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Reynolds Square

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At the top of Abercorn Street is Reynolds Square, originally laid out in 1734 as Lower New Square, but renamed in honor of the Royal Governor John Reynolds.

John Wesley

A stern statue of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, dominates the center of the square. The British preacher arrived in Savannah on an invitation from Oglethorpe, to be the new city’s religious leader. He soon found himself in trouble, involving himself romantically with a young woman, only to later refuse her communion after their affair came to an end. She brought suit against him, but he fled to Britain and never returned to Georgia. The statue strikes an imposing figure, with Wesley forcefully clenching a Bible that looks small in his over-sized hands. He looks like the jerk he probably was.

The northeast trust lot of Reynolds Square was originally home to the colonial filature, where silk from the experimental Trustees Garden was be spun. The garden’s planters spent a lot of time in around Reynolds Square, and the names of the surrounding buildings reflect that fact. The Planters Inn is a 200-year old hotel on the southwest side of the square and the tavern on the bottom floor of the Pink House is called Planters Tavern.

We walked about Reynolds Square somewhat wistfully. Three months ago, we’d started with a list of 22 squares to explore and document, and this was the last one. When we’d began this project, I was worried that it would be too repetitive; I mean, how different can twenty-two square-shaped plots of land be? But each of Savannah’s squares has its own personality, from the monumental to the placid, and its own history. It was a true pleasure to get to know each, individually.

Location on our Savannah Map

All 24 Savannah Squares

Reynolds Square Savannah
Reynolds Square
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January 27, 2011 at 2:57 pm Comments (2)

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
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Salzburger GA Church
Ebenezer Window
Wet Bricks
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Salzburger Ebenezer
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Ebenezer Open Air Church
Sugar Cane
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Salzburger Tools
German Water Well
Ebenezer Ghost Town
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January 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm Comments (6)

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
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January 10, 2011 at 12:21 pm Comments (2)

Monterey Square

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One of the most beautiful squares in Savannah is Monterey, named in honor of the Mexican-American War’s 1846 Battle of Monterey. With a memorial to Casmir Pulaski in its center, classic buildings surrounding it, and more than its share of local lore, Monterey is one of our favorites.

Monterey Square Savannah

The most famous house on Monterey Square is the Mercer-Williams House, where Jim Williams shot Danny Hansford dead, as detailed in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Clint Eastwood’s movie adaptation was filmed on location here, instantly making the Mercer-Williams house the most well-known in all of Savannah. Contrary to popular belief, Johnny Mercer never lived here, although it was his family that built the house.

Monterey Square Savannah

Across the square is the Congregation Mickve Israel, the only Gothic synagogue in America, with one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the USA. Oglethorpe’s colonial Georgia had welcomed Jewish immigrants with open arms, and some of the city’s original settlers were Spanish and Portuguese Jews fleeing Catholic persecution. One of them brought a handwritten copy of the Torah, known as a Sefer Torah, which is still used today for special occasions.

Just as the statue of Oglethorpe is in Chippewa and not Oglethorpe Square, the obelisk honoring revolutionary war hero Casimir Pulaski should probably be in Pulaski Square, but it’s a magnificent tribute regardless. Pulaski was Polish, and played a major part in the American Revolution, helping develop our nation’s nascent cavalry. He died in Savannah, and the city has pulled out all the stops to honor him: an obelisk, a square and even a fort out near Tybee Island.

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The Music of Johnny Mercer

Monterey Square Savannah
Monterey Square Savannah
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Monterey Square Savannah
Monterey Square Savannah
Savannah Squares
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Pulaski Monument
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Hell Gate
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January 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm Comments (6)

Oglethorpe Square

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Oglethorpe Square was laid out in 1742, the last of the six squares that were originally planned for Savannah. It was originally known as Upper New Square, but that bland name was soon tossed out in favor of a tribute to Georgia’s colonial founder, James Oglethorpe.

Ogletherpe Square

The statue of James Oglethorpe perhaps got lost on the way to its eternal home, and can be found in nearby Chippewa Square. The only monument to be found in Oglethorpe Square is a small pilaster honoring the Moravian immigrants who moved to Savannah during the colony’s founding. Otherwise, it’s just oaks, grass, benches and Spanish moss.

