Savannah, the City of Squares

Savannah is a new port for us and one we were eager to visit this time. We passed by it in 2013 mostly because you need to travel 7 nautical miles off the ICW to actually reach Savannah, which translates into an extra hour of travel. That would be fine if there were reasonable marinas right in the city for the boat. There really aren’t any good options. Most cruisers stay at either Thunderbolt Marina or Isle of Hope, both of which require renting a car to get into the city of Savannah. We were very fortunate on this trip. Thanks to new friends, Lynn and Al, we had a dock for our boat for 10 days while we flew home for a visit. We used Uber for the short ride into Savannah – our first Uber experience.

The orange trolley tour.

There were trolleys of various colors everywhere – orange, green, white. At least our orange ones were easy to spot when we needed to hop back on.

We did the typical tourist thing and used the trolley tour which allowed us to hop on and off throughout the day, while also seeing and hearing about famous locations, people, architecture, culture and history in Savannah. As a first time visit, it was a good way to get a quick orientation and feel for this lovely city, but there certainly was not enough time to absorb it all. The trolleys were comfortable with open air windows, but you do feel like you are on display as you ride around.

The first thing you learn about Savannah is its unique layout. The city was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe who laid out a plan starting with six squares in a grid design. Today, all of the now 22 squares are a part of Savannah’s historic district and fall within an area of less than one half square mile (sure seemed larger than that when we were walking around!)  Savannah’s city plan is considered to be one of the most intelligent designs for organization and growth. Although valued by many today for their beauty, Oglethorpe’s first squares were originally intended to be used for military exercises by colonists, resembling the layout of contemporary military camps. Traffic flows one way—counterclockwise—around the squares, which function like traffic circles.

I took photos of the squares as the trolley rode by, but I cannot remember the names or significance of each one. I guess I should have taken notes while we rode the trolley, but wouldn’t that have spoiled the experience??? We need more than a one day visit to really understand and fully enjoy Savannah.

These park-like squares are shaded by oaks hanging with Spanish moss, shrubs and walkways intersect them, and there is usually a monument in the center. People use the oasis for sitting, reading, painting, walking and just meditating. Every city should have such beautiful places! I could live in a city if my home lined one of these parks.

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The trolley drivers always point out Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) sat on a bench with his box of chocolates. That bench isn’t there and was never there; it was actually a movie prop that has since been placed in the Savannah History Museum. But the location of the bench is still a popular spot for photographs.

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) on his famous bench in Chippewa Square.

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) on his famous bench with his box of chocolates in Chippewa Square.

Chippewa Square - far in the background you can see the monument shown in the movie still shot.

Chippewa Square – far in the background you can see the monument shown in the movie. I think. This was the best shot I could get as the trolley went by. Off to the right was the brick pad that the bench sat upon.

Speaking of movies, Savannah is most famous for the 1994 non-fiction book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The book’s plot is based on a murder and the subsequent trials that occurred in Savannah in the 1980s.  It’s considered to be a “non-fiction novel” since it rearranges the sequence of events and reads like a novel.  I tried to read the book. I tried twice. I just couldn’t get into it, and I like murder mysteries. Regardless, the book and 1997 movie, starring Kevin Spacey, certainly impacted tourism in Savannah. Every trolley pauses at the Mercer-Williams House, the scene of the shooting death of Jim Williams’ assistant,  Danny Hansford. Johnny Mercer, the famous songwriter, once owned the house, but it was Jim Williams, antiques dealer and historic preservationist, who restored the house, allegedly committed the infamous murder and was tried four times for it. I think I should try to read the book again!

The Mercer-Williams house, now a museum, was the site of the 1981 murder.

The Mercer-Williams house on Bull Street was the site of the 1981 murder and is now a museum.

The book and movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, also impacted a simple private sculpture, “Bird Girl” by Sylvia Shaw Judson, 1936. Known as “Little Wendy”, it had stood for decades in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. Once its photo appeared on the cover of the bestselling book in 1994, it became known as the “Bird Girl.”   Fans of the novel and movie would go to the cemetery to see the statue, sometimes chipping off pieces of the statue’s base for souvenirs. 🙁 The family took their statue and moved it into Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art, where no chipping or photos are allowed.

Left photo - "Little Wendy" in her original home, Bonaventure Cemetery. Right photo - on the cover of the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which change her life forever.

Left photo – “Little Wendy” in her original home, Bonaventure Cemetery.
Right photo – On the cover of the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which changed her life forever.

Left photo - "Bird Girl" in her protected home at the Telfair Museum. Right photo - reproductions of "Bird Girl" are everywhere in Savannah, from shops along the waterfront to the airport.

Left photo – “Bird Girl” in her protected home at the Telfair Museum.
Right photo – Reproductions of “Bird Girl” are everywhere in Savannah, from shops along the waterfront to the airport.

Savannah’s beauty and fame is all based on films and books.  Savannah’s structures are a feast for the eyes. Historic buildings surround the squares, some are personal homes, some are museums; but all are beautiful examples of stately Savannah architecture.

The Sorrel-Weed House, built in the 1840s, sits on Madison Square. It is a historic landmark of architectural significance with a history of hauntings.

The Sorrel-Weed House, built in the 1840s, sits on Madison Square. It is a historic landmark of architectural significance with a history of hauntings.

Juliet Gordon Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts, was born in this house. I tis also featured onto haunted house tours.

Juliet Gordon Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts, was born in this house. It is  also featured on the haunted house tours.

