills IV was graduating from OCS in September: “Wish we were flying to Newport …shall be thinking of you with love and pride. So when you stand up there to be made an officer of the U.S. Navy – know that your Mother and Father are standing spiritually with you and will be trying to visualize what is happening.”

He counts the days until graduation, but takes pride in his success.

“After trial, tribulation, and some luck, I was appointed to a very modest student officer position. I’m in charge of taking the company to morning and evening mess, and I prepare the berthing and cleaning bills, plus a little more assorted paper work. It also means that I wear two bright brass bars on my collar, have a room steward to keep my room clean and neat (no more morning rush and calloused knees for me!), get liberty off base on Wednesday night while my friends study unhappy and disconsolate ‘aboard.’ Finally I have a room with a view of Naragansett Bay right outside our barracks; last night we could doze off to the tune of fog whistles.”

“Things are getting better and better at OCS. …  We had our last physical training tests (which are known derisively and fearfully as JFK’s for the man who suggested them for the Navy).”

His life is mapped out for the next several months.

“The name of my ship is the USS STURDY and its name sounds like something out of a second-rate WWII Pacific tale. I will be at Minesweeping school in Charleston for eleven weeks, starting Oct. 3. Then I will remain in Charleston for another three week course in “Supply Duties for Line Officers.” Minesweepers are not large enough for true Supply Officers, and so I suppose I will be in charge of ship’s stores, mess, laundry, and all of its administrative paper work. But I’ll have the best opportunity for real shiphandling aboard such a small ship, too.”

He isn’t sure where his ship would be deployed, but “an ocean-going minesweeper does take cruises to the Mediterranean.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

At OCS, Mills IV Learned to ‘Just Float’

Mills Lane IV would often send basically the same letter to several people. Sometimes Mama and Papa would receive a specialized letter replete with requests, but often family and friends would receive versions of the same script.

As he prepared for Navy Officer Candidate School in 1966, Mills shared nightmares about the coming military duty with the requisite hyperbole.

Mills Lane IV (second row, far right) at Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, 1966.

“It is a woeful tragedy when such unsullied, innocent, and talented youths … just fresh from their ark protection of their mother’s womb, must go off to battle. I have been dreaming … I saw a Navy barber with menacing clippers dangerously near my shaggy head.… Another night I dreamt I was fighting a fierce pitched battle on a hillside… set-up like a movie theatre.… The enemy was rushing in from the back exits and we were hiding behind the last row of seats so we could shoot them from behind.”

He grew nostalgic about his last posting for the C&S Bank in Macon.

“Everyone at the friendly C&S Bank has been very kind; my relations in Macon – the Comers and Trains – have been more tolerant and patient than relatives should be.”

He was especially proud of his last production for the bank when branch openings were celebrated with great fanfare.

“We reopened our Ingleside branch, on George Washington’s birthday.… It was elaborately remodeled and refurnished, and we called attention to the extravagant expense by celebrating George Washington’s 234th birthday. We had four high school brass bands playing Sousa very badly, but marching down Ingleside Avenue each time in a sensational promenade.

“We had 3,000 cherry tarts, 2,000 portraits of George by Stuart flown to us from the Fine Arts Museum (guess whose idea that was), and an old-fashioned cherry pie baking contest, judged by the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce president. Their skill was demonstrated by their choosing a pie baked by a lady who had won a national 4-H Club competition with the same recipe. I have become a card-carrying member of the Chamber; Sinclair Lewis would condemn me, but David Riesman would understand.”

That extravaganza drew rare praise from his father. Mills IV also showed gratitude to his parents by hosting a surprise 25th wedding anniversary celebration for them at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta.

On his own drive up the east coast through Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Richmond, Washington, and Boston he “played ardent Jeffersonian, American colonialist, independent confederate, loyal patriot and Harvard intellectual on successive stops.”

“My last week in Boston was great fun, and I had a better time than I ever had during my four years at Harvard.”

He hosted his own farewell dinner party with friends at Locke-Ober. Between Pouilly-Fuissé 65, lobster bisque, and Chicken Richmond, they toasted pastoral Macon and his cousin Mary Comer. He asked the waiter for a butter knife to give to her and said in a letter that he hoped she would use it “to butcher cheese in my absence.”

As he started his training with the Navy in Newport, he reflected on the differences between his education at Harvard and OCS and took comfort in figuring out the system.

“Newport is a little like Harvard. No good Harvard man will admit how easy his college can be; and no good Navy man will readily admit how easy OCS can be. Especially compared with the immense possibilities for harassment and terror, our treatment has been mild.”

He wrote on his embossed Mills Bee Lane IV stationery to his parents who were sailing through the Greek Isles:

“There is a straight and narrow path to tread, once you know where it is, and academic material is just fed to you. At Harvard part of the process was to have a student read and discover important and significant material for himself; here you are given a brazen outline of the modest material you are expected to know.”

But he was grateful for the physical training.

“At OCS it is good to have self-improvement thrust on you. Last week I swam competitively: you know it would not be a virtuoso performance, but it was exhilarating and fun. There is also a certain perverse pleasure to find out each day what new devilments our PT instructor has found for us to perform. I’ve taken the OCS opportunity to diet, making PT easier and letting me leave Newport both brawny and boney. Classes and subjects are interesting; teachers are almost all petty officers and experienced seamen, spouting profanity and facts with equal vigor and expertise.”

And he loved learning the ways around the rules.

“The decks (floors) are to be kept always spotless and glistening; this impossible directive is easily fulfilled by the simple expedient of never wearing shoes in the halls, only rubber sandals. Blankets must be folded in a very precise way, but all you need do is just never use them, so they are always perfectly folded after the first day. Knowing that things are relative, that rules are only an arbitrary framework, makes it easy to get through. The phrase used up here is ‘Just float,’ which means, I suppose, take everything conscientiously but not too seriously.”

Part of the training was learning group dynamics.

“Our section of twenty-three men organizes itself and gropes its away around, finding out by error: clearly, this is part of the educational process at OCS … four-months of preparation for sea duty, where we will find taut discipline, real responsibility, and find out how ignorant and untrained we really are. OCS is just giving us an outlook and a vocabulary: we’ll really learn about the Navy when we board ship and find that regular seamen and non-commissoned officers know far more than we punk freshman Ensigns.”