Oglethorpe is beautiful and restful, but not among the most impressive of Savannah’s squares. The main features are the Regency-style Owens Thomas House, on the eastern trust lot, and the President’s Quarters Inn to the southeast. On the western trust lot are a couple of handsome brick buildings.

Location of Oglethorpe Square on our Savannah Map

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Ogletherpe Square
Ogletherpe Square
Ogletherpe Square
Ogletherpe Square
Winter Shorts
Oglethorp Sq
Bushy Savannah
Broken Lamp
Iron Cast Balcony
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January 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm Comments (10)

Chippewa Square

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Alright, Savannah, what’s going on here? The obelisk in honor of Nathanial Greene isn’t in Greene Square, as might be assumed, but Johnson. The statue of James Oglethorpe isn’t Oglethorpe Square, but in the middle of Chippewa Square! And Chippewa Square is named after the Battle of Chippawa, but the name is misspelled ever-so-slightly. Are you trying to confuse us? Or are you just confused yourself?

Chippewa Square

Regardless, Chippewa is one of Savannah’s most impressive squares, thanks mainly to the statue of Oglethorpe. The colony’s founder strikes an imposing figure, with his sword drawn and facing South, toward his hated enemy Spanish Florida. The statue was erected in 1910, and is the work of Daniel Chester French, who was also responsible for the Lincoln Memorial in DC.

Chippewa Square

There’s a lot to see around Chippewa Square, including the Savannah Theater which opened in 1818 and has welcomed stars such as W.C. Fields, Oscar Wilde and Tyrone Powers. This is the oldest still-active theater in the USA. And on the square’s western side is the First Baptist Church, which is Savannah’s oldest standing place of worship, built in Greek Revival style in 1833.

But what am I doing describing Chippewa Square? You’ve already seen it. Everyone has. The opening sequence of Forrest Gump was filmed here, where Forrest sits on a bench and eats from his box o’ chocolates. Gump-fans who journey to Savannah are always surprised to learn that there is actually no bench here. It was just a prop for the film, and can now be found in the Savannah History Museum.

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Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square
Oglethorpe
Chippewa-Square
Oglethorpe-statue
Daniel C French
Lion Savannah
Forrest Gump Bench
Savannah is Listening
Iced Fountain
Ice Savannah
Savannah Tie Bow
Christmas Tree Savannah
Lawyer Savannah
Savannah Art Bench
Savannah Water Sprout
Savannah
Theater Savannah
Savannah Theater
Savannah Lantern
Fancy Fence
Savannah Xmas
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Typical Savannah
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December 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm Comments (9)

The Owens Thomas House – Our First Bad Experience in Savannah

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We had been excited to get into the old homes of Savannah, especially after our experience at the Scarborough House. So it was with high expectations that we visited the Owens-Thomas House on Oglethorpe Square. Unfortunately, our high expectations weren’t met, this time.

Owens Thomas House

Let’s start with the good. This house built by architect William Jay house is a masterpiece, with design elements I’ve never seen before, such as a bridge connecting the two halves of the upper floor. It was one of the first houses in America with running water, and every room has been designed with timeless elegance. Plus, the house has been remained in excellent shape. The price is initially shocking, at $20 per head, but when you consider that it includes entrance to the three sites of the Telfair Museum for a week, it becomes less outrageous.

Moving onto the bad. The first, and least understandable, problem was the unfriendliness of the ticket sellers, who treated us with an attitude that approached open contempt. It wasn’t just us; they were equally rude to the group behind us. “There are NO pictures inside!” Fine, okay. “I mean it, absolutely NO PICTURES! Not even with your phones!” I was shocked that we were being yelled at before we’d even done anything wrong.

Our tour began in the carriage house with a little history, and then we moved into the main residence, were we encountered Problem #2: our group was sandwiched between two other groups. The people ahead of us were moving too slowly, and those behind us was advancing too quickly. Our guide often became flustered, not knowing what to do with us, and we were repeatedly shoved through rooms before having a chance to properly admire them.

Problem #3: the guide, while pleasant enough, was obviously not an expert in the history of the Owens-Thomas House. As long as she stuck to the script, she was fine, but when (god forbid) we had a question, she was almost always at a loss. For example, this was an actual exchange:

“Please admire the fine engraving on the fireplace, which was based on a famous myth.”

