A Belle of the South: Savannah, Georgia

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 Savannah Square Fountain
Fountains decorate many of Savannah’s squares. Tab Hauser photos.

Savannah’s Costumed Guides Share the City’s Long History

By Tab Hauser
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

One of the darling places in the south worth a two-night visit is Savannah, Georgia.

Savannah jazz on the river
Savannah jazz on the river

This charming, small riverfront city was founded in 1733 by the British as a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the city of Charleston to its north. Savannah is distinctly British in layout having 22 squares in an easy to get around the grid.

Each square is only a few minutes’ walk from the other and varies in character. They all have fountains or statues. These squares give the city a very civilized and park-like feel.

Many squares border different historic districts that we enjoyed walking around. While Savannah started pre-revolutionary, it grew up during the antebellum period and has plenty of pretty architecture to reflect that era.

Town Introduction

James Oglethorpe Monument in Chippewa Square, Savannah GA
Founder James Oglethorpe Monument in Chippewa Square

To get familiar with the city, start with a “Savannah Stroll” by Savannah Walks.

This 90-minute stroll covers six squares, the cemetery, and several streets. During our tour, we learned much about the history of Savannah and its layout.

Our guide also pointed out and discussed several different historic homes that were open to the public.

Trolley and Walking 

To see more of the city and to visit these historic homes we combined walking along with a tourist trolley. We opted for a two-day pass on Old Savannah Tours, hop-on, hop-off trolley

Pirate Wench
Pirate Wench on Old Savannah Tours

(www.oldsavannahtours.com). This was because at some of the stops they had different costumed historical reenactors tell us about their life.

The trolley ride is guided so you can learn about the different squares, buildings, and neighborhoods you drive by. We hopped off the trolley at a few houses listed below during our stay here.

 Old Southern Homes

The 1860 Mercer Williams House was made famous by the book (and movie) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Their 30-minute tour takes you through rooms filled with antiques as well as the small garden. Our guide told us the history of the home, its owners, and how things changed over the decades. This home is on the ghost tour walk due to the three deaths that occurred here.  website

Mercer Williams House Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Mercer Williams House: Famous from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The Owen Thomas House was completed in 1819. It is considered the finest example of English Regency architecture in America. It has an impressive staircase that will make anyone’s “grand entrance” look fabulous.

It also has an unusual bridge from the front of the house to the back going over a staircase. Tours start at the former slave quarters, go through the mansion, and then into the garden. website 

Leopolds Ice Cream Savannah
Take a break with the south’s best ice cream at Leopold’s

The third home visited was that of the founder of the Girl Scouts called the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.

This large corner mansion was completed in 1821 and is decorated with period pieces from the 1880s. It has artifacts from Juliette Low throughout the house. The gift shop on the lower level has Girl Scout related items.

The tour is as much about the history of Mrs. Low as it is about the house. Between house visits enjoy the tree-lined streets lined with pretty older homes. website

Other Savannah Sights: 

Historically, Savannah was known as a religiously tolerant city. British General Oglethorpe openly invited Jews on the first ships arriving and gave them a piece of land as a cemetery.  These families started Congregation Mikve Israel in 1733. Their house of worship Temple Mickve Israel (https://mickveisrael.org), is the third oldest synagogue in the United States.

Temple Mikve Presidential letters on religious freedom
Original letters of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Madison’s on religious tolerance

Presidential Letters

Here tours are offered of its sanctuary and its museum which contain some original letters from President Washington, Jefferson, and Madison on religious freedom as well as some of the oldest Hebrew scrolls in the country.

There is also the original Playbill from Driving Miss Daisy as her portrayed character was a member here.

Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is for anyone interested in maritime history. The big draw here is the collection of large ship models. Other exhibits include marine artifacts, scrimshaw, and paintings mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. website

Waving Girl Statue of Florence Martus
Waving Girl Statue of Florence Martus

To complete our visit on our second day we boarded Savannah River Cruises for a 90-minute river ride. Sit back with a tall cocktail while you learn about the waterfront and enjoy the views.

Don’t miss the Waving Girl Statue of Florence Martus. She waved by day and lantern by night to every cargo ship that called on Savannah between 1887 and 1931.  website

Ice Cream at Leopold’s

Between attractions, refresh at Leopold’s Ice Cream store. Leopold’s, since 1919, is said to be one of the best totally calorie-worthy ice cream places in the south. Flavors change monthly here.

Savannah Nights

For something different, book the Blue Orb Ghost Tour to get insight into the ghostly side of Savannah.

While some people in our group took to the afterlife stories seriously we found them entertaining. During the tour, the guide showed photos of the spirits (orbs) that he says were taken by people on previous tours.

For meals we enjoyed the southern style food at the Olde Pink House, more modern fare at Local 11 and no trip down south is complete without a visit to a place like Wiley’s Championship BBQ.

Shrimp Grits Pink House Savannah
The Shrimp and Grits at the Pink House

Savannah Lodging:

While in Savannah consider staying at one of the dozen charming historic inns or bed and breakfasts listed here:

We enjoyed the modern vibe and location of the Hyatt Andaz ).

My Covid Road Trip Tips:

  • Avoid crowded bars and restaurants and dine outdoors which is easy in Savannah
  • I use a non-toxic virus killer called www.puregreen24.com that I spray on all touchpoints in my room
  • Upon check-in, I ventilate the room with a 12″ fan I bring with me.

  

Nearby  Tip:  While in this part of the south, you are only two hour’s drive to the other belle of the south, Charleston, SC. When making the drive, stop halfway in Beaufort for lunch and a stroll through their historical area.

See visitsavannah.com/ for details on Savannah