He noted changes in himself and others.

“Entering together two weeks ago, we all lost our identity, our clothes, our haircut, and our confidence. Now these are beginning to return.”

Mills carefully thought about his weekend escapes, especially the food. “My plans for solitude and a delicatessen lunch of hot pastrami are taking on an almost sensual, excruciatingly delightful aspect.”

He was already the architecture critic, recommending to all a visit to the cliff of Newport to see “the grand, gaudy, gorgeous summer houses.”

“The Breakers is, of course, the most famous, but two others, the Elms and the Marble House, are also open and much finer to my tastes.”

“Local people say that these houses represent Late American Renaissance. Really, though, they are so extravagantly done that they are almost tasteless. It’s all right for European palaces where elaborate rococo work was the style, but in [a] Newport ‘summer cottage’ it is all affectation. At the same time these houses represent dramatically an age of innocence and isolation in this country, before social legislation and world dependence.”

He asked friends and family to keep the letters coming “to the lowly seaman and lonely seafarer.”

As he signed off one letter to a friend: “Some lobster bisque, sweetbreads, and macaroons later, with a long pause, for the benefit of my mental health, this galley slave wishes you ship ahoy, matey. As the boys write home from their first year of summer camp, I just LOVE letters.”

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.



Uncle Sam wins the family challenge

Mills Lane IV received some unexpected military aid in deciding his future while toiling away in the summer of 1965 at the C&S Bank in Macon, Ga.

Mills Lane IV (left) organized a trip south for a group of Harvard friends during spring break in 1965.

In anticipation of progressing from the waiting list to enter the Harvard MBA program, he had been taking summer night school classes in Macon to improve his math scores and facility with languages and was under the impression that those classes would keep him from the military draft. When the draft board notified him otherwise, he overcame initial panic, consulted with his family, and decided to apply for Navy Officer Candidate School.

As he prepared for his next step, he checked in through letters with his friends from Harvard, especially his fellow members of the Phoenix – S K Club.

He had executed an excursion during the recent spring break of his senior year to take a group South to explore his haunts in Atlanta, Savannah and on a trip on the bank’s boat through the Golden Isles to Fernandina, Fla. and the family compound at Alligator Creek.

For his parents, he outlined the descriptions of the Harvard men with educational, social, political and business connections and took great pride in arranging an interesting, congenial group that would have the best time together. He also sent a list of suggestions for how his parents could contribute to the trip and confirmed details in a letter to his grandmother, Mama Lane:

“We have prepared for the trip with intracoastal waterway charts and blue blazers with white linen pants.”

By the end of summer he had passed the Navy physical, to his own amazement, and told his friends that after four months of OCS, “I will be free to romp on sunny, sandy isles, swim in emerald seas, and dance with voluptuously writhing native girls.”

But he still had a few more months as a responsible bank leader in Macon where he had decorated a branch and had been schooled in giving to the community.

“I am working for the local United Fund, which is good education for a well-fed, arrogant college boy, and … I have run the full gamut of charities. I have even played the piano for the mental ward on the seventh floor of the Macon Hospital – a far more appreciative audience than I ever had at the club.”

He had not completely ruled out becoming “a titan of corporate finance,” but after initial dismay at the thought of military service, he seemed to relish the chance to gain new experiences and to see what he could do on his own.

“No patriotic valor prompts me to this rash act: only the inevitability of my military obligation and the hope that a little physical training, impersonal discipline, and exotic experience will do me some good. After all, the little world bound by the Citizens and Southern Banks, which revolves around my father, is hardly a good place for his son to test himself, and a little outright, outside competition will do wonders for my self-confidence plus [add] the possibility of a little sin in a worldly port city for another sort of confidence.”

In his last days of civilian freedom, he praised the escape of movies with an elaborate critique of “Ship of Fools,” drove his red VW convertible up the East Coast, and rued that he still couldn’t milk a cow.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Little success with laundry, banking or milking cows

The Lanes seemed to use letters as admissions of failure, intense self-scrutiny and promises of success, so let’s take another diversion with letters and listen to words of struggle from Mills Lane IV before we return to renovation.

As with many freshman college students, laundry loomed large every two weeks. “So by Christmas time, exactly four and one-half washes from now, I should be experienced and efficient,” he wrote home.

Mills Lane IV and his parents, Mills Jr. and Anne, were at home on the water or at the opera.

Mills seemed to suit the chickens just fine in Macon.

While an undergraduate at Harvard, he spent summers learning the family business at C&S Bank branches, but he often saw himself making life even more miserable for “polka-dotted tenant farmers.”

“… for three weeks I was an installment loan interviewer, wiping tears from the streaming faces of women who told me the woes of their lives and of the illnesses which made it impossible for them to work or of the fate which had turned against them. But these stories had a really devastating effect on me (I had to sympathize, since I was so deeply in debt myself) and I poured out my heart and the bank’s money with a wildly generous abandon.

“To correct this shameful and fatal weakness I was farmed out for two weeks in the country to collect loans which had gone bad precisely because of just this kind of emotional diarrhea. I have grown callous and brutish, as I have repossessed cars from screaming women, surrounded by a cluster of wailing and ragged stair-step children. It is all real life, but at the same time it is something rather unreal for a fellow like me who has led such a secure and protected life.”

Even though Mills IV eschewed the family legacy of Yale by going to Harvard, his father’s shadow grew as the bank became nationally known. At an evening of music during a vacation with the extended family in New York, Mills IV followed Mills Jr. down the aisle of the old Metropolitan Opera House and heard someone say, “There goes Mr. Atlanta.”

During his final Harvard winter break, he had watched his father in action in New York. He wrote to his grandmother, Mary Comer Lane, about the experience:

“For the first time, I followed father around on his business and banking calls. While I found myself sitting silently and stupidly at most of these talks, it was all awe-inspiring and memorable. Each day we had lunch at a different New York bank, and each of them has its own definite personality.”

When Mills finished his undergraduate work in history at Harvard in 1965, he struggled with which road to take from Boston after his first choice, staying in Cambridge for an MBA, was stuck on the school’s waiting list.

