On to Savannah! – General Sherman might have said this in 1864 after destroying Atlanta and much of Georgia on his infamous March to the Sea during the Civil War. Thankfully, he spared Savannah a similar fate as Atlanta, and instead telegraphed President Lincoln with the following message “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah…” when he arrived here on December 22nd.
Savannah was too valuable to the Union as a functioning seaport along with the 25,000 bales of cotton sitting in its warehouses to be burnt and destroyed. What he left behind is a beautiful small city, oozing Southern charm and grace.
We weren’t in as much of a hurry to get to Savannah as Sherman was so we took the easy route down the coast on U.S. 17 instead of heading out to I-95. Our first stop after leaving Lake Mattamuskeet behind was Oak Island, NC. The Oak Island Elks Lodge offers free camping in their parking lot to visiting Elks so we thought we’d give it a try.
What an awesome deal! Free camping literally three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean in a nice quiet parking lot facing a vacant field. We had a long walk on the beach and got to see the sunset. The Oak Island beach faces almost due south so the sun sets into the ocean which is a bit strange to see on the east coast. Oddly enough, we also saw the sun rise over the ocean the next morning.
We posted some pictures of our walk on Facebook and it wasn’t long before some old friends from Massachusetts contacted us and let us know their new home was only three miles from us. Lynn and Jim were one of Chelsea’s first day-care providers so we’ve known them for almost 30 years. It was pure chance that we ended up so close to them.
We met them for breakfast the next day and had a great time catching up and hearing about their new life in North Carolina. They have a great spot on a marsh facing the Intracoastal Waterway and have enough room for us to park for future visits!
Our next stop was Buck Hall Recreation Area, a great little National Forest campground between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Buck Hall has about 25 roomy campsites and was a bargain at 20 dollars per night. Buck Hall is also on the Intracoastal and has a fishing pier, boat ramp and a great view of the marsh and the yachts passing by on the waterway, like us, heading south to find warmer waters for the winter.
The Palmetto Trail, a 500 mile long mountain to sea hiking trail across all of South Carolina, starts at Buck Hall so we hiked a few miles of the trial through the pine and palmetto forest.
From Buck Hall it was a pretty easy drive around Charleston and further down U.S. 17 into Savannah.
The Savannah Elks Lodge also offers camping with electric hookups for a small donation. It is an easy drive from the lodge into downtown Savannah and is a great low cost option for visiting the city. As a bonus, we met with up our friends Lee and Edie who were also on their way to Florida for the winter.
We really didn’t know much about Savannah so we took a tram tour from the Downtown Visitor’s Center. The tour gave us a nice overview of the city and its history. It was surprising to learn that James Oglethorpe, Savannah’s founder, set forth four prohibitions for the colony of Georgia. Slavery, hard liquor, lawyers and Catholics were all banned from the new colony. I guess those rules were all made to be broken.
Oglethorpe’s lasting gift to Savannah was his layout of the city’s streets. Savannah is laid out on a grid interspersed with 22 squares. Neighborhoods are centered around these squares, which are like small parks with green grass, fountains, statues, gardens all shaded by beautiful moss draped live oaks.
The downtown historic district is great place to walk and explore because you come upon one of these little jewels every few blocks.
We got off the tram down by the waterfront and spent the afternoon with Lee and Edie. The waterfront area is the main tourist spot in Savannah with shops, restaurants and a riverwalk on The Savannah River. We really liked sampling the pecan pralines at several of the candy shops along the riverwalk.
Savannah is still a very active port, there was a constant parade of massive container ships heading up and down the narow river.
Factor’s Row is also in the waterfront area. The cotton brokers had their offices and warehouses in these brick buildings and could easily walk out on to the catwalks to bid on the wagon loads of cotton that were driven along the sunken alleyway below. The price of cotton throughout the world was based on the bidding of the Savannah cotton brokers.
Lee and Edie left us the next morning but we had plans to head back downtown for the holiday walk and fireworks on the riverfront. First we made a side trip out to Tybee Island, a great beach town only 30 minutes from downtown Savannah.
We had time to explore some more of the squares and Forsythe Park before heading to the City Market area for the holiday walk.
We ended our visit to with Christmas lights, hot buttered rum, carolers and fireworks.