Completed October 2018
Left: Photo taken October, 2018.
A part of the Moon River District, Mercer Cottage was an integral part in the development of Ossabaw Island and Burnside Island.
RECLAIMED: 26 tons
RECYCLED: 3 tons
LANDFILL: 14 tons
The historic Mercer Cottage was once a waterfront getaway for the legendary Mercer family, famous among many reasons for their landmark downtown Savannah home, The Mercer House. Located at 306 McAlpin Drive, nestled into a bend in Moon River on beautiful Burnside Island, Mercer Cottage was owned by Robert Mercer, and was a part of the historic Vernon View Development. The development was meant to be a charming retreat for Savannahians including those of the Mercer family.
Robert Mercer held many connections to Savannah, as did his cottage and the Vernon View Development. He was the brother of George Mercer, who was the developer of Vernon View. Most famously, Robert Mercer was known for being the uncle of world-renowned songwriter, Johnny Mercer. Johnny Mercer frequented Vernon View and referenced his time there in his songs, including his most famous: Moon River, featured in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for which he received an Academy Award and two Grammy Awards.
Currently there is only one remaining structure from that development on the banks of Moon River.
The Robert Mercer cottage is of the Georgian-Folk style (Tidewater cottage). White cedar shake shingles cover the structure, with green shutters and accents to compliment. A vibrant red metal roof provided a refreshing contrast to the cottage which was in fashion during the cottage’s time period. There was a screened in porch on the exterior of the cottage overlooking the water.
Record of Ownership
1915 Purchased by Robert Mercer and later transferred to his spouse, Katherine Mercer, upon his death.
1929 Katherine Mercer sold to Henry Torrey. Upon his death, the cottage was transferred to his spouse, Nell Torrey. Purchased to provide boat access between Ossabaw Island and main land.
1962 Nell Torrey passed and the cottage was transferred to her two children, Eleanor West and William Torrey.
1978 Purchased by the state of Georgia as part of the Ossabaw Island acquisition.
Until 2017 the dock was used for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fuel and staff boat docking. The cottage was used for employee housing until 1994.
1994 The cottage was vacant.
2016 Hurricane Matthew caused a tree to collapse on the roof (see tarp over damage in photo above).
2018 Deconstructed by Re:Purpose Savannah.
Robert Mercer and his cottage played a pivotal role in the cultural context in the neighborhood of Burnside Island and the Vernon View development in particular. Although preservation of the structure as an intact cottage was not feasible, we were able to preserve Mercer Cottage through it’s materials, helping to preserve the history of not just the family but the historic fiber of each piece of material.
All documentation above was compiled from the Mercer Cottage: Adaptive Reuse project (Kathy Ledvina and Natalie Mosteller) and the Ossabaw Island Foundation.
Students of Architectural Drafting and Historic Preservation at Savannah Technical College spent a semester building a digital models of Mercer Cottage. They visited our project to measure elements of the structure and conducted independent historical research to inform their renderings. View their work below! Great job, students!
Renderings by Nathan Rodriguez
This was an unusual project from the start. We were brought to the table as a final effort after a long struggle by community members and stakeholders dedicated to the cottage’s preservation (see press articles below). When preservation efforts failed to secure the building, our services were sought to prevent a total loss. Yet this project, dear to our hearts, presented a challenge: without funding to pay for the deconstruction, how could we afford to help? Typically we are hired to conduct a deconstruction, which includes a contract fee to our organization. In the case of Mercer Cottage, we had to bid to pay for the rights to salvage. We decided to take the risk - we bid $100 to the State of Georgia for the salvage rights and won the contract.
On faith, we launched a campaign to raise the funds needed for labor and equipment. Community members rose to the occasion. Thanks in part to a matching grant from the Historic Savannah Foundation, and to the generosity of many in the community including descendants of the Mercer family, we raised nearly $10,000 to salvage the structure. Thank you, Savannah! The next challenge was to complete the entire deconstruction in 30 days. As this was only our second project (following on the heels of The Anderson Twins), we were nervous about the timeline.
Thanks to the success of fundraising, we were able to hire deconstruction expert Dave Bennink of Re-Use Consulting to train our crew and accelerate our timeline. In addition to funds, we received donations of tools from the community, as well as countless hours of volunteer help from students of local colleges including Georgia Southern University, Savannah State University, and SCAD. With so much support, we were able to salvage roughly 2/3 of the Cottage before the state’s excavators arrived!
August, 2018 - Georgia DNR seeking bids to move, salvage Mercer Cottage
October, 2018 - Savannah nonprofit seeks help to salvage Mercer Cottage
What We Saved
Where are they now?
Watch our Process
What is your relationship to Mercer Cottage?
Do you have insight into the history of the Cottage? Have you made something out of the materials we reclaimed from the Cottage? We would love to collect your histories and re-use stories to share in our growing archive!