It was a short 10-day visit to the Savannah area, but there sure was lots to see here. What a beautiful town, rich with history, architecture, and a wonderful preservation attitude keeping these treasures for all to see and experience. I thoroughly enjoyed playing tourist to this absolutely amazing area. The only downside to this trip was that I have to leave a day early – on Sat instead of Sun. But, the reason is beyond reproach – I had to not be traveling on Sun afternoon so that I could watch the NE Patriots playoff game! 🙂
Downtown Historic Savannah
Savannah has a long and colorful history. It was established in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe who named the 13th and final American colony after England’s King George II, and where Savannah became the first city of this new land. I found the physical organization of the town into squares (or wards) to be very interesting. This organization includes a center open/public space, flanked east/west by spaces for large public buildings (e.g. churches, schools, markets), then residential blocks north and south. The residential units faced inwards towards the center square, as it was the common/shared “front yard” of all the residents. There were 24 such squares built by 1851, with 22 of them remaining today (three were lost in the early 20th century due to “progress” – one of them reclaimed several decades later).
I toured Savannah a couple times – once on a Segway with, as it turned out, a private tour guide as I was the only customer for that session (which was totally awesome). I toured again the next day on my bike, so I could revisit interesting places and take pictures more easily then when balancing on the Segway. There were so many beautiful parks and incredible mansions all surrounded by giant Live Oaks or Cypress trees, filled with Spanish Moss. Quick fact: Spanish Moss is actually not a moss, nor is of Spanish origin. It originates from Latin America, and is actually in the pineapple family (go figure). Often referred to as “tree hair”, the early French colonists thought it looked like the long beards common on the Spanish conquistadors, so they began to refer to it as ‘Barbe Espagnol’, meaning Spanish beard. That name gradually came to be called Spanish moss. So now you know the rest of the story (sorry Paul Harvey)!
Savannah is also self proclaimed to be Hollywood of the South East. Many movies have either featured or were filmed in Savannah- including a few Oscar nominated ones. These include “Forest Gump”, “Three Faces of Eve”, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, and “Glory” to name a few. The red brick mansion pictured at top left is the Mercer Williams house – the subject of and featured home in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. I also took a picture of where the famous Forest Gump park bench scene was featured (top is my picture, bottom is from the movie). The bench is no longer in the park, and actually there is an ongoing debate between the city of Savannah and the movie producer as to who actually has the original. Jury is still out on that one. Lastly, the Savannah Theater is notable as it opened as a movie theater in 1818, and continues as one of the oldest continually-operating theaters in the country. Sadly, I would not be in the area long enough to catch the new show opening on Jan 24th – bet it would have been a hoot!
Last on my Savanna tour was this most awe-inspiring buildings in all of historic downtown – the Cathedral of Saint John The Baptist. An excellent example of French Gothic architecture, this Roman Catholic Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking and amazing. It’s reported to be one of Savannah’s top tourist attraction, and it’s not difficult to understand why. It was built in 1873, and dedicated in 1876. The two spires were added later, in 1896. The extensive stained glass is incredible, as is the overall design and architecture. There is an enormous pipe organ in the choir loft above the rear section of the church, whose amazing echoing sounds I can only imagine. What a magnificent structure!
Exploring Tybee Island
Tybee Island is a quaint little beach town, with beautiful cottages, grass covered dunes, and a terrific ocean beachfront. Also present here is the Tybee Island Light – one of the few remaining colonial era towers and one of the nations most intact lighthouse stations to have all its historical support buildings (keeper housing, auxiliary building, etc.). It served mariners by providing safe access to the Savannah River, and its beacon remains functional today, using the original century old optic lenses.
Several remnants of the 1800’s era coastal defense system also remain on Tybee Island. Known overall as Fort Screven, construction began in 1855 and included six concrete gun batteries. This system served crucial defense roles from the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Today, one building is the town’s museum, while others form the base of a well integrated residential environment.
The other historical site I had planned to visit while on Tybee Island was Fort Pulaski. A Monument that is part of the National Park Service, I was anxious to learn more of its history – particularly during the Civil War. Sadly, I got caught up in the partial government shutdown, and found this facility had been closed. So, no stamp in my National Parks visitor book, and no first hand exploration and pictures of the fort. Guess I’ll have to put this back on the bucket list for a future visit.
8th Air Force Museum
Known officially as the “National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force”, this museum aims to preserve the stories of the men and women of the Eighth Air Force from World War II to the present. The 8th AF was first activated on Jan 28th, 1942, in a National Guard Armory building in downtown Savannah. With its mission to gain air superiority and destroy Germany’s war production capabilities, the group headquarters were soon moved to England where they joined with the RAF to create air fields, supply and repair depots, and living quarters to what would later become the largest and most powerful air force in existence. This was quite an impressive museum. It is filled with pictures and artifacts from World War II, sports a beautiful garden with a reflecting pool and numerous walls and monuments commemorating 8th AF heroes, and has on display an active in-progress restoration of a B-17 Flying Fortress. It also pays homage to the contributions made by the Tuskegee Airman, as well as woman in all sorts of roles including pilots, navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, and the like. This is a very comprehensive museum and truly represents the endless contributions made by those fearless folks of the 8th AF.
Using a series of three tour guided discussions, films, and true-to-life mocked up surroundings, one of the museum’s interactive feature walks you through a simulated WW II bombing run. From mission briefing, to aircraft prep, to the actual bomb run – this simulation was as complete and real as you can imagine. This was really cool, and particularly special as my dad was in the Army Air Corp during World War II, and I believe (I need to research this) was involved someway with bombers. So I sort of got a first person glimpse of what that was like back in the 1940’s. Very Scary!
Well, it was a quick trip through Savannah, but most certainly worth the stop. A beautiful city with plenty of history and charm making it a most worthwhile travel destination. Next, I’m off to Florida where I’ll hunker down and occupy the next several months hopefully keeping warm, and spending time with family and friends. Till then, safe travels!