An April 2002 trip
to Savannah by smmmarti guide
Quote: Savannah has often been called the "quintessential Southern city." She’s not as good-looking as Charleston, as exciting as Atlanta, as intriguing as New Orleans, or as well-off as any of these Southern cousins. Yet, she's memorable all the same and sure to cause a stir or two with her antics.
There are many tour companies ready to take you on specialized tours of Savannah, but we explored the city on foot and found the following to be most interesting:
River Front Pedestrian Area of Shops and Restaurants
Paddle Boat Rides
Horse-drawn Carriage Rides
City Market Night Life
Strolling through the Large (2.5 miles) Area of Historical Squares and Restorations
The "Azalea Trail" when the flowers are in bloom in the squares
Juliette Low’s Birthplace
Dining at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House
Stopping for a soda at Clary’s
"Sing along" at Savannah Smiles piano bar
Savannah Candy Shops
Just one hour's drive in the other direction brings visitors to the Golden islands of Georgia. Jekyll, founded by the Vanderbilts and compatriots, Little St. Simon, Sea Island, home of the famous Cloister resort, and St. Simon, where a decisive battle of Bloody Marsh was fought in 1736 and secured the entire Eastern Coast for the British. Beaufort,where the movie, "Forest Gump" was filmed, is an historic center of 18th and 19th century homes filled with B & B’s, coastal arts and charms. Just fourteen miles away is Tybee Island, (Tie-bee) a laid-back barrier island popular with locals.
If you happen to be in Savannah on bicycle, it would be a fun ride amid the the historic neighborhoods and waterfront, down the lanes and byways leading to the adjacent island attractions. On Easter Sunday there was no traffic and we practically owed the streets, but I'm sure this is not the case typically.
Hotel | "Hyatt Riverfront"
Unfortunately, the one thing my husband made me promise when we said our wedding vows was that I would never make him stay in a B & B ever again. As he explained so well, the idea of bunking up in the home of someone unrelated to you, where sounds carry far more than is ever comfortable for the parties on either side of the walls, where tinkling piano music, soft jazz or worse yet - Enya - is playing on the sound system, (as if it were desirable to induce narcolepsic lapses in your guests), is not at all appealing to him.
So, if you share said sentiment or live with someone who does, don’t feel badly. You can book a room at the Hyatt and still have a great experience in Savannnah. The downtown hotel is situated ideally in the center of all the action directly on the waterfront between Bay and River Streets. There is a surprisingly decent bar that overlooks the river and offers entertainment on weekends. Right out front in a cool, shaded, picturesque park, a bevy of horse-drawn carriages wait attentively for your whistle and whip.
On this Easter Sunday weekend, dining of choice was to be one of those elaborate buffets brunches set up in the atrium lobby with at least fifty feet of food laden tables and carving stations. People were parading in the their finery; party dresses on the little girls, hats on the ladies and bow ties for the little boys. So proper and Southern!
We, being neither proper nor Southern, opted for Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts, since there is a kiosk for those eye-openers as well.
The spacious room, lovely river view, valet parking, accommodating bell stand, glass elevators, potted palms in the atrium lobby, polished brass railings all make the hotel seem like so many other nice places you might have stayed before. Which is just fine.
For some people, sometimes having no surprises is a very good thing. We'd seen enough hauntings for one trip at the Francis Marion!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 7, 2002
Hyatt Regency Savannah
2 W. Bay Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Attraction | "Savannah Candy Kitchens"
No matter what your personal sentiment toward sweets, you’d understand my sense of affection if you visit either store. Stopping into the River Street store you will find caramel corn, taffy apples, homemade fudge, ice cream, pralines and truffles, jelly bellies, root beer barrels and every other assorted reminder of so many childhood pleasures packed into dozens of wooden barrels ready to be scooped up and placed on the scales. Buckets of fresh lemons soon to be fashioned into carnival style shake-ups threaten to balance out all their sugar laden counterparts with a tart slap of vitamin C. Old fashioned tubs of ice hold nostalgia in a bottle called Grape-ette, Mr. Pibb, or Nehi Sodas. Freshly popped popcorn comes roaring out of the kettles spilling its steaming, will-power bending scent out onto the pavement and luring in new customers with each exploding kernel.
