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Savannah basics

How much of them do you really know?


THERE WAS A TIME when it was easy to find a parking place in downtown Savannah — back when it was safe to drive around the squares because everyone knew that traffic moving around a square had the right of way.

You could safely turn onto one of downtown’s one-way streets then, too, because all the traffic would be flowing in that one direction.

If you remember those days, consider yourself a Savannahian.

There are some things Savannahians just know, things like Bull Street being the dividing line between east and west Savannah. And the location of the “old mall.”

And that Savannah, while not an island, is separated from its outlying areas by bridges - to the beaches, to South Carolina, to The Landings, and to the west side of town (via the viaduct) -- which makes Savannah sometimes feel like an island.

True Savannahians don’t ever go “to the Southside,” they go “waaay out to the Southside,” the Southside being any part of Savannah south of DeRenne Avenue out to “North Jacksonville,” that area south of Largo and beyond.

South Carolina lies north across the Savannah River. But Hutchinson Island in the Savannah River is actually part of Georgia.

And when people from Savannah go to Hilton Head they don’t cross the Talmadge Bridge, they use “the New Bridge.”

Savannahians refer to their city’s founder simply as “Oglethorpe,” and they look puzzled when confused visitors ask why James Edward Oglethorpe’s statue is in Chippewa Square and John Wesley’s statue is in Reynolds Square. They just are, that’s all. “The Telfair” (never the Telfair Museum of Art) is on Telfair Square and that should be accurate enough to satisfy anyone.

That, and the fact that the city’s older war memorials face their enemies: the Spanish American War Memorial in Forsyth Park faces the Spanish to the south, as does Oglethorpe in Chippewa Square. The memorials dedicated to “the War of Northern Aggression” (Civil War), of course, face north to Yankee-land.

Most Savannahians know the first child born in their city arrived, appropriately enough, on St. Patrick’s Day, in 1733. She was the daughter of Henry and Hannah Close who named their baby girl, “Georgia.”

Savannah’s “old burying ground” is Colonial Park Cemetery, used from 1750 to the mid-1800s. Laurel Grove Cemetery opened for business in 1853 and contains the graves of many famous locals including Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, James Pierpont, the composer of “Jingle Bells,” and Andrew Bryan, founder of the first African American church in America (First African Baptist Church).

But, according to Savannah tour guides, when the elegant and (initially private) Bonaventure Cemetery opened, its exclusivity made a plot there so desirable that some “residents” of Colonial Cemetery were dug up by relatives and moved to a more prestigious Bonaventure “address!”

Drivers often get annoyed at getting stopped by railroad traffic (much of it serving the city’s busy docks), but Savannah has always been a railroad town. The country’s earliest railroad was developed at the Hermitage Plantation several miles up river from Savannah, when Henry McAlpin laid iron rails for horse-and-mule-drawn carts to run on to deliver bricks made there to a loading dock on the Savannah River. Those bricks, and others like them, made from the local bluish gray river clay are today famous as “Savannah Gray Brick.”

Savannahians remember that back in the mid-1970s, when the roads on and off Wilmington Island were narrow two-lane highways tunneled through heavy forest, the proposal to build the Truman Parkway was rejected -- because no one then believed there would ever be enough traffic volume to justify the compromising of wetlands or the cost to build such a fancy highway.

And you are a Savannahian if you remember when Tybee Island was renamed “Savannah Beach” in the 1950s to capitalize on the burgeoning tourist industry in the city. Many islanders didn’t like that change, according to Tybee’s former long-time mayor Walter Parker. “So the name Tybee was restored sometime around 1980.”

Only tourists ever called it Savannah Beach anyway, of course. Tybee Islanders always called their island Tybee, just as few will never call Sixteenth Avenue by the developer’s fancy new name for it, Tybrisa Street.

O. Kay Jackson is a local author and freelance writer. To comment e-mail us at

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