He thought about geography and family legacy. In letters he seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as reassure his family.

“ I have spent most of my thinking life – nine months each year since I was thirteen – within the twenty mile radius of Boston. But I am not a Yankee, just a Georgian with a difference. Now I really look forward to taking up the family reins, the bank and the family obligations and responsibilities. Many sons might not want them – and, of course, at one time, I did not – but I think there is an extra dimension to a life lived within family and tradition and responsibility. More than any material or social advantage, I value more than anything the pride of our family and its promise of accomplishment.”

And by June he was back in Georgia writing to his grandmother, Mama Lane:

“ I have started at the bank, and I am relishing each moment of my Macon expedition, which I have decided to make into a great adventure. … This morning, in fact, I tried to milk a cow; however it was without success. I have firmly resolved to make the most of everyone, every moment, and every opportunity, and I am having a wonderful time.”

But he couldn’t keep up the ruse much longer.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Dear Mills – letters that illuminate

So far these posts have focused mostly on what the Lane family restored and accomplished in Savannah, and there is much more of that to come. But the family chemistry is a part of that building mortar.

Harvard Graduation 1965

Mills Lane IV (1942-2001) grew up in an age where letters were encouraged and expected. He wrote to his family every week when he was away at school, and the letters capture his early and enduring interest in architecture, history and preservation.

Yet a 1959 letter from his mother, Anne, to his father, Mills Jr., begins, “We agree that Mick is a spoiled, head strong young man – and also our most precious possession. We agree, too, that you and I are mostly responsible for the present Mick. We are afraid that, if he continues, uncurbed, society (in the broad sense of the word) will not find him acceptable.”

She continues to describe her son as “sweet, impulsive, generous and intelligent” but also someone who is head strong, self-centered and “wants to be captain at all times. … He consistently says tasteless and sometimes insulting things – interrupts and never seems to know how to remain attentively silent. He has never learned to listen.”

She admonishes her husband, “You have been completely absorbed in your world – and have left him to me to rear.”

Another 1959 letter from his father, who at the time owned the Savannah Morning News, to his mother, Mary Comer Lane, who helped finance the operation, indicates satisfaction with building the new printing plant on Bay Street (now restaurants and condos) and making a $150,000 profit for the year.

Mills Jr., who was also running C&S Bank in Atlanta, was equally pleased that he would be giving his son a couple of career options – banking or publishing, but he feared “music is his first and only love.” However, Mills, Jr. learned fairly quickly that a bank and newspaper don’t easily make good bedfellows and sold the newspaper three years later.

Mills IV’s letters from school indicate efforts to make his parents happy: “I’m working hard, my grades are improving, I’m on a diet, and please send money.” Examples of his frugality accompany the pleas, including elaborate descriptions of typewriter and clothing repair. He was always assessing his abilities, worth and weight, literally and figuratively, often connecting the issues. At school he claimed financial problems were caused by successful dieting: it was expensive to alter and re-alter clothes.

His early Harvard years include agonizing fluctuations about his studies. He originally thinks he wants to be a music teacher at Savannah Country Day School, but decides his talent is not up to his standards and switches to Russian history, influenced perhaps by a sail on the SS Brasil to Russia with his grandmother.

He later concentrates on American History, especially history of the South, with his thesis “The Negro in Georgia politics between 1880 and 1906.” By the mid-1960s he starts sowing the seeds of the Beehive Press with letters about history, books and preservation in Savannah to his grandmother, Mama Lane.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

Church on the Square

Mills Lane IV was perhaps most pleased with his exterior restoration of the Unitarian Universalist Church on the northwest trust lot of Troup Square from 1999-2000. His parents had paid for the renovation of that square, and Mills took delight in restoring buildings on Savannah’s signature land configurations.

Restored façade of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Windows were reconstructed with handmade antique-style German glass.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Mills had worked with the city to borrow a fence post from Bonaventure Cemetery to ensure the pattern that would surround the church was correct for the era. That era was the 1850s.

According to church records, silversmith Moses Eastman had originally agreed to fund the building by New York architect John Norris. After Eastman died in 1850, his wife Eliza M. Tuthill Eastman continued as benefactor. The church, built facing Oglethorpe Square across from Richardson-Owens-Thomas House, was dedicated on November 21, 1851. Norris also designed Savannah’s U.S. Custom House, Massie School Building and Green-Meldrim House, among others.

In May 1852, John Pierpont, Jr., son of a Unitarian minister and abolitionist, began ministry for an annual salary of $1,500. His brother, James, served as the church music director and organist. In 1857 he copyrighted the song, “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and the church is still known as the “Jingle Bells Church.” By 1859, there was no money to pay salaries and the Pierponts were gone.

In August 1859, the Unitarians sold the building to the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, and it became the home of St. Stephen’s, a black congregation. Since an African-American church on Oglethorpe Square would not be accepted at that time, congregants moved the building to Troup Square in 1861, closer to African-American neighborhoods. In 1947 the Episcopalians sold the building to Baptists.

The Unitarians had moved several times, merged with the Universalists, and become known for their work in Civil Rights. They reacquired the Eastman building and moved back into their ancestral home in 1997. That year Mills talked to church leaders about donating up to $150,000 to restore the exterior of the church building.

In 1999 Mills’s architects, Harvie Jones from Alabama and John Deering from Savannah, evaluated a small window that had been enclosed in the back of the building. That helped them determine the Gothic fenestration of Norris’s design. Remnants of very old green, yellow gold and purple glass were found in the window of the balcony.

Mills imported handmade German glass for the sanctuary’s reconstructed windows after choosing colors with artist and church member Lind Hollingsworth and church member Betty Chamlee Miller who researched the colors and received a letter from Phoebe B. Stanton, author of Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture, 1840-1856.

“You are on the right track with your color selections…. The present-day handmade German ‘antique’ glass is the very best, the most beautiful…. Non-pictorial colored glass in your windows is right for a Unitarian church.” Deering has pointed to those windows as further examples of Mills’s attention to quality details.

Ralph Anderson and his construction crew recreated the crocket finials and rescored and painted the walls to resemble blocks of brownstone.

