Spending nights at the Hamilton Turner Mansion
I joined the Army when I was 17 and by early 1969 I was an aircraft mechanic stationed at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah Georgia. I worked on helicopters during the week but on the weekends I used to go to Savannah beach or to downtown Savannah to explore the old city. Savannah was so full of interesting things to see and I wanted to see evrything. I wish I had taken more photos back then. I was pretty much a loner but had a couple Army buddies from the airfield who I'd hang out with sometimes. They always wanted to go partying and I sometimes went with them but I usually just liked wandering around downtown Savannah looking at everything. I also liked going to second hand stores and other places looking for old military souvenirs and other old things to collect. None of us had a car, we used busses or sometimes a taxi.
One night I ended up broke, alone and stranded in downtown Savannah. It was late, I'd had a few beers and it was a long way back to the airfield so I started looking for a place to spend the night. Savannah at night could be hazardous to your health back then so I didn't want to be sleeping on a park bench or in an alley. If the muggers don't get you a herd of roaches could carry you away! I remembered a vacant house that a Savannian friend had showed me. It was on Abercorn street a couple blocks from Colonial Park cemetery, a spooky looking old abandoned 3 story Victorian house. It was the only place I could think of so decided to go there to try to get some rest inside the house. When I got there, the back door was open. This house was really impressive, even though it was run down and had been neglected, broken windows and trash scattered around the floors. It looked like a haunted house but I had fallen in love with the house from the first time I saw it. I went in and tried to decide where I could sleep. The first floor was really dirty, broken glass, and debris everywhere so I went upstairs to the second floor and it was better but I just didn't feel right. I went up to the 3rd floor and it seemed like a good place to sleep so I found a corner in one of the rooms and laid down. It wasn't very long before I started hearing noises, at first I wasn't too concerned, it was an old house, sure to have some creaking and thumping noises. But later it the night or early morning, I started hearing some different kinds of sounds, bumping and some slow sqeaking sounds. Now the noises downstairs sounded like they were getting closer to me, like in the stairway. It sounded to me like someone was trying to slowly and quietly sneak up the stairs. Now I was starting to get a little concerned! I was trapped in the house with no where to go except for a narrow stairway that went up to a little room on the top of the house. Up I went and by now I had a board in my hands thinking that I may have to use it to defend myself. In this small room there was very little space and the door leading out was gone so out on the roof I went. The moon was bright so I watched and waited with the board over my shoulder ready to swing if I had to. So here I am, a drunk kid from Denver standing on the roof of a Victorian mansion in Savannah in the middle of the night with a club in my hand... and asking myself how the hell did I get into this one! I waited there for a long time but no one ever came out. I knew I wasn't going anywhere until daylight so I just waited there till morning. I didn't get any sleep on that night but after conquering my fear that night returned many more times on Friday or Saturday nights to sleep at the house. I usually tried sleeping in a room on the top floor but almost always ended up sleeping on the roof because there were too many noises inside the house. I wasn't afraid of ghosts, I was more concerned with living folk being in the house. I knew it was normal to hear some house creaks but I would often also hear the sound of stairs sqeaking and other noises. I didn't like the basement very much, you wouldn't want to sleep down there back then. It was dark in the day, pitch black at night and really dirty. I remember that one of the closets on the second floor had a huge blood red stain inside it on the wall and the floor. I'm sure it was just red paint, someone's prank but it looked shocking at first glance. For some strange reason the roof top was my favorite part of the house. Inside the cupola there was a loose board that covered a small open space under the floor. I used to keep some clothes, camera, things I bought downtown etc in a bag. I'd keep stuff there until I was ready to take the bus back to the airfield. I think that hiding place must have been used by others long ago because you could see a lot of old wear on the edge of the wood from being used a lot. My things were always safe there though so it still worked as a stash place. I was young and immature but I had respect for the house and even took some photos of it to send home and show where I stayed sometimes.
My Photos of Hamilton Turner Mansion
These are Polaroid photos and they've seen some abuse since they were taken 40 years ago so they are not very good but they speak the truth and to me they are valuable memories of that old house.
The huge arched doors on both sides of the house opened by sliding into the walls. The high ceilings and dark bold wood work made you feel small but welcome. One of my favorite things in the house was the huge dark framed mirror over one of the of the fireplaces. The woodwork throughout the house was so impressive and even with obvious signs of vandalism all around, no one had broken that huge mirror. Maybe they were afraid to. Maybe something in the house kept them from braking it. I've always wondered if that mirror survived to the present.
Who would have thought that at a time when Hamilton Turner Mansion was vacant and possibly doomed to demolition, someone still visited the house, slept there and felt a connection to the house. I loved it for it's beauty but I always wondered about the folks who had lived there before. I knew nothing of it's history, not even the name of the house until 40 years later. Anyway, I miss those good old hot days and nights in Savannah and I miss that old house. Now that I've learned how historic and well known the house is, I've decided to share of my memories of the Hamilton Turner Mansion.
The House at 330 Abercorn
In 1872 J.D. Hall started construction of a 17 room Victorian mansion for Samuel Pugh Hamilton and it was completed in late 1873 at the cost of $100,000. The mansion was styled after French Second Empire architecture. It was one of the first homes in Savannah with an indoor bath and toilet. Hamilton had the house equipped with talking pipes as on ships for communication throughout the various floors. It also had a tin roof which save the mansion from fire when many around were destroyed during the Savannah fie of 1891. In 1883 Hamilton who was also the President of Brush Electric & Power, added electricity and electric lamps to the parlor. The first building in Savannah to have electric lights! Crowds gathered outside the mansion to see the lights come on for the first time. Some of the spectators feared the house would explode. The Hamilton mansion survived the Savannah fire of 1898 because it's tin roof was resistant to the hot embers that ignited and destroyed many other homes in town.
