The historic district in Savannah is a square mile and one of the most walkable cities we’ve visited. There are so many picturesque homes to visit. Several are open for tours. We had to make a choice of which ones to visit. Since Chari had been both a Brownie and Girl Scout she wanted to see both the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace and the Andrew Low home. We don’t have many of our own pictures to share as once again we ran into a policy of no inside photos allowed. So we’ll do our best to describe these interesting properties and supplement with photos from the web.
We saw the Andrew Low house first and bought a combined ticket that included her birthplace and one other house, all of which are operated by the Colonial Dames of America. We’ve mentioned other homes we’ve toured run by this group and how impressed we were with both the homes and the tours. We were not disappointed. The combined ticket does not expire so if you purchase it and don’t get to all of the sights you can use it, as we say, “when we come back.”
For the sake of continuity we’ll start with the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace. We parked at the Visitor’s Center and walked about a mile on a beautiful weekday afternoon. The home is undergoing renovation and scaffolding covered the exterior of the home which sits on Ogelthorpe near Bull Street. We found the entrance amidst the construction only to find the door locked and a sign saying CLOSED! As we were turning to leave, a man opened the door. He said they were closed for a large bus tour coming at 3:30p (it was 3p) but had room for eight more people if we wanted to join them. Of course we said yes. Our luck seems to be following us. There is a store in the home so we looked for a lapel pin to add to our collection and found none. We asked at the desk. “Are you a Girl Scout?” asked the lady behind the counter. “I was more than 50 years ago.” Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout” she replied and produced two pins. One with a daisy on it since Juliette’s nickname was Daisy is the 100th anniversary pin (1912-2012) and given to Girl Scouts who come and take the tour. The other plainer pin is for scouts who come to the house but don’t tour. The pins are only available at the home.
Juliette Gordon Low was born in 1860 to a socially prominent family in Savannah. Her southern bred father met her mother while in the Navy and stationed in the North. They literally bumped into each other when her mother slid down a banister. Her mother’s family was largely responsible for the founding of Chicago as a prominent city. Because of their differing backgrounds her parents had opposing views during the Civil War. Savannah was spared the destruction Atlanta suffered and Sherman spent the Christmas of 1864 in Savannah. He was entertained in the Gordon home. Under Sherman’s protection the family, minus her father who was serving in the Confederate Navy, moved to Chicago where Daisy was introduced to a different way of life. She met Native Americans for the first time and became a lifelong admirer of their culture. The Gordons returned to Savannah. Through her mother’s efforts the family’s finances were recovered early in the post-war years and her father was able to revitalize his lucrative cotton plantation . She was sent off to various finishing schools to learn the social graces required of women in her social circle. She excelled in painting and many of her works are on display in the house. Daisy by nature was adventurous and preferred hiking and horseback riding. She often broke the rules of the very proper schools she attended. She did spend seven years on her own in New York City studying painting. At age 26 (an old maid in those days) Juliette married William Mackey Low, the son of Andrew Low, one of Savannah’s wealthiest cotton merchants.
At a time when the average cotton merchant might make $15,000 a year, Andrew Low had an income of $250,000. His home was considered one of the grandest in Savannah. The ceilings are 13′ high. The Colonial Dames have obtained some pieces from his descendants to furnish the home. Other pieces have been purchased. Many of the pieces are late 1700-early 1800 Philadelphia area antiques such as Duncan Phyfe dining chairs and priceless matching buffets in the hallway. One of the items that intrigued us was a picture hanging in the stairway between the first and second floors. The tour guide said it was a Currier and Ives drawing. I always thought of Currier and Ives as the Vermont country scene in snow so I was surprised to see portraits. Not only portraits but portraits of Confederate generals. As you look at the picture straight on you see Jefferson Davis. There are strips of paper with other drawings hanging vertically. If you step to the right these line up to form a picture of Stonewall Jackson. If you step to the left the strips line up to form a picture of Robert E. Lee. The Low family knew Robert E. Lee. He may have even been a beau of Mrs. Low at one time. He visited them in the post war years and stayed in this home. After her marriage to William Low, Juliette lived in this home for six months before moving to England. William Low was raised in this home but was educated in England and had always wanted to return. Juliette’s father disapproved of William and thought of him as a rich need do well, as it would turn out with good reason.
The Lows lived in England but spent long periods apart. William followed the social elite and was known to drink, play and spend his limitless funds freely. Eventually he took on a mistress and asked for a divorce. Divorce was still a shocking affair in the early 1900s and proceeded slowly. Before the decree was finalized William died. He had amended his Will and left the bulk of his estate to his mistress. Juliette was forced to contest the Will. A settlement was reached that provided her with a yearly income and the Savannah house. Returning to the United States in 1912 she lived her last fifteen years in Savannah.
Before leaving England Juliette Gordon Low was at a crossroads in her life. She felt her life was without purpose. That is until she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell had founded the Boy Scouts as a fun way to prepare young boys for military service. He was upset to find many young women concealing their identity and joining the Boy Scouts to participate in outdoor activities. He introduced Juliette to his sister and they formed the Girl Guides. Juliette formed the first Girl Guide troop in the USA in 1912 and changed the name to Girl Scouts in 1913. The first Girl Scout Headquarters was in the carriage house located behind the Andrew Low House. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923 and died in 1927. She was buried in her girl Scout uniform in a Savannah cemetery. Since her death the Girl Scouts have grown into the largest educational organization for girls in the world. I would like to give credit to http://www.biography.com for the information used here.