A January 2005 trip
to Savannah by zabelle
Quote: Recognized as one of America's Top Ten Walking Cites, Savannah offers plenty of opportunities for even the casual stroller to stretch his or her leg muscles.
Four days was not enough time to do all that Savannah has to offer. I would recommend a minimum of 5 days, and I think I could have filled 7 days quite easily.
1. Savannah History Museum/Visitor Center: begin your visit here. Pick up brochures, visit the museum, and begin your plan.
2. Greyline Tour: this is one of many tours available. Taking a tour will introduce you to the geography of Savannah. I highly recommend an orientation tour.
3. Visit the squares. With 21 squares, you will find one or more of great interest. If you are looking for the square where Forrest Gump sat, it is Chipewa Square. Johnson Square is the oldest square.
4. Visit some of the beautiful houses that are open to the public. There is the Mercer-Williams House for those fascinated with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Low or Gordon House for Girl Scout lovers, and Owen Thomas House to see an excellent example of William Jay architecture.
5. Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House: one big disappointment of our visit was the fact that Mrs. Wilkes is closed for the month of January.
6. Riverwalk: You have to go here if only to see the waving Girl Sculpture. This is a very touristy area with lots of shops and restaurants.
7. City Market: again, another very touristy area. With restaurants and shops, it is worth a visit just to get some of Vinnie Van Go Go’s pizza.
Stop at the visitor center as soon as you arrive. There are many discounts to be had in the brochures they offer. You can get off some of the tours, and we got the Ghost Tour for half price with a coupon. There is a combination ticket for the Telfair Museum and the Telfair House that will save you .
When you book your hotel or B&B, ask about off-season rates or AAA or AARP discounts. We got 2 nights of our visit for less than the other 2 nights because we asked.
There are several brochures available that have suggestions and discounts. See the "Savannah Scene ", "Best Read Guide," and the "Savannah 2005 Official Planner."
The 21 squares are free to visit, as is the Riverwalk. Even if you didn’t want to visit any of the houses surrounding them, the squares all have a story of their own to tell. There is also a plethora of churches to visit, and don’t forget the synagogue.
There are several bus choices. You can purchase an on-off ticket from one of the companies for about . They all run on a very similar schedule, doing the route about every 30 minutes. However, the best deal of all is CAT. These buses are free! They run a loop through the historic district and connect with other buses in their system. We used it several times and it came in handy. Pick up a schedule at the visitor center.
If you must drive, purchase a parking pass. You can park in designated location for for 2 days. The regular fee at the visitor center was about an hour.
Attraction | "Gray Line Tour"
The tour takes 90 minutes. You can opt for just the 90-minute tour for $19. For $21, you can choose to get off and on all day, or for $25, you can get the addition of one of the historic houses. For an additional $15, you can also take a riverboat cruise. That will be the first decision you have to make. The bus makes 14 stops as it travels around the 2.5 miles of the historic district; you can get on the bus at anyone of these stops and purchase your ticket from the driver.
Our driver’s name was Jack, and he had a great sense of humor. He had us laughing a good deal of the time. Along with the humor, he had a seemingly endless flow of trivia and gossip about the city of Savannah. He took us to many of the squares. We learned about the monuments on them, who was buried under them, and the buildings surrounding them. It was the perfect way to get our feet ready for trekking through the city. We bounced down the hill to the Riverwalk, cruised through some of the residential neighborhoods of the city, and circled city market.
We learned that the cotton gin was invented in Savannah, that the cobblestones on the streets of the Riverwalk were originally ballast on the ships that sailed there, that Savannah had the first motorized fire department in the country, and that you can rent some of the squares and many people do so for weddings and social events.
