Our Museum

Our Mission

The mission of the Isaiah Davenport House Museum is to preserve and interpret the American Federal-style house, and the artifacts within, built by master builder Isaiah Davenport for his household with an emphasis on the years 1820-27, in order to educate, enrich and inspire our visitors and the community, as well as recognize the historical role of the house in the founding of Historic Savannah Foundation. (Davenport House Committee – 11/5/2005)

Our Goal

The goal is to be a “first class museum” adhering to professional standards, shepherding quality interpretations and to provide the highest degree of preservation and maintenance of the site.

Our Audience

The Davenport House Museum sees approximately 35,000 visitors annually through its guided tours and education programs.

Our Site

The Davenport House is situated on Columbia Square at the corner of State and Habersham Streets in the Historic District of Savannah, Georgia. The house is one of the oldest brick structures in the city owning to common use of wood construction during the town’s earliest history. Sitting directly on the street the two-and-a-half story urban dwelling contains a total of 6,800 square feet involving a basement level (which originally housed the kitchen, storage and possible slaves’ “personal” space), the first floor housing the public areas, and the second and third floors which were bedrooms and storage space. The Davenport home sits on Columbia Ward’s lot number 13, which originally measured (and continues to measure) 60 feet by 90 feet. The rear portion of the lot at one time held a carriage house, garden and privy. The site now contains lot number 14 which is the museum’s courtyard garden. The garden was a Bicentennial project of Savannah’s Trustees Garden Club. It has since been redesigned under the guidance of renowned English landscape designer Penelope Hobhouse. While not a true restoration, the garden is maintained by volunteers “in the spirit of the original owners” and is planted with varieties of plants known to the Davenports and typical of coastal Georgia.

Our Institutional History

1955:
~ Katherine Summerlin, step-daughter of Mr. Goette of the Goette Funeral Home (now the Kehoe House Inn) purchases the house and side-garden with the intent of demolishing it for a parking lot to accommodate the funeral parlor. The seven founders of Historic Savannah Foundation try several times to convince Mrs. Summerlin to sell the property. She finally concedes and at the time of the sale the house was vacant.
~ Historic Savannah Foundation purchases the Davenport House for $22,500, hours before its imminent demolition.

1962:
~ Restoration of Davenport House is completed.

1963:
~ Davenport House opens to the public as a house museum.
~ Mrs. Ethelyn Nightingale McKinnon begins as director of the Davenport House.

1964:
~ Davenport House bedrooms “refurbished.”

1965:
~Davenport House featured on the cover of the Savannah phonebook.

1967:
~ Davenport House featured in the March Magazine Antiques along with other Savannah sites.
~ Davenport House included in the historic Savannah architectural survey, Historic Savannah, funded by the Junior League of Savannah and Historic Savannah Foundation.

1972:
~ Davenport House is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1973:
~ Davenport House purchases the lot behind the museum.
~ Davenport House conducts archeological dig of lot behind museum.

1974:
~ Trustees Garden Club begins work to create a garden at Davenport House.

1975:
~ Lady Bird Johnson visits Davenport House.

1977:
~ Mrs. Ethelyn Nightingale McKinnon received the Davenport Trophy from Historic Savannah Foundation for her work at the Davenport House.

1983:
~ Davenport House installs its museum shop on the ground floor.

1988:
~ Davenport House acquires its first SCAD student interns.
~ Davenport House gets a new metal roof and has its chimney bricks pointed.

1990:
~ Davenport House Committee is appointed.

1991:
~ Davenport House conducts a Conservation Assessment Survey to evaluate its collections and operations.

1992:
~ Davenport House commissions scholar Susan M. Mays to research Isaiah Davenport.
~ Davenport House Museum Committee affirms interpretation of the historic house to focus on Isaiah Davenport and his family between the years 1820-1827.

1993:
~ Davenport House conducts the first major restoration since the house opened, including window replacement, rear porch and structure stabilized, etc.

1994:
~ Davenport House commissions scholar Ellen Rogers to write Furnishings Plan and Recommendations for the Collection.
~ George Fore conducts a paint analysis and paint chronology of Davenport House interiors.
~ Furnishings Plan (FP) and Recommendations for the Collection completed by Ellen Rogers. The Isaiah Davenport Estate Inventory (DI) becomes the basis for interpretation of the museum.

