Savannah Georgia is another beautifully restored southern colonial city.
Savannah Georgia’s History
General James Oglethorpe founded the city under the premise that it would have no hard liquor, slaves, Catholics, or lawyers (all of which rules have long been rescinded). The colony was built around 24 public squares, rather than a traditional grid pattern. Families in each of the 24 wards held their square in common for usage as pastures, communal wells, and public gathering places. Shops and public buildings were located around each square with private parcels in these surrounding blocks. Land outside this area was held in common.
The city’s deepwater port rapidly became a focal point of shipping across both the Caribbean and the Atlantic. In addition to Charleston, Savannah became one of the country’s two primary ports for indigo, rice, and especially cotton that was grown on sea islands and in the interior and shipped through a combination of rail and canal steamboats.
Although the city fought for independence from England during the Revolutionary War, it was rapidly captured and turned into an English base for use against the colonies until 1782. It fared little better in its fight against the Union in the Civil War. The Federal Navy quickly turned Confederate defenses to their own advantage and effectively blockaded the port until William Tecumseh Sherman arrived. While he left most civilian and residential areas unharmed, he destroyed all commercial, industrial, and transportation facilities that the Confederate could use in their war effort.
The war end of slavery and the boll weevil infestations decimated the city’s cotton trade. The city went into a recession that didn’t end until WWII when other industries began to take hold. While new prosperity led to the destruction and rebuilding of existing structures, a preservation effort saved many of the buildings that have become instrumental to the growth of the city’s tourism business.
Although we would have loved to walk this beautiful historic city, a day’s downpours limited us to a largely car-based tour and quick looks at many of the city’s most interesting and historic sites. These included the:
- Riverfront with its paddlewheel steamer, WWII memorial, and the multi-story warehouses that line the waterfront;
- Cotton exchange, where prices were set for much of the colony’s, and later the Antebellum South’s cotton production;
- Factors Walk, where factors would assess the wagons of cotton that passed beneath them before submitting their bids;
- Dozens of cotton warehouses whose first floors lined the revitalized River Street tourist district and whose top floors provided access to Bay Street via ramps;
- Gold-domed City Hall;
- Madison Square, Revolutionary war hero statue, two off the city’s most refined mansions (the Sorrel-Weed and Green-Meldrim Houses) plus the imposing Scottish Rite Temple and Romanesque Savannah Voluntary Guards Armory;
- Line of gingerbread Victorian homes along Whitefield Square;
- Lafayette Square, which is flanked by the 10,000 sq ft, Second French Empire, Hamilton Turner Mansion (which is now an inn) and the Andrew Lowe House in which his daughter-in-law Juliette Gordon Low lived when she founded the Girl Scouts;
- Bull Street with its 227-ft cast iron, and steel steeple which replaces the original 1819 church and the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low.
- Chippewa Square with the Eastman Stoddard House and ornate cast-iron fence that depict statesmen and authors and the First Baptist Church, the oldest in the city;
- Oglethorpe Square with the beautiful, regency style 1819 Owens Thomas House;
- 1820 Davenport House, whose proposed destruction led to the creation of the Historic Savannah Foundation;
- Green Square, home of the Second Baptist Church which was the home of two famous speeches: William Tecumseh Sherman’s reading of the Emancipation Proclamation that promised freed slaves “40 acres and a mule” and Martin Luther King’s first delivery of his famous “I have a dream” speech, before his famous presentation at the Lincoln Memorial;
- Pirate’s House, a notorious tavern in which pirates worked with the proprietor to provide strong drinks and to shanghai passed-out patrons through tunnels and force them to work on their ships—a bar and a practice that led Robert Lewis Stevenson to write Treasure Island;
- Reynolds Square with its 1789 Pink House;
- Christ Church, the fourth replacement of what was first built in Georgia (in 1733) on Johnson Square; and
- St. Julian Street along which stand a few early 18th century homes that are the oldest in the city.
Our visit was a drive-through game of hide-and-seek in which we navigated our way through a maze of one-way streets to catch glimpses of historic buildings and dodge downpours and puddles to snap pictures. Next time we hope to be able to have a leisurely walking exploration.
We had two excellent meals in Savannah.
- Vic’s on the River. We began with a very disappointing crawfish beignet with tobacco syrup but finished strong with two excellent dishes. The almost 100% pure crab crabcake with arugula, dried tomatoes and mustard cream sauce was very tasty. And we had one of the best shrimp and grits we have ever had with Applewood-smoked bacon and rosemary barbeque sauce.
- Belford’s Seafood and Steak. We enjoyed the baked oysters with herbed butter panko breadcrumbs and loved the grilled Faroe Island salmon with gulf shrimp, vegetable pilaf, jalapeno purple cabbage slaw and citrus-mango puree. And how could we ever pass up to a dish which tasted even better than it sounded: honey, bourbon and bacon cheesecake? We chose a 2018 Willakenzie Estate Pinot Noir from the uninspired wine list.