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The Gullah-Geechee Legacy of Pin Point

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Found along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia are communities known as the Gullah-Geechee, who are descended from freedmen and former slaves. Historically isolated due to the ultra-rural environment and their own choice, these are people who developed their own culture and language. We went to the Pin Point Heritage Center to learn more about them, their work and their lives.

Pin Point Heritage Center

The origins of Pin Point date back to the earliest days of our country, when black men and women who had secured their freedom were looking to get away from the society which had enslaved them. And so they went as far as possible into the marshlands, and built a community in the coastal backwaters. Gullah-Geechee culture developed on a sort of side-branch of American culture, with strong African influences and a creole language. For most of history, Pin Point was a dead-end road which outsiders had little reason to visit. And the residents liked it that way.

Almost all of the other former Gullah communities along the coast have disappeared… this is prime coastal real estate, after all, and has become valuable land. So far, Pin Point has resisted, but the danger of dying out is real, as its well-educated sons and daughters move away from the low country into larger society.

Historically, the people of Pin Point worked in the oyster and crab business, and the largest employer by far was the Pin Point Oyster company. The Gullah people knew the coastal waterways better than anyone, so the men were hired as fishermen, the women as oyster shuckers. Today, the small factory has closed its doors, but continues serving the community as the Pin Point Heritage Center, which opened in 2011.

Pin Point Heritage Center

After being greeted at the doors of the Heritage Center, we sat down to watch an excellent 35-minute documentary about the people of the community. We then moved on into the factory’s main building, where men would shovel oysters from their boats into chutes, delivering them to the women inside, who would shuck, clean and ice them. As we followed the oyster’s journey from boat to can, we learned more about the individuals who once worked here.

In other rooms, we learned more about the Gullah language, as well as their games and traditions. All of Pin Point’s residents grew up with nicknames which were far more important than their birth names. This is a practice thought to come directly from Africa, where people would keep their true identities secret, as protection from dark magic. If a witch doctor didn’t know your real name, he couldn’t hurt you.

The nickname of Pin Point’s most famous resident is “Boy.” But if someday you have the honor of meeting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, you probably shouldn’t call him that. Clarence Thomas grew up in Pin Point, and his ascension through the ranks of law to one of the highest offices in the land epitomizes the work ethic and ambition of this small neighborhood. In the documentary, we learned that even though the community struggled financially, every penny went into the education of their children. And it’s paid off in spades. Their parents might have been fishermen and oyster-shuckers, but the children of Pin Point are lawyers, engineers and educators.

Gullah is thought to derive from “Angola,” the country from which many slaves were taken, while Geechee probably refers to Savannah’s Ogeechee River. And this combined term is a great reflection of the people themselves: with its roots in Africa, but definitely American. The truth is, it’s hard to imagine a group of people who embody American values more than the hard-working, faith-driven, and community-based Gullah-Geechee.

Location on our Map
Pin Point Heritage Center – Website

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Pin Point Heritage Center
Pin Point Heritage Center
Pin Point Heritage Center
Pin Point Heritage Center
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Pin Point Heritage Center
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March 25, 2016 at 10:06 am Comments (0)

The Massie Heritage Center

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Located on Calhoun Square, the Massie School opened its doors in 1856, and was the first public school in Georgia. Today, it’s been converted into the Massie Heritage Center, featuring an overview of Savannah’s unique urban planning, and exhibits dedicated to the most important aspects of the city’s culture, from architecture to the Native American influence.

Massie Heritage Center

The Massie Heritage Center provides a great introduction to Savannah. In the first room, you’ll find a large-scale model of the historic district, complete with a laser show that highlights important events in the city’s history. Just as interesting is a walk through the various architectural styles which can be found in Savannah. From Colonial to Contemporary, seventeen styles are detailed, with their periods of prominence and photographic examples from around in the city.

The Heritage Center is spread across two floors in three buildings. The central building was the former schoolhouse, while the buildings to the left and right were the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. Exhibits in these side buildings include an introduction to the work of the Historic Preservation Society, which rescued many of Savannah’s most lovely buildings from the wrecking ball of progress, and a tribute to the Creek and Yamacraw people who lived in the region long before the arrival of the Europeans.