Savannah City Hall

Savannah City Hall

SCAD - Savannah College of Art and Design, founded in 1978. SCAD has worked throughout the city to preserve the architectural heritage by restoring buildings for use as college facilities.

SCAD – Savannah College of Art and Design, founded in 1978. SCAD has worked throughout the city to preserve the architectural heritage by restoring buildings for use as college facilities.This is just one of their many buildings, and each one is beautifully restored and repurposed.

Just a few of the many historic buildings we saw. IT will take a second trip to Savannah for me to recall the importance of each of these!

Just a few of the many historic buildings we saw. It will take a second trip to Savannah for me to remember the history of each of these houses.

During our one-day whirlwind tour of Savannah, we stopped for lunch at the Crystal Beer Parlor. Off on a side street, it was worth finding.

Crystal Beer Parlor

Crystal Beer Parlor – lots of old time photos covered the walls. Anyone else remember the Three Stooges??

In addition to the excellent locally brewed beer, we tried fried green tomatoes and beer-batter onion rings. We shared the burger. ;-)

In addition to the excellent locally brewed beer, we tried fried green tomatoes and beer-batter onion rings. We shared the burger. 😉

After our refueling, we continued our exploration of historic Savannah. The steeples of the various faiths rise high above the other structures, reaching into the beautiful blue skies on this October day.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist - The parish was established in the 1700s by French colonists. This particular cathedral was built in 1876.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist – The parish was established in the 1700s by French colonists. This particular cathedral was built in 1876.

St. Johns Episcopal Church - Designed in the Gothic revival style this church was constructed in 1853.

St. Johns Episcopal Church – Designed in the Gothic revival style this church was constructed in 1853.

Independent Presbyterian Church - After the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed the original church, it was reconstructed again in 1891 in the same design.

Independent Presbyterian Church – After the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed the original church, it was reconstructed again in 1891 in the same design.

The quieter residential streets in historic Savannah would be wonderful places to live, near to the greenery of the public squares, and yet within walking distance of many of the city’s arts, history, and business areas. The streets are lined with the live oaks, draped with Spanish moss, giving them a serene non-urban feeling.

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This oak is leaning over across the street to almost touch the other side. Sure hope it never falls over!

This oak is leaning all the way over across the street to almost touch the other sidewalk. Sure hope it never collapses or breaks!

An example of one of the dolphin or fish drain spouts seen on historical homes in Savannah. It's not a dolphin, but rather the dolphinfish or Mahi Mahi.

An example of one of the dolphin or fish drain spouts seen on historical homes in Savannah. It’s not a dolphin, but rather the dolphinfish or Mahi Mahi.

The trolley drivers made sure we all knew about Leopolds as they drove past East Broughton Street. If you know Al, you know we had to make our way back to that street one we got off the trolley. Leopoldo is a famous Savannah ice cream parlor, founded in 1919.

Leopolds, an ice cream parlor, circa 1935. Long lines, but worth the wait - very creamy delicious ice cream. Please note that AL had a double dip of two chocolate flavors, while I used restraint and had a "kiddie-size" coconut scoop.

Leopolds, an ice cream parlor, circa 1935. Long lines, but worth the wait – very creamy delicious ice cream. Please note that AL had a double dip of two chocolate flavors, while I used restraint and had a “kiddie-size” coconut scoop.

While we were touring Savannah, we stopped by to say hello to Peter and Kay, boating friends from Shennecossett Yacht Club back home in Connecticut. They were just moving things into an adorable ground level apartment in the historic district.

While we were touring Savannah, we stopped by to say hello to Peter and Kay, boating friends from Shennecossett Yacht Club back home in Connecticut. They were just moving things into this adorable ground level apartment in the historic district. It is such fun to catch up with friends from home in new places.

Peter & Kay with their dogs. Good timing - Al lends a hand (or two) to Peter with the furniture.

Moving Day – Peter & Kay with their dogs.
Good timing – Al lends a hand (or two) with the furniture.

Forsyth Park, created in the 1840s, has grown from the original 10 acres to occupy 30 acres in the historic district. Savannah really knows how to create and maintain a beautiful urban landscape.

The Forsyth Fountain was added to the park in 1858.

The Forsyth Fountain was added to the park in 1858.

Savannah is a wonderful city; we are so glad we stopped here this time. We only had the time for a taste of Savannah and look forward to exploring and learning more about the city sometime in the future. Savannah was an especially nice port thanks to Alfred and Lynn who provided a friend’s dock for our stay. Al and Al (or “Alfred” and “Alan” so that we can distinguish between the two) met over the internet through the trawler site and Mariner Orient 38s. They have had a grand time exploring and talking about their sister ships, while Lynn and I talk provisioning and other life aboard topics. Meeting people in person after connecting through the internet can be like a box of chocolates — “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” ( Forrest Gump)  In this case, the surprise in the chocolate was delightful – Thank you, Alfred and Lynn for making our stay comfortable, easy and fun.

Enjoying dinner at the French Bistro in downtown Savannah with Alfred and Lynn.

Enjoying dinner at Circa, a French bistro, in downtown Savannah with our new friends, Alfred and Lynn.

Kindred Spirit departing Savannah. I love this photo that Lynn took of us as we waved good bye.

Kindred Spirit departing Savannah. I love this photo that Lynn took of us as we waved good bye.

2 thoughts on “Savannah, the City of Squares

  1. Pingback: A Return to Savannah, Friends, and “Good Fortune” | Kindred Spirit

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