By Eliza Myers
When Gen. William T. Sherman reached the port city of Savannah during the Civil War, he reached the end of his monthlong March to the Sea.
Whether he spared the city for military reasons or for its beauty alone, as it is rumored, Savannah survived Sherman’s torch and, consequently, contains the largest urban historic district in the country.
The city is a mix of history lesson and work of art with its architecturally significant historic buildings that date back to the 1700s. Each spring, the 22 public squares designed by Gen. James Oglethorpe, the city’s founder, turn Savannah into a shady garden with tunnels of live oaks with draped spanish moss above brightly colored azaleas.
Many groups never tire of returning to Savannah to relive its elegant historic sites and to discover new sites, such as the upcoming Renegade pirate ship about to set sail.
A district worth exploring
Two and a half square miles of preserved 18th-century and 19th-century homes line the public squares in Savannah’s historic district. Groups can enjoy these scenic cobblestone blocks with a walking tour, a step-on guide, a trolley tour or a horse-drawn carriage.
Visitors have several museum houses they can explore while touring the district, among them the Owen-Thomas House and the Mercer House, which became famous from the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is another favorite, as Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts. This year, the home is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Girl Scouts with special events and exhibits.
“The Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace has been a hugely popular destination this year,” said Mindy Shea, director of tour and travel sales with Visit Savannah. “The home itself has been incredibly preserved in the style that it was when she was living there. It is the only historic home in the district with an elevator, which is important for our traveling seniors.”
Groups can not only see what daily life was like in 18th-century Savannah, but they can also choose a themed tour of the district, including historic, ghost and architectural tours.
Visitors can experience shopping on River Street, dinner at Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons and a stop at one of the district’s many museums. The Telfair Museum of Art remains one of the nation’s oldest public museums. A former neoclassical Regency mansion, the museum opened in 1886 and has been displaying 19th- and 20th-century artworks ever since.
Old Fort Jackson
Old Fort Jackson has a military past that stretches back all the way to the American Revolution, when the site was used as a battery. Construction on the current fort began in 1808, making it the oldest standing brick fortification in Georgia.
The fort stayed strong to protect Savannah through the War of 1812 until it was finally handed to Sherman in 1864. Guides now lead tours through this national historic landmark so groups can experience the restored fort, military exhibits and a daily firing demonstration.
“What is really fun about the Old Fort Jackson is the regular cannon firings,” said Shea. “A costumed interpreter will talk about the cannons first. Then groups will get to see the cannon loaded and hear the big boom at the end.”
In commemoration of the Civil War sesquicentennial, the fort has partnered with the River Street Riverboat Company for a new Civil War Experience Dinner Cruise. Cruisers board the ship on Savannah’s riverfront to be welcomed by uniformed Civil War soldiers and a Dixieland Jazz band. Along the way down the river, guests are serenaded by live music while enjoying a Southern-style buffet.
At Old Fort Jackson, cruisers are welcomed to the fort by an honor guard and escorted inside the fort, where costumed interpreters have re-created the year 1861 with artillery and marching drills. After watching the firing of the cannon, guests reboard and watch fireworks on their way back to River Street.
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