MADE BY MORRIS: Historic Savannah Foundation honors Charles H. Morris with second ever Spirit Award for transformative preservation efforts

Charles H. Morris outside the renovated and state-of-the art Kehoe Iron Works event facility at Trustee’s Garden.
These ‘before’ photos show the Kehoe Iron Works building before renovation.

Charles H. Morris, founder of Morris Multimedia, and the man behind the restoration of the expansive Trustees’ Garden complex off Bay and E. Broad Streets, is being recognized as a tireless advocate for historic preservation in his home city, which he calls “a national historic treasure.”

To honor his enormous efforts in Savannah, the Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) will present the “Historic Savannah Spirit Award” to Morris during the organization’s Annual Gala on Sat., Oct. 16 at Kehoe Iron Works in Trustees’ Garden. 

According to Sue Adler, CEO and president of the foundation, this award recognizes the best of the best of historic preservation in Savannah. 

“Mr. Morris was chosen because of his dedication to Savannah as well as the positive economic impact that he’s made to the city,” Adler said. “It’s not something that we give every year, and he’s the second recipient to ever receive the award. ‘Spirit’ is attached to it because we feel that Mr. Morris embodies the spirit of the seven founders of the Historic Savannah Foundation.”

Born and raised in Augusta, Morris knew from the very first time he visited Savannah that it was a city he was destined to live in. 

“I was about 15 or 16 years old the first time I visited Savannah,” Morris said. “I was in boarding school and I came to Savannah with a buddy of mine. I remember I took one look at Savannah and said ‘wow, this town is different from Augusta.’ 

I became intrigued with the history and all of the beautiful buildings here—Augusta had history, but nothing like Savannah.”

With his career eventually relocating him to Savannah, Morris and his wife moved into their first home in the city.

“When my wife and I moved here, we moved into a two bedroom apartment in the Three Gables buildings, which were once apartments owned by the Savannah Gas Light Company in Trustees’ Garden,” he said. “We lived in those apartments for a while before buying a house, and I absolutely loved being in that part of the city.”

The Trustee’s Garden area is one of the most historic spots in Georgia history. The area was laid out soon after Oglethorpe settled the colony of Georgia to provide provisions for the early settlers.

According to Morris, the Savannah Gas Light Company eventually sold their business to the Atlanta Gas Light Company and left vacant buildings behind, leaving Trustees’ Garden practically lifeless. It was then that he began to ponder about purchasing the neglected lots and buildings.

“I hated to see so many vacant historical buildings and began to think ‘if Trustees’ Garden ever goes on the market, I’m buying it,’” stated Morris. “Not only did I love Savannah, but Savannah has always been good to me, my family, my children, and my friends. I wanted to return the favor and give something back to Savannah, in a way. And of course, preserve the building’s history.”

In 2003, Morris’ wish came true when he was given the opportunity to purchase the property. 

He did, and restored the site in a historic and modern way.

Due to his vision and work, the complex now houses The Morris Center, Kehoe Iron Works, the Metal Building, and the Kehoe Smithy buildings. 

HSF board secretary, Gaye Reese, is a close friend of Morris and witnessed the renovation at Trustees’ Garden.

“I’ve known Mr. Morris for many years, and I truly believe he is one of the most kind and generous individuals I’ve ever known,” Reese said. “I was privileged to follow the renovation and it was fascinating to see the level of detail during the excavation. The actual preservation efforts that he took with each building was absolutely amazing to watch and his dedication has shown not only his desire to protect the city, but how much he truly loves Savannah.”

Maria Cortez, event manager at the venues of Trustee’s Garden, said Morris’ dedication certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I give people tours of the venues and I see their reactions,” Cortez said. “People always stop and take a moment to take it all in. Mr. Morris’ vision was to modernize, but maintain the integrity of every building, and people definitely notice that. I feel like that’s the sentiment Mr. Morris is trying to get people to have and it works.” 

Cortez also believes Morris’ efforts are far bigger than Savannah.

“Mr. Morris has given not just the local community, but the international community the opportunity to be a part of the next chapter of Trustees’ Garden. I know that’s something that’s very important to him and I’m very happy and honored to be a part of it.”  

In addition to Trustee’s Garden, Morris has also restored the Oliver Sturges House on Abercorn St., purchasing it from Historic Savannah Foundation in 1971. 

The restoration of the house was completed in 1973 and is currently being used as headquarters for Morris Multimedia.

Morris, who said he has more plans up his sleeve, hopes that others will follow in his footsteps and continue to preserve the historic buildings throughout the city.

“I think all of us that live in Savannah are very lucky,” Morris said. “To have this incredible historic treasure, being the last of the 13 colonies, and then Oglethorpe settling’s a national treasure that we need to continue to work to restore so that we don’t turn into another high-rise city.”

For information about the HSF gala, call the Historic Savannah Foundation to check for availability at 912-233-7787. COVID-19 guidelines will be in effect and masks as well as proof of vaccination are required for entry to the event.

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