By Bridget Jackson
Savannah is a city filled with irresistible charm with a personality unlike any other city in the south. It’s listed as one of America’s most beautiful places to visit and I agree. It’ so beautiful, with its twisting trees, some over a hundred year’s old, manicured parks, and antebellum architecture infused around 22 public squares. Each square is unique with different features such as fountains, historical monuments, and plenty of park benches to enjoy the traditional southern landscaping surrounded by charming neighborhoods. The city is an artist’s paradise with SCAD as a hub for college art students. Beyond the beauty of Savannah is also a city with a valuable historical past.
Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe and is the oldest city in Georgia. When Georgia was part of the original 13 British colonies, Savannah was the largest city of the colony. Savannah is also the first planned city in America. Oglethorpe designed the city on a grid pattern of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is connected with a common square, where streets went north to south and east to west. Originally there were 24 common squares, but today only 22 remain. During my trip to Savannah, I actually visited all 22 squares and I highly recommend putting this on your agenda, you won’t be disappointed!
Savannah overlooks the Savannah River and its history begins here. The Savannah River and River Street was once the core of the city as Savannah was a major port for cotton and lumber. Even today, the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange still stands out among the other warehouses with its red terra cotta exterior and winged lion fountain. It was exciting walking the waterfront of nine blocks of cobblestone roads that are over 200 years old. The centuries old cotton warehouses on the waterfront have been restored to modern boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, pubs, restaurants and hotels.
I enjoyed walking along the river and watching the steam boats and ferry’s sail by me. At the end of River Street, I was greeted by the well-known Waving Girl monument of Florence Martus. Legend has it that she welcomed all ships each day. Behind the Waving Girl is Emmet Park, an old fashion park with several monuments among life oak trees. As admirer of lighthouses I was pleasantly surprised to find The Old Harbor Light here. This tiny cast iron lighthouse was a gas beacon that once guided ships in the harbor.
Shiver me timbers! As I walked along the bluffs and cobblestone alleys I could envision a time where pirates roamed the streets creating havoc. After spending the day along the River Street, I headed toward the historical restaurant the Pirates House. The Pirates House was built in 1754 and was a popular pub for sailors and several pirates including Captain Flint, Black Dog and Billy Bones. Folklore says there is a tunnel from the Rum Cellar that leads to the river where many unwilling people were taken to ships in the harbor. The Pirate House is also mentioned in the Book Treasure Island. If you choose to dine and have some grog here I advise that you make reservations in order to avoid the long lines, AYE!
Next, my journey took me to the historic district where many of the roads are cobblestone or brick, so if you are walking like I did, wear flat and comfortable shoes. Once you leave River Street you will enter the first grid of the historic district. As I walked from one street to the next, I felt like I was uncovering a layer of history with each step. Nearest the river, the architecture was more of a simple colonial style, but as I entered the historic district and proceeded further, the architecture became a mixture of Victorian Regency, Federal, Greek, Gothic Revival and Italianate.
I visited all the squares and here are a few of my favorite sites and squares while touring the historic district. My journey began at Bryan and Bull Street where Johnson Square stands. Johnson Square is the oldest of the 22 squares; I found an enchanting sundial at this square. Also, next to Johnson Square is City Hall and Christ Church which was founded in 1733! It is where the first colonists worshipped in Savannah.
A few short steps away is the City Market, which is situated between Ellis and Franklin Squares. The City Market was the center of commerce in the historic district in the early 1700’s. Today, it’s still a gathering spot with over 4 blocks of refurbished warehouses filled with art galleries, cafes, boutiques, restaurants and street entertainers. When I was on Bull Street again I headed south to Wright Square (1733). This square has a large boulder to memorize the Yamacraw Indian chief Tomochichi who welcomed the first colonist.
I continued on Bull Street to Chippewa Square (1815). This is where the famous park bench scene (life is like a box of chocolates) took place in the movie Forrest Gump. I will give you a hint- the park bench does not exist today where it was in the movie, but if you stand in front of the Chippewa Square sign you will be looking at the filmed site. Pretty cool!
