Southern Gem
Published Jul/Aug 2005

Savannah’s sultry breezes, parks and architecture will captivate you.
By Gwen Morrison

The city of Savannah, Ga., captures your senses the moment you arrive. The sultry coastal breezes, picturesque parks and incredible architecture draw you in, seducing you with Southern charm.

In Savannah, Georgia’s first city, the urban and the pastoral intermingle, creating a sultry coastal city with quiet Southern charm. The city’s 65 square miles feature wide, open streets intertwined with lushly landscaped public squares and parks–creating a series of grids–planned by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe more than 250 years ago.

He envisioned a place where life was quiet and Southern hospitality was served daily. Twenty-one of the original 24 public squares remain today, keeping Oglethorpe’s vision of the genteel life alive with its quaint shops, sidewalk cafés and elegant architecture. Often called the “Belle of the Georgia coast,” Savannah’s history, romance and beauty beckon to be explored.

Low Country: then and now

Located inward of the Savannah River, just 270 miles southeast of Atlanta, Savannah is home to 1,600-plus restored historical structures–all within the 2.5- square-mile area of the Savannah Historic District.

Walking is the transportation of choice for most visitors to the historic district. A pedestrian’s paradise, Savannah is a city that invites its visitors to stroll, roam and meander through the well-planned streets. The squares are equipped with benches for weary strollers, or for those who just want to stop and gaze at the massive oaks veiled in Spanish moss.

Johnson Square was the center of activity in the earliest days of the colony and today it represents the financial hub of Savannah. The square was named after Gov. Robert Johnson of South Carolina, who helped the Georgia colony during its infancy.

In the center of Chippewa Square–named to commemorate the 1814 Battle of Chippewa in Canada–a bronze statue of General Oglethorpe stands, keeping an eye on Savannah. Movie buffs will remember that one of cinema’s most celebrated lines was uttered in Chippewa Square. “Life is like a box of chocolates,” Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks) drawled as he sat on a bus bench in Chippewa Square. But don’t rush to the square to sit on the bench–you won’t find it there. The “Gump bench” was just a prop brought in by filmmakers and is now housed at the Savannah Historical Museum.

Lafayette Square, named for George Washington’s aide Marquis de Lafayette–who visited Savannah in 1825–is one of the most beautiful squares in Savannah. Laid out in 1837, Lafayette Square’s many points of interest include the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Andrew Low House, the Flannery O’Conner House and the Hamilton-Turner House.

Antique shops and boutiques line the streets, with Savannah River Street and City Market being the two most popular shopping venues for shoppers swooning over the low country merchandise. Once the site of the Old City Market–torn down and replaced by a parking garage in 1954–four blocks around Ellis Square have been renovated into shops, open-air cafés, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs.

If your feet tire, or if you’re just looking to experience the city’s charm at a faster pace, you can hire a horse-drawn carriage or take a tour on the Old Town Trolley.

The architecture in Savannah spans from 1790s Federal style–with cornices, elongated columns and fanlight doorways–to revivals of Greek, Roman, Gothic and Romantic styles. Victorian, a popular style in the early 1900s, is reminiscent of English towns with multi-gabled roofs, turrets and gingerbread cottages. The King-Tisdell Cottage on Harris Street was built in 1896 in the style of this period and features ornate designs on the exterior of the cottage.

Italianite, a fashionable design when the Houses of Parliament in England were rebuilt in the 1800s, is reminiscent of Italian villages, with low-pitched roofs, thin windows, long porches and cast-iron balconies. One of the more famous landmarks in this architectural design is Mercer House. Fans of John Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” will remember this historical landmark.

Out of the “box”

For a break from the confines of the squares, the Savannah riverfront offers visitors waterfront dining, shopping and nightly entertainment. River Street is lined with ballast stones and sits at sea level with broad alleys and steep stone stairways that lead up to Bay Street. Along the river bluff, on Bay Street, you’ll find yet another historic icon–Factors Walk. The cotton merchants, or factors, conducted business along this walkway in earlier days. Today, the buildings that once held the cotton are home to many different shops, restaurants and offices.

Looking for a little adventure? Take a cruise down the river on a steamboat and the captain will tell you all about the history of the Savannah River. A view of the Savannah skyline from the deck of a steamboat at night is the perfect way to end a sultry day in the city.

Festivals happen year-round, but Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is most famous.

Savannah is home to numerous award-winning restaurants offering down-home favorites, as well as an eclectic assortment of international cuisine. Crispy fried chicken, fresh collard greens and pecan pie are among the Southern favorites of the more than 6 million visitors that explore the coastal city annually.

Embracing modern day amenities, yet still clinging to the rich history that makes the city unique, Savannah is a true gem of the South.

Gwen Morrison is a contributor for AAA Going Places magazine in Florida.

Above: Fans of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” will remember the landmark Mercer House. Savannah CVB photo

Before You Go

For more information, contact the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-877-728-2662 or online at www.savcvb.com.

To visit Savannah, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. A list of offices to serve you is at www.aaa.com.

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