As you look down the ramp at the east end of Factor’s Walk, you will notice semi-circular entrances to what resemble caves, or tombs, built into the wall under the bluff. For years, their historical use was just another of the mysteries of Savannah. There were speculations that they were used to house slaves; Union soldiers found refuge is all sorts of structures during the occupation of Savannah so that was considered a possiblilty.
A few years ago, a group of high school students in Savannah decided to do a research project and uncover the purpose of the vaults. As it turned out, the historic structures were built into the Factor’s Walk retaining wall by a famous Savannah architect, Charles Clusky, and the vaults are named the Clusky Embankment Stores.
The students worked with local historian, Vaughnette Goode-Walker, and found that the vaults were not used in the slave trade, despite that popular myth. Goode-Walker speculated that the stories about their being slave holding pens may have started when the mini-series “Roots” was filmed in Savannah in the 1970’s.
There are four vaults. The largest one, next to City Hall, collapsed in 1904 when the building was under construction. Although it was rebuilt, that and the one next to it do not, as yet, have a clear meaning as to their use. The third vault had a pit which was apparently used to store coal. The fourth, and smallest, supplied the researchers with a vast amount of cast iron pots and wine bottles that looked like they were buried on purpose. Above that layer, the researchers found a hearth dating to the Civil War era, and Union buttons and marbles were found, so that supports the theory of their taking refuge there.