See What All The Festivals Are About
On a bluff overlooking the Savannah River, the new settlement soon prospered as a crossroads of trade with England and the new communities of the interior. Port traffic, begun in 1744, experienced a steady increase along with the plantation economy of tobacco and cotton.
Residents eagerly embraced the revolt against England, and Savannah was garrisoned by some 900 Colonial troops under Gen. Robert Howe. British forces captured the city by surprise in December 1778 and made it a base for their operations against the Colonies until their departure in 1782.
Nineteenth-century Savannah grew and flourished with King Cotton, becoming a vital port. In 1862 Union forces closed the port to all but blockade runners when they captured Fort Pulaski. Two years later Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman blazed a trail of destruction across Georgia to the city. Confederate forces fought stubbornly, but with the fall of Fort McAllister, Gen. William J. Hardee realized further resistance was futile and withdrew his troops to prevent the city's destruction. Sherman entered Savannah on Christmas Day 1864 and offered it to President Abraham Lincoln as a present.
The collapse of the cotton market at the beginning of the 20th century left Savannah languishing until just before World War II, when other industries began to develop. Almost lost to the wrecking ball, however, was what Sherman had spared some 100 years earlier: its squares, its houses and its heritage.
In a drive to reshape the city's skyline, developers began to tear down historic structures. The proposed demolition of the Davenport House, now a museum, sparked the founding of the Historic Savannah Foundation.
Today 22 of Oglethorpe's original 24 squares survive, lined with handsome town houses, bedecked with fountains and statues and beautified by live oaks and azaleas. The success of the Historic Savannah Foundation's early efforts spawned other civic renewal projects.
The cleanup of the river and the restoration of the warehouses and cotton brokerage offices along Bay Street, Factors Walk and River Street revived the city's historic waterfront. Instead of the commerce associated with cotton trade buying and selling, these renovated 19th-century buildings now house specialty shops, restaurants and nightspots.
Top landmarks include Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Free & Accepted Masons, in the 1886 Cotton and Naval Stores Exchange at 100 E. Bay St. The Masonic lodge, organized in 1734, is the country's oldest in continuous operation; the old exchange is reputedly the first building to straddle a public street according to the legal principle of air rights.
Another historic building is Christ Church, on Johnson Square at Bull and East St. Julian streets. The congregation—the first in the Georgia colony—organized in 1733, and in 1736 established what is believed to have been the first Protestant Sunday school for children in the New World. The present structure was built in 1838; the interior was renovated following a fire in 1895. If you're looking for things to do, the church is open to the public by appointment; phone (912) 236-2500.
First African Baptist Church , at 23 Montgomery St., was established in 1775. The church is housed in a brick sanctuary built in 1859 by congregation members. It is reputedly North America's oldest African American church and has a museum containing archives and memorabilia dating from the 18th century. Guided tours are available; phone (912) 233-6597.
Since 1839, the Georgia Historical Society Research Center library and archives has preserved state history. The collection includes more than 4 million manuscripts, 100,000 photographs, 30,000 architectural drawings, 15,000 rare books, and thousands of maps, portraits, and artifacts. Across from Forsyth Park at 501 Whitaker St., it is housed in an 1876 structure designed by American Institute of Architects founder Detlef Lienau. The library is open Wed.-Fri. noon-5, first and third Sat. 10-5; phone (912) 651-2125. Note: The center is temporarily closed for an expansion and renovations; phone ahead for updates.
As you might imagine, Savannah has a packed events calendar, especially perfect for group travel. In mid-February the Savannah Irish Festival is celebrated with traditional folk dances, music and food. The city dons green for its festive St. Patrick's Day Festival on River Street. The 4-day Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens , during which numerous private houses are open to the public, begins the fourth Thursday in March; for more information phone (912) 234-8054.
The holidays are celebrated in festive style in November and December. Individual events include the Savannah Harbor Foundation Annual Boat Parade of Lights, Christmas on the River and the Holiday Tour of Homes ; for more information contact the visitor information center.