May 122015
 

Bonaventure Cemetery

I have had a fascination for cemeteries for much of my life.  My love of them comes from their quality of art.  The rich and famous often hire the best sculptors of the time to memorialize their loved ones, so I often think of older cemeteries as large outdoor art galleries.

Bonaventure Cemetery

With that concept in mind I headed out to Bonaventure Cemetery just outside of Savannah.

In the 1800s throughout the world burial grounds began to be located outside of population centers for public health reasons.  This was the beginning of the “Rural Cemetery” movement. The rural cemetery was designed with a romantic vision of nature, based upon English landscape gardening. These cemeteries, thought by many to be the pre-cursor to our park system, were gathering places. It was common for families to picnic in these cemeteries.

The Willmington River

The Wilmington River

This nearly 100 acre cemetery sits on the Wilmington River.  Settled ca. 1761 this land was originally two plantations.

In 1846 a local businessman, Peter Wiltberger, purchased the land with the intention of creating a cemetery.  This did not happen until after the Civil War.  The, then named Evergreen Cemetery, operated privately until 1907.  In 1907 the City of Savannah purchased the Bonaventure, and while it has gone through much since then, it is well maintained and a delightful get away from the noise of the city.

Veterans of many wars will be found at the Bonaventure.  These contain the remains from George Gannon Post 184 and Tybee Island Post 154

Veterans of many wars will be found at the Bonaventure. These contain the remains from George Gannon Post 184 and Tybee Island Post 154

Spanish American War Veterans

Spanish American War Veterans

Bonaventure

In order to have a separate Jewish section, the Orthodox Jewish community bought a very large portion to the right of Bonaventure. A large two-story brick and glass preburial house sits in the middle of the  Jewish section. Today this section, although it still has a separate gate, is part of the entire complex.

Entry gate to the Jewish section of Bonaventure Cemetery

Entry gate to the Jewish section of Bonaventure Cemetery

There is a large Greek Burial area

There is a large Greek Burial area

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Irish Gravestones

 

The plot for the Order of Railway Workers

The plot for the Order of Railway Workers

 

The simple grave marker of a railway worker

The simple grave marker of a railway worker

Gaston's Tomb

Gaston’s Tomb

Of course the cemetery has the historical figures of Savannah, and the South.  As you enter the cemetery you will first see.Gaston’s tomb. This mausoleum was originally in the Colonial Cemetery.  William J. Gaston (1777-1884) rose to prominence as an attorney, legislator, Congressman and state Supreme Court justice.

Well known for his hospitality and kindness to others, especially to strangers, Savannahians had this memorial built for the Judge after his death in New York City. Called the Visitor’s Tomb, it was designed as a place for out-of-towners to be laid to rest until their bodies could be sent home.

In writing the above I questioned the interchangeable words mausoleum and tomb.  The dictionary defines a mausoleum as a stately tomb.

Between 1844 and 1969 the first three generations of the De Renne family of Savannah made notable contributions to Georgia history by collecting materials relating to the state's past and by printing primary sources and other historical works relating to Georgia as colony and state. Much of this collection can be found at the University of Georgia

The De Renne family of Savannah collected printed materials and other historical works relating to Georgia’s history. Much of this collection can be found at the University of Georgia

Rufus Ezekial Lester  Born in Burke Co., CA  December 12, 1837 Died in Washington DC June 16, 1906 A gallant confederate soldier State Senator 1870-1873 Three years president of the senate Mayor of Savannah 1883-1889 Member of Congress 1830-1906

Rufus Ezekial Lester
Born in Burke Co., CA
December 12, 1837
Died in Washington DC
June 16, 1906
A gallant confederate soldier
State Senator 1870-1873
Three years president of the senate
Mayor of Savannah 1883-1889
Member of Congress 1830-1906

I originally went to find the grave of Corinne Elliot Lawton.  I am sure she is the heart of many of the ghost tours with the story that she died of a broken heart due to a jilted love. Miss Lawton most likely came to her premature end after a “short illness” — just as her obituary read. It is also said that the position of her parents grave shows how she brought shame to them, this more likely is due to the fact that her grave was relocated to Bonaventure after the death of her parents  The statue of Jesus was also erected in their name.

Corrine Elliott Lawtons grave, with its lack of eyes spawns more ghost stories and tall tales.

