Sorrel-Weed House History
The Sorrel-Weed House History begins in 1837 with Francis Sorrel, who built one of the most prosperous shipping/merchant businesses in Savannah, started work on the Sorrel Weed House. He wanted to build an appropriate home for his wife Matilda and their growing family as a wedding gift. The city had just laid out Madison Square in Jasper Ward, and Francis purchased the north-western corner property.
He hired renowned architect Charles Cluskey to design the Francis Sorrel House, (or Sorrel Weed House as it has been called since the late 1800’s) which would become one of the most significant Greek Revival/Regency homes in the United States. Cluskey designed several well-known buildings in Georgia. It is believed that his first was the Hermitage Plantation in 1830 north of the city on the Savannah River. By the late 1830’s Cluskey was probably the most prominent architect in Georgia.
He then designed the Medical College in Augusta. (1834-1837) Cluskey was a master of the Greek Revival method. This monumental building is dominated by a Doric portico across the front and a central rotunda, repeated in his later commissions as well. Cluskey then embarked on his most famous work, the antebellum Georgia State Capitol, or the Governors Mansion in Milledgeville, Georgia. He completed this in 1837 and started working on the Sorrel Weed House immediately afterwards.
The Sorrel Mansion, called “Shady Corner” by Francis Sorrel and his family, was complete by 1840, probably sometimes in 1839. When it was completed, it was the largest home in Savannah with the largest Carriage House as well. The original Carriage Stone remains there today. Unfortunately the metal horse-pole was stolen a few years ago. In 1840 Francis had an open southern view of a large field of green grass, with the Oglethorpe Barracks being the only other building around Madison Square other than the Sorrel-Weed House. The Barracks stood in the same location as the present day Desoto Hilton. Francis had an open view to the south for several years to come.
What is now Madison Square became the most popular area in Savannah for town gatherings and celebrations. The Sorrel’s became quite popular with their extravagant entertaining as well. Every famous name in Savannah would have spent time at a soiree at the Sorrel Mansion. It was a fashionable salon for the elite of Savannah society, with many a party running through the wee hours of the morning.
In the early 1850’s, Charles Green purchased the south-west Trustee lot on the western corner to the Sorrel Weed House and built what is now known as the Green-Meldrim House. Charles Green was a very good friend and business partner of Francis, and their wives were related as well. Mrs. Green was the niece of Mrs. Sorrel, both from the Moxley family of Virginia. The 2 families traveled together every summer to Northern Virginia to escape the Savannah humidity.
In 1856, 3 years after Charles Green had finished his home across the street, Francis decided he needed more space for his growing family, (or perhaps less aggravation from several sons living with them who were in their late teens?) so he gave up his private garden on his lot, building a modest townhouse for his sons to live while he and his wife and daughters lived in the Sorrel-Weed Mansion.
A few years later, Francis decided to sell the Sorrel Mansion and made a sales agreement with Henry Davis Weed. Since the properties were set-up as one, there had to be alterations made and there were also outside business considerations as well. Francis, his wife and daughters continued living in the Sorrel Mansion while work was done to the property next door. There was no official date listed for when he would actually move out, however we know they were still in the Sorrel Weed House the fall of 1861, and through early 1862 when General Lee visited his friend Francis at the Sorrel Weed Mansion. Sometimes after Lee’s visit in 1862 Henry Weed took possession of the property. One thing Henry Weed insisted on was that Francis have the windows in the townhouse bricked in so no one could see his daughters through the windows. There was also a property line issue where Francis gained the upper-hand by gaining additional inches on his new property line. It was one complicated agreement involving more than just the sale of property, and we believe in addition to waiting until all the work was done, conditions were based on the new office building and business Francis Sorrel operated on Bay Street. It seems that Francis made good use of leveraging his money as he wanted the money for the office building but also needed a place to live for a couple of years while the alterations were being made to the newly subdivided property. The constant possibility of Georgia leaving the Union and for Civil War probably had something to do with Francis wanting to protect his assets and raise his liquidity as well. Francis seemed to be ahead of his time on estate planning, which is probably why he had $40,000 in gold in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Many wealthy families lost everything. Every descendant of Francis Sorrel we have met have been people of high social standing, and I will just say that I would pity anyone on the opposite end of the bargaining table with any one of them! They are all very nice, highly educated, and astute in business as well as the arts and culture.
This office property on Bay Street remained in his family through the 1900’s and provided a nice rental income stream for years. Francis Sorrel died in Savannah in May of 1870, just 3 weeks after he had entertained his old friend Robert E. Lee. General Lee also died that year in the fall. Francis Sorrel and General Robert E. Lee had become friends in the early 1830’s when Lee was stationed in the Savannah area on his first military assignment after graduating from West Point. It was also General Lee who had recommended Moxley Sorrel be promoted to Brigadier General in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Henry Weed died in 1875 and the home would remain in the possession of his family until 1914. The bank took over the home for several years, and in January 1940 it was opened to the public as a Museum for The Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks who had formed in 1939. The house served as their Museum, featuring a collection of the finest antiques and artwork, on loan by several distinguished Savannah families. This Society later became the Historic Savannah Foundation. In 1941 the Cohen family purchased the home, later building the Lady Jane shop inside the lower level of the house and through the courtyard and side-yards. The house was purchased privately in 1996 and the Lady Jane shop was torn down and renovations completed on the home. The shop went 270 degrees around the home. The Sorrel Weed House was opened to the public in August 2005 for Historic Tours and Haunted Ghost Tours in Savannah, and a few years later the Sorrel-Weed House received the honor of being designated a Georgia Museum and Foundation.
We hope you enjoy your stay in Savannah and drop by to tour the Museum. The house was in the 2007 SCAD Vernacular Architectural Conference. This event attracted the leading architects and historians from around the world to this fine event. It was called one of the most important homes in Georgia and featured prominently in their article on the house, winning several committee awards. It was chosen in Colonial Williamsburg’s Top Picks, and also a Conference Committee Favorite. It was an honor to have them draw blueprints of the house with the original stairs we added because they had been torn down in the late 1800’s. The Sorrel Weed House has been featured on the 2005 SyFy Halloween Special episode of Ghost Hunters, the 2010 Travel Channel “Most Terrifying Places in America”, 2006 Home and Garden Network (HGTV) “If these Walls Could Talk”, The Travel Channel Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans in 2014, the Paula Deen Network in 2014, History Channel, Fox and Friends and more. We have been featured in Travel and Leisure Magazine, Conde Nast, USA Today, CNN, This Old House, Babble, the Examiner, Savannah Magazine, Lonely Planet, and The Wall Street Journal.