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Orleans Square

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Orleans Square, on Barnard Street, might as well be called Parking Lot Square. It’s one of the spaces which has been most negatively impacted by the development boom of the mid-20th century.

Orleans Fountain

The square itself could be quite charming, with a large central fountain dedicated to the German immigrants to Savannah that was installed on the 250th anniversary of the founding of Georgia. But once you take your eyes off the ground and look around, the charm vanishes. The biggest blight is the Civic Center, whose backside and rear parking area mar the western end of Orleans Square. Five of the eight lots which surround Orleans are dedicated to parking. Another is occupied by SCAD’s gym.

Luckily, the houses which do survive on Orleans are beautiful, particularly the Harper-Fowlkes House on 230 Barnard. Built in 1842 in the Greek Revival style, this house is occasionally open for tours and also serves as the Georgia headquarters for the Society of the Cincinnati. This house can be toured. Another noteworthy home on Orleans is the Stephen-Williams House, constructed in 1834 in the Federal style. It’s currently an inn with individually-designed rooms.

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January 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm Comments (5)

The Inescapable Influence of The Book

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Before we moved to Savannah, me, Jürgen and four-year-old Xiao Liang of Taiwan were the only three people on Earth who hadn’t read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. And now, noble Xiao stands alone. Jürgen and I have buckled down and read “The Book.”

Midnight Garden of Good and Evil

And it was great! We had already become relatively familiar with the city, and the characters and locations leaped right off the page. Berendt has an amazing talent for description, and a knack for mixing his way into interesting situations and meeting bizarre, charismatic people. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil still holds the record for the length of time spent on the New York Times bestseller list, and there’s a reason for it.

But, man, after living in Savannah, did we get tired of hearing about “The Book.” I wonder if another city has ever capitalized so much on a single work of art. I doubt that even Bethlehem milks the Bible as outrageously as Savannah does Midnight. Copies of it can be found everywhere in the city, on every bookshelf, and on sale in every shop… even clothes stores! There are tours of The Book’s locations, an entire store shop dedicated to it, and fans can even tour the Mercer House on Monterey Square, where Clint Eastwood’s adaptation was filmed.

While I loved Midnight, I’m glad I didn’t read until after we’d lived in Savannah for awhile, otherwise I might have been tempted to follow in Berendt’s footsteps exactly. But sometimes we can’t help ourselves. He documented this city in such a unique and engaging way, it’s hard to resist repeating his experiences. For example, how could we not visit Club One to watch the fabulous Lady Chablis do her thing? And after reading Berendt’s description of it, of course we were going to eat at Clary’s! I suppose that, as far as guidebooks go, you could do a lot worse than Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

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January 23, 2011 at 6:46 pm Comments (6)

Happy 2011 in Savannah

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As 2011 rolled in, we had some things to celebrate… mainly, the fact that we still had another month in Savannah! We’d been having a great time, and were in no hurry to leave. Our New Year’s celebrations had been just like Savannah itself: weird, hilarious, a little disturbing, and unforgettable. And as we stumbled home after a wild party, the city showed us a new trick: a dense fog had settled in on the streets. Oh Savannah, stop being so gorgeous!

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January 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm Comments (3)

Troup Square

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Built in 1851, Troup is one of Savannah’s smaller squares. It was named after George Troup, a former governor known his strident support of slavery and anti-Indian policies. It might be because of these unappealing views, that the square’s central monument is not a statue of Troup, but a strange, archaic globe.

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Troup Square may lay claim to Savannah’s most curious monument, with its Armillary Sphere. This was a model used to track celestial orbits, invented by the Greeks and made obsolete by the invention of the telescope. The sphere an odd choice for the middle of a square in Savannah, which wasn’t founded until well after the instrument was out of use. (You know where else you can find an Armillary Sphere? Portugal’s flag. Don’t ask me why.)

Troup Square

Another strange feature of Troup Square is its doggy drinking fountain, moved here from its original location in Forsyth Park. It doesn’t even bother with spouts for humans, and is the reason some residents refer to this area as “Dog Bone Square”.