Massie Heritage Center

Perhaps our favorite section was the old classroom, found on the top floor of the schoolhouse. With old-time desks and chalk slates to write on, this room doesn’t seem to have changed much over the course of the years, and it’s not hard to imagine a group of fidgety kids learning their arithmetic here. In the teacher’s office, at the front of the room, visitors are allowed to ring the school bell, which once called the children in for class.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Massie Heritage Center, but wish we had seen it when we first arrived in the city. It provides an easily-digestible introduction to Savannah, and should be one among your first stops.

Location on our Map
Massie Heritage Center – Website

Savannah History Books

Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
Massie Heritage Center
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March 16, 2016 at 9:02 am Comments (0)

Ebenezer – Home of the Salzburg Lutherans

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A weathered memorial stone in Savannah’s Emmet Park pays tribute to a group of Lutherans from Salzburg, Austria, who immigrated to Georgia in the 18th century to escape the persecution of their Catholic homeland. Under General Oglethrope, Georgia had become known for its religious tolerance, and welcomed the the Lutherans with open arms. Along the banks of a river to the north of Savannah, they settled a town which they would name Ebenezer.

Salzburger Ghost Town

We knew nothing about Ebenezer other than the text on the memorial, but took a detour there, since we happened to be driving by. Ebenezer is difficult to find, barely on the map, and we were skeptical about finding anything of interest. As we turned onto Ebenezer Road, a “Dead End” sign greeted us, which wasn’t encouraging.

But after parking at a church and stepping out of the car, we realized there’s life here, after all, and were swept into the arms of Ebenezer’s unofficial welcoming committee. An older man greeted us enthusiastically and introduced us to his town, which has become a sort of historical heritage site. There’s a museum dedicated to the Salzburg Lutherans, the Jerusalem Salzburg Church built in 1769, and an original log cabin filled with colonial artifacts of German and Austrian design.

Ebenezer Swan Salzburger

Ebenezer doesn’t exist anymore, as an actual, incorporated town. But in its early days, the Lutheran community had been immensely successful. The town even served briefly as the capital of Georgia, and was the home of a state governor. But the Revolutionary War devastated Ebenezer, and it never recovered. In 1855, it was abandoned for good and the few remaining residents brought into the nearby city of Rincon.

The history of the place is fascinating, and we loved stepping inside the original log cabin and the church, both of which are remarkably well-preserved. We spent an hour talking to our guide, his son, and another man who’s lived in the area his whole life.

Our visit to Ebenezer was a lot more successful than we had feared. During the trip back to Savannah, I reflected on how diverse my country truly is, despite its relative youth. I mean, we had just visited an abandoned town in the middle of the Georgian backwoods, founded by persecuted Austrians. It’s these kind of weird cultural conglomerations which really make the USA special.

Georgia Salzburger Society – Website
Location on our Map

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Salzburger GA Church
Ebenezer Window
Wet Bricks
Ebenezer Bench
Salzburger Ebenezer
Johann-Martin-Boltzius
Ebenezer Open Air Church
Sugar Cane
Sugar Cane Press
Salzburger Tools
German Water Well
Ebenezer Ghost Town
Salzburger-House-1755
German Nachttop
German Waffle Iron
German Sewing Machine
Ebenezer Curtain
German Machine
German Tools
German High Tech
German Ant Trap
Ebenezer Fragrance
Ebenezer Couple Picture
Kate-Keebler-Neidlinger
Salzburger Coins
Old Ebenezer Clock
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January 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm Comments (6)

Old Fort Jackson

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In 1808, with relations between Britain and our fledgling country quickly deteriorating, President Thomas Jefferson ordered the construction of Old Fort Jackson to protect the important port city of Savannah. Named for revolutionary hero James “Left Eye” Jackson, it was ready in time for the War of 1812, but never needed.

Fort Savannah

Decades later, with the outbreak of the Civil War, the fort was quickly seized by Confederate troops. It was a powerful deterrent against the Union army who had seized Fort Pulaski out near Tybee Island, and protected Savannah from direct attack. During the war’s final days, Sherman reached Savannah and easily seized the fort. But before abandoning Fort Jackson, the Confederates destroyed everything useful inside.

