Legend has it that General Sherman, best remembered for setting fire to the Confederacy as he marched to the sea, found Savannah so beautiful that he left it untouched. As it turns out, the legend isn’t true—but I’m glad Savannah was spared. It’s one of the loveliest small cities we’ve visited.
In early April, we spent a few days at Skidaway Island State Park, just 20 minutes from Savannah. The park is in the heart of Savannah’s Lowcountry—called the Moon River District in honor of native son Johnny Mercer’s famous jazz standard. It was a great location for exploring the city and the surrounding area.
Exploring Historic Savannah
I don’t know why we didn’t immediately hop on one of the trolleys for a tour of the city. It makes life so much easier when visiting a new place to get our bearings by having someone point out the sights. We can then return later to explore at our own pace.
Instead, we wandered around with a map, trying to figure out where we were, making a wrong turn, missing a street sign…and not finding anything remotely charming. I had just about decided that I didn’t like Savannah at all.
And then we turned a corner and found ourselves in a mosaic of town squares, each one shaded by centuries-old oaks and magnolias and surrounded by historic homes, churches, restaurants, museums, and shops. And I immediately decided I loved Savannah.
General James Oglethorpe did a good job when he laid out the city in 1733. Today, architects regard Savannah’s historic district as a role model for creating livable cities. The general was certainly a forward-thinking individual. He also established Fort Frederica, a village built on the ideals of freedom and human rights, which we visited at our previous stop on St. Simon’s Island.
The 22 downtown squares of Savannah have been declared a National Historic District and contain many fine examples of Georgian, Gothic, and Greek Revival style homes. One of the most famous is the Mercer-Williams home, the central location of the outrageous and highly entertaining book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, Bonaventure Cemetery is hauntingly beautiful; an outdoor museum of exquisite statuary, centuries-old tombstones, and curtains of silvery Spanish moss.
We happened upon an excellent guided tour of the cemetery—it’s free, and offered only on select weekends by the Bonaventure Historical Society. (If you can’t make the tour, you can download a mobile app from their website to help sort through who’s who in the graveyard.)
Beloved, extraordinarily prolific and poetic songwriter Johnny Mercer is buried here. Born in Savannah in 1909, many of his lyrics reflect his deep connection to the South. A bench at his family cemetery plot is inscribed with some of his best-known songs, including “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Skylark,” and of course, the iconic “Moon River.”
I was disappointed to discover the graceful Bird Girl statue featured on the book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been moved to a Savannah art museum for protection. People were chipping pieces off of the statue for souvenirs. More than a few of the beautiful marble angels in the cemetery were missing fingers. I cannot fathom taking souvenirs from graveyards. That is just creepy.
Gullah-Geechee Culture at Pin Point
One of our favorite stops near Savannah was the tiny settlement of Pin Point in the Moon River District. Although perhaps best known as the birthplace of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that is most definitely not the reason we visited.
We made the trip to Pin Point to learn more about the Gullah-Geechee culture, which we first encountered visiting a rice plantation on our previous stop in Georgia. Slaves who lived in isolated communities along the coast developed a unique Creole language (called Gullah) and managed to hold onto many of the traditions of their African heritage.
The community of Pin Point was founded after the Civil War by freed slaves. Crabbing and oystering in the rich tidal lands sustained the community for generations, and the people today are committed to preserving and sharing their unique culture.
The Pin Point Heritage Museum, housed in the former oyster and crab factory, offers a window into the lives of the Gullah-Geechee people. The exhibits and tours are excellent—our guide shared some of the Gullah dialect with us, including the delightful expression “day clean,” which means “dawn.” I like the image that conjures, that every day is a new opportunity.
Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge
Our fellow bird-loving friends Henry and Loretta told us that we shouldn’t miss Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and they were right. It was a 50-mile drive from where we were staying, which is further than we generally like to drive for a day trip, but it was worth it.
This is a prime nesting ground for the prehistoric, awkward looking Wood Stork. The babies are really cute, in that “only a mother could love it” kind of way. We spent the day happily biking and hiking the 15 miles of trails in the refuge.
About the campground
We discovered Skidaway Island State Park when our friends LuAnn and Terry stayed there several years ago. It’s a beautiful park, with spacious, shaded sites; partial or full-hookups; nice bathhouses; laundry facilities; and good Verizon. We enjoyed exploring the miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the park and the convenient location for visiting Savannah and the Moon River Lowcountry district.
We also met up with fellow travelers Pat and Shelly who were staying at the state park and attending the Savannah Music Festival (on our list for next year). We shared a delicious meal at their campsite, great conversation, and fun travel stories. We’re currently plotting how we can meet up next winter.
There is so much more to Savannah than we had time for. We have a big long list for our next visit, which we already have on the calendar for next spring.