In 1857, Andrew Low—the premier cotton merchant in pre-Civil War Savannah—was the richest man in his adopted city. His company had a fleet of cargo ships, which often carried a million dollars’ worth of cotton to England; a massive warehouse on the river in Savannah; and an office in Liverpool, where much of his cotton was shipped. But before he built his fortune, Low was a young Scot who immigrated to Savannah in 1829 at the age of seventeen to work for his uncle (also Andrew Low). After only ten years, the elder Low retired to England, placing the operations of the cotton firm squarely in his nephew’s capable hands.
By 1847, Low needed a house suitable for both his growing family and his social obligations (he counted Robert E. Lee among his friends). Designed by renowned architect John Norris (who designed many buildings in Savannah), the house is restrained on the outside, yet extravagant on the inside— filled with the latest conveniences and the day’s finest furnishings, including designs attributed to Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Barry.
When visited by William Makepeace Thackery, the savage satirist of high society England and the author of Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon, he called his room in the house nothing less than “…the most comfortable quarters I have ever had in the United States.”
While the house is magnificent, it was also a place a of great sadness for Low. Just before its completion, he lost his first wife, Sarah Cecil Hunter, their son, Andrew, his father, and his uncle. Soon after this “annus horriblis”, Low sent his two young daughters to boarding school in England.
Happily, Andrew Low found love again with Mary Cowper Stiles, and they soon added four more children to the Low family, including a son, William Mackey Low, who would grow up to marry Juliette Magill Gordon, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. Juliette would go on to live her final years in the house, and ultimately willed the carriage house to the Girl Scouts, who used it as their first headquarters in the United States.
The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Georgia purchased the house from Juliette’s heirs in 1928 and after 22 years of maintenance and conservation, the house was opened to the public in 1950.