So Fort Jackson hasn’t seen much battle in its 200-year history, meaning that despite its age, it’s remarkably well-preserved. Just a few minutes from the city center, it’s a cool place to spend an hour and relive history. It was purchased by the Coastal Heritage Society in 1920 and completely restored in the 70s. Today, tourists can visit a museum in the fort’s rooms and witness a daily cannon firing.

Old Fort Jackson is less interesting than Fort Pulaski, if only because it never participated in any battles. But it’s much closer to the city, so makes a great option if you’re short on time and are itching to get into an old fort.

Location on our Savannah Map
Old Fort Jackson – Official Site

The Forts That Defended America

Visit Savannah
Old Fort Jackson
Savannah Fort
Fort Jackson Canon
Canon Stuffer
Savannah Rifle
Savannah Office Space
Savannah Tunnel
Fort Jackson Savannah

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January 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm Comments (4)

First African Baptist Church

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Found on Franklin Square, the First African Baptist Church is the oldest black church in North America. Founded by slaves in 1775, it has a history nearly as old as Savannah itself.

First African Baptist Church

From the outside, the church isn’t terribly impressive, but that changes once you step indoors. The interior is beautiful, with curved pews pointing towards the pulpit and a pair of upper balconies for busy days. The church was built by the charity and volunteer efforts of slaves who, as you might imagine, didn’t have much extra money or free time. But over the course of four years, they got the job done, coming straight from their regular labor to work through the night on the construction of this church.

Our tour was fascinating, and our guide seemed to have a never-ending series of anecdotes, which demonstrated that the First African Baptist Church was much more than it seemed.

For example, the church was built with a secret floor underneath its real floor, and operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Never discovered by authorities, the crawlspace hid hundreds of runaway slaves and a tunnel led them from the church to the Savannah River. To mask their true purpose, the floor’s breathing holes were bored in the shape of the Kongo Cosmogram: an African spiritual symbol often used by American slaves.

Kongo Cosmogram

Another secret in the church is found in its ceiling, which looks rather plain at first glance, like waffle squares. But theses squares represent the Nine-Patch Quilts, which served as beacons for indicating safe houses to slaves on the run, and so the ceiling is a clever tribute to the church’s hidden humanitarian purpose.

Also, on the ends of each pew, all of which are original and date back hundreds of years, the wavy lines of cursive Hebrew have been scratched into the wood. Our guide wasn’t able to translate any of the words, but he did tell us that a few Ethiopian tourists had visited recently and instantly recognized it. Apparently, it’s still used by Jewish communities in Africa.

Kongo Cosmograms, Underground Railroad Patchwork, Cursive Hebrew… now this is the kind of unexpected history which totally interests me! If you’re the same, make sure to visit the First African Baptist Church, either for the tour or for the Sunday service.

First African Baptist Church – Website
Location on our Map

Books on: Black Church Beginnings

First Baptist Church
Church Stage
Church Bench
Baptist Bible
Willis L Jones
Priests Savannah
Baptist Glass Work
First Savannah
Gas Lamp Savannah
Cursive Hebrew
Last Meal Savannah
Savannah Safe
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January 14, 2011 at 1:31 pm Comments (7)

The Savannah History Museum

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Found in the old railway shed of the Central of Georgia, the Savannah History Museum is a good place to stop for an overview of the city’s development through the ages.

Civil War Savannah

The Central of Georgia railway house dates from the 1850s is the nation’s only remaining iron-roof structure, and has today been named a National Heritage Landmark. Today, it houses the museum, a tourist information center, the Georgia State Railroad Museum, and a café set inside an old passenger car.

Visits to the museum begin with a twenty-minute video on history of Savannah, from Oglethorpe and the settlers up into the present-day. Well, almost the present-day. The video is at least twenty years old, and its idea of modernity is amusingly stuck in the late 80s, with a power-suited businesswoman meant to represent “progress”. The exhibits are hit and miss. For every item of interest, such as one of the country’s few remaining Crestmobiles, there’s something disappointing, like the Forrest Gump bench. Hey now, I liked Forrest Gump as much as everyone else, but this isn’t even the actual Forrest Gump bench; just a replica of what it kind of looked like. You know, a bench.

