Theme song- "Georgia on my mind", by Ray Charles
Charleston and Savannah compete for the title of the belle of the antebellum south. Savannah, was founded in 1733 on the banks of the Savannah River as a British attempt to block Spanish expanison from Florida. Old Savannah is laid out in a very orderly grid pattern running parallel to a very straight section of the river. Uniquely, the uniformity of Savannah's city blocks are broken up by 24 tree lined squares. The squares, which seem more influenced by Spanish town planning than British provide shade and give the city a charming, dignified aire that is quite different from the commerical, port city feel of old Charleson. The house styles are also quite different. Houses in Charleston are long and thin, often no more than one room wide, with a long veranda running along the length of the side of the house. Typical Savannah houses have a broader frontage, often with overhanging verandas - almost an archetype of the Southern mansion style.
Cotton was king in Savannah's heyday. Hundreds of ships would be tied up at Savannah's wharfs loading cotton for markets in Europe and the Northern states. This all ended of course with the Civil War in 1860. Being several miles upstream, old Savannah was protected against Union attack. The city funded the construction of their own ironclad, the CSS Georgia, which was moored alongside Fort Jackson a few miles upstream of the city and caused the Union navy so much concern that they never attempted to force the river. Unfortunately Savannah was completely defenceless from the landward side and when the army of Union general William Tucumsa Sherman swept in from the west they had no choice but to surrender. The garrison in Fort Jackson fled and the Georgia was scuttled in the river. She has recently been rediscovered and investigations are underway to see whether she can be salvaged.
Surrender saved the old city from destruction and post-war poverty preserved the old city and it was. In the 1980s however the elegant harbourside of blackstone warehouses was defaced by by the construction of a Hyatt hotel of astonishing ugliness. Who on earth designs these buildings? More importantly, who approves them? That said, the commerical harbour across and up the river are pretty awful. Savannah is the fourth busiest container port in the US. We took a brief but very informative cruise up the river.
We enjoyed the sweet southern hospitality - and enormous food servings - at the two oldest establishments in town. The Pirate's House serves traditional southern food in a ramshackle wooden building first constructed in 1753. It's the oldest standing structure in Savannah. Despite its name it was not a pirate's house but a garderner's residence for governor's botanical garden.
We also enjoyed a very fine meal in the Old Pink House, an old mansion in the centre of town. The Olde Pink House is the second oldest building in the city, built in 1771, it has been a residence, bank and now a restaurant. The meal and service were excellent and we were given our own tour of the building.
Savannah has a reputation as a bit of a party town, especially at St Patricks day. Unfortunately it was pretty quiet on Sunday and Monday so we opted to do a haunted pubs tour. As I mentioned before, 'ghost' tours can be pretty lame, but the tour also covered the 'unsavoury' aspects that go with boozing in a port town and we got to visit a couple of different bars. All in all the ghost stories were pretty ordinary but it was interesting to hear about the bodies that periodically show up under the floorboards and within the walls whenever these old buildings are renovated.
But all was not lost, at the end of the tour we joined three other couples - one celebrating their honeymoon, one celebrating their engagement and the other celebrating a birthday - and decided to kick on. It turned out to be a great evening of bar hopping, karaoke and lots of 'celebrating.' We all stumbled home when the bars shut at 3am. A great night and great crew!
Thanks to Jay Braunel for the photos.