General James Oglethorpe settled Savannah in 1733 as a slave-free colony with the idea of giving the “worthy poor” of Britain — many of whom were in debtor’s prison — a second chance. Oglethorpe would die soon thereafter (and slavery would be instated), but not before the philanthropist initiated construction of Savannah on a grid system, oriented around more than twenty squares (one of which you saw Forrest Gump sitting aside with a box of chocolates.)
Savannah’s growth was partly shaped by its geographic position. It’s largely isolated, something of a border town on the water, but rather than dying from disuse, Savannah embraced its natural port. The Port of Savannah is rare in its adaptibility to changing shipping dynamics. The cotton shipping capital of the world in the 1800s, Savannah is now one of the largest containerports in the United States, despite the fact Savannah River needs constant dredging just to maintain the necessary 40-foot depth for the large ships. Meanwhile, Savannah’s port gave the city a trading culture very different than the plantation-based economies found elsewhere in the South.
Benjamin Franklin apparently served as a consultant for the economic development of the colony. I’d like to find more information on his role. Thankfully, Sherman limited his impact, sparing Savannah and presenting the city (intact) to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas gift.
Savannah enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the 20th century, as patrons stopped the bulldozing of older, run-down buildings, and started a revitalization trend that proved profitable for both individuals and Savannah at large. The Savannah College of Art and Design has played a role in this process as well, growing in step with the city.
The last stop at the end of the line and an heir of King Cotton, Savannah has maintained its relevance. The city streets bustle with life: grandmothers and twenty-somethings alike. Containerships cruise by, carrying back and forth more than a million twenty-foot units a year, while artists set up displays along the streets and tourists drink from plastic cups. Jane Jacobs would like Savannah.
The city teems with restaurants, bars, and outdoor areas. I don’t know Savannah well, but I know I want to know her better. Next weekend, I’ll check out Charleston, but Savannah is certainly one of the best little cities I’ve encountered. And yes, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is excellent travel company.