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Savannah, Georgia

Spotlight: Savannah

Seductive Southern charm welcomes visitors to a centuries-old city

In 1887, a girl named Florence Martus showed up at the Savannah port and began waving at the passengers in arriving ships. During the day, the 19-year-old resident waved a piece of cloth; at night she brandished a lantern. She did not stop waving until 1931, and legend has it she never missed a ship. The Waving Girl statue, designed by Felix de Weldon, was placed in Emmet Park along the Savannah River in 1972.

The town, built on old-fashioned Southern charm, is still the same one that Florence symbolized so many years ago.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

City of Squares

British settler James Oglethorpe founded the town in 1733. Oglethorpe laid out his town in 24 public squares, and the visionary grids set the stage for a downtown district that has thrived for 300 years.

The port of entry for Savannah’s leafy public squares is the Visitor Center, which occupies the yards of the former Central of Georgia Railway. From here, guided tours in open-air trolleys and horse-drawn carriages launch into the downtown area, which has put strict limits on commercial development. The rare building that rises above eight stories is usually obscured by the live oaks draped in Spanish moss that grow in the squares.

Many downtown buildings—67 in fact—have been rescued by the Savannah College of Art and Design and put to use for the school’s vibrant urban campus. The streets of the 2.5-mile Historic District are an outdoor classroom for American architecture, from the Regency design of the Owens-Thomas House on Oglethorpe Square to the French Gothic spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Lafayette Square. The Telfair Museum of Art was the first public art museum in the South when a mansion on Telfair Square was transformed to gallery space in 1884.

History and Charm

There is so much history dripping from the balconies overlooking Savannah’s squares that a tour of the city practically transports visitors back in time. Visit Johnson Square and tour the Christ Episcopal Church that occupies one corner. At more than 280 years old, this is considered the “Mother Church” of Georgia. On Madison Square, you’ll find the Green-Meldrim House, which became the Civil War Union headquarters for General William Tecumseh Sherman following his scorched earth “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864. On Reynolds Square, the Pink House is as old as the country itself.

The Colonial Park Cemetery on Oglethorpe Avenue dates back to colonial times, with the victim of Savannah’s first dueling death in 1740 interred here. The Bonaventure Cemetery, located on the eastern edge of downtown overlooking the Wilmington River, took a star turn in both the book and movie adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It is equal parts sacred burial ground and Gothic sculpture garden.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beyond the City Limits

History buffs will want to drift from Savannah over to Cockspur Island to see Fort Pulaski, which was built by the Confederate army to defend the city. The fort was considered impregnable to smooth bore cannon, but during the Civil War, the walls were breached by the Union Army, with the world’s first rifled cannon reaching their target from four miles offshore. Fort Pulaski National Monument is on the way to Tybee Island, which is known affectionately as “Savannah’s Beach.”

Savanah Vittles

No visit to the “Hostess City of the South” is complete without sampling the city’s innovative take on traditional Southern food. Indulge in everything from international gourmet dinners to quick casual bites of coastal cuisine. Culinary adventures await visitors on nearly every square. You’ll also find great spots along the honeycomb of iron bridges and staircases that make up Factors Walk, a converted cotton exchange on brick-lined River Street.

And it’s still possible to be greeted by the waving girl of lore from while you’re riding on the deck of a steamboat in the Savannah River. Savannah Riverboat Cruises has been running sightseeing and dinner entertainment cruises on restored paddle wheelers since 1991.

The boats give passengers a taste of 19th-century travel, when paddlewheelers propelled people and cargo up and down the Savannah River. Enjoy live performances, drinks and fine dining as the city’s fantastic skyline drifts into view. Groups can schedule special events, from weddings to reunions.

For More Information

Visit Savannah
Georgia Department of Economic Development