One street over is Orleans Square (1815), where the historic Harper Fowlkes House is located. This lovely Greek Revival mansion was built in 1842 and is filled with beautiful period antiques. Tours are available to view the home. Next, I remained on Bull Street and came across Madison Square (1837) which was built to honor our fourth president James Madison. There are several antique shops around this square.
East of Madison Square is Lafayette Square (1873). This park has breathtaking architecture that surrounds the square with the steeple of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist as its backdrop.
With the steeple as my guide, I headed toward The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The cathedral was dedicated in 1876 and is one of the largest cathedrals in the south. The elaborate French Gothic architecture was spectacular.
When I walked inside the doors, I was in admiration of the ornate murals, vibrant stained glass windows, carved wooden Stations of the Cross, a magnificent white Italian marble altar, and marble floors and railings. This is one of the most intriguing Cathedrals I have ever seen.
After visiting the Cathedral I walked to the Colonial Park Cemetery (between Chippewa and Crawford Square). Colonial Park Cemetery was established in 1750 and is the oldest cemetery in Savannah. Walking throughout the cemetery was a historical journey for me since it is the final resting place for so many confederate soldiers.
Next I encountered Monterey Square (1847), where there is a large Revolutionary War monument. Also in Monterey Square is the Mercer-Williams House. This lovely mansion was the setting for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Daily tours are offered at the Mercer William House.
I left Monterey Square and headed south on Bull Street for the grandest of all the squares, Forsyth Park. Forsyth Park was built in 1851 is and is the heart of the city with its magnificent fountain as its centerpiece. I thought all the squares I had encountered were stunning but Forsyth Park was on a different level. It is simply stunning, especially its grand French inspired fountain which is magnificent!! The fountain is a photo opportunity you won’t want to miss! Forsyth Park resides on 30 acres of lush gardens, with several war monuments and of course sprawling live oak trees. The park was very relaxing and I enjoyed walking along its paths.
A trip to Savannah would not be complete without a visit to Wormsloe State Historic Site. This was one of my favorite spots in Savannah! It’s a short drive from the historic district, just off Skidaway Road. Here you will find a breathtaking 1.5 mile live oak arch driveway that leads to the ruins of the old plantation. The oak drive was made famous from the scene in the movie Forrest Gump where Forrest is running. Run Forrest Run! The photo opportunities are endless, but keep in mind if you visit during a busy time everyone else is trying to take pictures too. There are many scenic nature trails and also a museum where you will find many artifacts of this colonial estate dating back to 1736.
After visiting Wormsloe I headed toward Bonaventure Cemetery which is also off Skidaway Road. Bonaventure Cemetery is 100 acres of southern gothic beauty with live oak trees that are draped with Spanish moss surrounded by camellias, azaleas immersed with immaculate headstones and beautiful statues. Also, this graveyard became renowned for the bird girl statue on the cover page of the book and in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Unfortunately the statue has been removed from Bonaventure, but it can be seen at Telfair museum in the historic district at Telfair Square in Savannah. The cemetery also has tours available where you can hear historical and folklore stories about people buried in Bonaventure.
Not only is Savannah known as one of the most romantic cities but it is also one of the most haunted cities in America, given that it was home to the Civil War and Revolutionary War. Many soldiers lost their lives in Savannah in addition to the pirates and sailors who fought with furor along the River. Many places I visited in Savannah are believed to haunted, so if you are inclined for an unforgettable experience, ghost tours are available!
Savannah was truly a memorable trip. I never thought a city that survived two wars and pirate invasions would expose beauty marks, not scars. There are many ways you can experience Savannah, whether it’s on a riverboat, tour bus, a carriage ride or by foot. I had a great time and I am quite sure you will too! It was a joy to leave with wonderful memories of the South’s precious gem.
Safe travels! If you have any questions about this trip ask Bridget!