The Sights of Savannah

April 9, 2019

We arrived in Savannah and were delighted to learn that Velsignet was only a few hours behind us. Mike and Brenda are heading home, too, and are tucking their boat in at a different marina. But in the few days between, they decided to dock and see the sights of Savannah from Thunderbolt, where we were. We were moved to the “basin,” which is a part of the “yard,” adjacent to but separate from the marina, due to the work for which we are scheduled. I did laundry and we made good use of our down time. When Mike and Brenda arrived, we had docktails (often we drink water!) and shared travel stories. We decided to explore the Bonaventure Cemetery via bike, just a few miles from the marina, famous for its beauty and famous “residents.” We located the grave site of  Johnny Mercer of “Moon River” fame and a Jewish section and Holocaust memorial. Then, it still being early, we decided to continue down to the river district downtown. Historic Savannah is laid out in squares, each similar yet inhabiting its own personality. Twenty-two of the original 24 from the English design still exist, spaced 2 blocks apart each way, and serve as green space for the residences and quiet businesses which face it. The profusion of Spanish moss draped Live Oaks add stately elegance and shade everywhere and just beg one to slow down. Bright red camellias dot the landscape and fill in less expansively than the earlier-blooming azaleas did a couple of weeks ago. Down by the river is a touristy area, but a wizened local directed us to Spanky’s for supper. It was precisely what we were looking for—a local dive at which almost everything on the menu was deep fried! The claim to fame was “the original” chicken fingers; of course, we asked our server what that really meant, and he didn’t know, but enthusiastically endorsed them as delicious. They were. We stopped on the way home at Tubby’s Sports Bar and watched sadly as the Notre Dame women got bested by one point in the NCAA final tournament game. 

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Final resting place of Johnny Mercer, song-writer extraordinaire, in beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery.: Think “Moon River,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Days of Wine and Roses.”

The following day held a succession of delightfully lucky touring serendipities. Before setting off for town, I was disappointed to find that no tickets were available for the most popular historic house tour, but as we wandered around town, we happened upon the Owens-Thomas house and decided just to see if there might be tickets—and there were 4, giving us 45 minutes to preview the videos and history. It was an interesting peek into an urban home run by enslaved people. Built by a cotton plantation owner and slave trader in 1819 and utilizing the youthful cutting edge skills of architect William Jay, the family lost prosperity and was struck by a yellow fever epidemic and sold the house only 3 years later. For several years it served as a boarding house, one guest being the wildly popular Marquis de Lafayette who gave a speech from the balcony of his room. Finally the house was purchased at auction by the William Owens, planter, lawyer, and politician (mayor of Savannah and Congressman) and his wife in 1830 for $10,000. Its English Regency architectural style demanded symmetry which sometimes compromised functionally; and faux finishes were the fashion, begging the question, “Why would  you want real marble baseboards (wrought iron banisters, walnut doors, etc.) when you can pay so much more to have fake ones?” The docent always referred to “enslaved people” rather than “slaves” and “owners of enslaved people” rather than “masters,” and raised the uncomfortable reality that the Owens’ beautiful lifestyle was dependent upon their 400 enslaved workers, on these workers’ lack of personal time and space, on the conflicting messages of genuine fondness and stern control that even their most trusted house workers endured. After the tour, we rode around the famous Forsyth Park and then were able to snag a reservation for early dinner at The Olde Pink House. As we approached the restaurant we gave pause at the sight— the place was swarming with cameras and news media and the line awaiting entry wound down the steps and around the block. What dumb luck!—This was their grand reopening 102 days after a big kitchen fire! The staff was in top form and, despite our showing up with bike helmet hair, we had a lovely, memorable dinner. Thunder storms greeted us as we left the Pink House, making the 6-mile ride back to our boats memorable, too, and warm showers back at the marina felt even better than usual. To cap off our lucky day, we utilized our access to a lovely captain’s lounge, as guests of the boat YARD, rather than the marina. What a great spot to watch the finals of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament with our popcorn and snacks—a great end to a really fun day. 

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The insistence of symmetry called for an indoor bridge across the stairwell upstairs!

 

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An example of the extreme symmetry of the Regency style: the panel under the stairs on the right is a false door to complement the functional one on the left. The columns are faux marble, the handrail and balusters are faux wrought iron—the fashion of the day found the “real deal” too ordinary.
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The formal dining room shows forward-looking design elements and offers a good look at the faux marble baseboards—pine with a fancy paint job—which appear throughout the house.
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The scullery in the cellar.
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Forsyth Park with our Velsignet buddies Mike and Brenda

After a day of fielding questions from boat service providers and preparing to leave the boat for a week, we flew home for a packed four days with Steph and Luke in Goshen, attending to wedding planning, visiting my dad, celebrating Mom Hollenberg’s 90th birthday at Pokagon State Park, a venue which has been meaningful to the Hollenberg family for many years.