1995:
~ Collection Policy (CP) is created, based on professional museum standards and ethics. The document governs collections care as well as the process of acquisition and disposal of museum objects.
~ Davenport House Guidebook published.
~ Mission Statement revised.
~ Reproduction floor cloth in a faux marble design is commissioned and installed by Bob Christian.

1996:
~ The Olympic torch passes by the Davenport House.
~ Davenport House adopts a hurricane disaster plan.
~ Major restoration and replacement of exterior shutters completed by Shuttercraft.
~ Hurricane Disaster Plan created.

1997:
~ The Attic Sale fund raiser is held. De-accessioned objects as well as donated items were sold with the proceeds benefiting the museum.

1998:
~ Davenport House featured in an episode of “America’s Castles” on the A&E television network.
~ Visitation numbers peak at 66,000 due principally to the popularity of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” book/movie.
~ Donation by Gen. Yarborough of a sewing table, child’s commode, sideboard, easy chair and Queen Anne-style table.

1999:
~ The Davenport House drawing room mantelpiece is returned and reinstalled.
~ Frank Welsh begins an extensive paint analysis to discover original colors, graining and wall treatments. He discovers the original graining on the doors and evidence that wallpaper was the principle wall treatment. These findings are presented in November to the Restoration Committee.
~ Penelope Hobhouse, renowned garden designer, is contracted to work on garden design improvements.
~ A patron donates the Kennedy Building at 323 East Broughton to the Davenport House for use as the museum’s gift shop/orientation area and office.
~ Endowment Fund created for the perpetual care of the DH with founding donors being Craig Barrow III, Dale Critz Sr., Wiley and Clare Ellis and Cornelia Groves. Generous donations pour in from the community.
~ DH Restoration Committee holds its first meeting in March.
~ Chimneys and fireplaces sealed from the outdoor elements, stopping the damaging effects of 36 years of drafts, moisture and air pollution entering the museum.
~ Ceiling medallion in Isaiah’s Office is installed by notable ornamental plasterer David Flaharty of Philadelphia.
~ Acquisition of late 18th century corner cupboard. It is a rare example of late 18th century low country-made furniture.
~ A web page is created for the DH on the internet.

2000:
~ Scholar Page Talbott is contracted to work on refining period room interiors and interpretation.
~ Preservation Standards and Cleaning Methods for Collection Care is adopted by the Davenport House.
~ Reproduction floor cloth is commissioned and installed at the Davenport House.
~ A second Endowment Fund is created for the perpetual care of the DH Garden. An original donation of $10,000 inspires others to give.
~ Much needed restoration/repairs of worn/damaged collection items undertaken by Greg Guenther.
~ Any unnecessary electrical outlets, vents and lighting fixtures are removed.
~ All window sashes and frames repaired or replaced and glass re-glazed.
~ Plaster work, walls and ceilings repaired and restored.
~ A state-of-the-art air conditioning system is installed.
~ The Davenport Trophy is awarded to Clare Ellis and Cornelia Groves in recognition of their substantial contribution to the preservation of the DH.

2001:
~ First Savannah Garden Expo is held as an education program/fundraiser for the benefit of the Davenport House and Historic Savannah Foundation. Co-Chairs are Clare Ellis and Lyn McDonald.
~ Dr. Page Talbott’s report on suggested wallpaper patterns of the era is presented to the Restoration Committee in May.
~ New reproduction wallpaper is hung by nationally known wallpaper hanger/historian Jim Yates starting in October.
~ Floors are refinished.
~ Sarah Chase presents to the Restoration Committee her paint analysis findings at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace which was built at the same time as the Davenport House.
~ Building Assessment on DH provides recommendations for improving lighting, fire protection and accessibility.
~ Acquisition of a set of six Hitchcock chairs similar to those owned by the Davenport family.
~ Jamie Credle is named director

2002:
~ Historic Structures Report produced of the DH ground floor, attic and pharmacy building by Surber Barber Choate and Hertlein Architects.
~ The first Ethelyn Nightingale McKinnon Award presented to longtime volunteer Anne Pearce Moye.
~ The Davenport House collection records are computerized using the PastPerfect software program.
~ Doors restored to original faux grained surface.
~ UV protective shades installed in all windows.
~ A system of accession numbering that follows professional museum standards is implemented for the DH collection.
~ Acquisition of Asher Durand’s engraving of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence similar to the one owned by the Davenport family.
~ New bed hangings, curtains and slipcovers of historically accurate fabric hung in Master Bedroom.

