Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 6, 2013

Savannah Visit: The Picturesque South

by Shera Cohen
Think of the artsy quaintness of Northampton with the slight warmth of an early summer’s day anywhere in New England. Envision many series of street blocks, each bordered by manicured hedges, seating areas, and tall statues and monuments. White houses, all large and most with outside staircases on both sides of the entry door, align the streets. Within walking distance is the cobblestone River Street with dozens of boutiques separated between each by small restaurants. Finally, think of pre-Civil War “Gone with the Wind,” with its elegance, charm, and perhaps most of all the airy grey-hued Spanish moss floating from the trees. This is Savannah.

My Georgia vacation included museums, famous homes, theatre, music, and shopping. The impetus was to visit my nephew, who lives and works near Savannah. Along with my other nephew, his brother, we journeyed for five days. I must say that I am an excellent planner – skilled at fitting in a whole lot of culture into a short period of time. I admit, however, that some of the highlights of this trip were the unscheduled. Sometimes, expect the unexpected.

Planned Visits:
Savannah Philharmonic – I had the pleasure to attend “A Night of Great Opera.” Conductor Peter Shannon led the orchestra, chorus, and three soloists as they performed exactly what the program’s title stated. Segments of drama and comedy from great operas by Rossini, Verdi, and Bizet filled the bill. It was especially lovely to participate in one of the more elegant, dress-up, cultural events in Savannah.

Lucas Theatre for the Arts – This home of the Philharmonic looks like a movie house of yesteryear – actually it was, dating back to 1921 – complete with two floors and huge rotunda. Performances throughout the year include opera, country stars, and film series. During the day, Lucas’ management offers tours.

Savannah Theatre – The guide books call this theatre, “the oldest operating theatre still located on its original site that is still open.” The 1818 building is located in one of the most historic sections of the city. I saw “Southern Nights,” a revue featuring lots of extremely talented young singers and musicians performing rock, country, Motown, and pop. The lively show ended, not surprisingly, with “Georgia.”

Museums or History in Homes – Rotundas, picturesque seating gardens, statues, drawing rooms, elegant dining rooms, servant-run kitchen galleries make for a tourist’s dream. 

Juliette Gordon Low House – On the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Girl Scouts (founder Ms. Low); it was a special delight to step into her birthplace. The interior tells the story of Juliette, her commitment to young girls, and is surrounded by all things “Girl Scout,” the mansion and garden have been owned by the Girl Scouts since 1956.

Telfair Museums – boasts three separate museums and are the oldest public art museums in the South, especially lauded for their fine architecture. Owen-Thomas House – Tourists first enter the Owens’ family carriage house, and then assemble in a slave cabin built in 1819. Every piece of furniture and articles in the home are authentic from the 1800’s and 1900’s. A singular claim to fame is that Lafayette slept here. Jepson Center – The antithesis of all of our other visits is the modern, colorful, whimsical, and youngster-appreciated art of Jepson. Telfair Academy – Once a family mansion, visitors see aligned the rooms with 19th and 20th century art.

Ships of Sea – A museum, once the Scarbrough House (built for the principal owner of the ship Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic) featured room upon room of precise to-scale replicas of ships including those that brought the first colonists and slave ships. This self-guided tour permits the visitor to experience all things nautical.

Davenport House – The tour guide was especially knowledgeable in giving her audience detailed facts and anecdotes of the era and the rich Davenports; means to keep Southern homes comfortable in the summer months, what “sleep tight” meant, and why “tossing out the baby with the bathwater” became a common phrase.

Harper Fowles House – Dating to 1842, was yet another seaside mansion with its elegant dining room, antiques, and small garden. Common among these homes are the large white columns, giving the appearance that the large interior of the houses is even larger than life.

The Unexpected Treats

Bonaventure Cemetery – Those who know me are never surprised that I get lost a lot. This time, my lost was a gain. While en route to some of the homes on my “plan,” I found
myself walking into and around a graveyard smack in the middle of town. Its serpentine sidewalks guided me to stones of three centuries ago.

Food – Johnny Harris Restaurant (first time having chicken & dumplings), Vinnie Van Gogo’s (white pizza to die for), and Leopold’s Ice Cream. After eating a sundae or two at this lovely antique shop, it’s no wonder Leopold’s has won “best of” every Savannah magazine. The usual flavors were accompanied by lemon custard and rum bisque with toppings like huckleberry.

City Market – Experience fine or fun dining, boutique stores, working artists on a long architecturally intriguing street end-capped by a huge square and fountain.

Tybee Beach – We crossed the state line to South Carolina to arrive at the nearest beach. Too cold to swim, only a few (including myself) walked the shoreline in the calm low tide. This was exactly the way a beach should be – white dunes, soft sand, and the proverbial "as blue as the eye can see" ocean.