Four hours and twelve minutes from Fayetteville is the historic city of Savannah. Founded February 12, 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, who designed the now famous ward system of streets and parks, the city was originally created as a buffer colony to protect South Carolina from Spanish occupied Florida. During the American Revolution the city was occupied by the British until the Americans won the war, and Eli Whitney…famous for inventing the cotton gin, lived and worked in Savannah as a tutor on the Mulberry Grove Plantation. In January of 1861, after 13 of the Southern colonies rejected ties to the Union over State’s rights and the issue of slavery, Georgia became the fifth state to secede from the Union.
Today downtown Savannah is a thriving marketplace rich in history and culture. The River Walk is part is the jewel of their historic district. Many of the buildings date back as far as 1817 when Savannah was the leading Atlantic cotton seaport. The Cotton Exchange, built in 1887, and the row of red brick buildings soon became known as “Factor’s Row’ or ‘Factor’s walk’ after the cotton factors (brokers) who traded cotton along the river banks.
Today the entire district is thriving with hotels, restaurants and retail shops for the history enthusiast. While the cotton ships are long gone, the river bank is now a docking station for colorful paddle boats and historic sail boats. Just south of the River Walk are 22 of the original 24 squares designed by Oglethorpe…9 of these squares are fabulous parks with amazing statues and their own historical points…like the park bench Forrest Gump sat on to tell his amazing story. At the corners of Abercorn Street and Oglethorpe Street is the Colonial Park Cemetery or ‘The Old Cemetery’.
Established in 1750, it’s been estimated more than 9000 people are buried here, including many of the 700 people who died in the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1829. During the Civil War Union soldiers stabled their horses in the cemetery and desiccated many of the graves…looting them for valuables and altering dates and names. Most of those grave markers are now attached to the eastern wall.
The Bird Girl, statue made famous by the book cover, was sculpted by Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1936. A family in Savannah purchased on of the four bronze castings, named it ‘Little Wendy’ and placed it in their family plot in Bonaventure. Now it’s on loan to the Telfair Museum and can be seen at the Jepson Center for the Arts.
French for ‘good fortune’ Bonaventure was established as a formal cemetery in 1847 by Peter Wiltberger and is the final resting place for some of Savannah’s most notable figures: Conrad Aiken – poet and 1929 Pulitzer Prize winner, Johnny Mercer – a singer and songwriter who penned hits like ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and ‘Hooray for Hollywood’, many of Savannah’s founding members, and veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. The grounds are breathtaking and the grave markers are some of the most interesting and often reflect the life’s work of the deceased. Noted artist John Waltz sculpted dozens of statutes used throughout the cemetery and the grounds are sprinkled with a liberal dose of live-oaks and Spanish moss.