Corrine Elliott Lawtons grave, with its lack of eyes spawns more ghost stories and tall tales.

Corrine Eliot Lawton Grave

Corrine Eliot Lawton Grave

Corrine Elliot Lawton

Corrine Elliot Lawton

Here is a smattering of some other lovely weeping women and unusual grave stones.

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Bonaventure Cemetery

 

In October of 1867 during John Muir’s Thousand Mile Walk, he spent six days and nights in the Bonaventure, sleeping on the graves as the “safest and cheapest accommodations” he could find. He found the cemetery “breathtakingly beautiful and inspiring” and wrote a lengthy chapter on it, “Camping in the Tombs.”  The chapter, which you can read here, is a magnificent description of the cemetery at the time.

Bonaventure Cemetery

 

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Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

Stunning Art Deco Doors at the Bonaventure Cemetery

Stunning Art Deco Doors at the Bonaventure Cemetery

Most of the few graves of Bonaventure are planted with flowers. There is generally a magnolia at the head, near the strictly erect marble, a rose-bush or two at the foot, and some violets and showy exotics along the sides or on the tops. All is enclosed by a black iron railing, composed of rigid bars that might have been spears or bludgeons from a battlefield in Pandemonium. - John Muir

Most of the few graves of Bonaventure are planted with flowers. There is generally a magnolia at the head, near the strictly erect marble, a rose-bush or two at the foot, and some violets and showy exotics along the sides or on the tops. All is enclosed by a black iron railing, composed of rigid bars that might have been spears or bludgeons from a battlefield in Pandemonium. – John Muir

Old Iron railings in the Bonaventure Cemetery

Old Iron railings in the Bonaventure Cemetery

Pre-burial house in the Jewish Section

Pre-burial house in the Jewish Section

A map and brief guide are available from the visitor center, inside the administration building at the main entrance. Public restrooms are also located at the main entrance.

Main gate of the Bonaventure Cemetery

Main gate of the Bonaventure Cemetery

As a sculpture garden, the Bonaventure did not exactly live up to my expectations.  However, it is an absolute must on anyone’s trip to Savannah.  The grace and beauty of the area, the history that it contains makes this a real highlight.

I recommend a tour.  I was unable to take one due to my time limitation.  I chose to visit on a typical Savannah day – 84 degrees and 76% humidity.  I really could only handle about one hour in that temperature, so exploring went out the window.  I missed a few of the highlights, to say the least.

Colonial Park Cemetery

While the Bonaventure is quite the cemetery, in downtown Savannah you will also find the Colonial Park Cemetery. Also known as the Old Cemetery and The Old Brick Cemetery, it was founded in 1750. Closed for new burials in 1853 it was reopened as a city park in 1896. The cemetery was much larger than it is today, and it contains over 10,000 burials but only 600 gravestones.

The reason I wanted to include it here is that even though the cemetery was closed to burials before the start of the Civil War and no Confederate soldiers are buried there, the war did leave its mark on the cemetery. Federal troops took over the cemetery grounds during their occupation of Savannah and many of the graves were looted and desecrated. It has been said that Union soldiers changed the dates on many of the headstones.

These stones can be found on the back wall of the cemetery.

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Notice the change of dates, making the soldier dead before his birth

Colonial Park Cemetery Back Wall

Colonial Park Cemetery Back Wall

 

May 102015
 
The Davenport House

The Davenport House

The architectural styles of Savannah are varied and, thanks to many preservationists, available for us all to study.  There are hundreds of tour companies, riding in a variety of vehicles or by foot.  There are many books out on Savannah Architecture, better forums than here to get a decent education.  I will also say that it would take a lifetime to cover all of the items that are worth studying in Savannah Architecture, for that reason I am presenting, either some of my favorites or items that have the best of their style.

The Davenport House is the first home saved in the preservation movement. The Federal, or Adam, style dominated the American architectural landscape from roughly 1780 to 1840, having evolved from Georgian, the principal design language of the colonial period.

The Mercer House

The Mercer House

The Italianate Style Mercer House was designed by John Norris in 1871, a prolific architect in Savannah during this time.

The Armstrong House

The Armstrong House

Another Italianate house is the rather grand Armstrong House, built in 1819 for the Armstrong family.

