This morning Mary Margaret and I returned to Savannah, this time to spend time walking around and getting a bit more intimate with this beautiful town. Yesterday, we learned that its population is only about 135,000 but it receives over 13, 500,000 visitors a year. With about 1000 annual visitors per person who lives there, this has to be one of highest visitor/resident ratios in the US.
Despite being trampled on by so many visitors, the town handles them very well and still maintains a remarkable southern ambiance and charm. Things move slowly here and a leisurely stroll, taking in the beauty is indeed, the best way to enjoy its beauty.
Our first stop was the Telfair mansion and museum. When we took our trolley tour a couple of days ago, we learned that the Mary Telfair (1791 to 1875), the daughter of Governor Edward Telfair, who was also a Revolutionary War hero, was a remarkable woman, a believer in woman’s rights, and was way ahead of her time. For example, after her death, her will provided for the founding of the Telfair Hospital for Females. It was a hospital which only employed women, including its medical staff, cleaning staff and administrative staff. It only allowed women for its patients and if a birth of a male baby occurred, the mother and child could only remain for three days. Such hard-core principles intrigued us so we thought we would visit the house she grew up in and has since become a museum and art gallery.
While there we learned that Mary Telfair grew up well educated and traveled. During the nineteenth century, the expectation that a woman be an informed, vivacious conversationalist did not extend to knowledge of political issues. Yet Mary Telfair formulated strong opinions on world and national affairs and openly expressed her convictions. She once debated with James Moore Wayne, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, the merits of renewing the national bank charter. Her views on the subject were perhaps influenced by her friendship with Nicholas Biddle, the president of the Bank of the United States from 1823 to 1836. Although she stood only five feet tall, Telfair was a formidable woman. When her last surviving brother died in 1832, she and her sisters took over the supervision of the family’s plantations, which were considerable.
During her repeated and extensive European travels, she collected many pieces of great art including casts of Greek and Roman statutes dating back to over 2500 years. Many of these pieces are housed in the Telfair Museum and we were able to enjoy them first hand.
After our exploration of the Telfair Museum, we first strolled across the street to the Telfair Square and then went a few blocks further to the Franklin Square. Each of the 22 squares that are within the Savannah historic district has its own theme. The Telfair Square has claim to being the last of the four original squares to be laid out by Savannah founder, James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe constructed the square in 1733. He originally called it St. James Square but is now named after the most influential family in Savannah’s history.
Franklin Square was built in 1790 and was named after Benjamin Franklin. Franklin spent a great deal of time in Europe representing the Colony of Georgia before the British government in the years prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and then later represented the 13 colonies to the French government trying to win financial and military assistance.
At the square’s center is a monument to the Haitian Volunteer Army who took up arms against the British during the Revolutionary War. During the Siege of Savannah, a group of Haitians helped fight for American Independence. This volunteer Haitian Army took up arms as colonial forces tried to retake the city from the British, who captured Savannah the prior year in 1778. This effort is one of the more remarkable acts of military assistance by foreigners to the colonists seeking freedom from the crown.
We next strolled around the adjacent City Market but were not interested in its stores, which mainly catered to tourists.
We returned to our little Fiat and drove over to the far side of the historic district where The Olde Pink House is located. It is across the street from Warren Square, named after General Joseph Warren, a General who fought in the American Revolutionary War. General Warren died at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Laid out in 1791, Warren Square was part of the first expansion of Savannah. The Ward that contains Warren Square is smaller than many other Wards. An interesting bit of information about Warren Ward; a number of the homes in the area of Warren Square were not built in the Square but moved to Warren Square from elsewhere in the city.
An example of one of the houses moved to this square is The Olde Pink House. This Georgian mansion was built in 1771 for James Habersham Jr., one of Savannah’s most important early cotton families and founding-family members. The lot was originally a land grant from the British Crown. The building is a fine example of colonial architecture, and one of the few buildings to survive the fire of 1796. Of particular interest is the Greek portico with a beautiful Palladian window above. The fanlight over the front door is one of the oldest in Georgia. The interior features a lovely but simple Georgian stairway.
The Bolton family, sister and brother-in law of architect William Jay, who designed the Telfair mansion, occupied the house from 1804 to 1812. Between 1812 and 1865, the house was home to the Planter’s Bank and First Bank of Georgia. It also served as headquarters for Union General Zebulon York in 1865.
The Olde Pink House is a popular destination for Savannah ghost hunters. Patrons of this restaurant and tavern claim to have found themselves in conversation with James Habersham Jr., who supposedly hanged himself in the basement in 1799. It is said that his restless spirit frequently wanders around his old home on quiet nights.
One of the earlier restorations, it is now home to an elegant restaurant and cellar tavern beneath. The restaurant is well known for its romantic dinners. We had made reservations to have lunch here and looked forward to its lowland, southern cuisine that it was famous for.
We were not disappointed as the fried chicken we enjoyed was the best we have ever had. The coating was thick, crispy and delicious. The meat was sweet and moist. Man, was it good! The baked mac and cheese was very tasty and the gazpacho which started the meal was wonderful. The portions were very large which resulted in both of us taking half of our meal with us to enjoy later as dinner.
By now it was mid-afternoon and we were feeling a bit tired from the large meal and our morning strolls. Thus, we decided to be creative in our route to return to our campsite and slowly cross-crossed our way through the historic district, taking pictures of squares and historic building from the window of our Fiat.
Tomorrow, we will be resting and getting ready for our drive up to Charlestown, South Caroline on Sunday. We will be staying just outside of that city for a week, which will allow us time to leisurely explore that historic city.