April’s cruel gift of snow, cold and Wyoming wind was left behind for a spring getaway to Savannah, Georgia and various coastal destinations in the semi-tropical south. After a full day of changing planes and adjusting to a rental car for the drive in from the airport, we were welcomed in the parlor of this historic bed and breakfast and began to slip into southern hospitality as inviting as your favorite old robe and slippers. Wine and hors d’oeuvres were awaiting us as we checked in and we enjoyed them in the garden.
Sitting outdoors in a serene, restful sculpture garden is not what we encounter in our daily routine at home this time of year. We sighed and settled in. Nothing to think about but where we would go for dinner. As we sipped our wine, we studied a three-ring binder of restaurant choices and menus. Ah, southern cooking!
Our car was parked on the street out front, and we had no intention of driving anywhere. We never moved it until we departed Savannah for the outer islands. One more glass of wine, please. In the garden of good and evil (ahem!)
Built in 1847 as a private home, the Eliza Thompson House is in Savannah’s historic district. This was our first visit to Savannah, and we chose it for the history that is reflected in the beautiful buildings, parks and memorials. The site of the 13th British colony, Savannah was established in 1733, long before Wyoming was a glimmer in the eye of expansionist pioneers.
Streets are mostly of brick and cobblestone. The flow of traffic is interrupted at regular intervals to circumnavigate 22 “squares” that encompass roughly the size of a city block. The stately squares are shaded by live oak trees draped with moss, palmettos, and magnolia trees. Wide sidewalks flow through the middle and are peopled with grand statues of historic figures — Lafayette, Oglethorpe– and countless others. The azaleas had finished blooming but some of the trees were sporting pink or white blossoms.
Walking down Bull Street to the river was a visual feast. We had lots of options for transport: trolley car; horse drawn wagon; festive funeral hearse; segway; and tour bus. We walked. And walked. And walked.
Buildings in the historic district are carefully preserved and adapted to modern use. Savannah survived the British occupation during the American Revolutionary War, and was spared General William Sherman’s Civil War March to the Sea by negotiating a peaceful surrender which spared Savannah from destruction.
Our march to the Savannah River continues along Bull Street. Our goal is to tour River Street shops and the market place. We had dinner the night before at 17Hundred90, a restaurant that was established in that year. Food was delicious and the piano music made the evening special.
Savannah was named for the Savannah River, which may be a variant for Native American people known as the Shawnee who migrated to the river in the 1680’s.
Savannah’s City Hall (1906) was the first municipal government building. It’s dome is gilded with 23-karat gold leaf.
A kindly gentleman informed us we could use an elevator to descend down the sea wall to River Street, but we elected to take the stairs. The stone stairs were worn where countless feet had gone before.
This spectacular span is one of many connecting the Georgia coastline to outer islands. Savannah is a strategic Atlantic seaport.
Ships in the background, artwork along the sidewalks, and historic naval artifacts interspersed throughout. The riverfront is a bustling, lively district of restaurants, shops and hotels.
Savannah lies approximately 20 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby Hilton Head and many other golf destinations are in “high season.” We tried to grab a peek on various television screens to follow the Augusta, GA tournament which was underway.
Rivers in Georgia are wide and deep. When compared to the streams that flow from the mountains in Wyoming, ours are a mere trickle and few and far between. I could not help but wonder how Georgians manage to negotiate all the waterways that flow through the state to the sea. This U. S. Coast Guard ship patrols the waters.
I longed for a reference book on Georgia trees to help identify the variety we encountered. This grove resembles human limbs with their smooth, creamy color and I am left wondering what they were. That goes for the tree laden with blossoms.
No park would be complete without a squirrel or two. This one raced alongside us for a distance and then finally gave up in disgust, retreating empty-handed back to a hollow in the tree where it likely keeps the daily “stash.”
Returning uptown, we passed this art installation in the foyer of the Savannah Contemporary Museum of Art. The ant, which I would call the grand-daddy of them all, is nearly as large as a human form attached to the ceiling.
Strikingly pretty foliage on an unidentified tree. The autumn colors are a contrast to the fluffy, pastel colors of other trees that were in bloom.
A highlight of our Savannah tour was the Owens-Thomas House. This formal, English inspired garden was designed by Clermont H. Lee, one of Savannah’s foremost landscape designers.
The Owens-Thomas House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today it is one of three museum buildings that comprise the Telfair Museum of Art. The stunning Regency-style architecture, period furnishings and art offer a unique insight into early nineteenth century living.
This fierce looking goose is positioned on an apartment balcony extending over the sidewalk for all passers-by to see. He doesn’t look too friendly!
The street traffic allows for some of the slower modes of transport. Downtown Savannah retains most of the original town plan prescribed by founder James Oglethorpe and includes the historic district, Victorian historic district and 22 park-like squares which make it one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the U.S.