2003:
~ Annual cleaning begun – closed for a week in January.
~ Continuation of the de-accessioning process of inappropriate items following established museum collection guidelines. This includes trading objects with other museums, giving objects to other museums, long term loans, returning loaned objects and finally a public auction.
~ Docent training program begun.
~ Reconstituted monthly volunteer newsletter.
~ Junior Interpreter program begun.
~ Cyclical Maintenance Plan completed.
~ Dreadful Pestilence: Encountering Yellow Fever program premiered in October.
~ Evening Christmas tours begun (week between Christmas and New Year’s).
~ Annual giving campaign, Friends of the Davenport House, begun.
~ Acquisition of a set of bamboo chairs similar to those owned by Davenport Family.
~ Cyclical Maintenance Plan completed and implemented.

2004:
~ Dreadful Pestilence recognized by the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries as the “Museum Program of the Year.”
~ Donation of Sarah Rosamond Davenport silhouette by Frank and Lucy Brannen.
~ Interpretation of DH rooms continues with removal of inappropriate items and addition of small, everyday artifacts of the era.
~ Mission statement revised; three year plan proposed.
~ Remaining de-accessioned objects taken by Brunk Auction House of Asheville, North Carolina for public sale.

2005:
~ The DH received the “Preserve America Presidential Award for Private Restoration” in an Oval Office ceremony which included President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, HSF President Zelda Tenenbaum and DH Director Jamie Credle. A delegation of DH supporters traveled to Washington to attend the event, which included a reception and program in the Rose Garden.
~ The DH was awarded funds to conduct an institutional survey (MAP 1) through Museum Assessment Program, which is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is administered by the American Association of Museums. The DH matched the grant award and a site team was assembled to conduct the work for the two-year survey.
~ DH Endowment Director Chairman Craig Barrow was named Museum Patron of the Year by the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries.
~ A volunteer maintenance team was assembled to discuss maintenance issues; this initiates an annual process delineated by the museum cyclical maintenance plan.
~ Textile expert Natalie Larson of Colonial Williamsburg is brought on board as a consultant in order to complete the slip-cover project in the Drawing Room, Morning Room and Office.
~ A Transition Committee is assembled by HSF to make recommendations for governance of the museum.
~ Graduate Intern Melissa Turgeon cleans, indexes and appropriately stores items from the 1973 archaeological dig.
~ The DH develops a pilot program titled, “Potable Gold: Savannah’s Madeira Tradition.”
~ The DH recruits Savannah Arts Academy students for a special Junior Interpreter program.

2006:
~ DH Collections Policy and Procedures revised and approved
~ Appropriate slip covers installed in Office, Drawing Room and Morning Room.
~ Sisal rug to simulate grass matting installed in Cornelia’s Room.
~ Davenport House Disaster Plan reformulated
~ Front steps repaired
~ IMLS MAP 1 grant executed with a self-study and a visit by a surveyor.
~ Renovations of the lower level hall and shop include new lighting and painting
~ New website www.davenporthousemuseum.org up and running
~ Seven weddings performed in the garden on Valentines Day
~ October living history program revised to include the character Miss Mary Lavinder, Georgia’s first female doctor

2007:
~ Publication of The Davenport House Museum: Savannah’s Beacon of Preservation.
~ Acquisition of “Revd. Henry Kollock D.D. Late Pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church Savannah” engraving
~ Acquisition of “Surrender of Cornwallis” engraving
~ Accepted a loan of a c. 1780 tea set from the Colonial Dames of Georgia
~ Davenport House signs on to participate in the Visitors TV Network with a video produced which will be shown in 2,800 hotel rooms in the city
~ Davenport House, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace and the Andrew Low House instituted the Pioneers in Preservation Pass, a multi-site visitation pass.
~ Researched, developed and presented “our once cheerful island’: The World of Savannah in 1824 living history in October

2008:
~ Rehabilitation of the Kennedy Pharmacy begins
~ Introduction of two programs related to tea – “Tea at Mrs. Davenport’s and Tea in the Garden”
~ Researched, developed and presented “Greater than anything ever witnessed in Savannah”: Welcoming General Lafayette, the Nation’s Guest living history production in October
~Acquired a Federal period cradle and a set of black chairs from Brunk Auction house
~Conducted a thorough collections inventory with staff member Jeff Freeman and intern Samantha Hudson
~ SCAD graduate student Kristi Chase conducts her Masters Thesis on the Davenport House’s “tenement era”
~ DH patron Cornelia Rankin Groves received the Davenport Trophy, the highest honor bestowed by Historic Savannah Foundation

