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Did You Know … ?
- Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin (1793) at the Mulberry Grove Plantation near Savannah.
- John Wesley was a rector at Savannah’s Christ Church (1736-1737) — before founding the Methodist movement.
- The Girl Scouts originated in Savannah in 1912.
- America’s first golf course was the Savannah Golf Club (1794).
- The bluish green “haint blue” color on many sills and frames is meant to ward off evil spirits.
The best of the Old South
There was a time when Savannah, Ga., was best known as that pretty little city near the Atlantic that General Sherman did not burn at the end of the American Civil War. Then, a New York author, John Berendt, gave the city fame among a wider circle of potential admirers with his 1994 true-crime book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” For those who needed the visuals, a movie followed in 1997.
Not every local may have been pleased about the little matter of a murder right there in the middle of the book — a real-life killing in one of the gorgeous mansions that tourists come to see. But for readers, the eccentric locals were highly amusing, and the city a quirky gem. The book gave Savannah’s tourism a huge boost.
Of course, this city was an appealing destination with heaps of southern charm before Berendt saw it. For that, it owes much, not just to General Sherman’s hands-off approach, but to the city’s founder, James Oglethorpe. Savannah was the first settlement (1733) in the colony called Georgia that was meant to be a buffer against Spanish Florida.
Oglethorpe laid out Savannah’s city plan based on wide streets, a grid and many public squares. That grid and the squares (22 of 24 survive), plus moss-covered trees and countless mansions added as the city grew and prospered comprise the 2.5-square-mile Savannah Historic District.
However, after World War II, the area was rundown and nearly fell under the wrecking ball. In response, Savannah women created the Historic Savannah Foundation to save their city’s heritage. Capping their efforts, the historic district in 1966 was designated a National Historic Landmark, making it the largest in the U.S. It encompasses more than 1,800 buildings.
Savannah offers access to parks, the Savannah River, barrier islands and the Atlantic Ocean for travelers interested in outdoorsy vacations. However, it is the architectural gems and other charms of the Old South, colorful local personalities, the unique Gullah-Geechee culture of coastal African Americans and even stories of ghosts and pirates that are the strongest draws for Savannah’s visitors.
Things to do for Venturers
- Catch your dinner. Go crabbing off Tybee Island and see what you can reel in. Then eat crab for dinner.
- Plan a tour that takes you to sites mentioned in John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” — or seen in the movie. You can tour the Mercer Williams House, scene of the murder that was at the center of the book, but to see the “Bird Girl,” the statue on the book’s cover, you have to go to the Telfair Museum of Art. She was removed from Bonaventure Cemetery for her protection.
- Hike in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Pack a picnic and spend the day there.
- Come to town in September in order to attend the Savannah Craft Brew Fest and, well, sample the brews. Or, a little later in the month, attend the free Savannah Jazz Festival which is staged in Forsyth Park.
- Numerous ghost tours are on offer, some with transportation and some by foot. One operator will pick you up in a hearse. Or, you could choose the pub crawl and focus on haunted watering holes. Savannah is considered to be America’s most haunted city.
- Charter a boat for deep-sea fishing, an option in Savannah or at nearby Thunderbolt or Tybee Island. Or, at Tybee, get on the water in a kayak. Take a guided tour in a kayak, too.
Things to do for Centrics
- It’s a tradition in the making: Join a noncompetitive bike ride, the Midnight Garden Ride, through the historic district during the Labor Day weekend.
- Eat something you never heard of, the black-eyed pea cake sandwich. There are fine dining options in Savannah, too!
- Sign up for the narrated Freedom Trail Tour designed to acquaint visitors with the city’s African-American heritage. For a less-well-known variation on African-American history in the U.S., take a guided tour that focuses on the Gullah-Geechee culture created by African slaves and preserved along the Atlantic coast.
- Take a riverboat cruise. You could make that a lunch or dinner outing, but how about opting for a murder mystery sailing? Or, choose a gaming cruise aboard the Diamond Casino. The vessel plies the Savannah River while you play blackjack or other games of chance.
- Sign up the kids for an educational program called The 19th Century Classroom, at the Massie Heritage Interpretation Center, where they will live part of a 19th century school day, even writing with quill pens.
- Photogenic lighthouses are a good excuse to head over to Tybee Island. The Cockspur Island Lighthouse, off Cockspur Island near Tybee, dates from 1854. And the lighthouse at Tybee Island Light Station is Georgia’s oldest active lighthouse. There is a museum here, too.
Things to do for Authentics
- Stay in a historic B&B and get a feel for Savannah’s history. Also, flavor your trip by reading “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” before arrival.
- See the “City of Savannah,” a B-17 World War II bomber in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in nearby Pooler. The museum tells the story of the Eighth Air Force during World War II.
- Recall Girl Scout days and see two residences of the Girl Scouts’ founder, Juliette Gordon Low, including her birthplace, which is now a National Historic Landmark.
- Attend church where John Wesley once preached, at Christ Church. Or worship at St. John’s Episcopal Church; during the Civil War, General Sherman set up his headquarters in the parish house, Green-Meldrim House, after his famous march to the sea.
- Take a dolphin watching cruise either from Savannah or Tybee Island.
- Sightseeing in Savannah’s historic city center is a must, but the form of transportation is your choice: Consider a trolley, horse-drawn carriage or even a stroll with local host Savannah Dan (Savannah Dan Tours).
For more information, consult Visit Savannah at www.visitsavannah.com