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The Oglethorpe Plan

The Oglethorpe Plan: Enlightenment Design in Savannah and Beyond

Thomas D. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Oglethorpe Plan
    Book Description:

    The statesman and reformer James Oglethorpe was a significant figure in the philosophical and political landscape of eighteenth-century British America. His social contributions-all informed by Enlightenment ideals-included prison reform, the founding of the Georgia Colony on behalf of the "worthy poor," and stirring the founders of the abolitionist movement. He also developed the famous ward design for the city of Savannah, a design that became one of the most important planning innovations in American history. Multilayered and connecting the urban core to peripheral garden and farm lots, the Oglethorpe Plan was intended by its author to both exhibit and foster his utopian ideas of agrarian equality.

    In his new book, the professional planner Thomas D. Wilson reconsiders the Oglethorpe Plan, revealing that Oglethorpe was a more dynamic force in urban planning than has generally been supposed. In essence, claims Wilson, the Oglethorpe Plan offers a portrait of the Enlightenment, and embodies all of the major themes of that era, including science, humanism, and secularism. The vibrancy of the ideas behind its conception invites an exploration of the plan's enduring qualities. In addition to surveying historical context and intellectual origins, this book aims to rescue Oglethorpe's work from its relegation to the status of a living museum in a revered historic district, and to demonstrate instead how modern-day town planners might employ its principles. Unique in its exclusive focus on the topic and written in a clear and readable style,The Oglethorpe Planexplores this design as a bridge between New Urbanism and other more naturally evolving and socially engaged modes of urban development.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3711-3
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. PROLOGUE: Historical Context
    (pp. 1-36)

    James Edward Oglethorpe is known today principally for three accomplishments. He was a prison reformer, chairing a parliamentary committee that investigated conditions in three debtors’ prisons. He was the founder of the Georgia Colony, inspired to act on behalf of the working poor, especially those released from prison as a result of his efforts. And he was the town planner who created the unique ward design now enshrined in the Savannah National Historic Landmark District.

    Most of the literature on these accomplishments portrays them in static terms: Oglethorpe’s committee led to the release of thousands of inmates and marginally improved...

  6. 1 The Plan for a Model Colony
    (pp. 37-62)

    It is widely believed that James Oglethorpe conceived the Georgia Colony as a refuge for debtors and then secured support for the colony by promoting its geopolitical and mercantile value. Oglethorpe, however, had an even more fundamental purpose in mind for the colony, a purpose that remains little understood today because it was unstated at the time. That core purpose was to create a utopian agrarian society that would preserve and nourish fundamental principles of the British nation, principles that Oglethorpe believed were being eroded by urbanization and social disintegration. The colony was to become a model based on tenets...

  7. 2 The Plan for an Ideal City
    (pp. 63-100)

    The Trustees established five towns during their twenty-year administration of Georgia, three on the Savannah River and two on the colony’s southern frontier. Only one of the towns, Savannah, would be laid out and substantially developed with a planned hinterland of farms, villages, and estates.

    When Oglethorpe sailed for America, it is likely he carried with him a drawing of the regional settlement plan for Savannah, a prototype that would subsequently be applied throughout the colony. No copy has yet surfaced, and it remains the Holy Grail for many students of Trustee Georgia. However, the frontispiece forSome Account(Martyn’s...

  8. 3 Implementation of the Plan
    (pp. 101-133)

    Oglethorpe and 114 colonists embarked for America on November 17, 1732, departing on the frigateAnnefrom Gravesend, near the mouth of the Thames River. Their voyage took advantage of prevailing winds with a southward course to tropical waters off Africa, a westward course across the Atlantic to the Gulf Stream, and finally a shorter northward course to British America. After nearly two months at sea, they arrived at Charles Town (now Charleston) on January 13, 1733. More than six thousand colonists would cross the Atlantic to settle Georgia during the twenty-year period of Trustee administration.

    TheAnneremained briefly...

  9. 4 The Plan Today
    (pp. 134-158)

    Oglethorpe’s elegant six-ward design was multiplied four times by successive generations of Savannahians, creating an area now preserved as a National Historic Landmark District. Savannah’s acclaimed Landmark District, however, is not merely a relic of another age but, more important, a vibrant downtown and a regional hub of business, government, higher education, culture, and entertainment. Oglethorpe’s ward design has proven remarkably adaptable and well suited to the demands of modern urban society. The design has consequently drawn praise from urban designers and town planners in academic as well as applied fields.

    The complex and multifaceted nature of the Oglethorpe Plan...

  10. 5 The Future of the Plan
    (pp. 159-188)

    The Oglethorpe Plan was a revolutionary, comprehensive, and highly detailed plan “to begin the world again.” The thoroughness of the plan’s preparation, however, was undermined by the suddenness of its implementation. While swift action was necessary to seize an opportune moment in history, a more cautious approach to settling the Georgia Colony might have protected it from internal subversion and external threats. A more effective leadership plan could have prevented the colony’s Malcontents from sowing discord, and a formal agreement with South Carolina may have prevented its slave-based plantation economy from infecting Georgia’s system of agrarian equality, which prohibited slavery....

  11. EPILOGUE: Enlightenment Legacy
    (pp. 189-208)

    The prologue provided a glimpse into the current of influences that channeled Oglethorpe toward social reform and the utopian plan for Georgia. The epilogue examines that current of influences as part of the Enlightenment, demonstrating that the colonial experiment was not a dead end but, rather, a contributing event in the progression toward modern ideas of humanism and democracy. In making that argument, the role of planning today may be seen in perspective as part of a continuous flow of events and as a mechanism to serve a greater purpose of human advancement.

    Nearly every aspect of Oglethorpe’s plan for...

  12. Appendix A Chronology of the British Enlightenment, Oglethorpe’s Life, and the Planning and Founding of Georgia
    (pp. 209-213)
  13. Appendix B Biographical Profiles
    (pp. 214-218)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 219-232)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-258)