“Interesting! What myth is that?”

“You know, that’s a good question. I have no idea, but it is a very famous myth”.

While we were waiting on the group ahead of us to move on, she would just stand there in uncomfortable silence, having exhausted the four factoids she had about, say, the kitchen. Even when we’d prompt her (“Who is that a portrait of?”), her awkward responses made us feel bad. Eventually we stopped putting her on the spot.

The worst moment came while we were viewing the balcony from which the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolutionary War, once gave a famous speech. She described how he spoke “of liberty and freedom, and these things that…” And now, she turned her attention to Jürgen, whom she knew to be German. “As an outsider, you have to understand that the concepts of Freedom and Liberty are very important to us Americans.” I almost died, although Jürgen was able to answer with a grin. “Liberty? But vas ist das, mein Fräulein?”

The Owens-Thomas House could offer a rich experience, but the staff needs to get its act together. The docents should study up, the ticket ladies should take an etiquette course, and customers who’ve just paid $20 should not be rushed through. From reading online reviews, I don’t think our experience was a fluke. It’s a missed opportunity for the city.

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November 26, 2010 at 9:58 am Comments (16)

No Liquor! No Slaves! No Lawyers! No Catholics!

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When he founded Savannah, the capital of his newly chartered colony of Georgia, James Oglethorpe had some utopian ideas. His planned city would be built around four squares and four simple prohibitions. No rum. No slavery. No lawyers. No Papists.

Slavery Savannah

Oglethorpe’s vision for an idyllic society didn’t last long. Like any American kid up until the age of 21 could tell you, banning liquor just makes you want it more. That was a doomed policy from the get-go, especially in the hard days of the city’s inception.

The ban on slavery was noble, but sadly ahead of its time. Slavery was legal in South Carolina, and nearby Charleston was flourishing. Jealous of their neighbor’s wealth, it didn’t take long for unscrupulous Savannahians to revolt against their leader’s decree. Soon enough, affable society folk were lounging on the front porches of their plantation houses, sipping Chatham Artillery Punch while getting rich off the labor of others.

The ban on Catholics is more curious, considering Savannah’s tolerance toward other religions. But Georgia was originally founded as a buffer zone between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida. It wasn’t the Catholic belief in transubstantiation that earned Oglethorpe’s distrust, but because they might be Spanish spies. This was another law which would be relaxed soon after the colony’s founding.

And the decree against lawyers? Please, that one never had a chance. An aspiring lawyer probably just sued, until the city realized they’d need a lawyer to defend their anti-lawyer law.

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November 23, 2010 at 9:30 am Comments (3)

Oglethorpe & Tomochichi: Savannah’s Bestest Buddies

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James Oglethorpe is the founder of Georgia. A Briton born in Berlin, he made his name as a soldier and eventually became a member of Parliament, where he successfully lobbied for the creation of a 13th colony, foreseen as a buffer to protect the lucrative Carolina colonies from Spanish Florida.


Tomochichi and his nephew Toonahowie

Oglethorpe arrived in 1732 and got right to work establishing his new colony. First item of business: land. The smallish Yamacraw Tribe occupied the territory of present-day Savannah, but rather than the good ole slaughter-n-seize, Oglethorpe chose to negotiate for the territory’s purchase. He was an inherently fair person, and had soon built a close personal friendship with the natives’ leader, Chief Tomochichi.

Luckily for the paleskins, Tomochichi was unusually open to newcomers, eager to help out the fledgling colony and have his people educated in the British style. He aided negotiations with the mistrustful Creek tribe, and accompanied Oglethorpe on a trip to England, where he was a big hit as an ambassador for his people. A legend even states that Tomochichi is the originator of Savannah’s “to-go” cup tradition, as he always traveled with Indian firewater in a hand-carved wooden container. Okay fine, there’s no legend like that… but it would be cool if there were.

History regards both Oglethorpe, a philanthropist who tried to keep slavery out of Georgia, and Tomochichi in a positive light. Without this early Odd Couple, the fledgling town would have had a much harder go of it.

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November 10, 2010 at 3:34 pm Comments (2)
Reynolds Square At the top of Abercorn Street is Reynolds Square, originally laid out in 1734 as Lower New Square, but renamed in honor of the Royal Governor John Reynolds.
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