Savannah, Georgia: Historic, Haunted Low Country

We couldn’t leave Georgia without visiting Savannah, America’s most haunted city, which is known for its historic buildings, charming garden squares, and the influence of the renowned Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  As an aside, I discovered that Savannah was spared during the civil war and gifted to President Lincoln, which explains why the area’s history has been so well preserved over the years.  

Forsyth Park and the Riverfront

We started our explorations of the city by heading to Forsyth Park, in the Historic District South, which is Savannah’s oldest and largest public park.  Walking around, we enjoyed seeing the azaleas blooming, trees beginning to blossom, and listening to a trumpeter busking near the park’s majestic water fountain.  From there we walked toward the riverfront.  Many of the streets and sidewalks are still comprised of old cobblestones, so be sure to watch your step, because it’s a bit unsteady in places.  

The river front has two levels, and a lot of historic stairwells that you can take at your own risk to get down to the river.  A lot of the buildings have plank-like walkways that cross over top to access the second floor.  We stopped off for lunch at one of these buildings and later walked along the riverfront.  I learned about Savannah’s future plans to deepen the harbor and expand the Savannah Harbor operations, which can bring more revenue, jobs and economic influence to the area.  At the same time, the city is addressing environmental impacts, including restoration of access for endangered fish to their spawning grounds.

Historic Architectural Tour

Based on this Savannah blog entry, we decided to go on an architectural tour with SCAD graduate Jonathan Stalcup.  With a knowledgeable host and an intimate group, we had a wonderful time learning about the history of Savannah through architecture in just 90 minutes.

Colonel James Oglethorpe designed and established Savannah in 1733 to defend Charleston, South Carolina from the Spanish settlements to the south on behalf of the English Parliament.  Wards were developed with central squares, and eventually 24 squares were established in Savannah.  These squares started as garden and farm lots, and today are beautifully landscaped parks with fountains and/or monuments in the center.  

Recognized buildings ranging from 1760 to 1960 are among Savannah’s historic buildings lauded today.  This city has one of the widest ranges of architectural styles to witness in person of any city in the United States, and you can see its awe and beauty, as well as the technological progression here in this fair city.  Imagine living in 400 square feet with 6-10 people like they did back in a carriage house from the 1760’s, and the gradual expansion to an entire city block, or 10,000 square feet, all for the pleasure of a single family. 😲

The styles of architecture can also vary significantly from the most basic or essential forms of architecture to extremely decorative and “over the top” to demonstrate both wealth and modern ideals.  All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed capturing a moment in history with first-hand examples on the historic Savannah city blocks.

Cockspur Island

Most of the eastern states that border the Atlantic Ocean have barrier islands along their coastline, as do some states that border the Gulf of Mexico.  We have already visited a few, including the Padre, Mustang, and Galveston islands in Texas, Cumberland and Jekyll islands in southeastern Georgia, and now Cockspur and Tybee islands near Savannah.

We started by heading to Cockspur Island, which contains both the Fort Pulaski National Monument and the Cockspur Island Lighthouse.  First off, we walked toward the lighthouse, which is the smallest lighthouse in Georgia. It was built on a bed of mussel and oyster shells as a marker to indicate the entrance to Savannah River’s South Channel, and ceased operations in 1906.  Along the way there were signs of wild hog damage, and busy bumble bees were out in force.  Most of the walk is shaded, and there are a few bridges that take you to a platform where you can view the lighthouse, but the only way to get there is by boat.  

Cockspur Island Lighthouse, photo by Matt Walker

Afterward, we circled back to Fort Pulaski, which is surrounded by a moat, and still shows evidence of the Union Army’s successful 1862 attack during the American Civil War, despite its brick walls being several feet thick.  The construction was impressive, especially considering they even made their own bricks.  It was also an exercise in patience, since it took over 18 years to complete.  We circled around to the bridges that take you into the center of the fort to explore inside.

We walked inside the old quarters, including the commanding officer’s bedroom, which was staged with a creepy plastic cat on the bed. 🐈‍⬛ Next, we walked into the cavernous Northwest Magazine, which apparently used to house 40,000 lbs of black powder.  The risk of this being breached and causing a massive explosion was the reason the fort was eventually surrendered.  We also got to walk on top of the fort and see the cannon carriages and guns, which each combined weigh nearly 13,000 lbs!  The fort was more interesting that I would have originally thought, and I’m glad we took the time to see it.

