I admit the cliche of wanting to visit Historic Savannah since seeing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Most likely I shall forever be, in love with John Cusack and where he goes, I want to go. I was enticed to Chicago after watching High Fidelity.
My ever-susceptible-to-suggestion personality longed to wander New Orleans after reading Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, and I made it to Cortona, Italy when Under the Tuscan Sun got into my soul.
The power writers wield over us unsuspecting readers, drawing us in to try the new this and the new there.
Getting Back to Historic Savannah
Going as February turned over to March was nice, especially after low Pittsburgh temperatures. It would be delightful to return in April to see the promise come to life of colorful foliage everywhere. The occasional azalea, red bud tree, and pansies burst out in bloom, brightening up the green. Of course, the live oaks—so different from our Pennsylvania oaks—were magnificent with silvery Spanish Moss draping from most branches. Being a northerner, I don’t understand Spanish Moss. I thought about researching it or asking. Instead isn’t it wonderful to let the impact of what you behold fill you without dissecting it?
As folks who don’t live on water will do, we immediately walked to the Savannah River. You can’t miss the historic district’s river path. Crossing Bay Street you’ll come to a huge stand of buildings with “Factors Walk” emblazoned across them. In the 19th century the row of brick buildings served to hold bales of and sell cotton. It became called Factors Walk because “factors” determine the amount of cotton sold. Factoring is a new word for me. In a nutshell factoring means selling an asset at a discount in order to get immediate cash. (Definition by dictionary RoseMary.)
Look for the rusty-red colored Cotton Exchange and the lion fountain in front of it. There is every shop imaginable located along this row from gelato to fine dining to t-shirts.
From the street, the buildings are two and three stories, looking substantial and solid. Stroll to the river side and look up. You realize the bluff they are built on allows more floors below street level. Imagine arriving by ship in the late 1700s and being greeted by such a considerable line of man-made structures.
Along with New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, the Rivers Walk becomes a very touristy, congested area in the summer. We ate our only so-so meal at one of these restaurants. The rest of the week, we opted for quieter choices like Circa 1875, Corleone’s, Prohibition, and Chive. Wander the upper streets of Savannah and opt for one of them instead. Save the River Walk for a pre-or-post dinner drink.
Dining on River Street, we watched a Hong Kong cargo ship, containers stories high, meander up the Savannah River. Alex just mused, “I wonder if the river is large enough for cargo ships,” than this one came into view.
We learned that the dredging operation (begun in 2015) will continue. They aim to remove five more feet (from 42 to 47 feet for a 20 miles) enabling larger ships access. The first scooped out haul of sand and silt was used to reinforce sand dunes eroded on Tybee Island.
Exploring Savannah’s Bay Street
One note when you leave Bay Street to explore River Street, on either end of the park-like area are slopes to get you there. In between are any number of staircases.
You’ll see multiple signs: “Historic Steps – use at own risk,” which translates to: these stairs are super steep, so be wary.
We opted for each cobblestone ramp on various days, but they also present a unique challenge with uneven surfaces, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
There is probably an elevator tucked somewhere in the Factors Walk buildings.
Historic Savannah is Easy Walking
The city, aside from those dastardly historic steps, is flat and easy to traverse. Savannah is laid out in a proper grid, making good use of one way streets. When driving, pay attention as you come to one of the many, many garden squares, and either stop or yield. These are always one way to your right—counterclockwise. As the first planned city in the USA, General James Oglethorpe included 24 tree-filled squares. Thankfully 22 of them remain. They break up city blocks, provide respite from the sun, and a dose of history with names, plaques, and monuments. Don’t simply walk through. Stop and read, admire, and even enjoy a break on one of the many benches.
SCAD buildings are everywhere. My brain kept thinking South Carolina until it was smart enough to remind me that I was in Georgia. This is the Savannah College of Art and Design and they have dozens of buildings around town.
Speaking of South Carolina
it would be nice if Savannah took lessons from Greenville and added signage pointing you to the sights. Being an old fashioned map-lover, I used paper and street signs. I challenge myself to orient my direction, etc.—this being a game I like to play when I’m touring alone. More often than not I stumbled across the proper home or found a different one by accident. Some of that Greenville signage on the street corners would be awesome.
Attractive History Abounds in Savannah
A goal for one day was to do a favorite thing when visiting any city: go in churches. The quiet ambiance allows this speed demon to slow down, take a life-pause and savor where I am. It was not to be. One church had an inviting sign, “All are welcome,” adding: black and white, gay and straight, young and old. Yet when I tried three doors, they were incongruously locked. I tried another historic church the following day and again faced locked doors. Other than my experience trying to get into the San Lorenzo in Genoa, in Europe it’s quite rare to find churches there locked.
In the arbitrary way we do things, we around one evening until we wound up at the Circa 1875 restaurant. No reservations, but the maitre de graciously fit us in at a perfect table. Throughout dinner, the beautiful painting of Manon Balletti by Jean Marc Nattier in the 1700s distracted me. She was captivating.
Given Savannah’s size of 147,000 people in roughly 109 square miles, it’s nice to see many locally owned businesses mixed. So often larger the city, the more likely it is to lose its uniqueness. Not so with Savannah and it would seem the historical societies are largely accountable for this preservation. A chain reaction started when seven ladies got together to save the Owen-Thomas house from destruction and continued from there.
Historic Savannah is an inviting place—one that invites you to return. Visit throughout the seasons. You’ll see new foliage come to life or go to sleep, local events, and finery adorning the homes. Southern hospitality truly exists in one of our nation’s oldest intact cities. Make sure to put it on your list.
Before you go to Historic Savannah, visit these sites:
*Read, Savannah House Tours