The Andrew Low House

The Andrew Low House

The Andrew Low House, a John Norris home completed in 1849 has hallmarks of an Italianate home with bits of Greece.  This home was the home of Julliet Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.  She married the son of the original owner and received the home after her husband’s death.  The first headquarters for the Girl Scouts is located in the carriage house in the back.

Georgia Hussars Armory

Georgia Hussars Armory

Known locally as the Ford dealership, this quirky building stands out with its ogee arch and quatrefoil motif.  The stunning spiral columns are topped with Arabic inspired arches.

The Green Meldrim House

The Green-Meldrim House

The Green-Meldrim house is another John Norris building, I fell in love with the entry portico.

Entry to the Green-Meldrim House

Entry to the Green-Meldrim House

The Scottish Rite Temple

The Scottish Rite Temple

This neoclassical Scottish Rite Temple places its prettiest face on the top floor. The temple was built in 1913 by Hyman Wallace Witcover, and has lovely terra-cotta along the top.

Volunteer Guards Armory

Volunteer Guards Armory

This Romanesque Style building, designed by William Gibbons Preston and completed in 1892 is flanked by cannons and black metal work that takes your breath away.

Volunteer Guards Armory

Volunteer Guards Armory

Volunteer Guards Armory

Volunteer Guards Armory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Exchange

Another wonderful Romanesque Style building is the Cotton Exchange.

The Unitarian Church

The Unitarian Church

This odd little gothic church was designed by John Norris and finished in 1851. The Reverend John Pierpont Jr.’s brother James was the organist and the choir director.  James composed “Jingle Bells” while living in Savannah.  Their nephew, by the way, was John Pierpont Morgan.

Mickve Israel Synagogue

Mickve Israel Synagogue

Another gothic style house of worship is the Mickve Israel Synagogue. It was built in 1876 and designed by Henry G. Harrison.

12 East Taylor

12 East Taylor

Built in 1869 one side of this pair of townhouses was built for Daniel J. Purse, a one time mayor of Savannah. A renovation in 1897 added the projecting Bays that go out over the sidewalk and the mansard Roof. This excessiveness, somewhat hidden behind the trees, is what gives Savannah its whimsy.

Parkers Grocery

Parkers Grocery

This shining example of adaptive re-use was special even before it was a grocery store. Built in the 1920s this Arthur Comer designed building combined a gasoline station with both automobile sales and its service facility.

Laurence McNeil House

Laurence McNeil House

This neoclassical building by Gottfried Norman was built in 1903.

The Thunderbird Inn

The Thunderbird Inn

Built in 1964, the Thunderbird is still a fun place to stay in Savannah.

The Kress Building

The Kress Building

This Art Deco building is from 1923.

King Tisdell Cottage

King Tisdell Cottage

Originally built in 1896 by W. W. Aimar this Victorian, gingerbread ornamented cottage is now the Museum of Black History.

St. John's Cathedral

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

This High Victorian Gothic church, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, was built in the 1870s and designed by E. Francis Baldwin.  If you have the opportunity to visit inside, it is a must!  The support columns are cast iron, faux painted as marble.  There are murals, and paintings and ornamentation, and windows, and alters, and……well you get the picture.

Independent Presbyterian Church

Independent Presbyterian Church

Built in 1816 and designed by John Holden Greene in the English Restoration style, this church sits on land granted directly from King George II to the Church.

The Chase Bank

The Citizens Bank

These windows are the most ornamental portion of the Citizens Bank, now occupied by Savannah College of Art and Design.

William Kehoe House

Kehoe House

This Queen Anne building was built for William Kehoe in 1893. Architect Dewitt Bruyn used the railings, brackets, moldings, and interior ceiling medallions made by Kehoe’s iron company to help advertise their availability.

This is just a smattering of the unbelievable variety of architecture in Savannah, but I hope I have shown you a good idea of what you can expect.

There are several books about that help to guide you around town if you want to do a tour on your own.

The National Trust Guide to Savannah

Savannah Architectural Tours by Jonathan Stalcup.  Jonathan also gives a spectacular tour.

