Savannah: The Jewel of Georgia
Posted April 16, 2007 3:18 p.m. EDT
SAVANNAH, Ga. — Time seems to stand still in this port city where the past is an integral part of the present. You can take a stroll down a cobblestone street lined with giant oak trees and gaze at the wrought iron fixtures and stately gardens. Here, they are not just icons of a bygone era. Visiting Savannah is an experience unto itself.
Ranked number 10 in USA Weekend’s Top Ten Most Beautiful Places in America, Savannah is often referred to as the “Jewel of Georgia.”
Founded by British Gen. James Oglethorpe in 1733, who designed the city on a grid system, Savannah became the first planned city in North America. Its layout allowed for square parks and open public spaces. In fact, 21 of the original 24 square parks still remain intact today.
Having survived the Revolutionary War, among other catastrophes, Savannah was one of a small handful of southern cities that wasn’t a casualty of the Civil War. According to history, Savannah residents promised not to resist northern troops if Gen. William Sherman spared their city in his campaign toward the sea. Sherman was so captivated by the city that he presented Savannah as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln.
As Georgia’s first city, Savannah today is home to one of the nation’s best preserved urban historic districts. More than 800 of Old Savannah’s 1,100 historic buildings have been restored.
Salvation came from ingenious southern ladies in the 1950s, who held a fundraiser in the parking lot of the Davenport House (324 E. State St.) to save it from being demolished, thus igniting interest in further preservation and creating the Historic Savannah Foundation. The historic district consists of 100 blocks, featuring a variety of 18th and 19th century architecture. Not only is Savannah a magnet for tourists, it attracts film producers as well. More than 40 films have been shot on location, including "The Legend of Bagger Vance," "Forrest Gump" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
Savannah is best explored by foot, tour or a combination of both. With more than 20 tour companies in the city, you can choose to see Savannah on bike, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, bus or boat. Tours get as specific as “Civil War Savannah,” “Negro History Savannah,” “Ghost Tours” and a tour based on the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
Whether you choose a tour or to go out on your own, there are a number of must see sights for any visitor.
The City Market (Jefferson at West Saint Julian Street) is four blocks, reflecting the city’s old open marketplace. Here you can watch artists working in their lofts, view exhibits and shops or dine in various restaurants.
Riverstreet is located exactly where it says it is. Filled with shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs, this nine-block area is a great place to take a relaxing stroll and watch the ships. It is also a prime spot to watch the river turn green during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Located on West River Street is the Riverstreet Train Museum that displays the history of rail travel in Savannah and the U.S. Factors Walk and River Street (between Bay and River Streets) was once a meeting and trading place for cotton merchants. Now, it is filled with unique shops and eateries.
The Green-Meldrin House (1 West Macon) was the headquarters of Gen. Sherman after he captured the city. Legend has it that, although the city avoided resisting the capture, they weren’t exactly welcoming to Sherman. When he stopped in for a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the congregation arose and left him alone. Today, the Green-Meldrin House is the parish house for the church and has been fully restored and furnished. The Scarbrough House (41 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) has a rich history. It was once the focus of society events and hosted festivities during President James Monroe’s visit. It also operated as a public school exclusively for children of African descent. Today, the home houses the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, complete with a large collection of model ship artifacts.
For military buffs, Savannah is filled with forts and other reminders of its rich past. Downtown, you can see what is referred to as Washington’s Guns (Bay Street). These guns were taken at the Battle of Yorktown, and George Washington presented them to the city during his visit in the 1791.
Take a short drive from downtown Savannah and you can visit the Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum (175 Bourne Avenue). This museum honors the men and women of the Eighth Air Force of War World II. Fort Jackson, on Fort Jackson Road, is the oldest remaining brickwork fort. The fort was used in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Fort McAlister (3894 Fort McAlister Road) is a Civil War earthwork fort. The Union took it after two years of battle from the sea.
Escaping to Savannah’s Beach
About 16 miles east of downtown Savannah is a slice of heaven known as Tybee Island. Tybee Island (Tybee meaning “salt” to Native Americans) is not as developed as other beaches in the Southeast, but it is a popular spot for beach lovers, with its low-key attitude and attractions for the whole family. For the outdoor lover, you can choose to go deep sea fishing, kayaking or exploring on your own. The island is 5 miles long by 3 miles wide. While driving around this barrier island, you will see sand dunes and beaches on one side and marshes on the other.
Tybee’s location was important during many of America’s wars. Located on the way to Tybee Island is Fort Pulaski (U.S. Highway 80), which experienced a key role during the Civil War. Fort Screven (Fort Screven Road) was one of the last coastal artillery batteries built along the coast. Occupied during the Spanish-American War and World War I, the fort now holds Tybee Museum that displays relics from the early days.
Even the Tybee Island Lighthouse, built in 1733, has a past. The tallest lighthouse of its time is now known for being America’s most intact lighthouse -- all of its original buildings are still intact. It is located off of Fort Screven on Meddin Drive. The museum features Indian and Civil War artifacts.