The former residence of Revolutionary War patriot and four-time Georgia governor Edward Telfair. Built in 1819, it is the only historic art museum in Savannah and is home to the “Bird Girl” statue made famous in the book, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil.
It is interesting to note that such magnificent buildings evolved before the modern construction technology we enjoy today. Our modern-day structures typically lack the craftsmanship, quality materials and enduring design that make them worthy of preservation. Consequently, many get the wrecking ball before they are 50 years old.
These two modern government office buildings built for the U.S. Coast Guard actually fit into the neighborhood. Savannah has restrictive building codes for new construction, and these were obviously met with approval.
Philanthropist, representative of King George II to the American colonies, city planner, and founder of Savannah, General Oglethorpe was sent to create a military buffer south of the Savannah River to protect the Carolinas from Spanish Florida and French Louisiana.
Forsyth Park was a short distance south of our lodging and made for a lovely walk. The park is huge, encompassing approximately 14 city blocks and it is filled with statuary, gardens and recreational areas.
We missed the showy azalea blooms but a garden of other flowers were just beginning to unfold.
Wyoming state flower is the tumbleweed (just kidding), so when I enter a lovely garden with flowers in bloom, I cannot resist trying to capture the beauty.
A mother and baby yoga class was about to commence on the grounds. Other park participants were napping, walking or sitting on benches reading or gossiping. Nothing like a day in the park!
On the road to some of Georgia’s coastline, we stopped first at St. Simon. One of five surviving light towers in Georgia, we decided the only thing to do was climb it. All 129 steps of it. Then we toured the two-story museum which was the residence of the light keeper. By then my legs felt like rubber bands.
The next stop was Jekyl Island and I fell in love. Often referred to as “Georgia’s Jewel,” it is one of the state’s most beautiful coastal barrier islands. Rich with history as an exclusive retreat for some of the nation’s wealthiest families (J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William Vanderbilt, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Marshall Field, Macy, Goodyear and Gould to name a few) the Jekyll Island Club would become a winter social club for the wealthy elite.
Opened in 1887, the clubhouse had indoor plumbing and was illuminated by gas fixtures. An example of Queen Anne architecture, the design included wrap-around porches, towers and decorative features such as spindles and lattice. The complex, which includes several cottages, was designated a historic landmark in 1978. It was restored and reopened as a luxury resort hotel in 1985.
From 1888 to 1928 club members constructed fourteen “cottages” in addition to the one built by the original family. Queen Anne and shingle styles were predominant during the early years, while later cottages reflected architectural trends of Italian Renaissance and Spanish eclectic styles.
Carriage rides around the historic district are available but we chose to walk. The grounds were so beautiful it gave us time to appreciate them more.
Leaving the lush environs of the historic district, we toured the rest of the island and stopped to photograph the “tree cemetery.” A major weather event toppled trees along the seashore and they have been gradually eroding over time.
Next stop was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center where turtles are rescued and cared for until they can be released back into the Atlantic. Our next stop would be St. Mary.
Cumberland Island National Seashore
A pleasant visit to the St. Mary visitor center was cut short when we learned the ferry was leaving in about 15 minutes for Cumberland Island. “It won’t wait for you,” was the admonition from a little lady who was trying to convince us to visit the radio museum next door. We raced to the pier, searched for parking, purchased tickets and made it down the gang plank with no time to spare. We didn’t consider that we had no lunch or food of any kind and none could be found on this beautiful, carefully preserved, natural environment which is mostly a national park and wilderness area.
It is roughly a 45-minute ferry ride to the island, which crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. A few nice little boats float on the Intracoastal.
We set out walking to “the ruins” and came upon a compelling site that was once home to the Carnegie family and before that, the widow of General Nathanael Greene. Fire destroyed the mansion and it sits abandoned except for the wild horses that wander through the area. And a few other creatures.
The “duck pond” on the estate must have once been lovely, but this day its only occupant was this alligator. We were astonished to see it, but it’s just one of the “locals.”
This lovely statue stands alone, protected by a fence, on the spacious grounds. It appears to be in excellent condition, while the rest of the estate is crumbling ruins.
Cumberland Island’s feral horses roam the island’s maritime forests, wild beaches and salt water marshes. I tried photographing a group from a distance and did not expect to see any up close. We came upon a mare and her foal, along with one other horse along the road near a park ranger facility and became entranced.
This foal was friendly and very curious. He approached me and I kept taking photos of him until he had his nose right near my camera. Park rangers discourage interaction with the horses, stating they “kick and bite” but this little one didn’t appear to have any aggression in mind.
There are approximately 150 – 200 wild horses on Cumberland. They are smaller than standard western horses, and live a challenging existence due to insects, parasites and the terrain. Rumored to have arrived with Spanish explorers in the 16th century, it is more likely they were brought in by the English in the 18th century. The Park Service makes no mention of them in their standard brochure and they are not viewed as a “unique” species that merit protection.
Farewell, Stormy. I hope you have a happy life on Cumberland Island. Maybe I will see you again someday.