April 12, 2023

Savannah - Hospitality with a Side of History

This post is the second of two posts related to the time we spent in Savannah, Georgia, during our snowbird adventure in early March of this year.

Because we haven’t traveled much during the winter lately, it seemed strange (but rather exciting) to see signs of spring all around us as we made our way through the southern states.  A number of trees were happily displaying their brand new buds, and some early flowers were popping up here and there.  It would probably be at least another month before we saw spring even beginning to stir in the mountains back home, so I was truly enjoying Mother Nature’s preview.  On our second full day in Savannah, with our winter coats jammed in the trunk of the car, we ventured into the “Hostess City of the South” to soak up the sun and the sights.

In my previous post, I mentioned that Alan and I often approach a destination with a scavenger hunt of sorts in hand.  We had quite a lengthy checklist for Savannah.  Our first stop was the historic Riverfront District where we meandered along cobblestone streets admiring the impressive architecture of this fine old port city.  Fun fact: Savannah is one of the Top 5 Busiest Ports in the United States.  A port’s ranking within the Top Five depends on which supply chain website you believe and how current its numbers are.  But Savannah is consistently in the Top Five with the likes of New York/New Jersey, Los Angeles and Long Beach.  If we had more time in the city, I definitely would have looked into booking a tour with Savannah Riverboat Cruises on the Georgia Queen.  After all, in this family, if boating of any kind is involved, we’re happy campers – even if we’re not actually camping.

The Georgia Queen docked at the Savannah Riverfront

Beyond the riverfront, street after Savannah street was lined with gorgeous old southern buildings, large and small.  The congregation of the First African Baptist Church was organized in 1773 at Brampton Plantation and officially constituted in 1777.  But their church building in Savannah (which was constructed by both free and enslaved congregants) wasn’t completed until 1859.  During the Civil War, the church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and it’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks and Places.  The First African Baptist Church is one of the oldest continually operating African-American churches in North America, and the church itself is an absolutely beautiful building.  The First African Baptist Church - its condition proof positive that it’s loved and well-cared for – is located on Montgomery Street, opposite Franklin Square.

The First African Baptist Church building is more than 160 years old.

The Armstrong-Kessler Mansion is a rather imposing edifice on Bull Street between Monterey Square and Forsyth Park.  The mansion which is, also, a Registered National Landmark, was originally a private home.  It later became a junior college, then the law offices of a local firm and now, once again, a private home.  Not that it matters to me, but it’s the only Italian Renaissance Revival home in Savannah that is listed in the authoritative “A Field Guide to American Homes.”  I guess Alan and I aren’t hoity-toity enough to be impressed.  Still, it’s a snazzy place to call home.  Just not our home, though, because it’s currently valued at over $14 million according to Zillow.  That’s almost $1,000.00 per square foot – not exactly a bargain – and WAY above my pay grade.

The Armstrong-Kessler Mansion on Bull Street in Savannah

The history of the Pirates’ House in Savannah is the stuff from which legends are made.  This establishment opened in 1753 on the former site of the Trustee’s Garden – the first public agricultural experimental garden in America.   The Pirates’ House, an inn for seafarers, quickly became a meeting place for sailors and pirates from the Seven Seas.  The building remained intact, but it fell into disuse after World War II.  The property was acquired by the Savannah Gas Company in 1945, and the building was slated for demolition.  UNTIL Mary Hillyer, wife of the gas company’s president, stepped in and saved it.  Mrs. Hillyer, with support from members of the Savannah community, successfully engineered the renovation of the Pirates’ House.  I love happy endings like this one!  Old buildings have so much character – and so many stories to tell.  It warms my heart when I hear about grass-roots efforts that end up rescuing some of these older buildings and revitalizing them – and their neighborhoods along with them.  The Pirates’ House remains open as a restaurant that welcomes locals, as well as travelers from the Seven Seas – and maybe even an occasional pirate or two.  Aaarrrgh!