After the Lane restoration of the exterior, the congregation undertook the interior with the help of Jim Abraham and SCAD historic preservation students and rededicated the completed project in February 2007.

The newly landscaped forecourt was surrounded by that newly cast iron fence. The “stolen” post was back in Bonaventure.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

For more on architecture and the history of the South, click on the “Books” tab at the top of the page.

The family and the college on Gaston

The recent news about Armstrong State University involves a possible merger with Georgia Southern University about 50 miles west down Interstate-16. In the 1960s the controversy was about whether the college should expand in downtown Savannah, and a solution moved the school about a dozen miles south on Abercorn.

Although Monterey Square survived the expansion plans of Armstrong Junior College, a couple of years later professor Harry C. Merritt and his students from the University of Florida proposed tearing down much of the “bad architecture” around the square, including the Mercer House, according to a story that appeared in the Nov. 16, 1965, edition of the Savannah Evening Press.

While Mills Lane IV had not approved of all of his family’s projects, he did approve of the red brick mansion his grandfather started building in 1909 on Forsyth Park at the corner of Gaston and Drayton designed by an architect from New York City. Mills Lane Jr. was born in that house on Jan. 12, 1912.

A block down Gaston Street at Bull, the George F. Armstrong family had given their mansion to the city to set up an institution of higher learning, and Armstrong Junior College opened in 1935. That same year Mills Sr., “one of the college’s most important benefactors” according to school records, gave a building to the college two lots from the main building for classrooms and later the college library.

In the 1960s Mills Jr. and his wife, Anne, and other community members were distressed about the college’s plans to expand beyond the Armstrong House and the nearby six buildings. A proposal called for the elimination of some houses around Chatham Square including Gordon Row. Other buildings planned for demolition were on Bull Street north to Liberty Street and on Whitaker Street along the park.

Mills Jr. provided a solution in 1962 by donating 250 acres of land on the Southside so the college could grow without destroying a significant part of downtown. He also worked with the Historic Savannah Foundation to purchase six of the threatened buildings through its revolving fund. Mills IV later continued the tradition of filtering funds through Historic Savannah as a way of anonymously preserving expensive tracts of history.

Next: Mills Lane IV and his parents were enthusiastic about improving Troup Square. His work restoring the exterior of the Unitarian Universalist Church was a favorite project.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Legacy in the Garden

Mills Lane IV had contemplated several scenarios for the land around Scarbrough House. When the replication of the original courthouse on Wright Square was coolly received, he put several friends to work as “the committee on taste” to help plan an annex primarily for education.


Aerial view of the North Garden addition to Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.


In a letter to potential architects Mills wrote: “This new building must be subordinate to Scarbrough House and should not present itself as a fake historicist work of architecture. It should be simple but stylish, modern yet with some historical references…. Inspiration for exterior details should be derived from two buildings by Sir John Soane, the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the 1814 stable entrance at the Royal Hospital…. We would like to spend no more than $750,000 to $1 million.”

Several architectural firms submitted proposals, but Mills grew tired of the project, possibly exacerbated by declining health, and decided it would cost too much.

After Mills’s death in 2001, a debate ensued about the building directly north of Scarbrough House that had housed a car repair/gas station and the significance of preserving architectural examples from that automotive period of the early 20th century. Three walls and some structural beams were all that remained of the original.

At one point the Savannah College of Art and Design had planned an expanded building for its fashion department there. Fearing the overshadowing of Scarbrough House, the Ships of the Sea Museum fought the height and mass of the proposed building.

The Museum eventually purchased the parcel. Mills’s partner, Gary Arthur, working with architects Dan Snyder and Algar Thagne, created the design that expanded the educational and cultural vision of the museum that Mills had begun. The result was an open air assembly room that complements but doesn’t compete with Scarbrough House.

Under the plan for the new North Garden by landscape designer John McEllen, plantings that would have been available for the Scarbroughs are growing in the largest walled garden in the Historic District. A series of five garden “rooms,” invite visitors to walk through a Trident maple grove inspired by city parks in Paris; under a 100 foot pergola covered by scuppernong, wisteria, and roses; through banana trees and a citrus grove of kumquats, limequats, tangelos, blood oranges; and through a natural garden of Japanese yew, variegated bamboo, tea olives, and needle palms among others that set up a woodland feel, McEllen said.

The fifth room, Sisters’ Garden, pays tribute to the horticultural work of William Scarbrough’s daughters, Julia and Charlotte, and Savannah’s original Trustees Garden established in 1734. Charlotte was an entomologist and artist whose notebooks illustrate insects with native wildflowers. Depending on the season, figs, pomegranates, camellias, dogwoods, rice and cotton are just a few of the plants on view from paths or the belvedere overlooking the garden. Drainage catch basins ensure that water stays on the property and doesn’t run into the streets. “Being at the Ships is a dream,” said McEllen who also chose the plant materials and design of the old Scarbrough garden laid out around the mansion in 1998, after the completion of Mills Lane’s restoration.

The $2 million North Garden opened in 2012 with an assembly room that hosts concerts, lectures and weddings surrounded by the kinds of plants that would have welcomed guests of the early colony.

While Mills didn’t live to see the current expansion of the garden or a contemplated education building, his vision continues to guide the Ships of the Sea.

“The Museum is particularly eager to create vital educational programs for school groups and also adults. Ships of the Sea must be more than an entertainment for tourists. We want to serve the citizens of Savannah by creating a history of the city seen through the river, the shipping and the port and, by so doing, enhance our educational and cultural life and sensibilities.”

From “Long-Term Master Plan, Continued” written by Mills Lane for a Museum newsletter.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Making a case for moving history

In the late 1990s Mills Lane IV dreamed of replicating the demolished Chatham County Courthouse that had originally been built on Wright Square. He wanted to put the new construction next to Scarbrough House and the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Georgia Historical Society

Chatham County Courthouse, built 1830-33, on Wright Square. Demolished in 1889.

Model of demolished Chatham County Courthouse submitted to the Historic District Board of Review to accompany Mills Lane’s petition to recreate it as an education hall for Ships of the Sea Museum.

