The Gull Reef Club

7/3/2005

Down Where the River Meets the Sea

Filed under: — Jaime @ 3:56 pm

savannahpostcard
Postcard courtesty of USGenWeb, Chatham County

Happy holidays, beachcombers! Lots of festivities abound so I’m shorting you guys on a super-groovy postcard, while still providing the illusion I spent a great deal of time on it.

Four years ago this weekend, Mike and I kissed living in Illinois goodbye and we settled here in the Coastal Empire. Since that time, I have declared myself the best unofficial tour guide in Savannah, so please allow me to show you around my adopted hometown. Get your ‘to -go’ cup ready, we have a lot of walking to do.

Much of what I will share with you is an amalgamation of things Mike or I have written at other times about Savannah, so no kvetching about a lack of originality if you’ve seen this before. I really shouldn’t be in front of this computer anyway on a gorgeous day like today.

Savannah, Georgia is on the southeast coast of the United States. The heart of Savannah, the Historic District , is 18 miles west of the Atlantic ocean. We are situated on a 40 foot bluff on the southside of the Savannah River. The best of all galleries is ours, of course, Mike and Jaime’s Photo Gallery.

Savannah was chartered as the first city of the colony of Georgia in 1732. James Oglethorpe established it with the approval of the British crown as a colony for debtors to go to escape prison (much like Australia). It also served as an outpost to protect the larger city to the north, Charleston, from Spanish Florida. We have a number of historic forts in the area including Fort Pulaski, Fort McAllister and Old Fort Jackson. Virtual tours of each are provided by Quantum Tour. These historic forts have battle reenactments and cannon and firearms demonstrations during most of the year.

Savannah is the first “planned” city in the US; Oglethorpe was the designer. We have 24 squares that are placed in a symmetrical grid throughout the city, which is likely the reason I love it so. Chicago is on a grid, too. Cities on grids are just so logical.

Savannah’s squares are a mix of lush tropical gardens and ancient live oak trees covered with Spanish moss (the spooky stuff of haunted movies). Check out this map of downtown Savannah to get an idea of the planning. Also, please check out this link for another photo tour of Savannah.

The city has the largest historic district in the United States. Many of the houses and buildings look very much like they did when they were originally built. Much of the preservation can be accredited to the Historic Savannah Foundation and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

After World War II, a number of landmarks were destroyed in the name of “progress.” A group of local ladies joined together, as the Historic Savannah Foundation, in 1955 to work to protect the buildings. They had the foresight to use Savannah’s historical charm as part of tourism promotions. Their efforts worked and little by little, parts of the city have been declared protected by the National Historic Registry and tourism has become our strongest industry.

SCAD came along in the late 1970′s. The school has been responsible for the restoration of a great number of the buildings downtown. Some of the old guard (a/k/a “NOGS” – North of Gaston Street – the really old district) bristled at the idea of an art college, or more specifically, art students and all their eccentricities moving into the “Belle of the South.” Most have come to accept and even respect the hard work (and the LOADS of money) the college has put into this city.

Many new renovation projects are in the works. You can walk around anywhere downtown and will be guaranteed to see a zoning meeting notice regarding the restoration of a building. The city has VERY STRICT zoning requirements because of the historical preservation. Meetings must be had regarding nearly every change. When a live oak tree must be cut down or even trimmed, a notice is hanged on or near the tree regarding a meeting to be held to determine the tree’s future…I kid you not. Savannah also seems to be home of perputual building projects – such as the Bryan Street Bank Building and the Jepson Center for the Arts. I am honestly beginning to wonder if the construction on these two are ever going to end. The scaffolding has been up ever since I have moved here, and are frankly, making this gorgeous city look hideous. I consider both to be embarrassments.

One secret of Savannah that you will never learn on tourism websites or brochures is our penchant for eccentric people. I think this may be characteristic of many warm cities (like Key West and New Orleans), but we seem to have a large number of very harmless but very weird people. We have “Particle Man,” a large balding white man with very long dreadlocks, who walks around moving his fingers about as if he were conducting an orchestra. Word has it, he is “counting his particles.” I have not asked him about it. Lately, Mike and I have seen him with a trollish looking woman. I’m not being mean, she really does look like one of those troll dolls. Everybody loves somebody sometimes.

Another of Savannah’s eccentrics is the “Happy Tooter,” or as I later learned the cops call him “Johnny Two Notes.” This guy plays his saxophone in Johnson Square or on River Street for hours. Problem is, he doesn’t know how to play many songs. His repertoire consists of the National Anthem, Georgia on my Mind, Yankee Doodle, and When the Saints go Marching In. He plays all of those terribly.

Savannah also has a large number of homeless people that live in Chippewa Square. They all look like ex-hippies who don’t know what to do now that Jerry Garcia is gone. They are a very nice bunch and are always sure to greet you in the morning. The only weirdo that may trouble you is “Forty-One Cents Guy” (whom I’ve not seen in quite awhile). This guy goes around asking tourists if they have forty-one cents. He always uses this specific amount because he has found people cough up the money more often than when asked, “got some change?” As soon as he gets the money, he goes to Wet Willie’s on River Street and gets a “to-go” cup. I could fill another page talking about all the people who carry signs and placards around town, too. The most notable of these sign-carrying characters is “stop the lies” guy. I have searched for information on him but I can’t find any. Eh, another day, then, beachcombers.

Savannah has served as the backdrop to a number of movies. Mike put together a list of movies filmed in Savannah: Savannah Movie List – which is really odd considering we rarely watch movies.

Two great spots to visit if you want to venture outside the historic district are the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and Tybee Island. If you head out to the wildlife refuge, be warned that there are no barriers between you and the wildlife. The refuge is home to thousands of aligators. While this makes for some incredible photography, it also requires you to be very alert. Tybee Island is our local beach. Unlike so many American oceanfronts, Tybee retains a charming, residential atmosphere, rather than the obnoxiously commercialized feel you get in places like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head.

Sometimes, I am still in awe that I live 15 miles from the ocean. There are times I can stand on my front porch and feel the wind roll in from the east and smell the salt air and marshes, and hear that wind rustle my palm. Seafood is cheaper than beef and you can buy it fresh off trucks. This is home now. Please come visit, I love to show this place off.

The Gull Reef Club