May 092015
 
Forsyth Park Fountain

Forsyth Park Fountain

There is so much cast iron in Savannah but one of the more impressive pieces is the fountain in Forsyth Park

The iconic fountain was selected out of a catalogue of ornamental ironwork by Janes, Beebe & Company of New York . Known simply as design Number Five, it was one of a handful of elaborate fountain designs featured in the catalogue and was said to have cost the city $3,000 to install. The No. 5. design is modeled after a fountain that was created by Michel Joseph Napoleon Lienard and cast by the J.P.V. Andre Iron Foundry in Paris.

Cast iron was used functionally, as in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the columns there are structural and by using cast iron the church was able to utilize a smaller diameter column and increase interior space.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Cast iron was also used to show off one’s wealth. Cast Iron Work

 

Wrought Iron Downspout

Cast Iron Downspout on a private home. This is a copy by Ivan Bailey, the originals no longer exist, but it is typical of the period,  you will find these on the Oglethorpe Club as well.

Balcony of the Owens Thomas House

Balcony of the Owens Thomas House

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The Marshall House Balcony

 

DSC_3295Wallpaper is the hallmark of many older homes, however, what is left is usually too damaged to keep, in the following cases, with the exception of the Telfair mansion (which is original) all the others are reproductions. This painstaking process requires experts that slowly tear back years of paint and covering wallpaper, then finding the original and having it reproduced.

Telfair Museum

Telfair Museum

Three different papers in the Davenport House

Three different papers in the Davenport House

Cast plaster, being my career for 25 years always makes me look.  In the case of the Green-Meldrim house, my mouth was agape.  The pierced plaster work throughout, is not only stunning but very rare.

Green-Meldrim House

Green-Meldrim House

Volunteer Regimental Armory

Volunteer Regimental Armory Building

Of course stained glass is studied by anyone that is interested in any period of historic architecture, here is a little of what is in Savannah.

The Unitarian Church

The Unitarian Church

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

B'nai B'rith Jacob Synagogue, now SCAD Student Center

B’nai B’rith Jacob Synagogue, now SCAD Student Center

Flooring is also always of interest, tile, wood, and even floor cloths were common throughout Savannah.

Center Pine Wood Floor in the Orphanage and Convent for the Missionary Sisters of the Francisan Order

Center Pine Wood Floor in the Orphanage and Convent for the Missionary Sisters of the Franciscan Order

Tile at the Oglethorpe Club

Tile at the Oglethorpe Club

Painted Ca

Painted Floor Cloth

There are many other crafts involved, here are some examples that showed up a little less in Savannah.

Stenciling

Stenciling

Murals

Murals

Terrazzo at the old Woolworth's building

Terrazzo at the old Woolworth’s building

Terracotta on the Scottish Rite Temple

Terracotta on the Scottish Rite Temple

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Tin Ceilings

Varied colored bricks

Polychrome Brickwork – A style of architectural brickwork which emerged in the 1860s and used bricks of different colors in patterned combination to highlight architectural features.

 

May 092015
 
A Victorian Privacy Barrier

A Victorian Privacy Barrier

There are so many wonderful architectural styles in Savannah, with details galore.  I wanted to focus on a few items of interest that aren’t often talked about.  The Archway in a private home delineated the private rooms from the public ones.  The parlor and the gentleman’s office in this house are the two rooms that are between the front door in the background and this stunning arch.

Haint Blue

Haint Blue

Haint Blue has a lot of mysticism and rumor surrounding it. An oft repeated theory states that its roots are in the Geechee culture. The Geechee are African-Americans found mainly in the low country. Descendants of slaves, their belief system is a mixture of African witchcraft and a bit of Christianity.

The story goes that painting sections or even entire homes this shade of blue came from the Geechee belief in witches and “haints” or spirits. Apparently these ghosts could not cross water so the blue was believed to repel the spirits.

The color is made of a mixture of indigo dye, milk and lime (the burning and grinding of the oyster shells as seen in tabby). Lime is a natural insect repellent, but I believe this is just a good side benefit, I doubt they knew that at the time.

Arsenic Paint

Arsenic Paint

Another bug repellent was arsenic.  Here it is in the dining room in the green paint.

Madera Decanters

Madeira Decanters in a case with a bug catcher nearby

Madeira started arriving in Savannah in the 1760s, it was even advertised in Georgia’s first newspaper. By the 19th century, Savannah was a major importer of Madeira.  It was so popular with the wealthy, their cellar inventories are still talked about today.

