We needed to get a way for a while and decided to do it by getting out of New England and visiting a place we had never been before. My husband had always wanted to see Savannah and I had heard good things about the city so we flew down on Thursday for a long weekend that ended on Monday night.
We enjoyed our time exploring the city and taking advantage of its many attractions although the weather did not really cooperate. My vision of strolling the quiet streets, visiting art galleries and popping into stores was blown up by overbearing heat. The residents told us it was August weather in June: upper nineties to mid 100s every day with a heat index well into the triple digits. Strolling was limited to early morning and evenings after dinner but we didn’t do much of it even then. Here’s our Savannah Trip Report, detailing what we liked and what we found disappointing.
What We Liked
- Old Savannah Tours: We started our trip with an Old Savannah Trolley Tour of the city just to familiarize ourselves with the street layout and the approximate location of places to visit on foot later. It worked.
- The Savannah River: Our hotel, the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, gave us a front-row seat for watching the traffic up and down the water every day. Savannah is the third largest container port in the country so we could look out our window to see a variety of marine traffic. There were enormous container ships, fully loaded and almost top heavy, gliding serenely along, their grace and pace belying their enormous weight and size. Now and then a huge construction crane would move past pulled by a barge. Sail and motor yachts made an appearance along with smaller motor boats and the sightseeing “riverboats” that offered tours of the river.
- Telfair Museum of Art: This small museum was a treat. Given the heat, it was a pleasure to walk through the Telfair Museum‘s cool galleries in two of its three buildings. We started with the new contemporary Jepson Center designed by Moshe Safdie that housed an exhibition of works by Winston Churchill. Then we walked next door to the original Telfair Academy building, a Georgian residence designed by the English architect William Jay and former home to George Welshman Owens, a planter, congressman, lawyer, and mayor of Savannah. This building holds the museum’s more classical works, from impressive large historical paintings to pieces from New York City’s Ashcan School.
- Old Savannah Ghost Tour: Savannah boasts a record number of ghost tours—far more than any other city we’ve visited—for reasons that were explained during the evening. Basically, the city is built on top of the dead, from victims of British troops during the Siege of Savannah in the Revolutionary War to thousands who died from yellow fever to slave cemeteries. The bodies were buried and the city just expanded right over the graves, some of which were quite shallow. Our guide explained that heavy rains can bring up the bodies and residents might encounter the remains while gardening in the back yard. No wonder so many houses are reportedly haunted.
We chose the Savannah Ghost Tour that started in the Sorrel-Weed mansion and carriage house, site of either two suicides or one suicide and a murder. It’s a National Trust Historic House designed in the Greek Revival style by Irish architect Charles B. Clusky in 1841. We went through a dark basement to the upstairs, watched clips from Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures that were filmed in the house, and then prowled around the house and the carriage house with EMF detectors. It was all suitably creepy — if not exactly chilling — but I didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary, much less paranormal.
That was followed by a walking tour of the neighborhood that included several homes, a battlefield, the colonial prison, Colonial Park Cemetery, and the house that served as the model for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, now a hotel. It was a pleasant walk with a beautiful sickle moon hanging in the indigo sky—but still very hot. We were tired at the end and glad to get back to our cool hotel room.
Old Savannah Cotton Exchange: While returning from breakfast one morning we walked along Factor’s Row and past the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange building. Reading the marker I saw that it was designed by William G. Preston in 1886 after he won an 11-man competition. Mr. Preston designed several buildings in Boston, including the original Hotel Vendome building, which I talk about on Boston By Foot’s Back Bay tour. Encountering him in Savannah was like meeting an old friend.
Not So Much
Several of the things we did were not so engrossing and I don’t recommend spending time or money on them:
- Bonaventure Cemetery: This was once the home of the “Bird Girl” statue featured on the cover of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and I was expecting a tour of lush green acres on the Savannah River with ornately carved headstones and famous residents. Uniformly described by the locals as “beautiful,” Bonaventure was, to me, sandy and relatively unkempt. Maintenance of plots and statues is up to the owners, who have left most of them dirty and blackened by efflorescence.
Only two famous people are buried here—author Conrad Aiken and composer Johnny Mercer—and there are few sculptural headstones.
The statue of the “Bird Girl” by Sylvia Shaw Judson — formerly nicknamed Little Wendy, has been relocated to the Telfair Museum to protect it from damage by souvenir seekers. Ms. Judson is not even buried at Bonaventure. Accustomed as we are to lushly planted and meticulously maintained garden cemeteries like Mount Auburn in Cambridge and Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, we were unimpressed by Bonaventure.
- River Street: This waterfront road faces the walkway along the Savannah River and is lined with historic buildings. Most are currently occupied by restaurants, bars, and gift shops that sell tee shirts extolling the virtues of (A) Beer, (B) Stupidity, (C) Rude Behavior, and (D) Combinations of A, B, And C. There are two pavilions filled with local crafts but nothing appealed.
- City Market: It’s a block long and uninspired. There’s nothing else to say.
Sometimes the best part of the day was returning to our hotel, cool and shady, which felt like plunging into a cold pool. The staff at the Bohemian was unfailingly pleasant, patient, and friendly. If you’re going to Savannah, this is a good place to stay. On the whole, we enjoyed our Savannah weekend getaway but are ready for a new location on our next trip.