He wanted MLK, the former West Broad Street, to once again be a beautiful entrance to Savannah. He even tried calling the street just King Street, but the post office wouldn’t deliver the mail so addressed. He was an enthusiastic patron of Charleston’s King Street and with head and heart attuned to the 18th and 19th centuries, his work at that point concentrated more on colonial than civil rights history.

West Broad had once been the only Savannah street paved with planks to help move crops and goods to the river. The city’s recent beautification efforts and green additions to the street’s median are again highlighting the street’s significance in multiple eras.

Mills thought the street would be perfect for a museum row even before the addition of the SCAD Museum of Art. He argued that the Jepson addition to the Telfair Museum would be more appropriate on MLK than on a square.

Mills had architect John Deering provide a model of the courthouse re-creation and with great anticipation took it to the Historic Board of Review expecting a warm welcome.

But the reception was lukewarm, with some members worried about recreating a historic building in a place other than the original location. It could muddle the town plan, some board members thought. Many buildings have been moved in the historic district to save them from destruction, but no monumental public building had been recreated from scratch in another location.

“Putting that building in a new location would lead to a strange reading of the history of Savannah,” Historic Review Board member and architect Dan Snyder noted later. “What tale are we telling?”

During the meeting Snyder also had some advice about the reading of a more practical matter. He recommended a bigger sign for the museum: “You have this great wall. You should have a substantial sign. I’m encouraging you to consider this.”

“No. No. No,” Mills responded. “It has to be the small sign.” While the buildings could be monumental, signs should be discrete. Mills wasn’t one to allow convenience to overshadow the art or authenticity. This concept carried over to other projects. He didn’t originally put indices in some of the early editions of nonfiction books he authored because he wanted readers to study the books to glean their content. The atmospheric lighting in Ships of the Sea Museum was originally set at levels whale oil lamps would have provided in William Scarbrough’s day. Though exhibit descriptions were made less scrutable, he did install state-of-the-art fiber optics to illuminate ship models he commissioned for the collection.

With the courthouse re-creation, one review board member said that Mills Lane could do the project well, but what if others less meticulous wanted to try it? Mills threw up his hands at the reaction and said that once again Savannah does not accept a beautiful gift.

Next: Mills had contemplated several scenarios for the land around the Scarbrough House. When the courthouse replication was coolly received, he put several friends to work as “the committee on taste” to come up with an idea for the area behind the Scarbrough House as an annex primarily for education.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Scarbrough House Relaunched

Eventually Mills Lane IV decided that Scarbrough House was the place for the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum and took on the restoration project.

New entrance to the museum from the enlarged garden. Design details
were based on those of the front portico.

Columned atrium as restored by Mills Lane IV.

In the 1990s he set out on the detective work with architects Harvie Jones from Alabama and John Deering from Savannah. They were grateful for the structural work done by the Historic Savannah Foundation in the 1970s, but Mills wanted “a simple hipped roof found on other [William] Jay buildings and a central skylight and dome painted sky-blue, based on Jay’s original design for the [1819] Alexander Telfair House before it was converted into an art museum in the 1880s.”

Blacksmith John Boyd copied gas lamps for the front entrance that Jay had designed for the Bank of the United States in Savannah, Deering said. The bank building had been demolished in 1924.

In 1998 Mills wrote about his choices in the book Wm. Scarbrough’s House: History and Restoration, again showing his meticulous attention to detail.

“The interior of Scarbrough House was repaired and furnished with bits of early 19th century decoration to provide an elegant setting for Ships of the Sea Museum’s collection of ship models and maritime artifacts. A painted floorcloth in the entrance hall was adapted from a design in John Goldicutt’s Specimens of Ancient Decoration at Pompeii (London, 1825). Carpets in the three principal rooms on the first floor were woven from archival designs of the period by an English mill that has been operating since the 1790s. Carved decorative cornices for wooden Venetian blinds were reproduced from an original found in the attic of another William Jay-designed house in Savannah, the 1817-18 Richard Richardson House [Owens-Thomas House]. Mahogany chairs with horsehair-covered seats were copied from an original made in Boston about 1810.”

Savannah furniture maker Gregory Guenther built two consoles from a design published in Thomas Hope’s Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (London, 1807). Guenther said Mills wanted them in keeping with the Egyptian revival motif.

A white cast-iron Ionic temple, which stood for several decades from the late 19th century in Wright Square as the official U.S. Government weather station, was a focal point for the 1990s enlarged garden.

“The indomitable Scarbrough House has survived devastating neglect and abuse and insult – probably left incomplete by its first owner Scarbrough and his architect Jay, enlarged by [Godfrey] Barnsley, vacant in the 1860s, mutilated by indifferent children for nearly ninety years, vacant again in the 1960s and early 1990s. The house also survived two high-minded restorations in the 1970s and late 1990s that added much new conjectural work,” Mills wrote. “Perhaps the pursuit of absolute authenticity is an illusory and misguided goal, and an impossible one in this instance.”

Next: Mills had dreams for the area surrounding Scarbrough House, but not everything was welcomed enthusiastically by the Historic Board of Review.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

The Money Pit

William Scarbrough House, stripped to bare brick, at the start of Historic Savannah Foundation’s early 1970s restoration.

By the 1970s, historian and preservationist Walter Hartridge had convinced new Savannah resident Frances Bosworth to buy Scarbrough House and create a foundation for it. They discussed a maritime museum, but instead gave the property to the Historic Savannah Foundation. Using Pennsylvania architect John Milner, grant money and Lane family money, the foundation restored the house from 1972-76 and moved its headquarters to the mansion.

HSF took off the third floor added by Scarbrough’s son-in-law and replaced the roof with one inspired from a house in Bath, England. Exterior walls were stripped to the brick and restuccoed. The front wall of a demolished carriage house was recreated as a gate beside the house. Chimney pieces, plaster walls and cornice ornaments were repaired or replaced. Evidence of a stair in the entrance hall was discovered but not recreated since its origin was unknown.

Nearly 15 years later, Historic Savannah was ready to move on. Mills Lane IV was unhappy that his family had tried to save Scarbrough House multiple times without permanent success, and he outlined the efforts in letters to sympathetic listeners. Transferring the building to the Telfair Museum seemed to make sense.

