Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences

More From Savannah More From Georgia

Having the ability to see people’s real motives, can be an eternal gift…

Keeping an eye on the living is the norm here.

Lovers of art in life remain so as spirits.

Unrequited love and betrayal can result in eternal bitterness…



“The Little Palace.”

The Telfair Academy of Art and Sciences is housed in the impressive Telfair Mansion, one of three properties run by The Telfair Museum of Art; three separate and distinct facilities operated by the same organization. The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences is a traditional art museum that has been much improved upon since it was a mansion known as “The Little Palace.”

The Jepson Center for the Arts, which focuses on modern art in a flashy modern building is catty-cornered to the older structure of the Telfair Academy, the mansion itself. The Telfair organization also operates the Owens-Thomas House, a house museum.

The historic Telfair Mansion is a large, two story rectangular structure that once included a reception room, dining room, drawing room, bedrooms on the second floor, kitchens, cellar, and other service rooms in the basement level. Today the museum includes three interior rooms, the dining room, the kitchen, and the reception room, restored to reflect the era of Alexander Telfair, Margaret and Mary Telfair’s grandfather. There are many portraits of prominent members of Savannah’s well-known families on display in the mansion.

The upstairs bedrooms have been renovated to be museum display rooms. The beautiful 1886 addition is home to a large gallery of exhibits. The Telfair Academy has also collected its own art and features the work of guest artists as well.


This site is in a prime location! The Telfair Mansion was built on the site of a previous mansion built for the British Colonial Governor.

Yes indeed! The preceding house was the residence of the Royal Governors of Georgia, loyalists to the crown. Here on the night of January 18, 1776, in one of the most dramatic episodes of the American Revolution, Major Joseph Habersham, commanding a small force of patriots, walked alone into the chamber where Governor Wright was conferring with his Council and announced, “Sir James, you are my prisoner.” Habersham later became Postmaster-General of the United States.”

Sometime during the Revolutionary War, the house must have been destroyed, or simply been demolished to rid the community of its bad memories. In 1818 Edward Telfair, son of Revolutionary Patriot Alexander Telfair, who also was one of Georgia’s early post-independence governors, bought the property. Edward Telfair commissioned popular British architect William Jay to design and build his showcase town home, The Telfair Mansion. Jay had made his reputation in Savannah, by designing and building such beautiful buildings as The Savannah Theatre and the Owens-Thomas House.

Outside, Jay designed “a symmetrical façade with a central porch supported by four columns with cast stone capitals.” Inside, the public rooms were placed on either side of a grand entrance hallway and staircase. Edward Telfair and his wife had one son, Richard, and two daughters, Margaret and Mary.

While the Telfair family lived in this little palace, they generously gave to organizations that helped the people of Savannah. While the daughters were not blessed with physical beauty, they were both blessed with smarts and the family’s fortitude and personal courage.

The eldest daughter, Margaret, married during her 40s, to William Brown Hodgson while Mary remained single. Mary lived at the family home with her brother, Richard. When Richard died, he didn’t have a wife or heirs, so he left the entire estate to Mary.

She continued to financially help such organizations as the hospital in Savannah. The idea for a public museum started a few years earlier, during a tour of Europe. In her 1775 will, she wanted to ensure that the Telfair art collections would be preserved for the public, and that the mansion would be maintained. If she provided the funds to do so, it surely would be done.

She bequeathed the mansion and all its furniture and art collections to The Georgia Historical Society, so they would open it as a museum. When a Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, INC Corporation was formed in 1920, the Georgia Historical Society turned it all over to this Telfair Academy Organization.

And, of course, people enthusiastically got to work. “In the 1880s, the entrance hall was opened up to allow public groups to more easily enter what was once a private home. The original staircase was removed, as was the original octagonal skylight. Pine floors were covered in marble, and a marble staircase was installed at the end of the entrance hall leading to the upstairs bedrooms (which were also altered) and the new addition. The upper part of the entrance hall was originally open in the center with walkways on either side leading into the Telfairs’ bedrooms.”

