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Touring Historic Savannah Georgia  

Article by Warren Resen

Photography by Jeanne O’Connor 


Pre-Civil War Savannah was called the most picturesque and serene city in America.  Today it is a reminder of what many consider to have been the epitome of a society in gentler times as portrayed by Hollywood.

 

Savannah played a major part in this country’s history and continues to do so today.   With its public squares and antebellum style homes (some open for public tours) visitors to this city on Georgia’s Atlantic Coast might consider it to be little more than a time capsule of life in the old south before the Civil War. How wrong they are.

 

A visitor to Savannah should definitely consider parking the car and setting out on foot to visit this most walkable city.  Better yet, take a 90 minute narrated tour of all things Savannah on one of the hop-on-hop–off trolley tours, the best and fastest way to get acquainted with the city’s history, architecture, museums, and restaurants. A 90 minute sail on the Savannah River is also highly recommended featuring sights and history not obvious on land.      

 

Savannah River Sightseeing Boat

 

Savannah is a small, intimate city much in keeping with the plans originally drawn up by James Oglethorpe. It would not be   unreasonable to refer to it as an early example of today’s gated communities since it was surrounded by a stockade fence, had watch towers, and a guarded entry gate.    

Savannah is not a theme park. There is no entry fee nor are there actors dressed in period garb at every turn. Savannah is a modern, vibrant city demonstrating what is possible when people care enough to save history from the wrecking ball of “progress.” 

LOW HOUSE

Stroll along Jones Street considered by many as the most beautiful residential street in Savannah. Visit the historic 1849 Andrew Low House on Abercorn Street in which Juliette Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America lived, and learn of its rich history.  Preservation of the Davenport House on East State Street, built in the 1820’s, was the catalyst for the movement of the founding of the Historic Savannah Foundation bringing about historic preservation of this historic city.    These and many other historic homes are open to visitors.  

DAVENPORT HOUSE

The history of Georgia and that of Savannah cannot be told without including the exploits of the Englishman James Oglethorpe. The Colony of Georgia, founded in 1732 by Oglethorpe, was to provide a haven from religious prosecution for Protestants, a way out of debt for some of England's poor, and creation of a buffer between the French and Spanish for the English Colonies.

Savannah’s beginning was in 1733 when Oglethorpe and 120 passengers from the ship "Anne" landed on a bluff along the Savannah River. He had with him a plan for the future city giving Savannah the honor of being called "America's first planned city.” The Colony of Georgia was named by him in honor of King George II of England.     

Oglethorpe laid the city out in a series of grids that allowed for wide open streets intertwined with shady public squares that served as town meeting places and centers of business. Savannah had 24 original squares.  Twenty-two are still in existence.   

James Oglethorpe chose Savannah to be the first city in Georgia.  He took an unofficial role as the colony's governor and directed most decisions about the new colony's local administration and defense and was so deeply imbedded in the affairs of the city that the settlers took to calling Oglethorpe "Father."  However, this bastion of freedom originally banned Catholics, Jews, slaves, spirits, and lawyers.

Georgia was one of the original 13 original American Colonies and during the American Revolution, the British captured Savannah in 1778.  They held it into 1782.  After its independence from British occupation Savannah flourished and with the wealth brought by cotton residents built lavish homes here. 

With the invention of the cotton gin on a plantation outside of Savannah, the city rivaled Charleston as a commercial port. Many of the world's cotton prices were set on the steps of the Savannah Cotton Exchange which is still in existence.

Cotton Exchange

 

The Civil War, also referred to as The “War of Northern Aggression” or “The Unpleasant Times” by some, ended for Savannah when it surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on December 21, 1864. Luckily for the world, General Sherman refrained from burning Savannah to the ground while moving south on his “March To The Sea” from Atlanta.  He was so impressed by the city’s beauty that he could not destroy it and on December 22, 1864 sent his famous telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, offering the city as a Christmas present.

 

 Savannah is living history mirroring this county’s growth from Colonial Times. Its place in our history continues on through World War II, highlighted by the founding of the 8th Air Force, (the Mighty 8th) in 1942 and the Liberty Ships turned out just south of the downtown. Today it ranks as the fourth largest containership port in the United States after California and New York. Savannah’s port is the most western deep water port anywhere on the Atlantic Coast.

 

Actress Marilyn Monroe was a big fan of Savannah, visiting here whenever she could.  Merchants of the city have returned the favor by featuring likenesses of Marilyn in some unexpected places like this famous rendition of her at Savannah’s Market Place in the Historic District.

 

Visiting with Marilyn Monroe

 

Visitors standing on the bank of the Savannah River can watch massive container ships constantly moving up and down the river barely a stone’s throw from where they are standing. Recently the Port was visited by one of the first new monmouth container ships to transit the expanded locks of the Panama Canal..

 

Even the steps are historic

 

In the olden days of sailing ships, rocks used for ballast in the ship’s holds were off-loaded and left behind while cotton, lumber and other goods were on-loaded. Over time the mounds of rock grew and disposal became a problem until it was decided to use them for street paving, building material for retaining walls, and warehouses.

Preservation of Savanna’s past began in earnest in the 1950’s when citizens banded together to preserve historic structures threatened by developers. The group formed the Historic Savannah Foundation, which is credited with saving the beautiful architecture that is the foundation of Savannah's charm. This in turn led to the establishment of Savannah's Historic District which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966. It is one of the largest historic landmarks in the country.

Visiting Savannah and staying in a lookalike chain motel could be considered sacrilegious. There are so many unique historical hotels and B&Bs from which to choose and so much history to absorb when staying local.

RIVER STREET INN

 

Booking a room at the historic River Street Inn facing the Savannah River gave us a perspective about the life on this water highway we never imagined. Container ships glided past our hotel room windows day and night giving us front row seats to the parade and time to view and appreciate these huge ships while taking some amazing photos of them as they slowly made their way up and down river.

 

View of Container Ship from my window

 

The River Street Inn was built on the Savannah River in 1817 from ballast stone and was originally a two-story cotton storage warehouse. In 1853, three more floors were added to accommodate the expanding cotton industry.

 

Lower levels of hotel showing ballast stone construction

 

Today the upper stories feature 86 guest rooms furnished with period pieces but with all modern conveniences.  Rooms provide guests with views of the Savannah River to the north and Savannah’s Historic District to the south. Lower floors house restaurants, pubs, and meeting rooms.

 

The River Street Inn is in the center of Savannah’s Historic Riverfront Plaza within easy walking distance of museums, galleries, shops, land and water tours and everything that makes Savannah the unique gem that it is. The hotel is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America.

 

Nighttime favorite on River Street

 

Savannah’s Chamber of Commerce claims that “in the last 10 years more than 50 million people came to visit the city, drawn by its elegant architecture, ornate ironwork, fountains and green squares, and magnificent centuries old oak trees. Savannah's beauty is rivaled only by the city's reputation for hospitality and has become one of the country's most popular vacation spots.” 

Visit the web sites of the City of Savannah, the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the River Street Inn to start   your tour of this most delightful of cities.

 


 

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