“During the passing years, Scarbrough House became a burden upon Historic Savannah’s resources… About 1990, I and my mother offered to make a gift of $1 million … to make it possible for ownership of Scarbrough House to be transferred to the Telfair Museum. Historic Savannah Foundation would be freed to return to its main mission and Telfair Museum would be able to own and preserve all three surviving mansions designed by William Jay.” [with the Telfair Academy and the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House]

Despite the Jay connection, and a Lane maintenance endowment, soon the Telfair also wanted to move on to other projects.

“About late 1993 Telfair Museum informed the Lane family that it had changed its mind, had other priorities, no longer had any plans for the Scarbrough House and proposed to lease it to the City of Savannah for offices at $1 a year,” Mills wrote.

The Lane family asked that Scarbrough House be transferred to Ships of the Sea Museum in an effort to save it again.

In 1994 Ships of the Sea Museum spent $100,000 on repairs and $60,000 on architectural drawings in a plan “to further renovate the house as a center for charitable, cultural and social activities. The parlor would be redecorated in Regency style and made available for lectures, public meetings, cultural and social events. The basement and bedroom floors would be rented at the lowest charge to small charitable and cultural organizations.”

While Mills was not happy with the stewardship of the property by other nonprofit organizations, as the costs mounted, Ships of the Sea faced what the others had experienced.

“It became evident that improvements to the roof, exterior, interior and garden, including provisions for handicapped access and a landscaped parking area, would cost twice the original estimate and more than Ships of the Sea could afford.”

The Museum was also concerned about operating costs, changing tax laws and the surrounding land use, so Mills and Ships of the Sea Museum decided to sell the house.

“Ships of the Sea Museum offered to work with any non-profit group including SCAD that might propose some use for the preservation of the house with some public access. But nothing materialized.”

The Scarbrough House was a money pit and everyone knew it. In fact, when describing his restorations and renovations, Mills made reference to the movie, “The Money Pit,” on more than one occasion.

“Even assuming that the house were to sell for the amount asked, $950,000, the net proceeds of would still be less than the money expended by the Lane family and Ships of the Sea Museum,” Mills wrote.

“It is our hope that Scarbrough House will find some commercial use that will preserve it and allow public access to the parlor floor.”

But Mills couldn’t let go of the grand mansion, and soon set out on the biggest restoration project of his life.

A house tied to the sea

Before “Museum in the Moonlight” and art exhibits like “Gestalt,” the William Scarbrough House on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., was a scene of privilege and prejudice.


By the 1970s Scarbrough House faced near catastrophic decay.

Not long after the British had been burning down American buildings during the War of 1812, a young English architect named William Jay arrived in Savannah and started putting up some of the most prominent houses in town.

William Scarbrough was president of the Savannah Steamship Company, which in 1819 sent the first steamship, Savannah, across the Atlantic. Scarbrough had commissioned the 26-year-old Jay to design what Scarbrough would later call his “castle” on fashionable West Broad Street in 1818. One of the earliest examples of domestic Greek Revival architecture in the South, it was hurriedly completed to celebrate in grand style the launch of the ship and the visit of President James Monroe. Some planned architectural details may have been sacrificed in the rush to completion, according to Mills Lane IV in “Wm Scarbrough’s House: History and Restoration”.

As was the story with other original owners of grand houses in Savannah, including another Jay design, the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House, Scarbrough went bankrupt not long after construction of his mansion. The steamship was not a commercial success and the city’s economy was being battered. In 1820, Savannah experienced a yellow fever epidemic that killed more than 600 people and a great fire that consumed more than 400 buildings and stopped only a few blocks from Scarbrough House. In November at age 44 Scarbrough was declared an insolvent debtor.

Fortunately, in-laws purchased the house and furnishings, and it stayed in the family until 1851. Scarbrough’s wife, Julia, and their children continued to live in the house while he spent most of his time in Darien pursuing other adventures. Godfrey Barnsley married daughter Julia (named after her mother) and they eventually folded their family into the Scarbrough household. An amateur architect, Barnsley, added decorations, structural elements, and a third floor.

As business and health took the family elsewhere, the house was sold to the Dominick O’Byrne family who lived there until 1865. The house was vacant for a few years after the Civil War ended at the same time that Georgia started grappling with public education for all children.

The Roman Catholics in Savannah first set up a day school for black children and a night school for black adults in Scarbrough House. After the Catholics left, the public school system started moving children into Scarbrough House in 1873, and by 1875 had enrolled more than 200 students. In 1878 philanthropist George W.J. DeRenne acquired the house and gave it in trust to the local public school system for the children of African descent.

An industrial staircase was added in the entrance hall, and Scarbrough House continued as West Broad Street School for 84 years. Underfunded and overcrowded with as many as 800 students some years, the school system was required to desegregate and stopped using the building as a school in 1962. For a few years it was used as storage and then returned to the DeRenne heirs.

“By now the mansion, battered by several generations of school children and painted neck-high with institutional green paint, was a mouldering ruin, blackened inside and out by decay and isolated on what had become a noisy commercial street,” Mills wrote.

The Lane family would soon get involved with saving the house, but it was years away from smooth sailing.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

In family tradition, the Mills Lanes built, buried and borrowed.

Whether it’s “the devil is in the detail” or an earlier version, “God is in the detail,” Mills Lane IV went to great lengths to erect an appropriate fence for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah.

“Come and get me. We’re going to Bonaventure and steal a fence post.”

Mills Lane IV had called architect John Deering when they were working on the exterior of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Troup Square in Savannah. They didn’t steal the post from the cemetery, of course, but Mills did talk the city into letting him borrow one from the right era to send to a foundry in Alabama to copy for the fence around the church.

That kind of attention to detail is what made the difference in his renovations, Deering and others said. Mills knew cemeteries are great places to find historical architectural detail. “He would take that extra step,” Deering said. “We couldn’t just find something similar. He wouldn’t even use a catalog of old molds.”

Although the Mills Bee Lane families were all public-minded and gave great thought to the architecture, aesthetics and atmosphere of Savannah, they didn’t necessarily agree on direction or details. Mills Lane IV was deeply embarrassed that his grandfather had destroyed the impressive Bank of Georgia building on Johnson Square to build in 1907 the marble Greek Revival Citizens and Southern Bank, now Bank of America.  He was also distressed that his father had been involved in razing the 1890 landmark Hotel De Soto at Liberty and Bull streets in 1966. Mills IV also likely did not approve of his father paying for the first addition of gold leaf to the City Hall dome, gilding the lily of the original copper.