So what happened to Madeira?  Three things contributed to the demise of Savannah’s Madeira culture: the economic upheaval of the War Between the States and two blights of the vine that decimated much of Europe’s vineyards in the 1850s and 1870s.

By the time production and America’s economy recovered, the taste for Madeira had waned.

Another reason for the wine’s success in the South is its stalwart character. As a fortified wine, it survives heat, humidity and rough ocean crossings. Once opened, it seems to keep indefinitely.

Feather Beds

Feather Beds

Feather beds were terribly expensive in the past.  The feathers from the occasional chicken or turkey dinner would be saved until there were enough to stuff a mattress.

Pine Straw or Spanish Moss Mattress

Pine Straw or Spanish Moss Mattress

Spanish Moss and Pine straw however, were prevalent and cheap.  The pine straw mattress took a lot of work, the pine needles would clump together, so every morning someone, a slave in the case of the south, had to pull the lumps apart. The Spanish Moss appeared, to me at least, to be the most logical.  It was a much more comfortable material, and in the south, almost as prevalent as pine needles at the time.

Ballast bricks

Ballast bricks

Since many ships arrived in Savannah somewhat lighter than they intended to leave, they needed ballast during the voyage.  These bricks, which acted as ballast, eventually became a sidewalk.

Tabby

Tabby

Tabby, while most often found as a material in the walls of buildings, works just as well as sidewalk material. You can read all about Tabby in my article about Beaufort, South Carolina.

The Trustees Garden

The Trustees Garden

The Trustees Garden was the first experimental garden in America.  The garden was modeled after the Chelsea Botanical Garden and was ten acres.  Botanists were sent from England to scour the world for the project.  They brought vine cuttings, fruit trees, flax, hemp, spices, cotton, indigo, olives and medicinal herbs. The trustees laid their greatest hopes on wine industry and in Mulberry trees which were essential to the culture of silk. Both of these crops failed due to the unsuitable soil and weather conditions. However, they did produce the peach trees Georgia is so famous for, as well as upland cotton.

The Pirates House

The Pirates House

Next to the Trustees Garden is the Pirates’ House. It was built in 1734 and is said to be the oldest house in the State of Georgia. It was originally the home of the gardener for the Trustees Garden.

Eventually the building became a Seaman’s Inn and obviously a drinking establishment. Rumors insist that there is a tunnel from the rum cellar to the docks for Shanghaing sailors.  What is known is that Savannah is mentioned several times in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and some say that a few passages of it were based on The Pirates House.

WTOC

WTOC

The first Savannah radio station opened in October 1929.  Its call letters WTOC stood for Welcome to our City.

Torah at Mickve Israel Synagogue

Torah at Mickve Israel Synagogue

The congregation of Mickve Israel was founded by a group of 42 Jews who sailed from London aboard the William and Sarah, they arrived in Savannah on July 11, 1733, just months after the colony’s establishment. These founders brought with them a “Safertoro” or Torah made of deerskin, it was the first brought to the U.S. and also the oldest in the U.S.  This Torah is still used on commemorative occasions today.

Savannah has the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the country. They begin in mid-February with an Irish festival, a Celtic cross ceremony on March 1 and many lesser parades and events leading up to its big St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Savannah's Celtic Cross

Savannah’s Celtic Cross

There is also a William Jasper Green ceremony. The event honors the Irishman who came to fight the British in the Revolutionary War and lost his life in the Siege of Savannah in 1779. It has become a ceremony that honors all who have served in the military.

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Pinkie Masters

On St. Patricks Day in 1978, Jimmy Carter stood on the bar at Pinkie Masters and gave a speech.  Al Gore gave one in there on St. Patrick’s Day as well.

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The Six Pence (shown above) is just one of many Irish Pubs in Savannah, it serves good food, but also starred in the movie Something to Talk About.

 

May 082015
 

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I studied the squares of Savannah in Urban Planning classes at school.  I was anxious to finally get to see them, but nothing compared to being educated further by Robin B. Williams, the Chair of the Architectural History Department at Savannah College of Art and Design.  He has a book coming out in the fall of 2015 about the planning of Savannah, I look forward to its release.  I will try, here, to do justice to his lecture.

