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“The Showy Town of Savannah”: The Story of the Architect William Jay

By author: John D. Duncan, Sandra L. Underwood
Product Code: H965
ISBN: 9780881466898
Publisher: Mercer University Press
Availability: In stock
Price: $40.00

In December 1817, the English architect William Jay arrived at the busy port of Savannah, Georgia. In the coming four and a half years, he designed several public buildings and private residences in Savannah and a few structures in Charleston, South Carolina. All of his work was remarkable; yet, soon after his departure in 1822, only vague recollections of Jay survived in Savannah, and in Charleston he was forgotten altogether. Early in the twentieth century, Jay’s work was observed by a few prominent architectural historians, and accounts of his life and labors began to appear. But none of these offered satisfying answers to these questions: Just who was this man? Where had he come from, and what of his family and friends? Why did he pursue the profession of architecture, and where and how was he trained? Why did he venture to Georgia, the last of the English colonies; and why did he leave after such a short period of time? And, why had his elegant work not been more noticed in the history of American architecture? This new biography of Jay describes his place in a vibrant but volatile world. The English Regency was marked by the wealth and power of empire, the accomplishments of the industrial revolution, and the emergence of a vast underclass trapped in grinding poverty. Jay’s father, the most popular preacher of the day, was a leader in evangelical campaigns to bring relief to the poor, to foster universal literacy, and to abolish slavery. In this tumultuous environment, Jay made his way. He suffered many disappointments, but he gained remarkable achievements, not least of which was his lasting imprint on “showy Savannah.”
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Review by: John Berendt, author of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL - January 15, 2019
When William Jay, a professionally trained architect, arrived in Savannah from England, he was twenty-six years old--ambitious, precocious, and brilliant. By the time he departed in 1822, he had designed several magnificent mansions and remarkable public buildings. This story of Jay reveals how he found his way to Savannah and left a legacy of architectural significance. His work would prompt Savannah's enviable reputation of being one of America's most beautiful cities.
Review by: Lisa Grove, former director/CEO of Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia - January 15, 2019
As the steward of two of the most important surviving buildings by William Jay, the Telfair Mansion and the Owens-Thomas House, I welcome this new account of this gifted young architect. Each year over 200,000 visitors to Savannah tour these two remarkable National Historic Landmark buildings and see the ingenious details that define Jay’s work. Now they will have the opportunity to learn the whole of Jay’s fascinating story.
Review by: Robin Williams, chair, Department of Architectural History, Savannah College of Art and Design; and author of BUILDINGS OF SAVANNAH - January 15, 2019
Our knowledge of William Jay has long been skeletal. This book puts flesh on the bone and breathes new life into our understanding of one of the earliest architects to practice in this country. While highlighting the story of Jay in Savannah, this account provides vivid insight into the complex world of architectural training and patronage during the early nineteenth century against the backdrop of global trade, empire, evangelism, and slavery across three continents.

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