Time has stood still in Savannah with its 24 squares and picture perfect parks with homes dating to the 1700’s when General James Oglethrope arrived here to build a colony in the name of England’s King George II.
Oglethrope and with city planner, William Bull of South Carolina established the squares and reserved them as public parks among the neighborhoods.
One of the homes along the squares
Monterey Square is home to Congregation Mickve Israel, founded in 1733, when 42 Jewish immigrants sailed to the city from London, England carrying with them an ancient Torah. The congregation, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in America, is neo-Gothic in design, built in the Victorian era and consecrated in 1878. The columns are cast iron faux-marble with Gothic arches. Stained glass windows bring light into the sanctuary and a choir loft and 40-foot ceiling with massive chandeliers complete the spectacular artistry of the house of worship.
Photo of the synagogue
The synagogue offers tours for a small donation and has a well-stocked gift shop. There is also a museum on the second floor which features early Jewish life in Savannah as well as artifacts and a pictorial history of the congregation and many of its early members. On display in the museum is a deerskin Torah scroll, scribed during the early 1400s.
At Reynolds Square near Broughton Street, you see a monument to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and a one-time rector of Savannah Christ Church. Savannah is also the home of the African American Baptist Church where it is said that Martin Luther King wrote some of his famous oratories.
I enjoyed seeing the city sites and squares by pedicab, a carriage, powered by the driver of a bicycle. There are also trolleys which give an excellent history of the city.
Savannah is the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts. Tours of her home and gardens are available and give an extensive history of the Girl Scout movement as well as an glimpse into one of the magnificent mansions and furnishings of an earlier era in American history.
The gardens at Juliette Gorden Lowe’s home
The restaurants in Savannah offer a diversity that will satisfy the palates of the picky to the gourmet. For some wonderful local fare, I would suggest Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, established in 1943 when Sema Wilkes purchased it for a boarding house. Today, the restaurant is run by her granddaughter and the food is served family style. Open only from lunch, the line begins forming outside the restaurant about 10 a.m. and continues throughout the day. Serving about 21 dishes from collard greens and fried chicken to butter beans, macaroni and cheese and succotash and ending with banana pudding, this eatery is truly unique and delicious.
Table of food served at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room
For those that enjoy tea and scones, the Tea Room in the heart of the downtown Savannah shopping area is a must. Here, you will enjoy a variety of tea time treats and a store of unusual gift items.
Tea sandwiches at the Tea Room.
For an elegant dinner, try Vic’s on the River. This restaurant was where General Sherman’s troops were based during the Civil War. The menu uses Savannah’s indigenous ingredients such as duck and seafood dishes complimented with side dishes such as cheddar cheese stone ground grits. For a fun evening, try one of the top tourist attractions, especially for children, The Pirate House, and take a trek downstairs to the dungeon where captives were kept during the early days of the colony.
The outside of the Pirate House
I enjoyed staying at the Ziegler House Inn with proprietor Jackie Heinz. This historic inn dates back to 1856 and has lovely antiques in its public and guest rooms. It is often the place for wedding ceremonies in its formal dining room. Heinz bakes some wonderful pastries for her guests and tries to make them feel at home as well as answers questions about local attractions. She also sets up tours for guests.
The living room at Ziegler House Inn
The city has many lovely historic bed and breakfasts. I took a tour of these homes and recommend the Green Palm Inn, Dresser Palmer House and Azalea Inn and Gardens.
Savannah also has some unusual stores. Nourish Bath Products sells unique bars of soap and bath items in many scents and the Savannah Bee store sells dozens of bottles of different honey items. These are delightful stores to browse for souvenirs to take home for family and friends.
Savannah Bee store photo
For a unique evening’s entertainment, there is Mata Hari, Savannah’s own Speakeasy. Flapper girls, gangsters and a burlesque show await you at this lower alley establishment. Not easy to find, your innkeeper will give you directions and has the password for admission.
Keep the kids in mind and check out Leopold’s before you conclude your vacation. It’s on Broughton Street and serves one of the best scoops of ice cream in town. The ice cream shop has been in business in Savannah since 1919.
For information on Savannah, log on to these websites.
Mata Hari, 306 W. Lower Factor’s Walk, 912-272-2848