The year 1966 was a busy one for his father. Headquartered in Atlanta, Mills Jr. was given credit in the state and nation for single-handedly arranging for the financing of a stadium to attract a major league baseball team. But his heart was also in Savannah where the campus of Armstrong State College opened on land he donated on the Southside, and he established the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in a former warehouse on west River Street.

Mills IV would eventually move the best of his father’s maritime collection and other commissioned and carefully acquired works into the William Scarbrough House on Martin Luther King Boulevard. But there was much handwringing about the fate of the regal house before that was decided.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Drama on the Historic Review Board covered glass, lanes & elevators

The Historic Board of Review was a lively monthly meeting when Mills Lane IV joined the discussion. As a member of the board he questioned applicants and architects. He lectured. He cajoled and encouraged. He didn’t hide his sense of humor or outrage.


Used by permission. © Savannah Morning News

Mills Lane IV listened and lectured as a member
of Savannah’s Historic District Board of Review

Mills Lane IV took his term seriously on the Historic Review Board, examining every property that came before the board. His service there made for better buildings and sometimes high theater as he encouraged and chastised applicants. His sense of outrage and humor kept the Review Board meetings lively. His directness could be shocking and the audience would sometimes gasp.

His exacting standards drove more than one architect and construction company to distraction, whether they worked for him or came to the board for a project approval. He served on the board during the approval process for the contentious contemporary building for the Telfair Art Museum expansion in the 1990s that became the Jepson Center. He was adamant that the museum could not close a lane and should only build a bridge walkway above the lane of a size that adhered to the city preservation ordinance, based on the work of Christopher Chadbourne. Mills also quoted Chadbourne saying that the historic district is not a place appropriate for glass curtain walls.

As he perceived one after another of the community’s leaders as caving in to pressures to allow the building, designed by Moshe Safdie, to go forward, Mills despaired about Savannah’s future and the integrity of the town plan.

Mills quit the review board in a huff over the board’s approval of what he saw as a careless elevator addition to a historic house near his home on Pulaski Square. He had offered to anonymously pay for an appropriate elevator.

He could be arrogant and was disappointed when people with means did not demonstrate generosity for the public good. A local architect said he wanted to apply for Mills to receive an honorary AIA architect designation. When Mills saw the list of who had received the honor, he said he wanted nothing to do with it.

An elegant host, he could be quietly generous and funny with friends and strangers and could lead an inspired tour through antiques stores. He was devoted to his adopted mongrel dog, Mercury, who had wandered onto his property in Florida.

He also could be a difficult and cranky friend. When he died in 2001 at age 59 from  complications of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and other health issues, he had become an intensely private man who put only a dozen people on his final guest list for his graveside service.

Next: Mills IV sometimes would do his architectural homework in cemeteries to make sure his details were accurate, and he could be critical of some of the work of his father and grandfather.

Rexanna first wrote parts of this essay for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.

Mills Lane IV worked to fill in the gaps with trees, bricks and buildings

Mills Lane IV was more than a tree hugger: he started a tree fund. He was more than an admirer of Savannah’s streets: he paid for the renovation of a main artery. He was more than patron of fine house restorations and museums; he transformed a neglected 19th-century mansion into a top-flight house and maritime museum.


The first infill house built by Mills Lane IV was this wood
frame one on Pulaski Square.  Finished in 1992, in a neo-
Classical style, it is painted a lively blue.

Mills Lane IV poured heart, soul and inheritance into his vision and obsession with Savannah. That vision led to the complete restoration of eleven 19th century houses. He also constructed six new houses to fill “the gap-tooth lots.” He built two infill houses on his beloved Pulaski Square, one at 200 W. Harris and the other 209 W. Charlton, where he tore down what he called a “post-modern intrusion” and replaced it with a house in the style of a neighboring home.

When he returned from New York to Savannah full time in the 1990s, he spent $1.7 million of family money to recreate the Bull Street streetscape from Bay Street to Forsyth Park, complete with trash containers imported from France, cast-iron Bishop’s Crook streetlights, brick sidewalks and tree lawns. Mills IV was not pleased when store owners or the city didn’t attend to the tree lawns as he thought they should, and city officials heard from him often. His standards bumped up against city maintenance budgets, but he often paid for extras himself.

Mills Lane IV built this new brick house in a Greek Revival
style for Zelda and Sheldon Tenenbaum in 1998.  It anchors
the southwest trust lot of Chatham Square.

He donated a plot of land so a playground could be moved a block and an appropriate house built on a Chatham Square trust lot at 427 Barnard to complete the square. His vision expanded landscaping in the squares and established the Landmark District Tree Fund, where he matched every donated dollar to plant canopy trees.

Mills IV could fire off blistering letters when he thought squares were being abused, and he was not above chasing perceived miscreants down the street. Then he would laugh at himself the next day. His work was instrumental in the city developing a structured plan for using the squares for public events.

He also moved the Ships of the Sea Museum from the Savannah river front to the Scarbrough House that he had restored from 1994-96. The house, at 41 MLK, Jr. Blvd. had been built in 1819 for the president of the Savannah Steamship Company, William Scarbrough, an owner of the Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. Mills IV transformed the museum from a mixed collection of maritime artifacts to a gem of maritime art and scaled ship models that tell the story of Savannah’s maritime history.

Next: The Historic Board of Review was a lively monthly meeting when Mills Lane IV joined the discussion. As a member of the board he questioned applicants and architects. He lectured. He cajoled and encouraged. He didn’t hide his sense of humor or outrage.

Rexanna first wrote parts of this essay for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.

Mills Lane IV Pursues His Own Path

Today we continue our introduction to the Mills Lane family with Mills Lane IV starting on his own path through Harvard, the Navy and the back roads of the South pursuing research for his books on architecture. Fortunately for Savannah, he didn’t inherit the Lane family men’s love of banking. Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.


