Stockyard, Courthouse, Schoolhouse

When they arrived at the Georgia Colony at Brunswick, settlers emerging from landing craft at the George Street docks got their first glimpse of the new city in their world at Hanover Square. Far from a stately garden space, late-18th century travelers encountered a muddy, strictly utilitarian gathering place. The square was a multi-purpose area, containing stockyards and hitching posts and very little else.

Brunswick’s beginnings were humble and halting. The city was deserted during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. A public improvement lottery was held in 1825 to raise $12,000 to be used for an Academy, and a courthouse, Masonic Chapel and jail in Hanover Square. The drawing, held in Savannah, apparently yielded enough funds to accomplish the construction of the 2-story structure that was located in the center of the square.

From 1837-1839, Glynn Academy classes were held in the Hanover Square courthouse while their new school building was under construction. The ground floor was used as a jail and to conduct city and county business. The Masons leased the top story of the building until it was moved in 1882.

Powerful Preservationists

In 1878, a citizen’s group, led by D.T. Dunn, a local businessman who would later become Mayor, made the first documented request to remove the courthouse from Hanover Square. Shortly after that time, the Ladies Park Association, led by Mr. Dunn’s wife, Mary, began to petition the City Council to move the city hall structure from Hanover Park, as it was called at the time. The ladies were tireless as they repeatedly appealed to the city, waged a letter-writing campaign in the local newspaper, raised money and undertook the work of reclaiming the park for the people of Brunswick. One major victory the organization enjoyed was convincing the city to install ironwork fencing to keep roaming livestock out of the park.

Their work was completed in 1884, and the city complemented the area’s new design by paving the roads around the park with oyster shells.
In six years, Hanover Square went from a filthy trampled stockyard with rickety wooden buildings to a garden spot destination and source of civic pride for Brunswick.

A Treasure Worth Saving

By the late 1870s, mass transportation, in and between cities, was a major growth industry across the nation. Brunswick was no exception. There was money to be made if the city sold rights to electric train franchises and major rail lines that required the use of public property in and around the city. After such an extended period of difficulty and need, it is understandable that such decisions were seen as being in the best interests of the city.

In 1881, the City Council passed a resolution allowing the Macon and Brunswick Railroad to construct a rail line on George Street directly through Hanover Square. A storm of protest erupted, and citizens claimed that the square was, and always had been, a public garden space without intersecting roadways. The city attorney investigated, and in June 1881, the Commissioners passed a resolution revoking permission for the railroad to construct a right of way down George Street.

Challenges to the integrity of Hanover Square’s borders emerged several more times in the city’s history. In 1895, 1900 and 1952, attempts to allow trolley lines or major highway extensions to bisect Hanover Square have been defeated.

The Landmark Fountain of Hanover Square

After the demolition of the Hanover Square wooden courthouse building in 1884, the city drilled an artesian well in that location. The new 313.5-foot deep well was gratifyingly productive, yielding 60 gallons per minute of cold, clean water. The official chemist for the state of Georgia tested the water and declared it extremely pure, with the properties of mineral water, “much prized for… certain classes of diseases.” His findings were posted on a sign adjacent to the fountain.

The new fountain provided clean drinking water for local citizens and created a tourist attraction for health-conscious travelers. A popular practice in the late 19th-century, called “taking the waters,” brought many people to Brunswick to drink Hanover fountain’s therapeutic natural mineral water. Whether the health of the visitors was improved is unclear; however, the economic health of Brunswick benefited considerably.

The fountain became an unofficial barometer of the city’s fortunes. In times of prosperity, the fountain flowed freely and was maintained regularly. When hardship fell on the city, the Parks Keeper position was removed from the budget and the fountain would run dry due to lack of care.

When Signature Squares of Brunswick took on its inaugural project of restoring the fountain, several pieces were missing. The entire assembly was removed down to the ground, and a replacement in the original style was installed. The base bowl of the old fountain was saved and repurposed as the basin of the new Jekyll Square West fountain.

A classic Tall Crane design was chosen to most closely reflect the original 1884 fountain.

An Evolving Garden

The garden design and plant materials used in Hanover Square reflected the popular styles of each era, as well as the infrastructure that was afforded by city budgets. After black iron fencing was installed to keep out wandering livestock, it was safe to add lush ornamental plants to border walkways and surround the fountain.

Large, showy plants such as crinum lilies were favorites of Victorian gardeners, and rose varieties for the garden around the fountain were carefully selected to thrive in the semi-tropical coastal climate. A wooden bandstand, visible in vintage postcards, was the site of many performances from local and visiting musicians, bond rallies in wartime and other gatherings.

A Monument to the Fallen

Newlyweds Confederate Adjutant General Thomas McIntosh and his bride, Maria, posed for this portrait, shortly before his death at the Battle of Sharpsburg in 1862. Maria married former Army surgeon, Dr. James M. Madden, in 1867, and moved to Brunswick.

For the rest of her life, Mrs. Madden was troubled by the loss and tragedy of the war. She was determined that those who fought for the Confederacy not be forgotten. As president of the Memorial Association of Brunswick, Maria Madden led and inspired the other members of the group to raise money for a marble monument to the soldiers of the Confederacy. The project took many years to complete. Countless glasses of lemonade and slices of cake were sold on Sunday afternoons in Hanover Park, at band concerts and other events to raise the funds needed to commission the white marble statue of a Confederate soldier, standing in quiet reflection.

The Memorial Association petitioned the city to move the park’s bandstand closer to the perimeter of the square, away from the location for the monument. On April 26, 1902, hundreds of Brunswick citizens gathered for the unveiling and dedication of the monument. Initially, there was no fence; the city later installed an iron fence to circle around the base of the column.

The Portuguese Community in Brunswick

Shortly after the end of World War I, immigrants from Portugal arrived in Brunswick and settled around and near Hanover Square. The newcomers were experienced fishermen with generations of knowledge of the sea. They quickly devised innovations in boat design and equipment that allowed them to revolutionize the harvest of shrimp from warm coastal waters. A specialty seafood industry grew from those developments, providing employment and economic prosperity for thousands of people in Coastal Georgia.

Hanover’s location offered many advantages to Portuguese families: the adjacent Catholic Church, nearby shops, proximity to the docks and an ideal place to gather in the park to gather and socialize after a hard day’s work on the ocean.

The local Blessing of the Fleet is derived from Portugal’s Lady Fatima observances. Local Knights of Columbus members lead a solemn procession through Hanover Square, carrying the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, on the Sunday closest to May 13 each year.

The Catholic Church

St. Francis Catholic Church has been located adjacent to Hanover Square since its first building was completed in 1890. The original structure was replaced by a modern structure and school facility in 1960.

Hanover Square in World War II

In the early days of World War II, shipyards in Brunswick jumped into production of urgently needed emergency cargo vessels called Liberty Ships. Within weeks, the population of the city quadrupled, causing a housing shortage that quickly reached a crisis stage.

Although there was a law on the books that strictly prohibited sleeping in the parks and squares of Brunswick, city fathers made an exception in Hanover Square. The spacious, tree-lined green space offered fresh water from its fountain, and a safe place to sleep at night. As they waited for the completion of hastily built war apartments, many shipyard workers slept on the ground in Hanover Square and drew buckets of water from the fountain in the morning to wash up before their next shift. After the housing dilemma was resolved, patriotic concerts and community rallies were held in Hanover Square.