The Botanical Gardens

We always enjoy checking out botanical gardens, so started by heading to the Savannah Botanical Gardens.  It is free to enter, and it is really small, so it took only about 20 minutes to walk around.  Included is a children’s garden, vegetable garden, but most of the other gardens were not yet in bloom.  There were also a few trails built by scout troops, but they just take you through the woods, and an overgrown amphitheater.  

If you are looking for a larger botanical garden, you can check out the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, which are supported by the University of Georgia.  It’s $5 to enter per adult, but the grounds are more extensive, so you can easily spend about an hour here.  Not a lot was in bloom when we were there, but I bet in a month or so it is really spectacular.  From a viewing tower in a bamboo maze, we could admire the design of the Rivers of Iris, even though it was not yet in bloom.  

Camelias were in bloom next to the iris garden, which were very beautiful.  Afterward, we went into the one greenhouse open to the public, which contains an impressive array of orchids.  They were really beautiful, and the different of shapes, colors and sizes gives you a sampling of the extensive varietals within the orchid family.  We also had the special treating of petting a few kitties out in front of the greenhouse. 😻 I think the best time of year to visit here would be in April or May when irises and roses would be in bloom.  Nevertheless, it was a relaxing experience.  

Hiking Moon River at Downing Piers

Looking for one more day out along the coast, we found a hike just east of Skidaway Island State Park that had free parking at the trailhead.  It’s called Moon River at Downing Piers on AllTrails, and is approximately 8 miles round trip with little to no elevation gain.  We happened to luck out, because we originally planned to do this hike the day before, but signage showed they had a bike race that day, so we wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway.  

Trail conditions were good, with most of the trail well marked and clear with hard packed soil, it was mostly shaded but had lots of tree roots, so watch your step.  If you the read the reviews, a lot of people walk just the eastern portion and then head back the way they came, because they say the trail markings aren’t clear.  I think they must have done some improvements to the trail for the bike race, because the markings looked brand new and we didn’t have trouble finding our way, except for about 1/4 mile, and we did walk the entire loop.  

The weather was perfect…warm with a nice breeze, and we stopped to have lunch at the only bench we saw on the trail, which just to happened to be right around the time we were hungry.  There was also an angel figurine attached to a tree nearby, so we suspect this must have been a special place for someone.  Most of the excitement for us came at the beginning and end of the hike looking at the pond on the west side of the trail. We saw egrets and other shorebirds, turtles and a half dozen little alligators, about 2 feet long hiding in the green algae on the pond’s surface. 😯 We also saw a large, dark gray snake later on, but it was moving so fast I couldn’t tell you what kind it was.

There are a few other trail access points from Modena Island Dr that are directly across from each other.  The eastern access was used by a half dozen fishermen we saw along the coastal marshes.  The western access brings you to another marsh with a wooden dock, which looks like it might be used by birders.  It also looks like it used to extend farther into the marsh and was only partially rebuilt.  Overall, I agree with other trail reviews that the eastern portion of the loop was nicer and is definitely more frequently used.  One last note: watch out for bikers.  Most call out, but the trail gets tight in some spots, so be prepared to step aside.

Red Gate Campground

Red Gate Campground is also a farm with horses, goats, chickens and peacocks.  The owners host events at their clubhouse, provide horse riding lessons, have a small playground and some trails around three ponds on the property.  Our site #22 was a “buddy site,” so we were very close to site #21 and far away from site #23.  The major issue we had with this location was that it is bordered by the Chatham Parkway on one side and train tracks on another, and the land must have been built on infill, because we felt the ground shaking frequently.  So many times we awoke to trains coming by, tooting their horn and making the trailer shake.  If not that, there was always someone speeding loudly down the parkway testing the limits of their vehicle and making an excessive amount of noise. 🙄

There aren’t a lot of options near Savannah, and most everyone I talked to didn’t enjoy the parks where they stayed.  Red Gate is beautiful and is conveniently located, being only 20 minutes from downtown.  If you are a sound sleeper, then I would recommend this place.  If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to find a different place.  Perhaps some of the state parks nearby might be a better choice?  

We loved our time in Savannah.  If you haven’t been, go in the springtime or early summer.  You will love it. 😍 Just know that the heat and humidity does get oppressive in July through September.  Next up is a review of all the fabulous places we went out to eat while visiting Savannah.  Enjoy! 

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