This November, Telfair is excited to unveil major changes at the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters on Oglethorpe Square. The changes mark the completion of the latest phase of the museum’s award-winning Slavery and Freedom in Savannah project, transforming the property’s slave quarters, carriage house, and working cellar with new exhibits and narratives.
In the 1990s, restoration that focused on conserving the slave quarters brought national prominence to the museum as an important site for interpreting African American history and culture in the South. The latest work also preserves the home’s original working cellar. Museum staff and academic consultants have researched the lives of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked in these spaces to incorporate their stories into a new, more complete historical narrative of 19th-century Savannah. Visitors will walk away with a broader understanding of how slavery impacted city life both inside and outside the home—and how it affected young and old, black and white, enslaved and free—while also exploring topics such as historic preservation through interactive galleries and reinterpreted spaces.
Telfair has converted the site’s carriage house into a state-of-the-art orientation gallery including an interactive map of historic Savannah, a timeline exploring the home’s history in a national context, and a commemoration of the hundreds of enslaved people bought and sold by the home’s owners. This work paved the way for a reinterpretation of the slave quarters space to incorporate Slavery and Freedom exhibits such as recorded excerpts of slave narratives that give a representative voice to the people who inhabited the space. The main house working cellar, meanwhile, has been transformed with a number of exhibits focused on period artifacts, historical preservation, and the history of the home and its owners.
The more than $1 million project was funded by a campaign of passionate individual donors, as well as a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional investment support for programming at the site has been committed by the Hodge Foundation, the City of Savannah, the Georgia Council for the Arts, and others.