Backyard History

Backyard History: Daffin Park

A neighbor was recently lunching in Daffin Park and found an 1883 Liberty Penny lying on the surface. His excited Facebook post showed how important local history, and especially tangible artifacts, are to us. Archaeologists vary on how excitable they get when non-archaeologists take artifacts. Legally speaking, taking any artifact from someone else’s property is stealing. However, some archaeologists acknowledge that one or two artifacts taken from a surface context (aka no digging*) probably won’t seriously damage a site. Of course, on public property, if everyone takes one or two artifacts, this can add up.

daffin liberty penny
1883 Liberty penny from Daffin Park

Designed by John Nolen, Daffin Park was founded in 1907, completed in 1909, and is part of the Parkside Place Historic District. The Beaux Arts-inspired Daffin Park is named after Philip Daffin, the first Chairman of the Savannah Park and Tree Commission. The park has always been designated for athletic pursuits, from the professional to the amateur. Grayson Stadium, built in 1941, replaced the older 1930s Municipal Stadium. Grayson Stadium encroached on Herty Park, which retains its original character as a pine grove, but today is also a dog park. The stadium also altered the park’s larger structure by eliminating the eastern circular drive. The east-west central roads have two live oak-lined allees creating a 210-foot-wide central mall that connected the two circular drives and four diagonal roads that lead to each corner of the park.

Daffin map
Google Maps snapshot showing how the park’s west end has been altered by Grayson Stadium, leaving the park less symmetrical than the original.

Athletic fields north and south of the mall are still intact today, as is the children’s playground at Waters and Washington streets, albeit with updated playground equipment. Originally the southern open fields were occasionally used an a land strip for small planes. In addition to the open fields, today the park has specific areas for beach volleyball, tennis, basketball, and fishing. (Yes! There are fish and turtles in the lake). The present in-ground pool replaced an earlier, less formal pool. Tom Barton wrote, “The lake that fronts Victory Drive has its own mini-history. The original wet spot was created in the shape of the 48 contiguous United States. Years ago, kids would sneak into the lake and avoid paying a nickel for a required, pre-dip soapy shower [before entering the whites-only pool]. Bathers could rent suits as well – which explains the soapy showers.”

Daffin-Park pool
Photograph of the Daffin Park Swimming Pool, 1905. From the Edward Girard Photographs collection, MS 1374. Source: Georgia Historical Society

Robin Wright Gunn recalls the park in the early 1970s, “Sometime during that era I recall several instances of riding in the back seat of the car, Mom at the wheel, as we rolled past the corner of Victory Drive and Bee Road, the location of Daffin Park, a somewhat neglected section of the unremarkably landscaped public facility. At some point in this period, less than a decade after Daffin Park was center stage for two racial desegregation lawsuits, this corner of Daffin became known as “The People’s Park,” the unofficial gathering place for Savannah’s hippies.” She writes about her attempt to find anyone who admits to visiting the park regularly during this time, possibly because of the recreational drug use then associated with the park. “Pot was everywhere, and heroin was easy to find. Perhaps it’s that hardcore reputation that has made it difficult to find people willing to talk about this slice of local history,” wrote Gunn.

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The mall with its live oak allée at Daffin Park’s center.

Today the park is beautiful as ever and is always full with people engaged in all forms of recreation. So let’s go fly a kite!

IMG_3443
Kite flying on the football fields.

*It is illegal to dig on public property.

 

Sources:

Daffin Park-Parkside Place Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Download a copy here.

Stewart Poit, personal communication

Dr. Robin Williams, personal communication

Savannah Morning News, February 13, 2007, Tom Barton: “Daffin Park is everybody’s backyard

Connect Savannah, January 2, 2008, Robin Wright Gunn: “Hippies in Daffin: Where were you in ’72?

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