Saturday, June 20, 2009

Savannah - Elegant Belle of the South

We took the day off from boat projects the other day to go explore Savannah - on our trip down the coast back in November, we had stayed in Hilton Head and driven into Savannah for part of a day but it was pouring rain so we didn't have an opportunity to really get a good feel for the place (to really get to know a place, you have to wander its back streets and mingle with the locals!) Based on such a short visit though, we knew that we wanted to come back and spend some time here. Two days ago we got that opportunity!! Savannah combines the wonderful charm of a southern belle with amazing history (during the Civil War Savannah was the prize at the end of the Union's "march to the sea", spared from destruction by General Sherman and instead given to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in December 1864) and unprecedented architecture that is seen throughout the historic district in its varied genteel homes and gardens. Nowhere else have we found such widespread diversity in the types (and colors!!) of homes - as we walked around the historic district, we constantly marveled at how certain sections reminded us of the Back Bay in Boston, or Adams Morgan in DC or Charleston - Victorian, Greek Revival, and Gothic style homes and churches vied with lots of other types that I'm sure have a name (but we don't know them!!) Throughout the city, many of the homes have distinctive iron work - whether fences surrounding the house, or creating a balcony (which we learned were often built even if too small to be used to defeat the tax that was placed on windows historically!), or a stately stairway to the home's entrance (a distinctive feature of many homes in Savannah are dual mirror stairways leading to the main door, one side which was for females and the other for males), or just for pure decoration. The more ornate the ironwork, the wealthier and more "important" the owner of the house. The decoration even extends to gutter spouts which we often saw in the shape of dolphins and other animals!
Ornate Ironwork Balconies and Stairs
Ornate Ironwork Balconies and Fences

Not only are the houses ornate, colorful and often decorated with exquisite ironwork or carvings, but wrought iron fences also often hide spectacular gardens and fountains where you can just picture ladies of the era partaking in late afternoon tea parties. These gardens are often partly hidden from the streets but if you tried hard enough, you could look through the fencing and peak into a private world of wealth and gentility that brings back a bygone era.
Hidden Garden
The ornate fountains often formed the central focus to the garden with flowering plants and trees flowing out in intricate patterns - nowhere have I seen such magnificent magnolia trees or more varied flowering plants and trees! Up north we have rhododendrons and lilacs and that's about it - here it would take me months to learn all the different flowering flora!!! Each garden was also often shaded by the humongous oak trees dripping in spanish moss that abound in Savannah giving the gardens an almost ethereal feel. Such oak trees also lined many of the streets in the district giving them an otherworldly feel!
Tree Lined Streets

Savannah is unique in that the historic district is laid out around 21 squares,

each distinctive in its layout, history and gardens. From Forsyth Park in the south (the largest square) containing the spectacular Forsyth Fountain
Forsyth Fountain
to Oglethorpe Square (named after Savannah's founder James Oglethorpe) to Johnson Square (named after Doug...just kidding) in the north,
Johnson Square
each square is surrounded by genteel homes, stately churches and sometimes an intriguing pub (like the Six Pence Pub that we happened to wet our whistle in along the way - come on it was 96 degrees out!!!) or little shops. The squares also have memorials to those like Pulawski who fought in the Seige of Savannah,
Pulawski Monument
Tomo-chi-chi who was the Creek indian that befriended Oglethorpe and helped him to establish Savannah by brokering treaties with the surrounding indian tribes and familiarizing the early settlers with southern farming techniques or Johnny Mercer, the Savannah born songwriter who wrote Moon River among other famous songs.
Bench Dedicated to Johnny Mercer
Famous houses like the Owens Thomas House (where the Marquis de Lafayette stayed and gave a famous speech from its balcony)
Owen-Thomas House
or the Green-Meldrim House (which was where General Sherman made his headquarters during the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as it is referred to here in the South!!)
Green Meldrim House
or the Juliette Gordon Low House (where the founder of the Girl Scouts was born - the First National Girl Scout Headquarters is also located in Savannah and is a huge rallying place for girl scouts even today - you often see scores of them walking around the historic district).
Juliette Gordon Low House
National Girl Scout Headquarters
Some of the prominent homes have been turned into galleries or house museums such as the Telfair House which now houses the Telfair Museum of Art, the oldest art museum in the south, with its five statues outside of Rubens, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael and one I'm just spacing on at the moment
Telfair Art Museum
and the famous Bird Girl statue which graces the cover of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which is based in Savannah!! ! But the art doesn't stop there - there is sidewalk art aplenty mixing hip hop with the historic!
Sidewalk Art