Samuel Pugh Hamilton "The Lord of Lafayette Square"
During the Civil War Samuel Pugh Hamilton was a naval officer who was successful at running the Yankee blockade into Savannah Harbor. He was paid well for doing it and became wealthy by delivering these desperately needed goods and supplies. He married Sarah Virginia Stillings (Sallie) in 1866. Samuel and Sarah had six children, four together and two boys from Sarah's first marriage to William Franklin Hamilton (brother of Samuel Pugh Hamilton) in about 1856. William Franklin Hamilton died of typhoid fever around 1862 and Sarah married Samuel a year after the war.
Hamilton became a society leader, politician, businessman and high a member of Savannah's elite society, "The Savannah Four Hundred". Samuel P. Hamilton was also the mayor of Savannah, The Hamilton's hosted many formal dinners, political events, parties and more. Samuel Hamilton was also a jeweler and he loved art. He collected valuable art from around the world and he made his mansion into a private art museum. Hamilton took measures to protect his art collection and even had a guard with a rifle posted on the roof during the night time. One morning the guard didn't come down from the roof. When someone went to check on him, they found him lying in a pool of blood. He had been murdered! Someone had shot him during the night but the killer was never discovered and the crime never solved. After the murder of the sentry, no one wanted to take his place so Hamilton took up the rifle and did it himself. Maybe he didn't mind so much as he always did like being on the roof with it's grand view of Savannah. Never the less, after taking the place of the guard for several months, Samuel Pugh Hamilton got sick and he died in 1899. The home remained in the family until 1915 when it was sold to Dr. Francis Muir Turner. .
Dr. Francis M Turner
In 1915 a local physician (osteopath) Doc Turner purchased the house from the Hamilton's estate. The Turner family lived in the house and Doc Turner used the basement for his office. Dr. Turner owned Savannah's first electric car. The Turners lived there until 1926 when they moved out and opened the mansion up as a boarding house. In 1928 the mansion became the home of the Marine Hospital Nurses. In 1940 the Turner family again moved back into the house, and Dr. Turner's resumed his medical practice the basement.
In 1965 the Turner family sold the old house to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The Cathedral wanted to demolish the structure in order to make a playground for their school. Once their plans were known, the Historic Savannah Foundation started action to save the house which took years but in the late 1960's the H.S.F. purchased the mansion, saving it from the fate of destruction.
Late one night in 1969 pistol shots rang out from the kitchen of the Hamilton Turner Mansion. The mansion was empty and vacant in the late 1960's but that doesn't mean no one lived there. I guess I was the last person to stay there before it was reopened as an apartment house in the early 1970's. I won't say what happened that night in the spirit of keeping the house's history mysterious. No one was hurt but two bullets did hit high on the north wall of the kitchen.
The 1970's and 80's
Over the next years the The House at 330 Abercorn had several owners and was an apartment building. The house later troubled neighbors and was associated with scandal while under the management of attorney Joe Odom who's wild parties gained fame in John Berendt's book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" Joe Odom died in the Hamilton Turner House in November 1991.
In 1991 Nancy Hillis and her husband bought the house which was being used as an apartment building at the time. They divorced shortly after but Nancy lived in the house for years but she sold it in 1997 although she still lived in the basement and managed the house (by now an Inn) for many years.
In 1997 Charlie and Sue Strickland bought the house and converted the Hamilton Turner mansion into the (Hamilton Turner Inn) a bed and breakfast.
In February 2003 The Hamilton-Turner Inn restoration and preservation was taken over by Rob and Jane Sales.
The present owners are Gay and Jim Dunlop who in cooperation with the Historic Savannah Foundation are carrying on the maintenance and continuing the ongoing history of the Hamilton Turner mansion.
The mansion is sometimes called " The Grand Victorian Lady" and sometimes "The Charles Addam's house"
There have been reports of ghosts both inside and outside the mansion. According to Nancy Roberts book "Georgia Ghosts" Some people claim that when passing this old place, they've seen a man with a rifle pacing on the roof at night. Witnesses have also seen a man, sitting in an upstairs room sitting and reading. Others have seen a man standing at the top of the stairs. All these figures are only seen for a moment and then they disappear. Other people have heard unexplainable sounds in the mansion, the sound of someone running up the stairs and the sounds of pool balls rolling across the floor and the sounds of children laughing. The mansion was featured in the A&E Television Networks TV series ("Haunted History" Savannah) I wouldn't blame any soul for wanting to return to this wonderful home if they had once lived here. I may just decide to haunt the Hamilton Turner mansion myself someday! I don't remember seeing anything strange but every time I was there I got a strong feeling there was someone else in or around the house.... and with the sounds I heard....... well If you think the house is spooky now, try sleeping in it alone when it's dark vacant and dirty, no one knows you're there and your trying not to think about the bloody red stain you saw in the closet. Actually is was an adventure and looking back on it now, I feel lucky to have had the honor.
I wonder, What are the chances that I slept in the same spot where the armed guard fell? On the other hand, what are the chances that someone walking by the house late one night saw me on the roof with that board on my shoulder and thought they had seen the ghost of the armed guard?