King George II

King George II

General James Oglethorpe

General James Oglethorpe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General James Oglethorpe landed in Savannah on February 12, 1733. This new 13th Colony, called Georgia, was authorized by a grant from King George II to a group constituted by Oglethorpe as the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America, or simply the Georgia Trustees.

This colony was to be a sanctuary for Protestants and debtors in the English prisons. Oglethorpe had seen a friend die of smallpox in debtor’s prison, however, there were no debtors amongst the original settlers.

The new colony also served as a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the rest of the English Colonies to the north.

The actual person that laid out Savannah, though attributed to Oglethorpe, and the actual germinating seed for the idea, are hazy, but the original city plan of Savannah has proved to be one of the finest ever devised.

savannah

The concept of Savannah was to emphasize hard work, essentially an agrarian life was thought to be the ideal.  Settlers would be given a town lot as well as 45 acres outside of Savannah and a 5 acre garden plot.  You were allowed to purchase an extra 500 acres, but no more.  This was actually the beginning of the concept in America that “all men are created equal”.

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The town plan was based on the fact that each ward would have a square.  Savannah’s plan reflects political and organizational considerations of the day. Each ward had tythingmen, who shared guard and other duties, or “wardens”.

Tything Lots

Tything Lots

Around these squares were Tythings.  In those days Ty simply meant 10.  So on the north and south side of each square were 10 residential lots, giving each ward a total of 40.  Tything lots were 60′ X 90′. Townhouses came to tything lots in the 1800s.

Chatham County Courthouse sits on a Trust Lot

Chatham County Courthouse sits on a Trust Lot

On each square were 4 trust lots.  These were meted out to the deserving recipient by the “trustees” of Savannah.  These trust lots were to be for public buildings, most notably places of worship.  However, most of the largest mansions are on these trust lots.  Considering that these mansions were built when cotton was king, while Professor Williams did not say, I assume money had much to do with it.

The Mercer Williams House built on a trust lot

The Mercer Williams House built on a trust lot

Civic Streets are 75' wide

Civic Streets are 75′ wide

The plan made for interesting street layouts as well.  There are Civic Streets that are 75′ wide, they come in contact with the parks and have been tree lined since the 1800s.

Lanes are 45' with some 22 1/2 feet wide

Lanes are 45′ wide with some 22 1/2 feet wide

The lanes are the utilitarian streets. These run through the tything lots and tend not to have trees.  This area is where the carriage houses would have been, today they handle the garbage, sewers, phone and electric.  This is a good reason Savannah is so lovely, the utilities are hidden from the main streets and squares.

Carriage House opening onto a Lane

Carriage House opening onto a Lane

One interesting effect of the Lane and carriage house was the fact that the slave population actually had an ingress and egress to the world.  The slaves lived in the carriage houses, and this access gave them mobility.

Major Arteries

Major Arteries

Liberty Street and Oglethorpe Avenue are the only two major arteries.  These two streets have tree lined medians.

Madison Square

Madison Square, named for James Madison with a statue of Sergeant William Jasper

There were originally 24 squares, but the heyday of the 1960s and 1970s saw the loss of two of them.  Many of them include statuary of important Savannahians.  Caution however, the person named in the statue is never the person the square is named after, and yet there will be a statue of a person who also has a square named after them…confused yet?

Chippewa Square with a statue of Oglethorpe

Chippewa Square with a statue of Oglethorpe

This bench was built specifically for the Forest Gump movie and is in Chippewa Square

This bench was built specifically for the Forrest Gump movie and is in Chippewa Square

Monterey Square

Monterey Square with a statue of Count Casimir Pulaski

Troup Square

Troup Square

Lafayette Square

Lafayette Square

Originally the streets of Savannah were dirt, so the trees were planted in the street rather than the road.  Once the streets were paved the trees were given their own strips, these are called Tree Lawns.

Tree Lawn

Tree Lawn

Savannah homes are elevated and sit directly on their lot line.  This means that their entry stairways actually sit on public property.  Each home, to this day, must file for an encroachment agreement.  The stairs of Savannah are as varied as can be and just lovely.

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*DSC_3274This plan worked so well that it survived seven expansions of the city from 1790 to 1850.  It is still studied as an ideal, walkable, livable plan.

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I wanted to leave you with the four tenets that Oglethorpe founded Savannah on.