My husband waited on the curb while I continued to spend a large amount of time just soaking it all in, fingering the nostalgic packages of Necco Wafers, Mary Janes, Banana Bikes, Slo-Pokes, JuJuBe‘s. At one point everything went blurry as I slipped further and further down memory lane until I thought I’d checked out on reality entirely and into a Candy Land game intstead. There, I awoke on a marshmallow cloud with a fistful of chocolate covered pecan pralines, a bag of vanilla caramels stuffed in my purse and a swig of Cream Soda dribbling down my cheek.
"What’s taking so long?" hubby‘s voice snapped me back to present day Savannah. "What‘re you buying?"
I looked down at my chocolate smeared fingers clutched around a red plastic basket laden with goodies and shrugged.
"Nothin’, just looking around..."
When he looked the other way I put it all back (except for the pralines and jelly bellies) after I heard that you can order online when no one is around to scold you!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 7, 2002
Savannah Candy Kitchen
318 W Saint Julian St
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Attraction | "Wayne-Gordon House: Juliette Low Birthplace"
The story hits home to most young women. Yesterday I could run barefoot with my brother through the woods, shooting BB guns and playing "war" but today I was being told it wasn’t proper for a young lady. Instead, I should tend to the young ones, learn to cook and sew, sit more quietly and maybe read a book. Juliette’s story seemed to whisper, "don’t listen to it!"
I’m not sorry that I learned to cook and sew, care for babies, develop good posture and smile in polite company. I‘m not sorry that I embraced the obvious gifts that being the "fairer" sex can offer. I’m just glad that I read about Juliette at a time in life when that Ophelialike madness can threaten to seep into a young girl’s sense of freedom and self unless she has encouragement from somewhere else to be all that she is and can be. But most of all I’m grateful that I was able to continue to fish and play with fire responsibly, to train an arrow on a distant target and let it fly, to row a canoe and shoot a free throw, all under the acceptable guidance of the Girl Scouts.
In knowing this organization that offers young girls and women the awareness of their options in making contributions to the world, I feel I owe a personal debt of gratitude to it’s founder. Ms. Low managed to grow up in the South in an age preceding suffragettes and women‘s movements and still develop and pursue a passionate vehicle that would propel more girls toward self-reliance and a sense of achievement outside the home at an early age than ever before or since it’s founding.
Started with just eighteen girls in the carriage house outside The Low-Gordon family home, the organization now has nearly 4 million members and has influenced the lives and futures of over 50 million women since it’s inception. Devoted troops make the pilgrimage to the childhood birthplace of its founder joined by interested visitors from all over the world who climb up the steps to the "The Birthplace," as it’s known to all, and take the guided tour through the restored home outfitted with classic Egyptian Revival period pieces owned by the family as well as artwork by the grand dame herself. The Wayne-Gordon house, home to four generations of Gordons, was the first National History Landmark in Savannah, Georgia. This honor speaks to the tremendous contribution to society made by
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
10 East Oglethorpe Avenue
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Savannah started when a group of English settlers accompanied James Oglethorpe to the colony that would be called "Georgia" at the behest of King George, who hoped the pioneers would develop meaningful crops and provide the British Empire with less foreign dependence on goods. The settlers were all poor folks who sought a better life in the new world, where they had been promised fifty acres, two mules and other assorted treasures to sweeten the pot of what was described to them as the "paradise of the new world."
In the new "paradise" they found alligators, yellow fever, hostile Natives, and other delights not mentioned in the advertising campaign that lured them there, which had been one of the largest ever waged at the time. It was important to King George that this colony provide a buffer between the other colonies and the Spanish interlopers in the South. Also, it would have been real tidy if the New World controlled by the Brits could have eliminated their dependence on foreign imports such as rice, silk, cotton, and tobacco. King George’s new colony would be a testing ground for these crops.
Oglethorpe laid out the city of Savannah to support the early settlers’ challenge of fighting off attackers and also to secure their destiny in developing viable crops in the New World. The twenty-four (ten) acre park "Squares" that define Savannah were the experimental gardens and the central meeting places for the families whose homes surrounded each square. These central gardens provided more protection for animals, families and plants alike and eventually gave Savannah her most distinguishing characteristic and unique charm and secured Oglethorpe‘s place in history as the founder of a grand city.