The museum doesn’t take long to get through, but it’s cheap, and there are a lot of hands-on activities. It seems designed to especially appeal to families with children, but for an engaging overview of the city’s history, it might be better to visit the Massie Center.

Savannah History Museum

303 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Location on our Savannah Map
912 651 6825

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Forrest Gump Bench
Mercer Grammy Oscar
Savannah Dentist
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January 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm Comments (2)

Greene Square

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Named after revolutionary hero Nathaniel Greene, whose monument and burial site is at Johnson Square, Greene Square was laid out in the 1790s and developed into the center of Savannah’s black population. With a number of beautiful homes encircling it, it’s one of the city’s more enchanting squares.

Bachelor House Savannah

The Second African Baptist Church on the northeast side of Greene Square was built in 1802. Though destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in 1925, it retains much of its original interior, such as its benches, chairs and pulpit. This is where General Sherman famously promised to provide each freed slave “40 acres and a mule” after the Civil War.

Pay attention for signs around Greene Square, which reveal the original street names. President Street was originally King Street, and Congress Street was once called Prince Street. (After the American Revolution, we didn’t have any desire to continue honoring the monarchy.) Other signs provide information about Greene Square’s homes. The house on 521 East York Street was built from the famous Savannah gray bricks of the Hermitage Plantation, and at 124 Houston, there’s an early 19th-century wood and stucco house built by Isaiah Davenport; one of the prominent architect’s few remaining structures in Savannah.

Greene Square itself has no monuments or fountains, but is rich in contrast. And its charming houses make it one of the must-see squares in Savannah.

Location on our Savannah Map

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Savannah Jungle
Greene Square
Ginger Bread Savannah
How Many Squares in Savannah
Savannah Fern
Prince Street Savannah
President Street Savannah 1733
Savannah Chimney
Savannah Front Doors
Savannah Flames
Iron Works Savannah
Haunted Tree
The White House
1797 Hand Shake
Blue House Savannah
Gingerbread Houses Savannah
Second African Baptist Church
Baptist Church
Savannah Palms

Cheap Flights To Savannah

History of Savannah Squares
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January 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm Comments (3)

The Andrew Low House on Lafayette Square

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Andrew Low was a Scot who moved to Savannah when he was sixteen. He entered the cotton business and, by the time he was in his thirties, had become the leader of uncle’s company and the richest man in the city. Accordingly, he built a house which would reflect his newly-acquired status on Savannah’s newest square, Lafayette.

Andrew Low House Savannah

For his new residence, Mr. Low hired John Norris, an architect who had done a number of important buildings in Savannah, including the Customs House on Bay Street. Norris designed Low’s house in the Italianate style, with a three-storied structure of stucco and brick. In 1849, the Lows moved in, and began throwing lavish dinner parties to which they invited famous guests such as William Thackery and Robert E. Lee.

The house would eventually be passed down to Juliette Gordon Low, who had married Andrew’s son William. Ms. Low is most well-known for being the founder the Girl Scouts, and the carriage house in the back yard was the site of their first meetings. Today, it’s become a sort of Mecca for the organization. Almost every time we’ve passed by, there’s a group of green-skirted girls waiting to get in.

We joined house tour, and had a great time. Every room has been wonderfully preserved, and is decked out with period furniture and ornamentation. The house is currently owned by the Colonial Dames of America, and the ladies who led our tour were as sweet as could be. Our guide answered all the questions we could muster, and were full of anecdotes about the house, the family, and the era in which they lived.

Location on our Savannah Map

Juliette Low, Girl Scout Founder

Savannah Sun Dial
Low House Savannah
Andrew Low Door
Inside Andrew Low House
Savannah Mirror
Christmas Savannah House Tour
Low House Piano
Interior Design Savannah
Ivory Art
Andrew Low Dining
Savannah Fruits
Savannah Lamp
Dragon Lamp
String Bird
Death Bed Gordon
Savannah Twin Boys
Play Room Savannah
Antique Toys Savannah
Savannah Bed
Cozy Curtains
Running Water Savannah
Sad Lion
Low House Church
Iron House Savannah
Savannah Berries
Low House Fence
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USA Blossom
Visitors Andrew Low House
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January 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm Comments (4)

Arrrr, Matey! Dinner at the Pirate’s House

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The Pirate’s House, on the northeastern corner of Savannah, is thought to be Georgia’s oldest building, and is certainly one of its most famous. Captain Flint, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is said to have died here after drinking too much rum.

