Savannah Morning News
Sunday, May 24, 2009
By Jan Skutch
In August 1940, Rosemary Singleton Whitson became the first child to be born in the Fellwood Homes public housing project.
“It was just built,” said Whitson, who lives in Bowie, Md. “It was a wonderful neighborhood back then.”
View images of the original Fellwood Homes project and its new face as Sustainable Fellwood .
Fellwood Homes was the first neighborhood the Housing Authority of Savannah created on a 26-acre westside tract off Bay Street. It lasted until 2007, when it fell to the demolition ball.
On May 15, the new Sustainable Fellwood neighborhood being built to replace it accepted its first nine families.
Earline Wesley Davis, executive director of the housing authority, said 110 apartments built as part of the project’s first phase off West Bay Street can accommodate more than 300 residents.
Another 110 apartments are scheduled to be completed by December 2010 in Phase II.
A ribbon-cutting for Phase I and groundbreaking for Phase II are scheduled for Thursday.
Single-family homes, a 100-apartment seniors building, a large park and retail space will follow before the project is completed by the end of 2011.
The new mixed-used development is seen as part of a westside revival that will replace deteriorating structures with an environmentally friendly, LEED-certified development.
It also continues the housing authority’s remaking of public housing here as it works to turn deteriorating sites into modern, mixed-income neighborhoods.
The housing authority selected Melaver Inc., a local development group, as master developer for the more than $40 million public-private project that was launched in September.
Residents chose to keep the name Fellwood as part of the new neighborhood because “they did not want to lose the identity,” Davis said.
“It was just an ideal place to live,” Whitson said. “They really did maintain the property well.”
She lived in Fellwood with her father, Leroy Singleton, a chef on the Central of Georgia Railroad, and mother, Angela Singleton.
Whitson, the middle of eight children, was born in the family’s two-story home at 242 Fellwood Homes.
There were no street names then.
She graduated in 1957 from Tompkins High School and from Savannah State College (now university) with a degree in business administration in 1961.
She left for a government job in Washington in 1963.
The family left the neighborhood when she was 17 and her mother began teaching school after her youngest child was born. The additional income pushed them beyond the limits for public housing.
Still, Whitson recalled her years at Fellwood as “the best upbringing we could have had anywhere.”
She recalled a community center, nursery school and well-baby clinic.
“I still know a few people there, and I stay in contact with a couple of them,” she said.
Living without stigma
Lillian Wesley Lee watched Fellwood being built from her home across West Street.
“They had indoor plumbing,” said Lee, one of 11 children of Sumpter and Earline Wesley.
“They had what you would call central heat. The kitchen had a sink and hot running water.”
She passed the neighborhood each day on her way to West Savannah Elementary School, now the Moses Jackson Community Center, and begged her father to move there.
He refused because, she said, Edgar Blackshear, property manager at Fellwood, was too restrictive for his independent nature.
“It was just a nice place to live,” she said. “Public housing didn’t have the stigma attached to it.”
Among the early residents at Fellwood were one of her teachers, an attorney and insurance people.
Wesley graduated from Woodville High School in 1953 and went on to Savannah State College.
She later taught for several years in Savannah-Chatham schools before moving to Chapel Hill, N.C., with her husband, Howard Lee.
In 1969, he was elected mayor of Chapel Hill.
She later saw the Fellwood neighborhood deteriorate.
“Very sad,” she said.
She saw the demolition under her sister Earline Davis’ watch and was “just real pleased at the way they preserved all those beautiful trees.”
“Momma and daddy would be so proud their baby was ‘in charge’ (of the rebirth),” she said.