Norman “Sonny” Hugley did not grow up in Savannah, but after a day trip to Georgia’s First City in 1995, he knew he had to return. In 2008, the Pittsburgh native made the move from Orlando to Savannah and has been soaking up the city ever since. After about nine years working around town, discovering more each day about all of the incredibly intricate details that make up the city, Sonny decided to start his own walking tour of Savannah—My City Savannah.
“I was friends with Ron Higgins and he passed away and left a huge hole in the city, as far as tours go,” he said. “He was the inspiration.”
Also known as “Hollywood Ron,” Ron Higgins was the mastermind behind the Savannah Movie Tours who also operated restaurant, ghost and shopping tours, as well as a walking tour of martini bars. His fun loving attitude lent well to being a tour guide and his expansive knowledge filled a niche in the market.
Sonny hopes to follow in his footsteps. This is exactly why My City Savannah is not a walking tour jam-packed with facts and dates. Instead, Sonny points out secrets hidden in plain sight and shares the evolution of the Coastal Empire and how it came to be such a rich city filled with culture and yet still cloaked in an air of mystery.
“The difference with my tour versus other tours is that on other tours, you will know about Savannah, but on my tour I think you will, in a better sense, understand Savannah. There are just a lot of quirky things that are on my tour that are pretty much Savannah specific,” he explains, mentioning the hurricane rods in buildings, decorative plates on homes, boot scrapes built into railings and marble steps made to step up onto carriages. “Little things like that, I point out. I think that is different from names and dates.”
The two-hour tour begins at Abe’s on Lincoln—Savannah’s coolest local bar, according to Sonny—and winds through the Colonial District of Savannah, which encompasses the northeast corner of the Historic District between the Savannah River and Colonial Park Cemetery. In these charming, centuries-old neighborhoods, Sonny shares stories and points out historic landmarks, such as the last remaining wall that surrounded Savannah when it was a fortified city, as well as the the spot where the first cotton plant grew in The South and the church where slavery ended.
“Very dramatic events have taken place in history right here in Savannah that have not just affected the city, but the world. And that’s why it became fascinating to me, because I realized how much of an impact, globally, Savannah has had during its existence,” Sonny said. “It’s the city that’s inspired me—the city has a story to tell and I’m just a mouthpiece for the city, just telling its story.”
The tour starts on the bluff overlooking the spot where the first ship landed about 300 years ago and ventures along Bay Street to the Colonial Park Cemetery, before ending in Johnson Square. As the tour progresses, Sonny shares how the city changed over time—from the original intent of James Edward Oglethorpe and the importance of the city to Charleston and the King of England to how the vision then translated into what it is today—one of the largest ports in the United States.
“I hope people come here and see the city the way I saw the city the first time I came here,” Sonny said. “There’s nothing I really do to change anyone’s experience in the city, I’m just going to point out a few things.”
My City Savannah Tour is $25 per person and can accommodate up to 30 people. Tours take place Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m. starting at Abe’s on Lincoln, located at 17 Lincoln St., and private tours are available upon request. For more information about the tours or to make a reservation, call (912) 308-8976 or go to mycitysavannahtour.com.