The square’s location on Barnard Street bordered by Bryan and Congress Streets served as a commercial center for local farmers and slave traders. The original City Market was built in 1763 and subsequent markets followed thereafter until the 1950’s; thus, the area was also sometimes referred to as Marketplace Square. It was home to most of the first Jewish settlers in Savannah in 1733. They would be integral in the establishment of the Mickvah Israel congregation that remains today.
Bordered on the east by the ocean, Savannah eventually found itself running out of prime downtown property. In 1954 the Savannah Merchants Cooperative Parking Association leveled the market and built a much-needed four-story parking garage to serve downtown retail customers. The loss of Ellis Square led to the founding of The Historic Savannah Foundation, which now preserves historic city homes and buildings that might otherwise be destroyed. This story ends happily, though, since the 1.5-acre property became available again in 2004. A compromise was arrived at to satisfy the need for parking and historical preservation.
Underneath Ellis Square is an underground garage and above is a new park for public use and events. Five tall oaks were brought in to restore the traditional shade to the historic square. A new market houses restaurants, shops and studios that restore the hubbub of the old. The grass-roofed visitor’s center and 2-foot tall chess pieces are visual highlights, but the center fountain reminds visitors of the square’s rejuvenation as it shoots water ten feet high into Savannah skies. A bronze statue of Savannahian and songwriter-lyricist Johnny Mercer was erected to remind visitors of the importance of old sweet songs amongst new opportunities and progress.