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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.

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Old Fort Jackson – Official Site

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

Franklin Square

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The only square on Montgomery Street to survive into the present day is Franklin Square. Like the lost squares of Liberty and Elbert, Franklin Square had been a victim of urbanization, but was fortunately restored in the 1980s.

Franklin SQ Monument

The most western of Savannah’s squares, Franklin is also one of its oddest. The tourist hub of City Market is nearby, meaning grease-hungry gawkers hunting for Paula Deen are a constant presence, as are panhandlers. Franklin is definitively not among Savannah’s most enchanting squares, but it does boast a touching memorial to the Haitian Volunteer Army. The Haitians played an invaluable role in the US Revolution, particularly during the Siege of Savannah. Soon after our freedom was won, they returned home and staged a revolution of their own, resulting in Haiti becoming the first independent republic in Latin America, and the first black-led nation in the world.

At the western end of the square is the First African Baptist Church, which we took an excellent tour of. Back in the days of slavery, the church’s priest would regularly be brought into Franklin Square and whipped. His crime? “Educating” other slaves with his sermons. I’m sure Benjamin Franklin, an abolitionist and all around humanitarian, would have loved that.

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January 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm Comments (5)

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
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912 651 6825

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

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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December 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm Comments (3)

Forsyth Park

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Occupying 30 acres between Drayton and Whitaker Street, Forsyth is Savannah’s answer to NYC’s Central Park. It’s not as massive as its counterpart, but blends more seamlessly into the city, and has long been a part of its history.

Forsyth Fountain Park

Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and christened in honor of John Forsyth, a former statesman and Georgian governor. The park’s massive fountain, crowned with a female figure and flanked by spitting geese, was inspired by the fountain in Paris’ Plaza de la Concorde. With water shooting haphazardly in all directions, it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks of Savannah, appearing in films like 1962’s Cape Fear and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Three monuments in Forsyth Park commemorate Savannah’s contribution to American wars. To the north, there’s one for the Vietnam War. An impressively large memorial to the Civil War’s Confederate dead is in the park’s center, with the biblical inscription: “Come from the four winds, o’ breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” (It’s a touching line, but one which reveals disturbing pro-zombie tendencies; The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia, isn’t it?). And at the southern end is an interesting tribute to the Spanish-American war, in which the US helped liberate Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam from Spanish influence.

Forsyth Fountain Park

Though the northern third of the park is shaded and tree-filled, the rest is wide open, with flat lawns that host weekend picnics and pick-up sports. There’s a café, a visitors center and an open-air stage for summer concerts, as well as something I’d never heard of before: a Fragrant Garden for the Blind. The gate was locked, but I stuck my nose through the bars and took a long whiff. It smelled of trash and roses.

During our first few days in Savannah, we had already crossed through Forsyth Park multiple times. Practically an extended pedestrian-only section of Bull Street, it’s as much a thoroughfare as a destination, and I had a feeling we’d be getting to know the park intimately.

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Forsyth Fountain Park
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November 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm Comments (9)
Old Fort Jackson 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.

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