No discussion of Savannah would be complete without commenting on the amazing array of churches - they also fall into the varied architectural styles and each is magnificent in its own right. By far the grandest is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist with its twin spires and gothic features - it is truly spellbinding!! (Yes for all of you that know me, I actually went into a church!) The stain glass windows
Stained Glass Windows at Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
and grandeur of the high vaulted and carved ceilings made you crane your neck in wonder - the sheer opulence of the place was amazing to behold! The massive golden pipe organ alone was reason to drop your jaw in awe.
Pipe Organ at Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

But also the sheer size of the church and the intricate design was stunning - no matter how far back I stood, it was hard to get pictures that captured the church's magnificence or even size!!!
Exterior of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
There is also much history in the churches that reside in Savannah - Temple Mickve Israel is the only gothic synagaogue in the US, Methodism was founded in the US in Savannah by John Wesley
John Wesley Statue
and the Greek Revival Christ Episcopal Church houses a rare Revere Bell.

However, no visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll along River Street which runs along the Savannah River and houses many funky bars and restaurants as well as, at the eastern end, the 1996 Olympic Memorial (the yachting events were held on the Savannah River)
1996 Olympic Memorial
and the Waving Girl Monument.
Tammy with the Waving Girl Memorial
Savannah is a full working port and thus the Savannah River is full of commercial tankers and cargo ships, tugs, pleasure boats and even a few antique looking paddle boats!!
River Boat
Along the way we stopped by city hall,
City Hall
the customs building and the cotton exchange (Savannah used to be a bustling cotton port)!!
Cotton Exchange
By the time we got to River Street we were hungry and parched - walking all day in 96 degree heat takes a toll!!! So we headed immediately for one of our favorite bars (OK one of the few we knew but we had really liked it the last time we were here) - One Eyed Lizzy's!! It didn't disappoint - a couple cold beers and the most amazing hot crab dip appetizer we've ever eaten had us rejuvenated and ready for more (especially because the bartender alerted us to the wonderful Savannah tradition of plastic to go cups!) We walked across the street to an open air craft market and eventually found ourselves at Bernie's oyster bar for happy hour - how do you go wrong with $3.00 for a dozen raw oysters and $1.50 drafts??? OK I'm not really into the oyster thing but Doug loves them and I was happy with my draft and the place really did have a different kind of charm!!
Bernies Oyster House
Faced with a daunting walk back to where we had parked the car, it was only appropriate that we stop half way at the city market for one more coldie and another appetizer (after all this was dinner - by now it was about 6:00 pm!) so we hit Wild Wings for some wonderful - you guessed it - chicken wings (but not just your ordinary buffalo wings - we had 1/2 spicy general tso's and 1/2 spicy honey BBQ wings!!!!)

Back to the car for the drive back to Gypsies - we had a sundowner cocktail with Bob and Stephanie on September Song as we reminisced about yet another wonderful day!!! Not only did we visit a truly spectacular and beautiful place, but everyone we met welcomed us with what I have come to appreciate is that special southern charm! Savannah is truly one of the elegant Southern belles that I look forward to spending more time in - I definitely see at least another play day in Savannah in our future before we head north again for the Chesapeake!!!

Click here to see a satelite view of Savannah. Notice all the squares..


  1. great job! thanks!

  2. I was looking for photos of the Savannah Squares and came across your site. I love Savannah! She sits almost in my back yard. I had to share your site with a friend in Texas, who has never been to Georgia. You've got a really nice blog! :)