A Few Favorites from Savannah, Georgia

Owens-Thomas House

Owens-Thomas House

For visitors to the U.S. Deep South, Savannah, Georgia remains a hidden gem. With more than twenty discretely manicured squares and a city founded in 1733, the Historic District is a find. The city’s architecture has stayed intact as during the Civil War, General William T. Sherman wanted to present President Lincoln with a Christmas present in December, 1864. The city was spared the fate of Atlanta.

Today’s Historic District is a blend of Southern genteelness with an urban edge, as the hipness from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) blends with a rich Southern history.

I have listed a few of my favorite spots in a city overflowing with things to see and do.

Colonial Park Cemetery

Entering Colonial Park Cemetery

Entering Colonial Park Cemetery

From 1750 to 1853, this cemetery served as Savannah’s burial ground. Located on approximately six acres with roughly 9,000 graves, this cemetery is both historical and a sad reminder of some of Savannah’s past tragedies. I went early on a Saturday morning and was surprised to see so many tombstones from 1820, as Savannah was hit by a yellow fever epidemic. More than ten percent of the city died, killing roughly 700 people including two doctors trying to save their patients.

A Victim of the 1820 Epidemic

A Victim of the 1820 Epidemic

Famous Savannahians are also buried here including James Johnson, who was Georgia’s first newspaper publisher, as well as William Scarbrough, who promoted the first trans-Atlantic steamship. Walking through the cemetery, visitors will also see the graves of Archibald Bulloch, Georgia’s first governor, and Joseph Habersham, who served as Postmaster General under three U.S. Presidents. Notable local burial sites are designated by detailed historical markers.

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The cemetery also includes other history from the early 1800s with a well-marked Duelist’s Grave. Local resident, James Wilde, died in a duel in 1815 and it’s hard to imagine today that centuries ago disputes were settled by dueling.

While many of the tombstones are worn and harder to read, this cemetery is a step back into history during the U.S. Revolutionary War. The grounds were designated a city park in 1896 and on an early weekend morning, I had the area almost to myself.

Colonial Park Cemetery
201 Abercorn Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Phone: (912)651-6843

Owens-Thomas House

There are so many beautiful, historical houses in Savannah that it could take days to see them all. I would especially recommend the Owens-Thomas House which is administered by the Telfair Museum. For an admission price of $15.00, the inside of this house is nothing short of fantastic.

House Garden

House Garden

The home was designed by William Jay who studied at the Royal Academy in London. This house was well beyond its time as the home includes four cisterns including a 5,000 gallon cistern in the basement. This home even had indoor toilets before the White House.

This property was built for Richard Richardson between 1816 and 1819, who was a wealthy Savannah merchant and banker. Unfortunately, Mr. Richardson’s timing was bad as the U.S. suffered an economic panic in 1819. In January, 1820, there was a large fire in Savannah with a yellow fever epidemic that summer, which killed some of Mr. Richardson’s family.

Through various owners, the Owens-Thomas house also served as a boarding house and remained in the Owens family from 1830 to 1951. General Lafayette stayed for two nights in 1825, making this home an historic landmark.

I was frankly surprised by how well kept this home was. Designed way ahead in the future, the house has an original skylight in the dining room as well significant brass in the entry way. The brass served a purpose as candles would reflect off the brass at night.

The upstairs portion of the house has an internal bridge which I thought was fascinating. Ceilings throughout the house are ornate, and the home is filled with many original furnishings. I liked hearing about playing cards from the early 1800s which did not have numbers. For heavy drinkers, playing cards could be dangerous and confusing, as players would have to count the numbers of diamonds, clubs, spades or hearts on their cards.

Interestingly, Savannah has no natural stone and any stone had to be imported at great expense to the owners. This house was constructed of tabby and coquina. Coquina is a lightweight stone while tabby is a combination of lime, oyster shells, sand and water.

What is Tabby?

What is Tabby?

All visits to the home are by guided tour and begin in the former slave quarters. Unfortunately, only photos outside are allowed but visitors should expect to be pleasantly surprised by all the features in the interior of the house. This home is amazing.

Owens-Thomas House
124 Abercorn Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Phone: (912)790-8889

First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church

Located not far from the Savannah River, the First African Baptist Church is filled with history as this is the oldest continuous black congregation in North America. Originally constituted in 1777, the current church was built during the time period 1855 to 1859 by mainly slaves working at night. I was surprised to hear slaves were allowed to leave plantations in the evenings and the work to build the church must have been grueling. The nearest plantations were several miles away.

On the outside of the church is a picture of the founding minister, George Leile. Behind the current altar are pictures of the next six ministers who followed. The interior of the church also includes original light fixtures, a baptismal pool (which sounded much safer than wading into the Savannah River) and a pipe organ from 1832, which has not been played in many years.

During the fight to end segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced his “I Have a Dream” speech within the sanctuary.

Be sure to take the excellent tours offered Tuesday to Saturday at either 11:00 or 2:00 for $7.00, as visitors will especially want to see the ground floor. On this floor, visitors will see several crosses surrounded by diamonds, which are also called Congolese Cosmograms. When slaves were trying to escape to freedom via the “Underground Railroad” to the North, they hid under this floor in a four foot high crawl space. The holes in the floor decorations served as air holes. The plantation owners never figured out that the floor decorations served another purpose.

Floor Air Holes

Floor Air Holes

Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the church unless someone or something is in the photo.

I found the visit to this church moving and learning about the amount of history that occurred in this one church was impressive.

First African Baptist Church
402 Treat Avenue
Savannah, Georgia 31404
Phone: (912) 232-8981

Papillote

Papillote

Papillote

On Savannah’s main shopping street, visitors will feel like they are in Paris when eating at Papillote. “En Papillote” is French which means to cook in parchment paper. The word can also refer to a traditional French candy wrapped in colorful foils for Christmas.

Papillote is a casual café specializing in food to go to picnic in Savannah’s squares or along the river. A few tables are also inside with Eiffel Tower decorations, French gourmet gifts and a casual atmosphere contributing to a simple French feel. I stopped here for lunch and loved the shrimp, pancetta and arugula salad, served with fresh lemonade. Quiche specials are popular for lunch.

The biggest draw for me, though, was the cookies. Absolutely, positively, do not miss these cookies. The chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are fresh from the oven (and oh so good). I came back several times in one weekend and bought as many of these cookies as I could find. The restaurant was even kind enough to introduce me to their pastry chef and offer to make more cookies if I wanted to return in twenty minutes.

The macarons are also delicious. With tasty flavors like chocolate hazel, raspberry white chocolate or key lime, these cookies won’t last long. I had to laugh that when buying the macarons, visitors are presented with an option. The staff at Papillote will ask whether the cookies should be boxed or whether a napkin is fine for those macarons that won’t make it down the block. My macarons barely made it outside the store.

The staff at Papillote is super friendly and this café is definitely worth a stop. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, it’s a shame that Savannah locals are without these wonderful cookies two days a week. For visitors looking for good place to eat in the Historic District, Papillote is a must.

Papillote
218 W. Broughton Street
Savannah, Georgia 31401
Phone: (912)232-1881

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