Savannah's Secrets - Jacksonville.com - by MAGGIE FITZROY - March 2012
~ Women's tour reveal the true nature of romantic city
Posted: March 16, 2012 - By Maggie FitzRoy
A half-Creek Indian woman named Mary Musgrove helped the first Georgia settlers build the city of Savannah.
Katie Greene, wife of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, helped Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin at a plantation near Savannah.
Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts 100 years ago at her Savannah family home while seeking meaning for her life after a failed marriage.
Savannah is filled with stories about interesting people. From its colorful 1733 founding as a planned city to its prosperous present as a romantic destination, it’s a place where past and present intertwine.
In the last 50 years or so, many of its historic homes, businesses, public buildings and monuments have been restored to their original glory. And Savannah’s history is a big part of the coastal city’s charm.
Strolling the streets, staying in a bed and breakfast, or taking in the sights aboard a trolley tour, it’s easy to become immersed in its fascinating stories, as I did during a visit earlier this month.
March is Women’s History Month, and while in Savannah, I learned that many of the city’s stories feature women in starring roles. During a four-day all-women group tour, I learned about many of the “ladies of Savannah” — starting at The Tea Room, on bustling historic Broughton Street. Owned and operated by Becky Wright and her daughter Elizabeth Ruby, it’s a place of quiet Southern elegance and hospitality.
As we sipped various teas and nibbled on blueberry scones, the stories began. “We call them the ladies of Savannah,” guide Gloria Horstman said. “We don’t have any women here; we have ladies.”
During her history talk, Horstman told us about the group of seven ladies who started a preservation movement in 1955, after several important historic buildings were torn down. She told us about Katie Greene, who met Eli Whitney on a ship, and brought him to work at her plantation after her husband died.
She told us how Low, a wealthy childless woman, found her life’s purpose through an organization aimed at helping girls from all walks of life. And she talked about about Musgrove, a trader who served as an interpreter and cultural liaison between Savannah founder James Oglethorpe and his colonists during the earliest years of the city. Oglethorpe and 113 colonists departed from England in late 1732 to establish the colony of Georgia. Oglethorpe selected Savannah’s location because it was on high ground overlooking a river. He laid out the town in an organized way, with squares and parks subdividing the streets. As the city grew, it expanded from four original squares to 24, of which 22 still remain.
The port city prospered from cotton exports during the antebellum period, and many of the mansions, public buildings and churches were constructed then. Several fires destroyed parts of the town, but it always came back. During the Civil War, General William Sherman destroyed towns and villages from Atlanta eastward during his Union Army’s March to the Sea. But, moved by Savannah’s beauty, he chose to spare it and presented it intact as a Christmas present to President Lincoln in 1864. After the war, Savannah’s economy grew again — and many buildings were constructed during the Victorian era, including The Dresser Palmer House, where I stayed. Built in 1876, it has the longest front porch in the city, 16 historically furnished rooms and an elegant parlor with a Steinway grand piano.
Innkeeper Shannon Romine was welcoming and informative, and cooked up delicious breakfasts, including a decadent pecan-baked French toast. She was one of several female innkeepers I met during a tour of B & Bs. They included Diane McCray, owner of the Green Palm Inn, built in 1897; Teresa Scott Jacobson, of Azalea Inn, built in 1885; and Jackie Heinz, of Ziegler House, built in 1856.
Women also run some of Savannah’s best restaurants. Many visitors flock to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, founded by the late Sema Wilkes and currently run by her granddaughter Marcia Thompson and her son Ryon. The Southern-style lunch is amazingly good, with about 25 different dishes laid out in front of you. I loaded my plate and sampled them all.
The Alligator Soul Restaurant, owned by Maureen Craig and her partner, Chef Chris DiNello, was once an underground grain warehouse built in 1885. They use local, regional and organic food, and the place is very popular with locals.
Leopold’s Ice Cream Parlor, run by Stratton Leopold, a Hollywood movie producer, and his wife, Mary, is a great place to get ice cream, made on the premises from recipes handed down from Stratton’s father and uncles who founded the place in 1919.
After so much good food, I chose a “Savannah Women” walking tour with Philip Sellers and Tony Higgins of the Walking Tour Company. As we passed buildings and monuments, they stopped to tell us about the colorful characters who once graced the scene, including murderers, heroines and adventurers, as well as Musgrove, Greene and Low. We also toured Low’s home, which has most of the original family furnishings and is restored to its mid-1880s appearance.
Then, for an in-depth look at another Savannah lady, we toured the childhood home of writer Flannery O’Conner. The home is restored to the way it looked when she lived there during the Depression. Savannah is so steeped in history that its stories put Savannah’s picturesque present into context, which is especially fun to contemplate while relaxing on the front porch of a historic B & B early in the morning, coffee in hand.
Technically, “this is a gallery, not a porch,” innkeeper Romine told me, with a smile.
That’s the Savannah way.
“Just like the alleys are called lanes,” she said.
And the women are called ladies.
Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/community/2012-03-16/story/savannahs-secrets#ixzz1pZgtBnGp
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