Savannah is easy to explore on foot, though the free buses are handy when the heat picks up. A good place to start is River Street overlooking the Savannah River, lined with bars and restaurants, and a great place to stroll or take a boat ride. A short walk east will take you to Morrell Park and the Waving Girl statue, a tribute to Florence Margaret Martus, who once waved to all the vessels going in and out of the harbor. Also here is the small Olympic Flame Cauldron, which was lit during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (Savannah was the sailing venue). South of the river lies Savannah’s Historic District. Though the area is peppered with intriguing sights—many of them old mansions—the soul of the city is its great network of squares, really subtropical parks shaded by canopies of live oaks, dogwoods, and blooming magnolias. Johnson Square is the oldest and largest, though Reynolds Square makes an equally attractive starting point of any tour, marked by the statue of John Wesley.
On a bluff above the Savannah River, Factors Walk and Factors Row are arrays of redbrick structures named for the men who graded cotton in these buildings in the heyday of the 19th-century King Cotton economy. They were called “Factors.” The structures themselves were built by skilled architects, who had to contend with a bluff rising sharply from the river. On this bluff, they designed a series of multi-tiered buildings that were made from ballast stone and brick, hauled across the Atlantic.
Rice and cotton were the main crops held in the warehouses along Factors Walk, both flourishing industries at the time. During Savannah’s peak as a seaport, ships from all over the world docked adjacent to the row of warehouses so their exports could be directly loaded into their holds.
The rows of warehouses were made accessible by a network of iron bridgeways over cobblestone ramps. Today this section, lying between Bull and East Broad streets, is filled with shops and restaurants. Ramps lead from the Bay Street level down the bluff to restaurant-lined River Street, which you can explore after checking out Factors Row and Factors Walk.
Savannah has 24 historic squares, and it is these that really make the city such a special place—there’s nothing quite like them anywhere else in the U.S. Johnson Square was the first to be laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733 (it’s still the largest of the city’s 24 squares). The main attraction here is the monument to Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene, who was reinterred under the obelisk in 1901. To the south lies leafy Wright Square, the burial site of Tomochichi, a leader of the Creek nation and ally of Oglethorpe. He is commemorated by a monument in the southeast corner of the square erected in 1899 (his original resting place was controversially covered by a memorial to war hero William Washington Gordon in the 1880s). Ellis Square is one of the city’s oldest and busiest centers, but what you see today was re-created and re-opened in 2010: the original square was destroyed in the 1950s to make way for a parking garage (now demolished). Today a statue of local singer Johnny Mercer looks over the space. South of Ellis lies Telfair Square, one of the original four laid out by Oglethorpe, while Reynolds Square to the east contains a bronze statue honoring John Wesley, founder of Methodism (Wesley preached in Savannah 1735–38). Other highlights include grand Chippewa Square, laid out in 1815 and containing an equestrian statue of Savannah founder General James Oglethorpe, created by famed sculptor Daniel Chester French in 1910. The “park bench” scene in which Tom Hanks opens Forrest Gump (1994) was actually filmed on the north side of the square, though the bench itself was just a prop. If you’re more interested in scenery than history, aim for Pulaski Square on Barnard Street, between Harris and Charlton streets, home to the most picturesque live oaks in the city. The most beautiful square in the city, however, is Monterey Square, located on Bull Street, between Taylor and Gordon street.
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