Mills Lane IV in the basement of his house on Pulaski Square
where he started the Beehive Press

Mills Lane IV grew up in Atlanta with frequent trips to Savannah to visit family. He studied music at Harvard, but decided his talent would not put him on stage as a concert pianist, and he gravitated to a major in American history.

Before and after a stint as a U.S. Naval officer, Mills IV tried the family banking business and hated it, but he did carry on his father’s devotion to rebuilding Savannah’s squares and houses. The son paid closer attention to historical detail, although good taste and his heart sometimes held sway over exact duplication.

His parents had renovated 14 Price St. where Mills IV lived when on leave from the Navy and when he first returned to Savannah. The brick infill house he built in 1999 at 312 Tattnall and called “the villa” may have been inspired by the Price Street pied–à–terre.

Mills Lane IV also inherited his father’s love of telling good stories. He formalized that love by writing a dozen books on Southern architecture, and writing or editing more than 50 others about Southern cultural and social history.

Those award-winning books are distributed through the Beehive Press that he established in 1970 when he was 28. The Beehive Press name joins Lane’s middle name Bee and his Roman numeral, the letters IV, pronounced separately.

He set up the business in the basement of his home, the Bernard Constantine House on Pulaski Square at 321 Barnard St. It had been built in 1845 for a butcher who also speculated in real estate. The side porch, in the same style as the original front porch, was added during Mills IV’s 1971-72 restoration. He said his father wasn’t happy that his son put so much money and effort into that restoration. But the son wasn’t one to do anything half-heartedly.

During the 1970s Mills IV was involved in the community, serving as president of the Telfair Art Museum board and lecturing to overflowing crowds on architecture and history.

While keeping the Beehive Press and its book business going in Savannah in the 1980s, Mills Lane IV lived primarily in a New York apartment with his partner Gary Arthur and there wrote the 10-volume “Architecture of the Old South” series, based on his own research and travel through the southern states.

Next: Mills Lane IV was more than a tree hugger: he started a tree fund. He was more than an admirer of Savannah’s streets: he paid for the renovation of a main artery. He was more than patron of fine house restorations and museums; he transformed a neglected 19th-century mansion into a stunning house and maritime museum.

Rexanna first wrote parts of this essay for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.

Mills Lane, Jr.’s Wonderful World

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. were passionate about making downtown Savannah a livable place in the 1960s. They put their money where their hearts were. Today’s web post introduces some of the Lane projects including their work with landscape architect Clermont Lee. Lee has been in the news lately as Girl Scout officials decide what to do with the garden she designed at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. and their infant son Mills IV

Anne Waring Lane had the aristocratic family lineage of an old Savannah family. Her husband, Mills Lane, Jr., had the practicality and business influence of a powerful banker and the theatrical ability to emphasize a point.

In 1968 Time magazine wrote about some of his stunts. He brought a herd of sheep into the Citizen and Southern Bank’s Atlanta lobby when he wanted to showcase the new wool industry in Georgia. He wore sports uniforms to bank meetings to emphasize teamwork. To demonstrate that bank executives should aim high at big targets, “he donned a shooting jacket and bounded into a conference room amid a volley of blank .30-cal cartridges.” He also passed out ties that said: “It’s a wonderful world.”

In contrast, the family preferred doing good deeds behind the scenes and rarely accepted public recognition. Former Savannah City Manager Michael Brown said he tried to have the Talmadge Bridge named after Mills Lane, Jr. but his son nixed the plan.

Mills, Jr. and Anne saved some 60 historic houses in downtown Savannah with the best practices and methods of the 1960s. They often used Savannah’s leading restoration architect, John LeBey, who had started in the area in 1936 with the restoration of Fort Pulaski National Monument.

When the Civic Center was built in the late 1960s destroying Elbert Square, Anne and Mills, Jr. saved several houses by moving them to lots on or near East St. Julian Street and Washington, Warren, Columbia, and Troup Squares. Photos document the houses moving on truck beds down the streets.

They also hired landscape architect Clermont Lee to design gardens for several of the houses, including the Eppinger House that they moved to 425 E. Bay St. for their own home. They also hired her to redesign Madison, Troup, Warren and Washington squares.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia her designs conflicted with city plans that allowed lanes through the middle of the squares for emergency crews and buses. To accommodate the buses, the city adopted Lee’s idea that the corners around the squares be curved. “Lee’s strong, simple designs used variations in materials and ground forms to give each square a special character.”

Next: Mills Lane IV brings his preservation expertise to Savannah to build on the family passion.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy. Parts of this essay she first wrote for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.

The colorful legacy of Mills Bee Lane IV

August 28, 2016 the Savannah Morning News published a special section about the architecture of Savannah. That provides perfect timing for us to reintroduce the Mills Bee Lane family and start our new web series by Rexanna Lester that will offer a behind-the-scenes look at a philanthropic family that helped save Savannah’s architectural history in the last half of the 20th century and a sneak peek at the new biography of Mills Lane IV.

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr., and their son Mills IV

The colorful Mills Bee Lane legacy in Savannah is legendary. It is also confusing. All four Mills B. Lanes grew up to become forces of nature.

The first arrived from Valdosta, formed the Citizens and Southern Bank in Savannah in 1906 and started construction on the grand red brick house at the corner of Gaston and Drayton a couple of years later. He also purchased Lebanon Plantation in 1916 and is the namesake of a city boulevard.

Raised in Savannah, Mills Lane, Jr. moved to Atlanta with his father’s bank and was responsible for underwriting the stadium that helped bring major league baseball to town. He and his wife, Anne, returned to Savannah to retire – restoring houses, creating the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum on River Street and bankrolling numerous civic projects such as gilding the dome of city hall.

In a strange family twist, the nephew of Mills Lane, Jr. was named Mills Lane III. He is the retired boxer and TV judge. He refereed the rematch between boxing champions Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson in 1997, when Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear.

Preservationist, publisher and architecture scholar Mills Lane IV was the only son of Anne and Mills Lane, Jr.

There. The stage is set. Those are the players. Next up will be a look at Mills Lane, Jr.’s “Wonderful World.”

By Rexanna Keller Lester, who is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy. Parts of this essay first appeared in the publication for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007 and in a column for the Savannah Morning News on June 3, 2006.