Of course, some of the crops did well and many of the decendants fared even better. At the turn of the nineteenth century, just a few decades after soundly winning the infamous revolt against the Empire that sent their ancestors to Georgia to begin with, the United States was free from British rule and Savannah ruled the cotton market.
When cotton was king, Savannah, a bit too naughty to be the queen, was her supreme royal highness’ favorite supporter, the shipping market. Many fortunes were amassed quickly during the period that Savannah spent commanding the cotton market down from the central offices and warehouses on River Street, managing the cost and movement of cotton across the ocean. Grand homes and estates filled with treasures from around the world sprung up in Savannah’s downtown neighborhoods located around those very squares that humbly served as community center to the ancestors.
Some 14 million dollars in cotton was shipped out from Savannah in the early 1800’s before the yellow fever epidemic quarantined Savannah’s port and the bottom dropped out of the market. The civil war waged its ravages on the entire South, and even though the city of Savannah was spared Sherman’s broad annihilation, it’s as if her spirit was sapped, having gone from rags to riches and back again in less than a few decades.
She foundered from then on, a "beautiful lady with a dirty face," as she’d come to be called. Descendants of the wealthy families couldn’t maintain the glory and grandeur of the ancestral homes. Moss covered the overgrown squares, mold filled the grand old buildings, many abandoned long ago, when the needed repairs became overwhelming and upkeep too costly. It was getting downright creepy and scarey there for a while.
In fact, it got so bad at one point that city leader’s considered razing most of downtown Savannah and rebuilding it with modern structures. They managed to do away with three of the 24 original squares, paving the way for smoother traffic patterns, before the storm troopers in pill-box hats a.k.a. overgrown Girl Scouts turned Savannah Historical Society, stepped in front of the dozers in the 1950’s and abruptly put a halt to the destruction of all that weeping history. They suggested, instead, revitalization and restoration and started by buying the Isaiah Davenport House. With the help of National Endowments and Historical Preservation grants, they prevailed and today, we have the city of Savannah to enjoy with great thanks to all the people who settled, endured, developed, propped themselves up and finally held their heads high once again.
Did You know that the 50-inch statue of the "Bird Girl" made famous by the "Book" was created by sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1938 in the Chicago suburb, Lake Forest, Illinois, where I used to live? Surely you know that a copy of the statue was used in the opening and closing scenes of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." But did you know that John Cusack, who starred in the movie, is also from a Chicago suburb and once attended the YMCA camp where I once worked?
Not only that, but my good friend, who I met at that same YMCA, now works for the National Girl Scouts, the very same organization that was founded in Savannah by Ms. Juliette Gordon-Low. whose biography was the first one I ever remember reading? No lie.
Amazing coincidences continue. Charlize Theron loved to eat at
Mrs. Wilkes' Restaurant, when she was filming, "The Legend of Bagger Vance," (which looked more like it was filmed in Pinehurst .) It says so in the Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Cookbook. Had I known, I’d have questioned Ms. Theron myself when I saw her in the ladies’ room at the Ritz Carlton pool in Kapalua. No lie. But all I said was, "are you Angelina Jolie?" because honestly, without her make-up and with her hair tucked into that little floppy hat, she did sort of look more like Angelina than herself.
More uncanny connections. The band that was playing on the City Market square the night we were in Savannah was from
Austin! Okay, so they admitted later, when we asked them how they liked the new Maudie‘s, that they were not really from Austin, but they just said that because it sounded more convincing and cool than to simply be hometown heros from Savannah, Georgia. Which they were.
Okay. So, what about that Pulaski statue in the Monterey square? Who doesn’t know about Cashmir Pulaski, the Polish-American Revolutionary War hero who has his own state holiday in Illinois thanks to the huge Polish-American population in Chicago who wanted to honor him? Did you know he was Washington’s highest ranking General who died at the siege in Savannah? Every year I had a day free from school in Illinois thanks to Pulaski’s heroism, but I didn’t really know exactly what he‘d done. Did you know? Do you think John Cusack knows?
Just one more thing. I once saw Kevin Bacon and Kevin Spacey in the same place in Austin, Texas out at Barton Creek and Kevin was saying to Kevin that he thought Savannah was really a cool place but he liked the Austin night life much more but Kevin liked the jazz and blues in Chicago but they both loved the beaches in Maui most of all.
What a small world...