Religious liberty was guaranteed, except for Roman Catholicism. The Catholicism ban was not against Catholics as against their ability to build a church.  This was a military decision, as the Spanish were just a ways away in Florida, a highly catholic establishment.

Slavery was forbidden, but was allowed in South Carolina, so it was widely ignored.  On January 1, 1751, much to the disgust of Oglethorpe the parliament made slavery legal in Savannah.

Hard liquor and spirits were forbidden.  Beer and wine were fine, however, they weren’t perfect.

Lastly, no lawyers, on the theory that a gentleman should always be able to defend himself.

An additional one I find of extreme interest also was a statue requiring compliance with the Law for Maintaining Peace with the Indians.  Oglethorpe had an excellent relationship with the local Indians.

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May 082015
 

May 2015

Savannah, Georgia is like other towns in the United States that have a plethora of historic architecture.  They have more houses to tour than is humanly possible and more historical groups than can be counted on both hands and all toes.

Savannah suffered greatly in the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, and without the foresight and forcefulness of a few brave souls that fought to preserve architecture, it would look very different than it does today.

Savannah Cotton Exchange

Savannah Cotton Exchange

There are many great homes that have been saved, and urban planning that is second to none, but I wanted to talk about what I believe, is my favorite location.

The Savannah Cotton Exchange

Factors’ Walk

I say location, because the Savannah Cotton Exchange is a stunning Romanesque Revival building that anchors what is called Factors’ Walk.

The Cotton Exchange was first established in 1872 as a place for the cotton factors and merchants to meet and decide the price of cotton.

The Savannah Cotton Exchange Building was built a little over a decade later, in 1886, by Boston architect William G. Preston.

DSC_3112This red brick building with its terra cotta façade, iron window lintels and copper finials and copings was deliberately designed to stand out from the buildings around it to to show off the prominence of the cotton industry.

The wharf side of the Cotton Exchange Building

The wharf side of the Cotton Exchange Building

The cotton exchange was one of the first major buildings to be constructed entirely over a public street.

Looking out from the back of the Cotton Exchange Building

Looking out from the back of the Cotton Exchange Building

Savannah’s port was a center of cotton trading and export in the South, the product of slave labor before the Civil War and impoverished sharecroppers after the war. This cotton was shipped to markets all over the world.

Three months after Savannah‘s founding (February 12, 1733), the first ship to visit – the James – anchored.  By June 1735, the first boat was loading and taking things from the new colony back to England.  By 1755, there were nine square-rigged ships and 43 schooners and sloops sailing from the port, loaded with things like indigo, wine, silk and potash.

Between the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 and the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, cotton was the major product of the South, and Savannah was to benefit directly from that fact. The first shipment of cotton from Savannah took place in 1784 – eight bags sent to Liverpool, England, and, legend has it, seized by authorities who could not believe so much cotton could have been raised in the United States.

In 1793, after Eli Whitney perfected the cotton gin at Mulberry Grove, a plantation just west of Savannah, exports skyrocketed. Shipments from Savannah reached 90,000 bales per year in 1820, with revenues around $14million.

By 1855, exports through Savannah had risen to $20.1 million, 90% of it was cotton.

Balconies on the water side of Factors' Walk

Balconies on the water side of Factors’ Walk

William Makepeace Thackery wrote of Factors’ Walk, – where cotton factors or commission merchants inspected and bid on baled cotton stacked below.  Sampling, grading and storage took place in the brick buildings that architect Charles Clusky had built for the cotton factors and brokers and merchants at the rivers edge.  There was Stoddard’s Range, brand new then, accessible from the decorative cast iron walks and bridges on Bay Street and from the new riverside cobblestone walk.

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Cobblestones, brought from England as ballast, pave the area around Factors’ walk.

During the 1700s, factors and traders had conducted their business from the decks of ships and the wharves along the river. This area was 40 feet below the level of the town. The Exchange Building and the surrounding warehouses and offices built at the foot of the bluff, were built tall enough to access both levels. These buildings were connected to Bay Street by wooden bridges and cast-iron arches.

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The terracotta lion in front of the Exchange was installed in 1889. (A drunk-driver destroyed the original and a cement replica was installed in 2010.)

In 1915, the cotton-destroying boll weevil invaded Georgia and eventually destroyed half of the state’s cotton. By the 1920s King Cotton was dead.

