Recently on three separate occasions, people spontaneously shared their personal Hull Park history. Twice, it was grandfathers watching grandchildren at the playground and baseball diamond, and once it was a City of Savannah employee who manages the park. This week, a gentleman told me that while the city has replaced nearly every piece of playground equipment over the years, the merry-go-round is the original. He said, “I’m 66-years-old. I got hurt on that merry-go-round. My daughter got hurt on that merry-go-round…” He trailed off but smiled and shook his head as he watched his granddaughter hang off it and spin around crazily.
“By the 1930’s, development of Ardsley Park and Chatham Crescent was nearly complete. The [Developers] Lattimore’s then set out for their next development, Ardmore. Running from 52nd Street to 55th Street to the South, and punctuated with a large, diamond shaped Hull Park, Ardmore would also become a popular Savannah neighborhood. On Sunday, November 8, 1925, a full page ad in the Savannah Morning News reported the public sale of lots in Ardmore. The day after the sale, it was announced that every lot had been sold before noon the same day.”
I also found a great little video on the neighborhood’s history produced by the City of Savannah and featuring one of my favorite people. I love histories written with multiple layers: the practical details about time frames and architectural styles mixed with personal stories about the residents’ lives.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
*It is illegal to dig on public property.
Daffin Park-Parkside Place Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Download a copy here.