"I wanted to be a pirate, but I couldn't get my ship together." (Unknown)

Like the Pirates’ House, the Lucas Theatre (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) has its own heartwarming story of rescue and renovation.  Construction began in 1920, and Opening Night arrived on December 26th, 2021.  The celebratory premiere included two films – “Hard Luck,” starring Buster Keaton, and “Camille,” starring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino.  As it turned out, the theatre’s popularity peaked in the 1930’s and, sadly, the Lucas Theatre closed its doors in May of 1976.  Following its closure, the company that owned the theatre petitioned the Historic Savannah Foundation to demolish the building - twice.  Both times, the Foundation denied permission.  It wasn’t until 1987 that a non-profit organization committed to saving the theatre was formed.  An intensive restoration effort ensued and, finally, the grand re-opening of the Lucas Theatre for the Arts was held on December 1, 2000 – almost 88 years to the day of the theatre’s original premiere.  Once again, the Lucas Theatre became a social and cultural gathering place for the Savannah community, and the joyful sounds of films, theatrical productions and musical performances continue to fill the halls of this beloved landmark.

The Lucas Theatre for the Arts on Abercorn Street in Savannah

A couple of paragraphs ago, I mentioned Franklin Square and Monterey Square.  When James Edward Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733, he carefully designed the city in a way that would both cultivate community and spur economic development.  Oglethorpe used a “ward” system; each ward consisted of four residential blocks and four civic or commercial blocks in a grid surrounding a square.  The squares are like small parks, and they’re treasured by Savannah’s residents.  These squares are gathering places for friends and family, play spaces for children and quiet green spaces in which tourists and residents, alike, can enjoy a peaceful slice of nature.  According to one architectural firm, if you stand in the center of any given square, you’ll have a view of four adjacent squares.  I don’t know whether or not this is true but, had I known about this alleged fact while we were actually in Savannah, I would definitely have needed to check it for accuracy.  Originally, there were 24 squares; now there are 22.  Some squares are more well-known than others, but each square is as lovely and well-maintained as the next.

Monterey Square

Speaking of well-known, Forsyth Park is the most well-known park in the Hostess City of the South, and for good reason – this park is a big, beautiful green space with plenty of benches in shady spots to facilitate people-watching and just plain ol’ lounging around.  All it took was one glance at the fountain as we drove by the park, and I was hooked!  We found inexpensive, metered street parking on West Taylor Street, and we walked through Monterey Square and down Bull Street (past the Armstrong-Kessler Mansion) to the park.

Alan and I wandered through Forsyth Park, under a canopy of live oak trees covered with Spanish moss.  The setting was magical, and we could have easily spent hours here enjoying the park.  But tiny hunger pangs were already annoying me, and I was beginning to wonder what we’d be doing for lunch.

Apparently, the park is, indeed, magical because a charming little outdoor café suddenly appeared right in the middle of it.  Ask and you shall receive?  Build it and they will come?  I don’t know, but I will tell you that the thought of dining outdoors on such an exhilarating spring day was irresistible.  It wasn’t long before we found ourselves seated in the shade and ordering brunch.

Café Collins Quarter at Forsyth

Café Collins Quarter at Forsyth (as opposed to Café Collins Quarter Downtown) was an unexpected treat.  Everything on the menu sounded delicious, and our server, Jake, was knowledgeable, efficient and friendly; plus, he had a great sense of humor.  We all know how staff members at dining establishments can impact the quality of our experiences, and Alan and I lucked out with Jake – he was a gem.  Many items on the menu sounded scrumptious, and it was difficult to choose just one.  The Wildberry French Toast was exceptionally appealing, but so was the Heirloom Grain Bowl.  Maybe the Shrimp and Grits?  Alan ended up choosing the Bacon & Egg on a Brioche Roll; I decided on the Crab Cakes Benedict - which earned a thumbs up from Jake.

Crab Cakes Benedict with SOS (sauce on the side)

We savored brunch at a leisurely pace, thanked Jake for his hospitality with a generous tip and continued on our way.  It was a walk in the park.  Seriously.  An absolutely delightful walk in the park.  With so much magic in the air around Forsyth Park, I couldn’t help but move it to the top of my list of favorite Savannah attractions.

The fountain at Forsyth Park

From Forsyth Park, we moved on to the Georgia State Railroad Museum, hoping we could score a photo or two of some old rail cars on display at the Museum.  If we had more than just a couple of days in Savannah, we definitely would have toured the museum.  The outdoor displays delighted me and ramped up my curiosity about what was on display indoors.  My dad was a machine operator for the old Penn Central Railroad, so railroad talk was commonplace at our house when I was growing up.  I still have an affinity for trains and their depots.  On more than one occasion, Alan (good guy that he is) has been known to circle back around through a small town so that I can get a good look at and photos of an old train station I spotted from the road.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum is located at the Shops and Terminal Facilities of the old Central of Georgia Railway.  So many of these former giants of commerce no longer exist but, thanks to visionary stewards of the industry, their history lives on in museums like this one around the country.  Guess what the Georgia State Railroad Museum has!  An honest-to-goodness roundhouse that was used to store and maintain steam locomotives and a fully operational turntable that was used to quickly and easily turn those locomotives.  Jackpot!  Despite the fact that my dad worked on the railroad for decades, I had never seen an actual roundhouse and turntable, and it proved to be another highlight of the trip for me.

That's the turntable on the right in front of the roundhouse.

At this point, we had one item left on our Savannah Scavenger Hunt – we needed to find Gracie.  Gracie Watson was the daughter of hoteliers who ran the Pulaski Hotel in the 1880’s.  Little Gracie had the run of the hotel and was quite popular.  Sadly, she died of pneumonia two days before Easter in 1889 when she was just six years old.

Gracie was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery on the outskirts of Savannah.  Her parents provided sculptor John Walz with a photo of Gracie, and it was from the photo that he designed her monument.  Gracie remained popular even after her death, and her gravesite is one of the most visited in the cemetery.  To this day, people still leave gifts for little Gracie by her grave, continuing a poignant tradition that began shortly after her death.  Gracie’s monument is a testament to the love of her family, and the loving care her grave site receives is a testament to the support of the Savannah community for Gracie and her family.  May they rest in peace.

Gracie's monument within her protected grave site

Our two days in Savannah proved to be educational and delightful, not to mention downright tasty.  Besides the scrumptious brunch at Café Collins Quarter at Forsyth, I managed to convince Alan to hit Culver’s for frozen custard all three nights we were in town because, well, Flavor of the Day!  Georgia Peach, Red Raspberry and Andes Mint Avalanche – I assure you, they were all delectable.  I can easily see us planning a return trip to Savannah sometime in the future – and, no, not just for Culver’s.  For now, though, it was time to move on.  Our final three nights on the road would be spent in Chincoteague, Virginia, with only one item on our scavenger hunt list: wild ponies!



  1. Well, I can tell we need another visit to Savannah. Ours was WAY too fast, and we missed a lot. It is so pretty - it is definitely worth another visit. I now have a craving for Red Raspberry ice cream...😂 Thanks Mary!

    1. That's exactly how I felt - our time in Savannah went by all too quickly. I think we could have easily spent another two or three days there, and I really didn't expect that. Alan and I were just talking this morning about how some places are one and done, and there are others that we enjoy returning to time and time again. You probably already figured this out, but Culver's is definitely on the "return to" list!

  2. My wife and I visited Savannah and Charleston about two years ago and loved both places. The huge oak trees are awesome and the history is so interesting. You got to see much more than we did in our day and a half there. Great photos!

    1. The oak trees really were impressive, and I loved the way they lined the walkway leading to the fountain at Forsyth Park. I always say that we're not big history buffs, but yet I do find the stories behind many older buildings to be fascinating. If only those walls could talk. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  3. We absolutely love Savannah, and even after several visits, we're looking forward to a few days there next spring (providing I can find an Airbnb that allows kitties). We had a delightful lunch at Cafe´Collins downtown on one of our trips, but how fabulous to enjoy brunch in beautiful Forsyth Park! That's on my list for next spring, thanks to you! Let's meet there! :-))

    1. Wait! Isn't it supposed to be Paris in the spring? Wouldn't that be a hoot if we did manage to meet up in Savannah?! I'll keep that possibility in my back pocket. I think you’ll be in luck if you look for an Airbnb that allows cats. After all, there are plenty of "Magnolias" in Savannah already, so they must like them down there! 😸

  4. Good morning, Mary,
    Crab cakes Benedict!! OMG, Helen and I would be all over that one! You and Alan certainly made the most of a short visit, and your pictures are great...thanks for sharing. We have a Culver's less than five minutes from our home and an Andes Mint Avalanche sounds divine. Have a lovely weekend. Joe

    1. Joe, I gotta tell you - when it comes to food, I consider you a cohort in crime and a man after my own heart! Not only would you and Helen have enjoyed the delicious Crab Cakes Benedict, but I think you both would have loved the setting. As for Culver's, I have to admit that, on more than one occasion, we've said, "It's a good thing we don't have one of these by us!" Come to think of it, we've said the same thing about Krispy Kreme. Hugs to you and Helen!


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