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The Cotton Exchange finally closed business in 1952.  In 1974, the Freemasons purchased the remaining lease on the Cotton Exchange building. Their Lodge (Solomon’s), which now uses the building, claims to be the oldest continually operating lodge in the United States.

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Michael Cash's Rock Wall

Michael Cash’s Rock Wall

In the 1850s, erosion became a factor in this area. A retaining wall was built around Factors’ Walk. The retaining wall was built of ballast rock. Built between 1855 and 1869, it not only helped reduce the eroding, forty-foot high sandy bluff but also made use of the many tons of stone stacked along the river front. The builder of the wall was an Irish immigrant named Michael Cash.

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If you are heading down to Factors’ Walk I will warn you, it sits amongst many, many bad tourist shops and bars.  I am sure that there are some excellent places to dine, and some fine objects to be purchased, but one will have to sift through the t-shirts to find them.  A stroll along the river, however, will yield a myriad of delightful art pieces, and a jaw dropping reaction to the amount of shipping traffic occurring on the river.

The trip is worth it.

Shipping at Savannah Port

Shipping at Savannah Port

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May 082015
 

May 2015

Mrs. Wilkes Fried Chicken

Mrs. Wilkes Fried Chicken

Food in Savannah is Southern and then some.  As a California girl, I will admit that I am not the absolute fondest of fried food and the lack of fresh vegetables, but the South is growing up and I found lots to crow about.

I want to start, however, with one of the restaurants people come specifically to Savannah for,  Mrs. Wilkes.  The restaurant is open for lunch only from 11:00 to 2:00 Monday thru Friday.  The line starts forming at around 10:00 and those at the end are often disappointed in the lack of ability to get in after a long wait.

This long wait does one thing I had difficulty with, you feel rushed and tend to wolf down your meal.  That being said I will agree with my cab driver Gator Bob, this is the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.

The sides at Mrs. Wilkes

The sides at Mrs. Wilkes

The meal is family style, with ten people per table, and yes, in typical southern style, you make friends with these folks both standing in line and dining with them.

The sides, and sweet tea, are already set upon the table before you sit down.  There are so many, that before the chicken arrives your plate is full, along with your belly if you aren’t careful – be forewarned.

The meal is $20 cash and a tip in the basket at the front door as you leave, and you bus your own dishes.  I was left wondering what happens to all the left over food, the photo above was taken after we finished.

I was in Savannah for a conference, so by the time dinner rolled around, I was usually only in the mood for a light meal and a good southern cocktail.

Mother’s Day, with no reservations I ended up at Alligator Soul.

Aligator Soul

Aligator Soul

That was no problem, they serve the full menu at the bar, where, as the evening progressed, several tourists joined me for dinner.  I had their shrimp and grits and will say it was moist and sumptuous.  Having ordered the appetizer size, I walked away stuffed!  The bartender was adorable, and the service excellent.

The Public Bar and Kitchen

The Public Bar and Kitchen

Despite the fact that I was in town for a Victorian Conference, I fell in love with the mid-century modern Public Kitchen and Bar.  Their “contemporary Fresh American” fare was perfect.  A great place for snacks and a drink or a full dinner, and they mean it when they say fresh, great greens, and salads.

The Irish in Savannah

The Six-Pence Pub

I have discussed the Six Pence Pub already, but I want to repeat, it was a great place for bangers and mash, or a very, very comfortable spot to just sit and drink a beer and catch a game. It, like Mrs. Wilkes, is on the tourist route, but it deserves better praise than that moniker.

Leopold's Ice Cream

Leopold’s Ice Cream

I will admit, I had never heard of Leopold’s Ice Cream, and yet I was told over and over that it was rated some of the best in the country.  So, on a very hot, typical day I stopped in.  I had the lemon custard, as it promised they had not changed the recipe since 1919.  It was delicious and refreshing.  Leopold’s is an on-again off-again Savannah institution. It is an old fashioned soda fountain, with a little Hollywood history thrown in.

This is not a restaurant or food blog, so sorry, not many food choices or photos.  As a San Franciscan and world traveler, I am a real foodie, and it is not easy to impress me.  So I hope the notes above give you some help in weeding through the many great restaurants of Savannah when your time was as limited as mine.