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.


Share with your friends:

One Comment

Dr. Jessica Carter

Has any thought been given to looking for groups interested in setting up a counseling service, coffee house and drug rehab or some variation of such in this space? It looks like it has come on and off the market several times since I have lived in Savannah since 2008.

This would make wonderful use of a historic space with a complicated history.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *