Things to Do in Savannah
This site served as Savannah’s main cemetery for more than a century following its establishment in 1750. With three subsequent expansions, six acres and over 9,000 graves, burials were cut off in 1853, and the site is now recognized as the oldest intact municipal cemetery in the city.
When the site first opened, it was intended to serve as the burial ground for Christ Church Parish, but after its expansion, the cemetery was opened to all denominations. Since interments were closed prior to the start of the Civil War, no Confederate soldiers were buried here. There are, however, some burials of note; over 700 victims of the 1820 Yellow Fever epidemic are here, along with many victims of Savannah’s dueling era. Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett is buried here, as well as Archibald Bulloch, the first president of Georgia, and James Habersham, an 18th-century acting royal Governor of the Province.
Not surprisingly, Colonial Park Cemetery is home to a number of interesting ghost stories and legends. Paranormal enthusiasts have dubbed it “Paranormal Central,” with one of the most famous ghost stories involving Rene Asche Rondolier, a disfigured orphan who was accused of murdering girls. It is said that he was dragged to the swamp and lynched, and some locals believe he still haunts the cemetery, calling it Rene’s playground. Some local paranormal experts dispute the validity of this ghost story due to a lack of historical records.
Other ghost stories revolve around Savannah’s voodoo culture. Although many have moved out of the city, years ago it was not uncommon for morning visitors to find remnants from a previous night’s ceremony. Soil was used from the graves, and some were actually robbed for use in these rituals. The small park adjacent to the cemetery is the location believed to be the site of Savannah’s dueling grounds.
Grand antebellum homes and historic plazas lined with live oaks are just some of the sights that define Savannah’s Historic District. Considered the heart of the city, the Historic District is not only the centerpiece of a Savannah vacation but also where to find the highest concentration of bars, restaurants, and historic attractions.
It is virtually impossible for Savannah visitors to miss River Street. A broad waterfront promenade lined with shopping, dining, and entertainment venues, River Street is one of the main arteries of the historic city. The street also features a pedestrian-only path, perfect for leisurely strolls with unbeatable Savannah River views.
Dating back to the 18th century, Savannah City Market has long been the commercial and social center of historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. The market is known locally as the “art and soul” of Savannah, a nod to the numerous art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants that make it such an important part of Savannah's social fabric.
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a Roman Catholic establishment, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. The colonial charter of the city originally prohibited Roman Catholics from settling here for fear they would be more loyal to the Spanish authorities, but after the American Revolution, the prohibition on Roman Catholics began to fade.
French Catholic immigrants escaping slave rebellions in Haiti established Savannah’s first parish just before the end of the 18th century. As the number of Catholics continued to increase in Savannah, a second church was dedicated in 1839 and construction on the new Cathedral of St John the Baptist began in 1873. It was completed in 1896 as the spires were added.
Although the cathedral was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in 1898, it was painstakingly rebuilt and rededicated in 1900, when it also received new murals and decorations. Restoration and renovations continued on throughout the reign of several bishops, and among the most significant elements that remain today are the stained glass windows.
Forsyth Park, in the middle of historical downtown Savannah, has been a key city landmark since the mid-1800s. Named after the 33rd governor of Georgia, John Forsyth, who donated 20 acres (8 hectares) of land, the park is known for the large Parisian-style fountain located at the north end and the Spanish moss dripping from the oak trees.
Made famous by the novel and film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery (a former plantation) sits on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River in historic Savannah. The Southern Gothic cemetery comprises 160 acres (65 hectares) of sculptures, mausoleums, marble headstones, and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
Designed by architect John Norris, the Mercer Williams House Museum was constructed in the 1860s, then restored a century later by antiques dealer Jim Williams. Considered one of the most beautiful houses in Savannah, it’s also known as a setting for the book and movieMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Though Savannah once served as the southern border of the original American colonies, Chippewa Square is named for an event on the northern border with Canada. In the Battle of Chippewa, in 1814, American forces emerged victorious over the British near Niagara Falls, and when Chippewa Square was built in 1815, it was named for the momentous American victory that took place on the northern border. Today, when visiting the historic Savannah square, you’ll find a statue of James Oglethorpe, the famous founder of Georgia, that faces south with sword drawn in the direction of Spanish Florida. You’ll also find legions of Forrest Gump fans who have come in search of the “the bench,” and while Chippewa Square was the site of filming for the popular 1994 movie, the bench itself was only a prop that has since been moved to a museum. Nevertheless, to admire the backdrop, the bench was placed on the north side of the square, facing out towards Bull Street, and it’s amazingly become the most famous aspect of this 200-year old square. On the streets surrounding Chippewa Square, you’ll also find the Philbrick Eastman House—one of Savannah’s most well known homes—as well as historic Savannah Theater that’s the oldest theater in America.
Part of the Savannah Historic District, Madison Square was named after the fourth U.S. president and added in 1837. The square also commemoratesSgt. William Jasper, a Savannah native of the Revolutionary War who was mortally wounded in battle but managed to heroically retrieve his company’s banner. Many local Savannah natives refer to this as Jasper Square in his honor.
In the center of Madison Square sits the William Jasper Monument, as well as a granite marker that defines the southern limit of the British defenses. Look for two cannons from the Savannah Armory on the southern part of the square, which represent Georgia’s first two highways. These are the starting points of the Ogeechee Road leading to Darien and the Augusta Road to Augusta.
Madison Square leads to other notable sights in the Savannah Historic District. Looking toward the west side of the square, you will find St. John’s Episcopal Church with the Green-Meldrim House just next door. On the northwest side of Madison Square is the Sorrel-Weed House, one of the city’s most imposing mansions. On the southwest corner of Madison Square stands the Masonic Temple, previously a Scottish Rite temple. There is a beautifully restored Greek Revival mansion on the northeast corner, but it remains in private hands. Note the adjacent building that is integrated into it, E. Shafer Books & Maps, one of Savannah’s oldest and best known independent bookstores.
More Things to Do in Savannah
The city of Savannah has a rich history unlike anywhere else in the US, and the Massie Heritage Center is one of the best places to hear Savannah’s story. Learn why Oglethorpe designed Savannah in a large, square-laden grid, and hear Savannah’s maritime past or the history of its most famous buildings. Occasionally, the heritage center will hold special events, such as guided walking tours that showcase the city’s plantation or Civil War past, or the interactive Georgia History Festival that’s held each year in February. Located in Georgia’s oldest public school building, the Massie Heritage Center is filled with numerous hands on and interactive activities, so visitors of all ages can bring the past of this colonial city to life. With its wood cupola and gabled roof, the building is a classic site in itself and indicative of colonial architecture, and the center is considered a “must-stop” spot for learning the history of Savannah.
Tucked away in a beautiful southern mansion once owned by William Scarbrough, (better known as one-time president of the Savannah Steamship Company), Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is both a garden oasis and step back into the past history of the great era of trade between England and America during the 18th and 19th Centuries. The collection of this historic museum takes you through the history of shipping from tall ships to steamers with expertly-crafted model displays, while the garden is a prime example of a 19th century parlor garden and is the largest garden of its kind in the historic district of Savannah. The Scarbrough house itself is a museum, built in 1819 and one of the best examples of the Greek Revival in Savannah, sure to please any architecture buff.
A premier destination for arts enthusiasts, the Jepson Center (one of Savannah's Telfair Museums) is a cultural hub devoted to showcasing contemporary art. See diverse exhibitions that span genres, and visit TechSpace, a gallery devoted to digital art. Family days, talks, and guided tours are offered regularly.
Once home to Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, this historic mansion has been restored to its 19th-century glory and offers tours and hosts Girl Scout events. Visit the first National Historic Landmark in Savannah to see exhibits that follow the Low family and the genesis of the Girl Scouts.
Of all the squares in historic Savannah, Columbia Square is the most serene and devoid of swarms of crowds. Originally constructed in 1799, Columbia Square is punctuated today by the historic Wormsloe Fountain, which once graced the grounds of the Wormsloe Plantation—one of the earliest settlements in Georgia. It’s also the site of the immaculate Kehoe House that was built in 1893, and despite the fact that it’s rumored to be haunted, it thrives today as one of Savannah’s most luxurious bed and breakfasts. Also here on Columbia Square is the historic Davenport House, which was originally built in 1820 and saved in 1955. With the city threatening demolition, a group of women in downtown Savannah raised funds to purchase the house, and the move would lead to the eventual establishment of the Historic Savannah Foundation—a group that has helped to preserve and restore over 400 buildings downtown.
This 1820 Federal-style home is the origination of a lot more than beautiful genteel mansions in Savannah, Georgia. Once home to successful artisan Isaiah Davenport, throughout it’s near 200-year history this house developed a past all its own. A Cinderella tale of neglect and rebirth, saving the Davenport House Museum was the first act of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which has gone on to single-handedly save hundreds of historic buildings in downtown Savannah, thus imbuing the town with the charm it’s known for today. Now known as one of the finest examples of architecture in Savannah, the Davenport House not only boasts an impressive and peaceful garden, but also houses an exquisite look into 19th century living.
The Owens-Thomas House is considered by many architecture historians to be one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America. Built in 1816 by William Jay, one of America’s first formally trained architects, the house stands as a monument to the ancient southern aristocracy. Currently under operation by the Telfair Museum of Art, and the Owens-Thomas house is more than just a passing interest – from the slave quarters to brick ovens, to dazzling symmetries of light and space, to the rotating exhibits of popular contemporary Southern artists, the Owens-Thomas House earns the Certificate of Excellence awards.
Learn about the quirky history of prohibition at the American Prohibition Museum in Savannah. Explore this controversial moment in America's past with exhibits on everything from gangsters and bootleggers to politicians and flappers. Costumed docents, wax figures, and an on-site cocktail bar round out the experience.
Reynolds Square is part of the Historic District and was designed back in 1733 to include four open squares, surrounded by four residential and four civil blocks. This layout of a square and its accompanying blocks is known as a “ward.”
Lucas Theater is one of the square's most important buildings, built in 1921 for Savannah native Colonel Arthur Lucas. The space originally held vaudeville performances and screened silent movies and has today re-emerged as one of Savannah’s most romantic buildings.
The square was also once home to a filature, which housed silkworms, which are believed to have thrived in the area, producing silk and supplanting imports to England from China by way of Italy. This idea didn't pan out, however, as Georgia's humid climate kept the cocoons from maturing properly.The filature was then converted into a meeting space, serving as the city hall until around 1845.
Two historic homes in the area have survived the times: the 1798 Habersham House, today known as the Pink House and serving as a restaurant, and the Oliver Sturgis House, dating back to 1813.In Reynolds Square, look for a bronze statue of John Wesley, who founded the first Sunday school in America while in the region on a mission. The location of the statue is believed to have been where Wesley’s home once stood.
Built in the mid-19th century for shipping merchant Francis Sorrel, Sorrel Weed House became a State Historic Landmark in 1954, one of the first in Georgia. It’s also believed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Savannah, and has been featured on TV shows likeGhost Hunters and Travel Channel’sMost Terrifying Places in America.
Yes, the Olde Pink House has amazing food, but there’s so much more to this grandiose house than simply the food on your plate. For one thing the building dates to 1771, and the land it sits on was once a land grant from the British Royal Crown. It was built as a mansion for James Habersham, one of the founders of modern Savannah, and a cotton factor who would eventually become one of the richest men in the South. Throughout the enormous, multi-storied mansion, you’ll find 18th century English antiques and Venetian chandeliers, and paintings of Georgia’s original founder, James Edward Oglethorpe. Downstairs, away from the fancy white linens, crystal, and polished silver spoons, is a wood-floored tavern that’s dimly lit and widely regarded as haunted. It’s here, some say, that James Habersham hung himself in 1799, though despite the somewhat grisly past, the tavern retains a romantic feel, and you can envision the officers and Civil War generals that gathered right here in these halls. For one lucky couple, there’s a single table inside the wine cellar that’s reserved for special occasions, though regardless of where you choose to dine, the southern comfort food is some of the best you’ll find in Savannah today.
Once a popular hangout for sailors and pirates, the Pirates’ House is now a historic restaurant with a rich seafaring history. Built in 1794, the structure is known as the oldest—and allegedly most haunted—building in Savannah. It garnered fame when it was featured in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1881 adventure novel Treasure Island.
Tucked away in picturesque historic downtown Savannah, the Telfair Academy holds the distinction of being the first public art museum in the American South. Architecturally crafted in Regency style, this 19th century mansion is actually one of three museums within several blocks of each other that together constitute the Telfair Museums. These include: the Telfair Academy mansion/gallery, the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, and the Jepson Center for the Arts. The Telfair Museums are great examples of the historic architecture that Savannah is known for, and the new Jepson Center is a stunning architectural feat in its own, modern right. With holdings of over 4,000 pieces of German Impressionist and American French paintings, as well as a fine collection of Savannah-made silver and an interior that harkens back to its 19th century glory days, the Telfair Academy is a splendid stop in the heart of downtown Savannah.
Live oaks draped in Spanish moss greet you at Wormsloe State Historic Site. Delve into the history of early Georgia settlers at this Savannah-area historic colonial estate by walking the ruins and watching live reenactments. Learn about founder Noble Jones, explore hiking trails, and enjoy views of the Isle of Hope.
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