2009:
~ Artist Allan Drummond created custom art-work for a Davenport House towel
~ Three new programs, This Old House: Director’s Preservation Tour of the Davenport House, Early Bird’s Preservation Tour of the Landmark District’s East Side, and Curator’s Tour and Highlights of the Collection, researched, developed and presented in the spring
~ Completion of Phase 1 of the Kennedy Pharmacy restoration 8/2009; Completed Phase 2 to install a patio, storage area and small balcony to the south side of the second floor door 11/2009
~ Revised yellow fever living history program to create Yellow Fever! Savannah Epidemic of 1820, a production of 12 cast member utilizing the entire museum site from the Kennedy Pharmacy to the museum attic
~ Execution of sidewalk repairs
~ Accessibility initiative undertaken
~ Partnership with Tauck Tours undertaken for a series of afterhours Madeira tours.

2010:
~ Lower level of the museum renovated. An ADA upgrade made
~ Recognized with the Governor’s Award in the Humanities
~ Purchased a drawing by Christopher Murphy showing a detail of the DH Entrance
~ Researched, developed and presented the walking tour “Discovering 1820s Savannah: Early Bird’s Walking Tour of the City Isaiah Knew”
~ Repairs to wallpaper made by Allan Coopersmith
~ Intern Tiffany Miller upgraded collections storage with curtains for storage units

2011
~ Hosted the 2011 Oyster Roast at a private home in Beaulieu
~ Authorized and funded for the first Davenport House Museum Community Service Scholarship which was presented to Raven Bryant, a graduating senior at Savannah Arts Academy.
~ Acquired a replication of a 1765 Rhode Island watch box to house the gold watch representing Isaiah Davenport’s timepiece in the Office.
~ Hosted two summer interns, Amy Jackson, Wesleyan College in Macon, and Amy Blankshein, SCAD
~ Researched and extensive revised A Mortality Prevails! Savannah’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820 and the two tea programs.
~ Created and presented a program for the Road Scholars through Armstrong Atlanta State University on How to Save a House: The Preservation of the Davenport House Museum and the Founding of Historic Savannah Foundation.
~ Harvest Lecture Series inaugurated. Speakers: Dr. Tim Drake of Clemson University on “Death and Burial Customs in the 19th Century” and Dr. Veronica Gerald on “All Shut-eye Ain’ Sleep: Burial and Homecoming Customs in the Low Country
~ Upgraded garden ambient lighting
~ Researched materials and wrote an article in the December volunteer newsletter and conducted docent training on “Best Bibs and Tuckers”: What Did Dressing Up in the 1820s Mean? Thinking About Holiday Clothes during the Davenports’ Time

2012
~ Construction and landscaping in the lane between the Kennedy Pharmacy and the Davenport House, visually linking the two buildings
~ Removed two ornamental crabapples and acquired new ones put in their place
~ Repaired with ten museum windows being affected including sash replacement
~ Created four orientation panels for the basement level. There topics are: What style is it, People at the DH, Who was Isaiah Davenport, Why does this house matter
~ Produced two DVDs – Historic Savannah Foundation Story and Isaiah Davenport, Portrait of a Master Builder
~ Initiated Davenport House Dancers (early 19th century dancing) program with professional dancer Elizabeth Albe
~ Acquired the correct “sacking bottom” for the bed in the Boys Room
~ Harvest Lecture: Speaker – Martha Katz-Hyman on “The World of a Slave: The Material Culture of Slavery in the United States”
~ Sponsored two Preservation Festival events, Isaiah Davenport, the Carpenter and The Garden Party
~ Sponsored three summer interns. Meredith Halloran, who assisted with the annual maintenance inspection and collections inventory; Doreen Roy, who conducted a windows assessment with a comprehensive report and Emma Smith, transcribed the Isaiah Davenport’s biography and counted the steps between the three Preservation Pass Partners.
~ Awarded the second Davenport House Museum Community Service Scholarship to Carlie Ayn Williams, a graduating senior at Savannah Christian Preparatory School.
~ pPesented an artificial food making workshop with John Sherrer of Historic Columbia Foundation
~ Hosted the 2012 Oyster Roast at a private home on Schley Avenue