History in Savannah Revealed at Vaults at Factors Walk

They are often referred to as the vaults on Factors Walk and for years a lot of locals and visitors alike have walked past the mysterious, brick structures on their way to River Street.  Sometimes even called the “tombs” because they are almost undergound, there have been numerous stories over the years about what these structures were used for, including to house slaves.

But now after the culmination of a three year research project from a group of Savanah area high school students, the history of the vaults is becoming known.  This week, the students and city leaders unveiled interpretative markers that have now been placed at the entrance of each vault also known as the Clusky Embankment Stores.

“These are historic structures, they were completed in 1842,” said Luciana Spracher, director of Library and Archives for the City of Savannah.  “This is unique to the city and the vaults were built into the Factors walk retaining wall. The architect, Charles Clusky was a very important architect in Georgia at the time. There was also a lot of intrigue and mystery surrounding how the vaults were used and the students were intrigued by that.”

Members of the Shinhoster Youth Leadership Group became concerned about the vaults and undertook an historical research project   “And they proposed we stopped parking in them, do more research, do an archeological investigation. They started working with a local historian and they approached the city and said what can you do to protect these vaults?”, said Spracher.

Three years and many hours of research and even an archeological dig later, much more is known about the vaults.  “And I hope you all enjoy the history that we found,” said Gabriel Williams, who is one of the students who took on the project

The students worked with local historian and tour guide, Vaunghnette Goode-Walker who says some myths were shattered, including the connection between slaves and the vaults.  “These young people were initially very concerned, she said.  “They had been told first of all that slaves had been held here. We went and looked into some of the history, we knew these were built in the 18040’s as the Clusky Embankment Stores but we didn’t know who had been here,” she told us.

But Goode-Walker said their research failed to show a connection between the vaults and the slave trade.  “I believe it myself and thought this is probably what happened until we did more research and found that wasn’t the case,” she said.

Goode-Walker says the story had been that these were slave holding pens, but again the research does “not” bear that out.  But she thinks she knows how the stories came about. “This probably got started in the 1970’s when the mini series “Roots” was filmed here in the city of Savannah,” she said.

City staff however say there is still a strong, likely connection to African Americans in that slaves certainly could have been involved in building the vaults. “I do think it’s very important for people to know the history of this place so that we don’t misinterpret it, that we do tell what happened here,” said Goode-Walker.  http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/osd.js//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/expansion_embed.js?source=safeframehttp://as.casalemedia.com/cygnus?v=7&fn=cygnus_index_parse_res&s=170340&r=%7B%22id%22%3A564225424%2C%22site%22%3A%7B%22page%22%3A%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.merriam-webster.com%2Fdictionary%2Fmisinterpret%22%2C%22ref%22%3A%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%26esrc%3Ds%26frm%3D1%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D2%26ved%3D0ahUKEwjm57CJxNXMAhXIPB4KHeLpDwMQFggwMAE%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.merriam-webster.com%252Fdictionary%252Fmisinterpret%26usg%3DAFQjCNHrRXe__Uu5h4BM4z-DcvaxRwxF7A%26bvm%3Dbv.121658157%2Cd.dmo%22%7D%2C%22imp%22%3A%5B%7B%22id%22%3A%221%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A728%2C%22h%22%3A90%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%221%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170340%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%222%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%222%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170340%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%223%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%223%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%224%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%224%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%225%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%225%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%226%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%226%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%227%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A300%2C%22h%22%3A250%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%227%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%228%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A320%2C%22h%22%3A50%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%228%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170340%7D%7D%2C%7B%22id%22%3A%229%22%2C%20%22banner%22%3A%7B%22w%22%3A320%2C%22h%22%3A50%2C%22topframe%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ext%22%3A%20%7B%22sid%22%3A%229%22%2C%22siteID%22%3A170417%7D%7D%5D%7D//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit_main.js?0.30367576644529065//tags.crwdcntrl.net/c/6929/cc.js?ns=_cc6929//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js//cdn.optimizely.com/js/4162051502.jshttp://assets2.merriam-webster.com/mw/modernizr-3.3.1/modernizr-custom.js

Spracher said there are four vaults and they found “each vault sort of had a unique story to tell.”

She told us the largest vault closest to City Hall had collapsed in 1904 when they were constructing the building and it was rebuilt.  She said the one next to it had “a lot of disturbance as well and there was hisotry before the collapse that we still don’t understand.”

She said a third vault had a pit and it appeared coal had been deposited there for coal storage at one time.  And the fourth “was the most intriguing vault and the smallest of the group, going up the ramp toward Drayton Street  We found a huge deposit of cast iron pots and wine bottles that looked like they were purposely buried and we’re not quite sure why. And above that layer was a hearth that dates toward the Civil War era where we found Union buttons and marble so it looks like proaably used by Union soldiers taking refuge during the occupation of Savannah.”

The  markers had only been up a day when we checked briefly and found many visitors reading them on their walk down to River Street.

It’s hoped the history uncovered will inspire other young people to get involved to preserve other sites around Savannah.

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