“The mansion was remodeled and enlarged with an extension by architect Carl N. Brandt. The extension added certain elements to the original plan which was approximately sixty feet, six inches by 64 feet. The addition gave an overall dimension of one hundred and sixty-eight in length including a three story addition on the rear of its ‘Trust lot’ that faces Telfair Square.”

“The remodeling also included the addition of an attic story, replacing a wooden stairway with a marble one, blocking off certain windows, and placing five gigantic Renaissance-style statues representing culture at the entrance.”

By the end of all the renovations, there were two galleries: the Rotunda Gallery, full of paintings, and the Sculpture Gallery in the large addition in the back.

The statues in front were the cherries on the top of this glorious renovation. “In 1883, Carl Brandt was given $20,000 cash and a ticket to Europe to acquire the art for a brand-new museum in Savannah. Carl Brandt arrived in Vienna to visit the studio of Victor Tilgner, one of the best sculptors of the period. Taken by the artist’s work, Brandt ordered five sculptures of great artists to be put in front of the new museum in Savannah. All of the sculptures were to be seven feet, six inches high. They were to be made of marzano, a hard limestone from the town of the same name.”

“The steamship City of Savannah arrived in its namesake port in the fall of 1884 with the first two statues, Phidias, and Michelangelo, soon followed by works by Rubens, Rembrandt, and Raphael. They were situated in the front of the building to enhance the mansion’s elegant façade and to announce to visitors that this was no longer a private home. They were indeed entering a temple of the arts!”

The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences opened its doors on May 3, 1886. It was a free museum for the public, and it became a beloved city landmark and treasure. As the years went by, fundraisers and entrance fees kept it financially healthy.

Apparently, a spirit is keeping an eye on the living.



One theory: Unrequited love, and/or betrayal can cause anger and bitterness that can last into the afterlife.

Plains Hotel, WY (Betrayal and hurt caused the deaths of three people.)

Hotel Adolphus, TX (A bride who was stood up at her own wedding killed herself.)

Biltmore Hotel, FL (Adultery caused pain, anger and death.)

Telfair Academy, GA. (One story tells the sad tale of the two sisters, Margaret and Mary, falling in love with the same man, William Brown Hodgson. They met on an Italian holiday, but in the end the charming suitor chose Margaret, which some say caused a falling out between the sisters.

Another source debunks this story. It was obvious from the start that this fellow, William Brown Hodgson, had fallen head-over-heels in love with Margaret from the start. Margaret was a hefty soul, forty-five years old at the time. Her suitor was attracted to big women, and was stricken with love for her. Mary would go to visit Margaret and her husband, so there was no hard feelings as claimed. In fact, today, William Brown Hodgson has his own display and portrait on the wall in The Telfair Academy.)


Living people who were annoyed by certain types of people, because of their behavior, don’t change when they go to the spirit world.

Bullock Hotel, SD (Seth Bullock,while alive saw gambling promoters as dishonest snakes, and his opinion hasn’t changed a bit in the afterlife.)

Harpers Ferry Guest House, WV (A spectral gentleman hated the union soldiers during the Civil War, which he has carried into his haunting of the Guest House.)

Colonel Michael Swope Townhouse, VA (While alive, Swope detested the British, a feeling he has kept as a spirit)

Telfair Academy, GA  (Mary was a no-nonsense, strong-willed lady who was very intelligent and handled the family fortune very well indeed. She never found the “right man” because she could see a fortune hunter at ten feet, and she had very high standards for a possible husband. She knew her appearance wasn’t considered beautiful by her society’s standards, and she also knew men had their eye on the family fortune. She looked suspiciously upon the amorous intentions of possible suitors. Rich women had to be careful who they married. Mary wanted to stay in control of the family assets.)


When a favorite structure is bequeathed to become a museum, or library, or historic museum for the public, the person who makes the donation may want to stick around in spirit form to keep an eye on the living who are in charge, especially, if they are used to being in charge.

Andrew Bayne Memorial Library, Pittsburgh, PA (Miss Bayne loves to be involved in her library that she set up in the will.)

Speed Museum, KY (Madam Speed likes to keep her hand in the everyday chores of the museum, even checking up on employees.)

Belmont Mansion, TN (Mrs. Belmont doesn’t quite trust the living, so she sticks around to supervise.)

