A Converted Cotton Warehouse
Similar to many of the buildings along the river, the original structure of the hotel was built for the storage, sampling, grading, and export of raw cotton. By early in the 19th century, Savannah was the world’s second largest cotton seaport, due in large part by the invention of the cotton gin.
River Street Inn’s original two floors, built in 1817 out of recycled ballast stone, were soon inadequate to house the increasing amount of cotton moving through the port. As the building has the Savannah River to the north and a high bluff to the south, with buildings on either side, the only way to expand was to go higher.
On the lower floors are wide, arched doorways that were necessary to accommodate moving large bales of cotton. In 1853, the top three floors were added, allowing additional storage on the third floor and an office on the fourth and fifth. Since the upper three levels were used for office space, there are floor to ceiling windows which allowed the maximum amount of light, fireplaces for warmth, and probably most significant, the balconies that provided the factors with the opportunity to observe the arrival, departure, loading, and unloading of cargo ships.
It was also necessary to have outside access to each level for the storage and removal of the large cotton bales, and this need resulted in the creation of a series of alleys and walkways on the bluff. These alleys became known as “Factor’s Walk” after the professionals who graded the cotton. These alleys add to the character and unique, historic design of the hotel. Additionally, the riverside streets and surrounding structures of ballast stone were once ballast in the numerous ships that traveled to Savannah from all over the world.
River Street Inn Enters the Picture
After the Civil War as prices plummeted, the Savannah cotton warehouses fell into disuse. The building now housing the River Street Inn became a warehouse for various shipping concerns until redevelopment in 1987. In 1998, the River Street Inn expanded from its original structure containing 44 guest rooms into the adjoining building, and increased in size to the present 86 rooms.
The only member of Historic Hotels of America in Savannah!
Because of River Street Inn’s efforts to keep architectural integrity, the hotel was nominated and named an official “Historic Hotel of America” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation®. Now in addition to donning a plaque with the official designation by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark, this Savannah hotel also features Savannah’s only Historic Hotels of America plaque.