Since we started thinking and planning this odyssey of ours Savannah was prominent among the places we wished to visit. The very fact that we made reservations to return for St Patrick’s Day 2012 before leaving should convey a sense that Savannah was everything, and more than we thought it would be.
Founded on February 12th, 1733 by General James Edward Oglethorpe who carefully planned the city's streets by using a grid pattern with 24 park-like squares, Savannah is a beautiful town whose houses and public buildings are all beautifully restored; many are originals. Oglethorpe was granted a Charter by King George the Second as he wanted a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the already established English Colony in South Carolina. Interestingly, although one of the Charters main purposes was “to serve as a place where debtors in prison could go to start anew”, nevertheless it prohibited slavery, lawyers, Catholics and hard liquor. We won’t speculate on the prohibition on lawyers and hard liquor; the fear with Catholics was that they would be more loyal to Catholic Spain.
On our first day we took an excellent trolley tour and purchased a walking tour guidebook that provided greater information about the buildings, monuments etc. at each stop (there were 15 stops). As we had no idea when to hop off we stayed on until almost the end. We got off the trolley at stop #12, had lunch and then walked in reverse along the tour route; taking ample time in all the parks, each of which is not just beautiful, but has its own history. Every park commemorates an event or honors people like Oglethorpe or John Wesley and to our amazement a square is named for an Irish Orator and Patriot Robert Emmet who was hanged for treason by the British for leading an uprising in Dublin in 1803. Emmet Park has a big Celtic cross which was hand carved in County Roscommon, Ireland; this park is central to the St Patrick Day festivities each year. Thanks to a very active group of ladies 22 of the original 24 parks still remain to be enjoyed by locals and visitors.
Some of the highlights of our 2 day walking tour are: Hamilton-Turner House on Lafayette Square where part of the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil “was filmed, also on Lafayette Square is the house where Juliette Low held the first meeting of the American girl guides (scouts) after she had returned from England where she had meet Sir Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the scouts and guides and been inspired by him to do the same in the United States.
We also saw the square where Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump sat on a bench waiting for his bus holding his suitcase and box of chocolates; the bench it is now in one of the museums.
Savannah was also the home of Flannery O’Connor an author we must read up on - she grew up near St John’s Catholic Cathedral. There are many, many churches of different Christian persuasions in the town; one First African Baptist Church was built by slaves in 1777; each night after working in the fields all day the congregation would walk into Savannah to work on building the church and make its pews, altar and pulpit. Savannah also has the only Gothic-style architecture Synagogue in America Mickve Israel which was built in 1876 in pure neo-Gothic style, reflecting the fashionable architecture of the Victorian era.
This town like most had it fair share of fires yet escaped the fate of other towns during the American Civil War. Sherman’s march to the sea included the taking of Savannah however, rather than putting it to the torch Sherman sent a telegram to President Lincoln on the 22nd of December saying “Mr. President…I beg to present you as a Christmas Gift the city of Savannah”.
The old docks remain where many of the old buildings are adorned with still visible names and advertisements from the 18th and 19th centuries; these have now been transformed into shops, restaurants and hotels. There’s a nice paved walk along the river and towering over this area on the site of the old cotton exchange is the gold domed Town hall. Savannah was a major exporter of cotton but the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop and devastated Savannahs economy for many years.
On our second day we shopped, visited a few museums and had afternoon tea in the Gryphon Tea Rooms located in a turn of the 20th century old Pharmacy that was lovingly restored by the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). The interior is much the same as it used to be; the walls were lined with narrow shelving and part of the lower wall had little wooden drawers with “oint” “sup” and “asp” written on them, the top of the walls had a continuous row of stained glass windows depicting the pestle and mortar, our waitresses (an art student) told us that the windows opened into the offices upstairs allowing the owner to survey and control his domain.
We're looking forward to returning for St Patrick's Day.