Grayline also offers several specialty tours, including The Book Tour, Low Country Tours, ghost tours, and historic tours. There really is a tour for every taste.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 19, 2005
Gray Line Savannah Tours
215 West Boundry St.
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Attraction | "Oglethorp Ghost Tour"
Our driver, Rachel, picked us up first right outside the Bed and Breakfast Inn, and then we drove around to pick up the other members of our tour. About 15 minutes into the actual tour, we had to stop and go to pick up a group of eight people. While I understood the economics of this move, it was very distracting, and I felt it quite unfair to those of us who were already on the tour.
At one point, Rachel parked the bus, and we walked around. We passed several other tours doing the same thing, which is why I don’t think it really matters a whole lot which one you choose. We didn’t enter any of the building but we did stop in front of several. This tour does not go into Colonial Cemetery though the cemetery does figure into at least one story.
Rachel was a very accommodating guide, and after the tour was over, she dropped us off at the Six Pence Pub so that we could get dinner.
Oglethorpe Trolley Tours
7 Rathborne Road
Savannah, Georgia 31414
Attraction | "Mercer Williams House"
This house had quite an interesting history even before if was purchased by antique dealer Jim William in 1970. There were two rather mysterious deaths many years before Danny Hansford was killed there in 1981. It was designed in 1860 by New York architect John Norris for General Hugh Mercer, the great grandfather of Johnny Mercer. The Mercers never actually lived in this house. The "unpleasantness" interfered with construction, and it wasn't completed until 1868. General Mercer sold the house unfinished in 1865. It belonged to the "Shriners" for forty years, and they removed walls on the second floor to construct a large meeting room. As you walk through the first floor hall, you get to peer up the stairway to the stained glass skylight. You only get to visit the first floor and I believe only four rooms. Marsha, our guide, was very entertaining. She had many anecdotal facts about the house; however, neither the murder nor the book was mentioned.
If you are familiar with "The Book", you know that Mr. Williams was an antiques dealer--a very extraordinary one. He began as a young man and had an excellent sense of style and value. The decorating of the house reflects that. He had eclectic taste and collected things both old and contemporary. He supported local artists and has a fine collection of both paintings and porcelain. He also had a fascination with Audubon engravings and things that I would expect to see in a Natural History Museum, not necessarily someone’s home.
I personally was a little uncomfortable visiting here. There was a guard in the hall while we toured the rooms to make sure we didn’t touch anything or try to walk off with a piece of art. We weren’t even allowed to linger in the garden. We stood on the steps while Marsha told us a little about the changes Mr. Williams had made. So, you decided, I felt we didn’t get very much for our money here.
No photography or note-taking is allowed. Particularly interesting is that Dr. Dorothy Kingery, Jim Williams sister, has trademarked the façade of the house. Several years ago, before tours were allowed, the house was on the market for $8.95 million. That would have made it the most expensive house ever sold in Savannah.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 19, 2005
429 Bull Street, Monterey Square
Savannah, Georgia 31401
John Norris designed this home for him as well as several other famous Savannah buildings. Andrew was a man who was lucky in business, but his personal life was marred by tragedy. His first wife, Sarah, died at the young age of 31, leaving him with two young daughters. His second wife, Mary, also died in childbirth at 31, leaving him with three more daughters and a son. The daughters were educated in England and all married Englishmen. The house was host to many famous people, including William Makepeace Thackery and Robert E. Lee. That alone cannot account for its immense popularity. The most famous resident of the house is only a Low by marriage. She is Juliette Gordon Low, Andrew’s daughter in law who inherited the house in 1886. She married William Mackey Low known as Willy. Willy vowed to never work a day in his life and he kept that vow. For the first years of their marriage, Juliette enjoyed his lifestyle with him, but after a while it wore thin. I don’t imagine that there is anyone who doesn’t know who Juliette is, but in case you don’t, she founded the Girl Scouts of America. She did this in 1912 and lived on in this house until her death in 1927. She bequeathed the carriage house in the rear to the Girls Scouts. The Colonial Dames of America bought the Low House in 1928 and began to fill it with period pieces. It was opened as a house museum in 1970.