Troup Square isn’t done confusing you, yet. Another oddity is that this is the birthplace of Jingle Bells. You know that song that goes, “Dashing through pleasantly mild winters, in a picturesque Victorian district, round the squares we go, drinking from plastic cups all the way.” The Unitarian Universalist Church, on the square’s west side, is where James Pierpoint, the brother of the church’s reverend, wrote the famous song. Why he was inspired to write a song about sleighing and wintry fun, as he gazed out onto Troup Square is anyone’s guess.

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January 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm Comments (7)

Whitefield Square

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On Habersham and Wayne, Whitefield was one of the final squares to be laid out in Savannah, in 1851. With a distinctive gazebo in its center and gingerbread houses surrounding it, this small square feels like a throw-back to Victorian times.

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The square was named after George Whitefield, a British priest who came to the colonies and was largely responsible for a religious movement that has become known as the First Great Awakening. The “Awakening” left a permanent imprint on American religion, by eschewing quiet contemplation and somber services in favor of loud, bombastic preaching, and by putting a heavy emphasis on personal guilt and the need for redemption. When you see present-day televangelists screaming and crying and carrying on about the devil inside all of us… well, you can thank Mr. Whitefield for that.

Whitefield also put great worth in the importance of public deeds, and did his part by establishing the Bethesda Orphanage just outside Savannah. Still in use today, this was the very first orphanage in all North America.

Whitefield Square is fun to explore, as long as you don’t mind the occasional pan-handler. The gazebo in the center could be a nice place to spend some time, but it’s currently the exclusive domain of vagabonds. Still, Whitefield is not without its charms. The Congregational Church, for example, is a handsome building. Found on the western side of the sqaure, it was consecrated in the late 19th century.

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January 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm Comments (10)

Pulaski Square

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Laid out in 1837 and named in honor of the Polish revolutionary hero, Casimir Pulaski, who died during the Siege of Savannah, Pulaski Square is another of Barnard Street’s quiet, residential squares.

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Pulaski Square is devoid of monuments; there’s not even one honoring its namesake (Pulaski’s obelisk is in Monterey Square). But Pulaski does have the most impressive collection of Southern Live Oaks of all Savannah’s squares, making it an agreeable place to pass through, or relax for a spell.

Live Oaks, gorgeous residences, Spanish Moss. Let’s see, there’s something missing. Ah yes, SCAD of course! There’s not a corner of the city without the university’s sticky, paint-caked fingers all over it. The college put its stamp on Pulaski Square in 1995 by purchasing its most stately building, the red brick Pulaski House. Originally built in 1915 by the Jewish Educational Alliance, it’s now used as a girl’s dormitory.

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January 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm Comments (4)

Bluffton, SC — Almost a Homecoming

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I grew up in Bluffton, Ohio. A Midwestern metropolis of about 3000 people, Bluffton is the kind of place where a knitting festival would be the cultural highlight of the month (if something as cool as a knitting festival ever actually took place). Friday night football, the bowling alley, and cruising up and down Main Street in an endless loop, looking for something, anything to do… ah, the memories.

Vintage Madhouse

So visiting Bluffton, South Carolina, was amusing to me. It’s about ten times the size of my hometown, and a lot more interesting. Located on the May River, close to Hilton Head, it’s a funny city filled with strange characters. We spent the day and on the way home, found ourselves in total agreement on one thing: Bluffton is bizarre.

Our unofficial guide for the day was a local. We met Nancy inside her store called Eggs N Tricities, which is packed from wall to wall with exactly the things you’d expect to find in a store called “Eggs N Tricities”: vintage clothes, old books, so-bad-they’re-good paintings, knick-knacks, seashell creations and other curiosities which defy description.

Blufton Church

Nancy was a perfect guide to Bluffton. She knew a lot of stories about the locals, and it was fun to see these beautiful old houses, and hear about the crazy things which happened inside them. We paused for a delicious lunch at a restaurant called The Cottage, which was still busy at 2pm, and then visited a few of the town’s shops. Bluffton is a very artsy town, packed with knick-knack stores and local painters. After finishing shopping, we went to the Oyster Factory and checked out the Church of the Cross, an impressive wooden structure which dates from 1857.

There are actually two sides to Bluffton, and the one in which we spent the day was the old part. The “new city,” built up and around the highway, is where the more usual businesses can be found, and is much busier. Nancy said that some people who live in New Bluffton have never even been to the old town. That’s shocking, because this is a special little place, and definitely worth the trip from Savannah.