Pirate House Savannah

Now, this is a touristy place, so you shouldn’t go expecting fine cuisine. But much like Paula Deen’s restaurant, the Pirate House a Savannah institution and we felt compelled to check it out. Our food was decent, if a little overpriced. But that’s to be expected; at the Pirate House, you’re paying as much for the experience as the dinner. We started with fried pickle slices, and I had a kind of seafood lasagna bake. “Arrr, delicious! Fry me pickles and bake me fish!”

I kept up the pirate voice, having a big time, until Jürgen begged me to knock it off. “Arrrr, I be annoying to me matey!”

Legends abound in the Pirate’s House, including one that concerns the underground tunnels leading from the basement of the house into the sea. These tunnels were used to shanghai drunken sailors: villains would wait until they had passed out, then steal them away onto ships bound for unknown destinations. The “Pirate’s House” was a rough, dangerous place, and normal 18th-century Savannahians knew to stay well away from it.

After our meal, our waitress led us on a tour of the house. She explained its history, and showed us into the haunted Herb House, the oldest structure in Savannah. It’s also the the restaurant’s fanciest dining room, available for parties.

We had a good time at the Pirate’s House. It’s fun to simply be inside a building with so much history. And should you wear an eye-patch, and insist on talking in pirate-voice to your dinner companions, you’ll enjoy yourself even more. But they might not.

The Pirate’s House – Website
Location on our Savannah Map

A List Of Hotels In Savannah

Pirate Lamp
Oldest House in Savannah
Pirate Ghost House
Pirate House
Pirate Ship
Scary Pirates
Pirate Stove House
Pirate Shrimps
Fried Pickles
Fried Shrimps
Fried Something
Pirate Chicken
Pecan Chicken
Pirate House Tunnel
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December 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm Comments (4)

Fort Pulaski – The South’s Not So Invincible Stronghold

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The road to Tybee Island takes you right by Cockspur Island, home to Fort Pulaski. Originally built after the War of 1812, the fort is now a national monument.

Pulaski Entrance

Fort Pulaski has been well-maintained by the National Park Service, and a visit introduces you to both its architecture and history. When Georgia seceded from the Union in 1860, confederate troops moved into the impenetrable stronghold, in order to protect the city from attack along the river. Savannah had one of the South’s most important ports, and control of Fort Pulaski guaranteed the flow of goods which were vital to the war effort.

Fort Pulaski was thought to be unassailable. There nearest solid land is over a mile away, on Tybee Island, and so the Union was unable to place cannons near enough to damage the fort. But the South didn’t know that the Yanks had a new, secret weapon: the rifled cannon. And it proved effective. After 30 hours of devastating bombardment, the white flag went up over Pulaski. Union troops secured the fort and effectively shut down Savannah as a Confederate resource. It was a huge loss for the South.

There are guided tours of the fort every day, which do a great job of bringing the fort’s fascinating history to life. And we can also recommend a walk around Cockspur Island, for the chance to spot wildlife. We saw a deer during our visit.

Fort Pulaski National Monument – Website
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Fort Pulaski
Pulaski Walls
Pulaski Draw Bridge
Pulaski Chains
Magic Waters
Pulaski Canon
Pulaski
Old Wheels
Spiffy Clean Canon
Pulaski Stairs
Pulaski Tabby
Pulaski TNT
Canon and a rope
Hooked Pulaski
Pulaski Defense
Savannah
Pulaski Chair
Sad Little Boat
Pulaski Soldier
Last Soldier Pulaski
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December 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm Comments (3)

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The Gullah-Geechee Legacy of Pin Point Found along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia are communities known as the Gullah-Geechee, who are descended from freedmen and former slaves. Historically isolated due to the ultra-rural environment and their own choice, these are people who developed their own culture and language. We went to the Pin Point Heritage Center to learn more about them, their work and their lives.
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