You visit the house on a guided tour. We were lucky enough to be the only ones on our tour, so we got undivided attention and were able to ask lots of questions. Picture-taking was not allowed in the house. Our guide, Eve, was very knowledgeable and made the tour interesting. As in most Norris Houses, the kitchen was in the house. Being from New York, he knew that gas lighting was the way of the future and had the house piped for it. The walls are two-feet thick, and the ceilings are 13½-feet high. This helped to keep the house cool in the summer. There is a fireplace in every room and they are made of Egyptian marble. It is a beautiful house, but one you can imagine yourself living in.
Andrew Low House
329 Abercorn St
Savannah, Georgia 31401
+1 912 233 6854
Attraction | "Isaiah Davenport House"
Unlike some of the other houses that you visit in Savannah, Davenport House was more of the artisan class house. Isaiah Davenport was a master builder. He was well to do but not extremely wealthy. The public rooms of the house have wonderful architectural details. These rooms were a form of advertisement of the type of work that his customers could expect. The fireplaces are made of Italian marble and the detail is in the neoclassical style, which was cutting-edge at the time. They are both original to the house, but one of them was only returned in 1997. It was sold during one of the lower periods in the house's history. The family rooms, which the public would never see, were very simple. The floors are made of heart of pine, and daughter Cornelia's wedding china has made its way back to the house.
The furniture in the house is period but not original, Mrs. Davenport had to sell all the furniture. This house owes its very existence to five women who saved it from demolition in the 1950s. Every effort has been made to return family items to the house. There is a needlepoint fire screen made by Cornelia's granddaughter, a silhouette of Cornelia at 4 years old, and Sarah Davenport's book of memory, which has locks of family hair in it.
The tour covers three floors of the house, you need to be able to negotiate narrow, curving stairs. We ended in the garden, but the only exit from the garden is back through the gift shop. I enjoyed this tour more than some of the other, fancier houses, and the gift shop is very nice.
"Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!" Have you ever wondered what this meant? Sleep tight refers to tightening the ropes on a rope bed, and since most mattresses were stuffed with natural materials, bugs were a fact of life. Fascinating stuff.
No story about the Davenport House would be complete without a word about the Historic Savannah Foundations. It was the attempted demolition of this house in 1955 that led seven Savannah women to found the Historic Savannah Foundation. Not only did they save Davenport House, but they helped initiate a program of historic preservation in the city of Savannah. Just visiting there, you have to be grateful to them for their efforts.
It was supposed to be torn down for a parking lot in the mid-20th century. The saving of this house was the beginning of the Historic Savannah Foundation, a group dedicated to the preservation of historical buildings in Savannah.
Davenport House Museum
324 East State St
Savannah, Georgia 31401
+1 912 236 8097
Attraction | "Old Fort Jackson"
It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a very historic site; there was an earthen work "mud fort" on this site in 1776. It was abandoned because the site was considered unhealthy. In 1808, President Andrew Jackson began constructing a national defense system. Fort Jackson was among the forts commissioned. It was named for the Revolutionary War hero and Former Georgia Governor James Jackson.
Europe was in a state of unrest, and invasion was expected at any time from either the English or the French. War was declared with England in 1812, and the fort was occupied by the militia as well as federal troops. The fort saw no action in the War of 1812, and between 1845 and 1860, it was strengthened and expanded. Salter Island was the perfect place from which to defend access to Savannah. It overlooks Fathom Hole, the 18th-century deep port of Savannah. The remains of the IronClad Vessel Georgia are still resting on the bottom of the Savannah River just off the fort.
There is a sign on the ramparts to show you where it is located. No ship could get into Savannah without passing Fort Jackson.
During the Civil War, Fort Jackson was part of the defensive fortification of Savannah. It was the headquarters of the Savannah River Defenses. Savannah never was attacked from the sea; it surrendered to General Sherman in December 1864. Union troops occupied the fort for 3 months. During the next 40 years, the fort saw limited military use, eventually being decommissioned in 1905. In 1964, the Georgia Historical turned Fort Jackson into a maritime museum. However, due to financial cutbacks, the fort was closed, and in jeopardy of being dismantled, local citizens formed the Coastal Heritage Society, a nonprofit historical organization that took over the management of the site in 1976.