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January 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm Comments (5)

Ellis Square

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Laid out in 1733, Ellis Square has the distinction of being one of Oglethorpe’s original four squares, along with Johnson, Telfair and Wright. It also has the distinction of being the most singularly ugly of all Savannah’s squares.

Ellis Square

In 1954, before the historic preservation movement really got going, Ellis Square was sold to business interests that demolished it and built a parking lot. It’s actually an ironic twist, that Ellis Square might be sold off and lose its dignity. Before the Civil War, this was the site of Savannah’s slave market. Karma can be tough.

The parking company’s 50-year lease ended in 2004 and Savannah wasted no time in redeveloping the square. But from an aesthetic viewpoint, there’s little doubt they did a poor job with the development. Perhaps they wanted something more modern and daring, but Ellis has none of its siblings’ charm. With plain cement in a circular shape and a total lack of vegetation, most tourists don’t even realize they’re in one of Savannah’s most historic spots.

The chintzy tourism zone of City Market sprouts off to the west of Ellis Square, where a statue of Johnny Mercer leans happily against his fire hydrant, And Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons is nearby. But unless you’re desperate for a bench to stretch out on, after consuming too much greasy food, there’s not much reason to spend time in Ellis.

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January 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm Comments (6)

Skidaway Island

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Skidaway Island is one of Savannah’s larger coastal islands, found just past the Isle of Hope. Home to a state park popular with campers, it provides yet another great escape from the city.

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There are campgrounds at Skidaway State Park, but since we don’t have a tent, we just spent a few sunny hours exploring the woods. There are a couple trails to choose from, and we went with the three-mile Big Ferry Trail. It was secluded and peaceful, and we enjoyed the views of oaks covered in Spanish moss, swampy marshes and shell middens.

The trail was almost too simple and the three miles passed by in a flash. We came upon a Prohibition-era bootlegging spot with barrels still rotting in place, and earthworks from the Civil War where Confederates prepared for a Union assault that never came. Near the water, there’s an observation deck from where people more invested than us might spot a bird or two.

Perhaps the most fun we had on Skidaway Island was driving east past the state park. Well, as far east as we could manage. This side of the island is dominated by gated communities with names like The Landings and Deer Run. There were a lot of SUVs and a lot of churches, all of which were busy, since it was Sunday. State parks, churches and gated communities… Skidaway might be the perfect representation of a certain type of American dream.

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January 13, 2011 at 9:28 am Comment (1)

Old Town Trolley Tours

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Hey, you know what Savannah has plenty of? Tours. Carriage tours, walking tours, hearse tours, haunted tours, pub tours, haunted pub tours, Civil War tours, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tours.

Best Trolley Tour in Savannah

Hold on, I’m just getting started! Black history tours, Girl Scout tours, dolphin tours, gates and gardens tours, Paula Deen tours. And trolley tours. Lord, are there trolley tours. There are more trolleys than cars in Savannah. There are more trolleys than blades of grass! Yesterday, I got hit by a trolley on the street and another trolley rushed me to the hospital, which was itself inside a trolley. The Hospital Trolley Tour. It’s awesome, check it out.

So we’ve done a few trolley tours. How could we not? I won’t mention the less impressive ones: the dumpy ones with plastic covering the windows, you know who you are. If you’re planning on taking a tour in Savannah, hunt down the Old Town Trolley. They’re orange and green, and impossible to miss. The tour is a little more expensive than some of the others, but worth the extra money.

The trolleys have sparkling clean glass windows, none of this plastic nonsense, and the driver we had managed to be both interesting and legitimately funny. Often, these tour guides rely upon the same old corny jokes… but Savannah seems to have its share of colorful and amusing folks, and at least some of them work for Old Town Trolley.

The tour is long and comprehensive; perfect for people who don’t have all that much time in the city, and want to see as much as possible in one shot. You can hop and and off as often as you want during the day, so it’s an easy way to navigate Savannah’s deceptively large historic district.

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January 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm Comment (1)

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Orleans Square Orleans Square, on Barnard Street, might as well be called Parking Lot Square. It's one of the spaces which has been most negatively impacted by the development boom of the mid-20th century.
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