The historic district of Savannah is one of the most tranquil and picturesque towns in the country. Millions of people visit here, not just for its historic mansions, elegant architecture, beautiful fountains, and shaded squares with their moss-covered oaks, but for that sense of a genteel history and reputation for good ol’ southern hospitality.
A centuries old city, Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. It’s location near a high bluff overlooking the Savannah River, is where the General along with the other 120 passengers of the ship “Anne” first landed.
Savannah became the first city of the 13th and final colony, which was named “Georgia” by Oglethorpe, after King George II of England. Savannah is also known as America’s first planned city. If you look at a map, or walk around the historic part of the city you can easily see how Oglethorpe laid it all out in a series of grids.
He did this so there would be wide streets intertwined with shaded public squares and parks that would also serve as town meeting places and centers of business. Today, 21 of the original 24 squares are still in existence.
Over the years, the city and its people have been through more than their share of tough times, but have shown themselves to be a resilient sort. A devastating fire in 1796 and another in 1820, each wiped out half the town. Also in 1820, a yellow fever epidemic killed about a tenth of the population. Add in hurricanes and other natural disasters, and you can better appreciate the hardy individuals that call Savannah home.
Although the destruction mentioned above has certainly taken a toll, and many original structures had to be re-built, there are still several historically significant buildings remaining.
One of these is the “Pirates House”, that is today a renowned restaurant. This tavern was frequented by pirates who sailed these waters in 1794, and events there provided inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”.
Dinner at “Pirates House” is an enjoyable experience, and if you are part of one of the many “ghost tours”, you’ll get to go through the old underground rooms and tunnels which are still haunted. Even if you miss the ghosts, the food is excellent and well worth the visit.
Another great haunt for dinner is the “the Olde Pink House” built in the 1770’s. It’s definitely pink but look close and you’ll see the antique bricks poking from beneath the stucco. The structure has been many things including a bank, but the house is now set up with dining tables and chairs in the different rooms making for smaller and intimate eating areas.
The setting is lovely and the food is superior. We were seated in what had once been an upstairs parlor, and it was like going back in time. Come here for a relaxed evening of fine dining, and perhaps a ghost or two. Like the “Pirates House”, the “Pink House” is haunted as well and featured on most all the tours.
Savannah is said to be one of America’s most haunted cities, and there are several tour providers quite happy to show you why. A couple of them offer walking tours that start around 9 pm and are a great way to enjoy a late walk after dinner. Be sure to avoid getting left behind by allowing a little extra time to finish your meal and still arrive at the starting point. (Usually one of the squares)
I’d recommend staying in the older historic part of the city by the river as it’s close to several great restaurants, and convenient to walking through the many squares and parks, as well as along the river itself. There are a few B&B’s there plus some nice hotels to choose from.
The Hampton Inn – Historic District was sort of the best of both, and definitely not your usual Hampton Inn. It’s a relatively new building built to look a century old, which made it blend in nicely with the ambiance of an earlier period.
Located on Bay Street, a block away from River Street, you’re close to the water but away from the noise of the night life along the riverfront. Try and get a room on an upper floor on the corner. They have superb views of the river and park areas below. They are also quite large, with a sofa in the sitting area, a very comfortable king bed, and tasteful furnishings. There’s also a full breakfast offered in the mornings that’s worth getting up for.
Old Savannah is definitely a great walking city, and with several days you can cover from the riverfront through all the squares. You can also cheat some and take advantage of the trolleys. But if you’re not up to tons of walking, plus want to reach places farther out, you’ll probably want to get a car. Parking can be dicey at times but worth the effort.
Savannah has also been the site of several memorable movies. You may remember the bus stop bench in “Forrest Gump” and the statue of the little girl in “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil”. In addition there was the epic “Roots”, “The General’s Daughter”, “Legend of Bagger Vance”, and many others filmed here.
Any list of “must see” things will no doubt be incomplete. Best thing to do is grab a free map when you arrive and make your own list. Of some note would be a visit to Paula Deans restaurant, but be prepared for insanely long lines. If you drive out of town, you can dine at her brother’s place, and get some of Bubba’s shrimp without waiting at all. It’s also where she films her show.
Of course, there’s the statue of the famous “Waving Girl”. She was Florence Martus who lived with her brother George, the lighthouse keeper. Between 1887 and 1931 she waved a greeting to over 50,000 inbound and outbound vessels. How’s that for friendly?
You definitely have to see the mansion made famous by the murder in John Berendt’s novel that became history’s longest running New York Times bestseller. With the same name as the film mentioned earlier, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” brought so many visitors to see the statue shown in the cemetery, that they ended up having to move the statue to a museum.
Whatever else you do in Savannah, be sure to stop and smell the roses, or in this case walk through some of the squares and relax. It won’t take long to start getting used to a much more serene pace.