There is a lot to see at the fort. You begin with a 17-minute video in the theater. You then walk through the museum, which is located under the ramparts in what was the powder magazine. You will see weapons,
uniforms, and artifacts excavated on the site and from the ironclad CSS Georgia. You can walk up onto the ramparts, enjoy the view of the Savannah River, and stand next to the cannons.
When you are done, visit the nice little gift shop and talk to the friendly ranger.
Old Fort Jackson Historic Site
1 Fort Jackson Road
Savannah, Georgia 31404
+1 912 232 3945
Attraction | "Owen Thomas House"
For the next ten years, it was used as a boarding house, and it was at this point that its most illustrious guest visited. The Marquise de Lafayette stopped here in 1825 and he addressed the citizens of Savannah from the cast iron balcony on the side of the house.
In 1830, the house was purchased by George Owens and it remainded in the family for over 100 years. The last owner, Margaret Thomas, the granddaughter of George Owens left the House to the Telfair Musuem. If you plan to visit both, there is a combination ticket for $12, a $4 savings.
The house must be visited on a tour. You begin in the carriage house. You are given a brief introduction. I have to tell you that the staff at this house was the least friendly and least helpful of any we met on this trip. There are no postcards and no guide book of the house. My first instinct is to tell you to skip this house because of the staff, but don’t--it has some unusual aspects that make it worth tolerating the help, and I use the word "help" loosely.
You enter through the rear porch and move to the front of the house. The tour begins in the formal drawing room. The ceiling is circular with spandels in the corners which create the illusion that the room is eliptical. One indication of the wealth of the previous owners is that the house was heated with coal, which had to be imported and was very expensive.
Our tour had about 15 people on it. We had to take turns touring the rooms. Painting from the museum are on display through out the house. There is period furniture in all the rooms some of which is original. The bridge on the second level is like nothing we have ever seen, come here just so that you can see it. It made it possible to enter the bedrooms without having to pass through any other rooms. Another interesting aspect was the cistern located in the attic that provided running water to the house.
When we were there, restoration work was going on in the dining room and we were able to watch one of the conservators working on the paint. The tour finishes in the basement from there you can walk in the garden for as long as you like. Do visit the slave quarters on the second floor of the carriage house.
124 Abercorn St.
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Mary Telfair was an art collector but the majority of pieces in the collection were acquired by two men, first director Carl Brandt and purchasing agent Gari Melchers. Between the two of them, they added over 170 pieces to the collection.
You enter the house part of the museum first. There are several rooms and the kitchen that you can look at. The Telfair family owned much of the very fine federal furniture.
There are some interesting American Impressionist paintings by such artists as Childe Hassam ("Brooklyn Bridge") and a hypnotic study of a very young Kahlil Gibran by Lilla Cabot Percy. The colors are stunning, and he has the swaggering confidence of youth combined with a somber dignity. It is one of those paintings whose eyes follow you around the room from his shaded face. One wall of the gallery is covered with a monumental painting of the Black Prince at Crecy. It shows the Black Prince paying respect to the blind King John of Bohemia who was killed in the battle. A fascinating piece, I stared at it for quite a while.
The rotunda Gallery is impressive. A rosewood grand piano and a portrait of Mary Telfair dominate one corner. Nearby is a painting called Relics of the Brave. It is a story painting. It shows a woman opening a letter telling her that her husband was killed in the Crimean War. Her husband’s honors and awards are on a chair and her father and her son fill out the picture. It is especially meaningful today when so many families are getting similar messages.
On a disappointing note, there isn’t even a catalogue of the collection. The store is two little cubbies. I hope that the new building will improve on this.
121 Barnard St.