Greenwich Place

Greenwich Road, Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia

Built in 1898, for Spencer P. Shotter (1855-1920) and his second wife, Elizabeth Wallace Owens (b.1863). Situated on a bend of the Wilmington River, Greenwich Place was designed by the famous New York architectural duo Carrère & Hastings and on completion it was generally considered to be the most spectacular Gilded Age mansion in Georgia. The 40-room mansion is sometimes referred to as, "Savannah's own Biltmore," but as Biltmore contains 250-rooms it's perhaps not a reflective comparison. However, Shotter's 100-room summer home, Shadow Brook, was for a period the second largest private residence in the States after Biltmore. Sadly, for all its beauty, Greenwich Place had a very short reign as the social center of Savannah: it burned to the ground in 1923 and in 1937 the City purchased the ruins to extend the Bonaventure Cemetery....

This house is best associated with...

Spencer Proudfoot Shotter

Spencer P. Shotter, of Savannah, Lenox & New York


Elizabeth (Owens) Shotter

Mrs Elizabeth Wallace (Owens) Shotter


Henry Norton Torrey

Dr "Harry" N. Torrey, of "Clairview" Grosse Pointe & Ossabaw Island


Nell (Ford) Torrey

Mrs "Nell" Eleanor Blanche (Ford) Torrey


Spencer P. Shotter was a flamboyant Canadian who made his fortune processing pine forests in Georgia to make turpentine that was vital to shipbuilding. It was Shotter's entrepreneurial spirit as Chairman of the American Naval Stores Co. that created hundreds of jobs and helped Savannah pull itself out of the depression that followed the Civil War to become a major port. His first wife (daughter of the Attorney-General of the Confederate States under Jefferson Davis) died in 1882 and his second wife with whom he lived here was Elizabeth whose family lived at the historic Owens-Thomas House.

Southern Grandeur

In 1896, Shotter bought the 100-acre Greenwich Plantation and commissioned two of the most prominent architects in Gilded Age America - Carrère & Hastings who had just finished the Sloane House in New York - to build him a magnificent Beaux-Arts mansion on a bend in the Wilmington River. The three story house of brick and marble contained 40-rooms with 12-bedrooms and 10-bathrooms. The reception rooms (all filled with statuary and expensive art) came off the central hall and included the Drawing Room, Morning Room, Indian Room, Library, and Billiards Room. The Dining Room measured 40-by-22-feet and was finished in mahogany while the gold-leaf ballroom was reputed to have cost $40,000 alone. The house as a whole cost a reported $500,000 to build and Shotter was then said to have spent a further $100,000 furnishing it.

The house was approached along a mile-long drive and the marble fountain still seen today stood centered the front entrance. It was surrounded on three sides by 28 double-story (20-feet high) Ionic columns, each one measuring 2.3-feet in diameter. There was an indoor swimming pool and a decorative tidal pool outdoors. The expansive gardens included boxwood hedges, palm trees imported from the Holy Land, a weeping willow from Napoleon's tomb at Saint Helena intermingled with row-upon-row of ancient marble statuary from the ruins of Pompeii that Shotter purchased on a visit to Rome.

Turned to the Torreys

Shotter's good fortune came to an end in 1909 when he was embroiled in a scandal for violating the anti-trust law. He was sentenced to three months in jail and fined $5,000 but managed to successfully appeal the decision. However, in order to pay his legal bills he was forced to liquidate his assets which resulted in the sale of Shadow Brook to no less a figure than Andrew Carnegie in 1915 and then Greenwich Place the following year.

The new owners of Greenwich were Dr Henry Norton Torrey (1880-1945), his wife Nell Ford Torrey (1875-1958) who wintered here with their two children and eighteen servants. Mrs Torrey was the grand-daughter of John B. Ford, founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and for the rest of the year they lived at the magnificent Clairview on Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, next to Mrs Torrey's three siblings.

From Film to Fire

In the year before Shotter sold up (1915), he allowed the house to be used for a silent film set in the colonial era, Under Southern Skies starring Mary Fuller. The Torreys also allowed it to be used for filming and in 1920 Stolen Moments was filmed here starring Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford and Francis X. Bushman. But, just three years later (January, 1923) tragedy struck when an electrical fire broke out in the second-floor sewing room and although nobody was injured, the Torrey's 10-year old daughter, Eleanor, had to be thrown out of a window by her nursery maid to escape the flames. 

The Torreys moved to their 100-foot yacht docked on the Wilmington River until the insurance money ($500,000) came through which they used to buy their new winter home, Ossabaw Island, taking the wrought iron gates from Greenwich with them. The ruins and the 100-acre plantation were abandoned until 1937 when the City of Savannah bought them for $75,000 in order to extend the Bonaventure Cemetery. Today, only the marble fountain remains to remind passers-by of what once stood here.

You May Also Like...

Contributed by Mark Meredith on 24/08/2021 and last updated on 25/08/2021.


Be the first to connect to this house. Connect to record your link to this house. or just to show you love it! Connect to Greenwich Place →