Located between Liberty to the North and Gwinnett to the South, the Beach Institute neighborhood is just one block wide, spanning between Price to the west and Broad to the east. This tiny neighborhood, despite its small size, is completely distinctive in Savannah’s downtown, filled with historic mansions and townhomes.
The neighborhood formed around the Beach Institute, a school built by the Freedmen’s Bureau and run by the American Missionary Association in 1867 for newly freed slaves. The neighborhood was developed earlier, in the 1850s, by the Savannah-Albany Railroad to house their workers. Thus, unlike the rest of downtown Savannah, the plan did not include squares, tithing lots, or trust lots, and the main home style is the one-story cottage.
This development sets Beach Institute neighborhood apart today in Savannah. The homes are mostly the historic 1850s cottages or two-story townhouses, located very close together or adjoining. The streets are tight and homes abut the sidewalk, creating a very urban, city neighborhood atmosphere.
If you’re looking to live in or visit downtown Savannah, here are five reasons to add the Beach Institute neighborhood to your list of places to see.
The Beach Institute, the landmark after which the neighborhood is named was built by the Freedmen’s Bureau and named after Alfred S. Beach, native New Yorker and editor of Scientific American. Beach donated funds to create the institute. Six-hundred students enrolled in the school. In 1875 the Savannah Board of Education took over the school, and it became a public school for black children in the city.
The signature cottage-style architecture holds a lot of history as well. It is unique in the city of Savannah. Originally built to house workers for the Savannah-Albany Railroad, these pre-Civil War-era cottages were some of the first examples of industrialized architecture. They’re called historic railroad cottages because of their origins as railroad worker housing, not, as I thought, because their layouts resemble the classic “railroad-style” apartments familiar to big city dwellers, devoid of hallways where one must walk through room-to-room to reach either end of the residence.
Walkability and Bikeability
Adjacent to Price Street, the Beach Institute has easy access to a dedicated bike lane and is walkable to all points downtown. Located on the east side of town, this neighborhood will also be walkable to the new Plant-Riverside development. When open in early 2020, the development will feature concerts and entertainment, bars and restaurants, a luxury spa, art gallery, riverfront park, and retail shops.
As with any downtown neighborhood, restaurants, shops, and sights are close-by. The Beach Institute is also located very near downtown Savannah’s only major grocery store chain, Kroger’s on Gwinnett.
History (yes, again)
The history of this neighborhood can’t be overstated. The namesake Beach Institute closed its doors in 1919, and today operates as an African-American Cultural Center featuring programs, exhibits, arts, and craft that preserve African-American history. It also operates the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation. The Foundation was established by Wesley Wallace Law, or W.W. Law, a preservationist and activist for civil rights.