The Old Savannah Tours trolley bus stops and a Forrest Gump look-alike steps on to greet us with, "How you folks doing? Where you from?" Someone shouts, "New York State." He drawls, "I ran through there once. Took me two hours," then departs to charm another busload of tourists. The movie,
was filmed here in
Savannah, and our driver points out the bench where Forrest sat in Chippewa Square and the Independent Presbyterian Church from which the feather floats down in the movie's opening scene.
Savannah immediately captivates me with its 22 alluring, tree-filled squares and preserved historic buildings that feature intricate ironwork. Scrolled designs appear in the squares around monuments and fountains and on the buildings that face them. The Historic District is easily navigated on foot and includes plenty of restaurants, shops, accommodations and the City Market. The city is encapsulated by a protective canopy of trees and shrubs - solid
Live Oaks, magnificent
Spanish Moss and colourful
Azaleas known as "the royalty of the garden." Splendid, opulent buildings exude the charm of the genteel south.
When British General
James Oglethorpe first landed on the historic bluff above the Savannah River in 1733, a number of native American tribes lived in coastal Georgia. With the help of the native American leader,
Tomochichi, Oglethorpe created a city in the heart of the Georgia wilderness. He devised Savannah's innovative, world-renowned city plan, based on an ingenious system of squares. In this grid-like model of urban planning, homes, churches and businesses surround each square, creating a network of interconnected neighbourhoods. Savannah eventually grew to rival
Charleston as a commercial port and world cotton prices were set on the steps of the
Savannah Cotton Exchange, in existence today by the waterfront.
To better enjoy Savannah, view
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil featuring
Kevin Spacey and
John Cusack, directed by
Clint Eastwood. Most non-Southern actors murder Southern accents, but Spacey hits it just right all the way through.
The Mercer House at 429 Bull St., Monterey Square, was the setting for the movie. It was designed by New York architect,
John S. Norris, for
General Hugh W. Mercer, great grandfather of
Johnny Mercer whose songs are played throughout the film. Construction of the house began in 1860, was interrupted by the
Civil War and was later completed, circa 1868, by the new owner,
Savannah boasts many historical firsts:
First Jewish Congregation in the South (1733), First City Planned on a System of Squares in North America,
First English Hymnal (1736),
First Lighthouse on South Atlantic Coast (1742),
First Black Baptist Congregation (1788),
First Cotton Gin (1793),
First Golf Course in America (1794),
First Steamship to Cross an Ocean (1819),
First Motorized Fire Department in America (1911),
First Girl Scout Troup in America (1912).
Forty percent of Savannah's inventoried 2,500 buildings have architectural or historical significance. Savannah architecture includes stunning examples of Federal, Georgian, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate, Regency, Romanesque Revival and Second French Empire buildings and the ironwork has been restored to its original beauty.
The city also boasts many famous natives - political, religious and social leaders.
Button Gwinnett signed the
Declaration of Independence.
Juliette Gordon Law, Girl Scout founder, organized the first meeting in her home at Lafayette Square.
John Wesley, founder of
Methodism, established the first Sunday school here.
Pulitzer Prize winner,
Conrad Aiken, a lifelong friend of poet,
T. S. Eliot, is buried in
Flannery O'Connor, one of America's greatest fiction writers, was born here in 1925 and her house is now a museum. John Mercer is regarded as one of America's most successful songwriters of the 20th century, composing more than 1,000 songs and receiving 19 Academy Award nominations for music such as Moon River and That Old Black Magic. Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas hails from Savannah as does Food Network sensation,
Paula Deen who owns The Lady & Son's Restaurant.
A good way to view the riverfront is by riverboat - which travels along the Savannah River and under the impressive
Talmadge Memorial Bridge which allows automobiles to venture north to South Carolina. You will probably witness huge ships unloading on the extensive docks just past the bridge
History fans will enjoy a visit to
Old Fort Jackson.
famous for its beautiful beaches is just a short 20 minute drive away.
Otis Johnson, Savannah's mayor, says that there are few things he enjoys more than a leisurely stroll through downtown Savannah. "I've lived here my whole life, yet I still gasp at the picture-postcard scenes that lurk around every corner."
Conde Nast Traveler ranks Savannah among its list of the Top 10 U.S. Cities to Visit. I heartily agree! Savannah will quickly make you feel right at home.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If you go
Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.SavannahVisit.com
Riverboat - www.savannahriverboat.com
Toll Free Reservations: 800-780-7234 , 412 W Bay Street.
Flights: (Delta) Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport:
Savannah web resources:
Savannah by foot tours: www.savannahtours.com
Savannah movie tours: www.savannahmovietours.com
Walking tours with Savannah Dan: www.SavannahDan.com
Davenport House Museum: www.davenportsavga.com
Architectural tours of Savannah: www.architecturalsavannah.com
Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau: www.SavannahVisit.com
For those of you who enjoy photography, I recommend the Old Savannah
Tours trolley which affords great views and provides a quick overview
of the city. www.OldSavannahTours.com
We flew into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
http://www.savannahairport.com/ where we rented a car with hand controls from Hertz -
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