Telfair Mansion, GA (Mary donated her beloved Telfair Mansion so it and its property could become an art museum for the public. She willed a boatload of money to establish and maintain this generous gift. All of the Telfair family’s art collections were also donated to the museum. She very well may have stuck around to keep an eye on the living, and believes to this day that she is still in charge. In fact, it is “Her way or the highway,” concerning some requirements she has written in her instructions for the museum.)


Former spectral owners may also stick around to enjoy their memories, especially if specific pieces of furniture or former possessions wind up on display.

The Mary Washington House Museum, VA (Mary Washington still enjoys her home, while keeping an eye on the docents.)

Pittock Mansion, OR (The spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Pittock are enjoying their dream home, and don’t mind sharing.)

Moss Mansion Museum, MT (Moss Mansion holds a family’s treasures, both items and its spirits.)

Telfair Mansion, GA (Mary spent her entire life living in this magnificent mansion, and she died here as well. Some valued family possessions are also on display.)


When a structure is renovated, and even has improvements added to it, this may either please or displease the spirits who are attached to it, and activate them in this world.

Chateau at Coindre Hall, NY (The spirits of the original owners love the restoration and all the social events that are scheduled there.)

The Peninsula School, CA (The spirits of the original owner and her father are very pleased with the school that operates in their mansion.)

Poughkeepsie Church, NY (The spirit of a priest was very unhappy about the renovations done to his office at the church.)

Telfair Mansion, GA (The Telfair Mansion was renovated to be a grand museum with a Rotunda and Gallery in the home, and a second building was added to create another beautiful gallery for statues. The spirit of Mary must be thrilled; it is more than she could have imagined.)



General Activity of Mary

It sometimes sets off alarms inside the museum.

Doors open and close by themselves.

Footsteps of a woman are heard in the hallways.

The sounds of someone practicing a harp. The spirit of Mary may want to keep her skills up!

Better Follow Mary’s Rules

Mary will discipline the living who break the rules that she has decreed in her will.

Once, the Telfair Academy broke the “no party” rule, and set up tables on the property during a fundraiser. Suddenly a strong wind and rain descended on everything and ruined the event. From that time forth, all fundraising events were held in the nearby pubic park.

No Flattery Please!

The spirit of Mary reacts negatively to people she thinks are just flattering her to get on her good side. She may not like mediums either.

A medium stood in front of her large picture, and told her she was a handsome woman. Mary knew better, and gave the medium a headache and tickled her tummy.


Yes Indeed! The spirit of Mary Telfair is still front and center, enjoying her mansion and her art museum and supervising the living, making sure that museum staff follow her simple requests, as well as putting annoying mediums in their place.

The activities listed above have been experienced by staff and visitors.

During the fall, ghost tours take people around to various haunted places. One such tour, Ghost Party, has a map of places where they visit, and Telfair Academy is on it. One person left a comment on their website that she got to go on an investigation of Telfair Academy. No hard evidence has been posted or shared online though.



121 Barnard Street, Savannah, GA 31401

In Central Historical Savannah, The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (Museum of Art), is located on Bernard Street, between West York Lane and West York Street. Telfair Square is located on the other side of Bernard Street, in the block next to Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences. ” It occupies an entire block, bounded by Barnard, West President, North Jefferson, and West State Streets.”

The Telfair Academy is just a short walk away from the Jepson Center in Savannah.



  • HAUNTED PLACES:The National Directory, by Dennis William Hauck, Penguin Books, 2002
  • Wheretraveler website: Description of Telfair Academy (of Arts and Sciences) (Museum of Art)
  • Savannah Ghost Hunter tours (business web site), Savannah Ghost Hunter Tours by Ghost Party
  • Telfair website, visit web page on their website.
  • Wikipedia website, their Telfair_Academy webpage.
  • Telfair website article: The Story of Telfair Academy’s Iconic Sculptures
  • NP Gallery Digital Assets, Telfair Academy, 76000612
  • Bonnie Blue Tours blog, July 12, 2014 Article: Careless Lies Told by Careless Guides; Mary Telfair never married because of a thwarted romance

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Special Thanks to Nate Lee for some of the photographs

Haunts in Savannah Haunts in Georgia