We returned to the boat 6 days later, expecting progress to have been made on the work orders. As it turns out, our return was MUCH earlier than necessary, as we found the sweet engine mechanic just getting a start on the 3-day 1000-hour maintenance routine. This was not what we thought we had scheduled! But, not to worry—some other pieces and parts are delayed, too, which means we have another week to explore Savannah.

😏🙃😏🙃

On Thursday, Steve and I took off on our bikes again for downtown to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, rated the 5th best restaurant in Savannah by Trip Advisor. The 90-minute wait on the sidewalk raised questions as to its worth, but it turned out to be a fun experience. We were seated at tables of 10, already set with platters of meat and side dishes and sweet tea all around. Fried chicken, chicken and noodles, meatloaf, barbecued pork, sausage and rice, green beans, butter beans, creamed corn, squash, rutabagas, macaroni salad, potato salad, mashed potatoes, gravy, white rice, candied sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, collards, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and corn bread, cucumbers, cabbage, and baked beans—all one could eat—were then topped off with a choice of peach cobbler or banana pudding. Mrs. Wilkes’ grand daughter Shirley introduced herself and made certain that we were pleased with our experience, and as I thanked her after the meal, she apologized for our wait. Steve and I were grateful that between us we had cash enough to cover the meal, as no credit cards were accepted and we overheard other guests comment on how many blocks it was to the nearest ATM. From there we rode to Forsyth Park again to sate our need for beautiful green space. Bordering the park is a magnificent spreading Live Oak named the Candler, a 300-year-old tree with 110-foot width. We read a placard about the activities that have surrounded that tree through the years: a poor house and hospital, orchards and cattle, prisoners of war. Due to its declining health, in 1985 the Candler Oak’s easement was donated to the Savannah Tree Foundation, and with restorative treatment it has rebounded and is expected to continue thriving for many years. We admire the value that the community obviously holds for these botanical treasures. En route back to the boat, we met our friends on The Journey, Dale and Merna Hartwig, who we met at Dog River in Mobile and subsequently crossed the gulf with. We celebrated their crossing their wake that day (meaning that they completed their 6000 mile Loop) and we had such a good time hearing about their experiences and learning what they have planned for their next chapter. Ah, one just never knows what the day will bring! 

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The remarkable line for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. We waited 1 1/2 hours.
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A foodie photo shoot at Mrs. Wilkes’.  It didn’t matter that we had never met these folks—we came to eat! Everyone tucked into their plates, and Steve “tried to eat fast so he wouldn’t feel full” but paid for it with discomfort afterward.

The following days blur together, colored by our yearning to get back on the water, our desire not to squander the opportunities in Savannah, and an acquiescence to the situation holding us here. Friday (Good Friday) was dark, stormy, and cold with a tornado warning. Saturday we enjoyed a bike ride and checked out the Earth Day festivities at Daffin Park. We marked Easter Sunday by pumping out our holding tank 😜 and making a big breakfast of cheesy grits, fried eggs, and Pillsbury orange rolls. Not at the same time!

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Earth Day Celebration at Daffin Park
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Easter Breakfast: Cheesy grits, Fried egg, and Pillsbury orange rolls —the latter, more nostalgic than delicious.

Our attempt to ride to the Wormsloe Historic Site on Easter was thwarted by the realization that roads were too narrow and traffic too fast for us to conjure up a mythology of safety. We visited via courtesy car the following day, enjoying the famous 1.5 mile Live Oak Avenue and learning about the founding of Savannah as a colony, barring land ownership, slavery, and spirits. The resulting lifestyle proved too rigorous, the community failing to thrive; it thrived finally—and sadly—after reversing all three of these ethical touchstones and embracing the norms of the time. Wormsloe is a tabby ruins of a fortified house built over 6 years in the mid-18th century by Noble Jones, who was an English settler. He was loyal to the crown; his son Noble W. Jones was a patriot and attendee of the Second Continental Congress. The family story is interesting, and a lovely historic house stands sheltered behind fences and mature landscaping on the grounds, home still to Noble Jones’ descendants.

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Wormsloe Live Oak avenue, planted about 125 years ago.

Last evening we were delighted to have dinner with Mike and Brenda, just back from MN and also raring to go. As we continue waiting for a new raw water pump, still awaiting some hull work, I am signing off on the Savannah chapter. Maybe closing it will bring closure to the work order, as well! We’re hoping to be back on the water tomorrow—fingers crossed!

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