Georgia’s Oldest Jewel ~ Savannah

We have settled into Skidaway Island State Park, a convenient location for exploring historic Savannah.  Large pull-thru sites beneath arching canopies of live oaks greet you as you enter the campground and  seven miles of trails wind through maritime forests, a relaxing place to spend a week.  Just beyond the borders of the park, on the island, lie 40 miles of biking/walking trails, meandering through genteel southern neighborhoods, through forests of oak and pine, and past salt marshes.  While we have spent most days “spinning our wheels”, we set aside plenty of time to wander the historic streets of Savannah.

Savannah’s history began in 1733 when British General James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia as a place to resettle Britain’s poor who were housed in debtors’ prisons.  His design for Savannah was patterned after a contemporary military camp, a central square surrounded by eight city blocks, which formed a ward.  This concept grew until there were 24 squares and of those, 22 still exist today, making Georgia’s oldest city a jewel unlike any other in the US.

All the squares are part of the historic district, encompassing a one-half mile radius, each serving as memorials, with statues or fountains surrounded by lush foliage.   Historic churches and 18th and 19th architectural styling of every kind can be found in the blocks lining the squares, along with azaleas and dogwood adding a breathtaking lushness to the ambiance.  These squares are the heart and soul of Savannah.   The streets surrounding the squares allow for a continual flow of traffic, at a nice pace, making this a pedestrian-friendly city. We chose to spend our days walking it but there is a trolley service available as well, allowing tourists to hop on and off at their leisure.

During one of our many strolls through historic downtown, we found ourselves in Washington Square, where the oldest homes in Savannah can be found. A smartly dressed man, walking a lovely little dog, proceeded to introduce himself as Fred and invited us to take a tour of a lovely historic home that dated back to the late 1700’s, still featuring the original hand-hewn oak walls and hardwood floors.  This historic home was where Fred, his wife Susan, talented artist and author, and adorable rescue dog Lucy live.  Susan was gracious and let us intrude on her day, and we walked away with an autographed copy of her book, Spirit Willing.  

Fred, Susan, and the lovely Lucy
Fred, Susan, and the lovely Lucy

Few cities with such a colorful past would be complete without sightings of restless spirits wandering the cemeteries late at night and Savannah is no exception.  Colonial Cemetery, the oldest in the city, is said to be one of the most haunted places in Savannah, where Voodoo ceremonies once took place in the wee dark hours.  This is the final resting place for many of Savannah’s earliest citizens and a signer of the Declaration of Independence is also buried here.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah’s most famous, thanks to being prominently featured in John Berendt’s best-seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is also alleged to have ghostly sightings.  Bonaventure stands on the grounds of what was once a plantation.  Legend has it that the main house caught fire during a party and the host calmly suggested the guests pick up their crystal glasses and take them outside to continue the party.  As they watched fire consume the house, the partiers  smashed their empty crystal against an oak tree, and it is said that on quiet nights you can still hear the laughter and the shattering of crystal.

We can’t attest to roaming spirits, but the grounds where generals, poets, governors, and Academy award-winning lyricist Johnny Mercer lie in eternal rest are hauntingly beautiful.  Many elaborate crypts overlook the Wilmington River, with live oaks, azaleas, dogwood, and roses surrounding intricate headstones and life-size statues.

Since Savannah’s history is rooted in the American Revolution and Civil War eras, we decided a visit to Fort Pulaski National Monument was in order, a fort meant to guard the river approaches to the city.  We have seen many forts during our travels and I must admit to many holding little interest for me, but this one was  different.  Strategically built on Cockspur Island and named for Count Casimir Pulaski, Polish hero of the American Revolution, Fort Pulaski was thought to be impregnable.  However, during the Civil War a Confederate garrison was forced to surrender the fort when a Union army used rifled cannons during an attack (new military technology for that age), landing mortar dangerously close to the magazine storing 40,000 pounds of gunpowder.   The scarred wall of the fort remains today.

We were so impressed with Savannah’s quaint elegance, her azalea-lined cobble stone streets beneath emerald-green canopies, and her historied architecture.  Should you decide to visit, don’t leave without a stop at Leopold’s Ice Cream, ranked one of the top 10 in the world.  I leave you with a few other images of Savannah, as we say farewell to this fascinating city and move on to a sister city, Charleston, South Carolina.