As soon as take your first few leisurely strides in Savannah, you are quickly struck with the unique allure of the marquee for antebellum America. Your feet step unevenly on the cobblestone streets, the gaslight lamps flicker on, enticing you to continue your journey through the low hanging veils of Spanish moss that bedeck the cozy lanes, pushing through the heavy, humid air. A combination of the climate, the amiable locals, the regal architecture and the aura of savoir faire that the city exudes, beckons the arrest of your fast paced life. As seamlessly and gracefully as Savannah preserves a bygone era, so does the city prompt you to bring life down to a slow and comfortable drip.
February 12, 1733 marks the day that the city of Savannah was founded by General James Oglethorpe, a nobleman of King George II of England. Early inhabitants and settlers comprised a very diverse group from English settlers and local Native Americans, to Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal. Georgia became a royal colony in 1754 and Savannah was made the colonial capital of the state. Initially, rice fields proved to be a profitable economic focus for the city, until the Treaty of Paris in 1763 that opened the interior of North America. Afterwards hunters, trappers and traders went inland and brought back valuable commodities to Savannah, foremost of which were deerskins. The trade of deerskins enabled Savannah to develop into one of the most significant ports on the South Atlantic coast. British and Loyalist forces controlled Savannah during the American Revolutionary War, and repelled American and French forces during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. The city would not be forcefully taken until December 22, 1864, by General Sherman, in America’s next great conflict, the Civil War. In the period after the Civil War, Savannah again evolved and grew into a major player in the cotton industry, ushering in a new era of prosperity, whose fingerprints on Savannah are still evident today.
Due to the British aristocratic influence, as well as the thriving plantation age, the city matured into an iconic representation of some of the finest, historic architecture throughout the South. Savannah’s downtown area boasts one of the country’s largest National Historic Districts. The downtown cordially encourages visitors to walk the area, offering 24 squares, harkening back to a time when cities were constructed with the enjoyment of their citizens in mind, as opposed to the towering, steel business hubs of more modern cities. The city also proudly calls many historic churches, synagogues, homes and cemeteries its own: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Sorrel Weed House, and the Laurel Grove Cemetary among others. No visit to Savannah is complete without enjoying River Street.
With its earthy brown bricked wharf buildings, that thousands of sailors, longshoremen, merchants and laborers once called home, River Street emanates the appeal of an honest, hard- working age, long ago forgotten. You can imagine anxious debutantes in their elaborate ball gowns taking a carriage down the street to meet their suitor, gone for too long on a voyage. Today River Street provides an array of bars, restaurants, nightlife and shopping opportunities. Whether lunch, a beer, or maybe an evening ice cream cone, visitors don’t want to miss the charm of River Street. Come to River Street at night, and you might meet a few of the oldest locals, as some people believe the area to be frequented by ghosts. Regardless, you’ll be well cared for by the “Hostess City of the South.”
Don’t leave Savannah without being greeted by Waving Girl, a statue of Florence Martus, a local resident who for years greeted ships. According to legend, she didn’t miss one in 44 years on watch. No monument exists in Savannah that is more iconic or more representative of our Southern charm and hospitality. Charm and hospitality that isn’t just on proud display but also embodied by all the residents that formally invite you to visit our distinguished and warm city.
By Adam Miezio