Last Updated on February 22, 2023
Savannah is shrouded in intrigue and ghost stories. The city’s museums, streets and squares tell its unique story. These are the places you should not miss.
Savannah History Museum
Both the Savannah History Museum and the Visitor’s Center are located in the restored railway station of the Central Georgia Railroad Depot. It’s a good starting point for information, maps and brochures.
One of the museum displays is the bench made famous in “Forrest Gump,” where Forrest Gump sat to tell his life story. There is a 1901 Victoria Carriage owned by Juliette Gordon Low’s father, a 1902 convertible, a recreation of a room in Juliet Gordon Low’s home, and an Engine 403 from the Central Georgia Railroad. The exhibits cover just about all of Savannah’s history since Oglethorpe and his 124 settlers arrived.
Savannah’s newest museum shows you gangsters, moonshine makers, flappers, anti-saloon leagues, rum runners, and a hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation. You will learn the meaning of the three X’s on a moonshine bottle.
This is America’s only prohibition museum. There are exhibits on catching the gangsters, moonshiners, and rumrunners who made fortunes during prohibition. The museum even details the era’s effects on women’s fashion. For the first time, women cut their hair short and wore short skirts.
After you are admitted to the museum by a 1920s flapper, the first exhibit is of a Budweiser delivery driver in a Model T Ford Truck trying to deliver to McCurdy’s Saloon while two ladies protest with signs saying “Alcohol is Poison” and “Bread not Beer.”
Another exhibit has portraits of a lady and a gentleman in gilt frames that come to life to debate their respective stances on prohibition.
Later you come face to face with lifelike reproductions of Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and Machine Gun Jack McGurn.
The Massie School
This Greek Revival building is the only one remaining of Georgia’s original chartered school system. Building began in 1855 and it opened the following year.
During Sherman’s occupation of Savannah, the school operated as a Federal hospital for a short time. Then it was a Freedman’s School for a few months. In 1866, it became part of Savannah’s public school system until it finally shut its doors in 1974.
Here you will find an exhibit of two historic school rooms. There is information about emancipation and education of the formerly enslaved people in Savannah.
The Massie School also offers a glimpse into Savannah’s architectural past. There are exhibits related to the different styles you see around Savannah. There are preserved objects from buildings no longer left standing, and there is a diorama of the squares showing the way Savannah was originally laid out.
Out front you may get lucky and meet “Johnny Mercer” or another historical character in costume waiting for the trolley where he hops on to tell his life story.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was erected in 1876. It was repaired and reopened in 1900 after a fire in 1898 that destroyed much of the church.
It’s a French gothic design with two tall spires towering on each side of its entrance. The white and gold decorated altar is a classic beauty and the stained-glass windows are all works of art. It’s free to visit.
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
This was where Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, grew up. Much of the period furniture decorating the home belongs to the Low family.
There is, however, much more than the Girl Scout story to this home. Take one of the ghost tours to learn about its haunted history. Juliette’s father Willie Gordon died in 1912, while her mother Nellie survived him until her death in 1917. Just after Nellie’s death, both her daughter-in-law, Margaret Gordon, and the butler saw “Willie” coming down the stairs in a Confederate general’s uniform.
The Davenport House
The Davenport House started Savannah’s preservation movement. In 1955, the Isaiah Davenport House on Colombia Square had become an eyesore and was due to be demolished. The Historic Savannah Foundation mounted a campaign to save the 1820 Federal-style home. They succeeded in restoring it to its former glory, and it is now open as a house museum.
The winding staircase, period furnishings, and authentic wallpaper are beautiful. The exhibit retelling the story of the 12 enslaved workers who shared this home with Isaiah, his wife, and 10 children is even more fascinating.
Following the renovation of this home, Savannah restorations surged. Today, Savannah has the nation’s largest registered historic district numbering over 1,200 buildings.
Construction of the house began in 1860, but stopped at the start of the Civil War. It remained unfinished until 1868; the original intended occupant, Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer, was by then broke and never lived in the house.
It passed through different owners and was the site of the Shriner’s headquarters when Jim Williams of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame purchased it.
The home is now owned by Williams’ sister. There is a home tour about the history of the house, the antiques, and Jim Williams’ contributions to Savannah’s historic preservation. The guide is knowledgeable and explains the significance and architectural aspects of each room.
Williams’ office is furnished much as it was when he died; there are his antiques and pictures of him and his guests at his many famous parties.
The home has several ghost stories. People have reported mysterious lights going on and off in the home at night.
When you take the tour be aware that his sister forbids guides discussing paranormal occurrences or her brother’s trials.
Tybee Island Lighthouse
The lighthouse is Georgia’s oldest and tallest, dating back to 1736 and standing 145 feet tall. It’s open for tours so you can climb all 178 steps, and from the top observation deck you’ll see the entire island. You can view archaeological finds in the summer kitchen. Round off the visit by watching an educational video about the lighthouse and Tybee.
Across the street, the 1899 Military Battery that was built during the Spanish-American War is now a museum that houses exhibits on Tybee Island’s history from the Euchee Native Americans to the 20th century.
Your admission for the lighthouse also covers the Head Keepers three-bedroom cottage, which is furnished as it was during the mid-20th century, the 2nd Assistant Keepers Cottage, the summer kitchen, and the Tybee Island Museum across the street.
Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters
History, architecture, and more merge at 1819 Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters. Before you enter, notice the white cast-iron balcony on its south side. This was where the Marquis de Lafayette spoke on his return visit to the United States in 1825.
You start the tour in the slave quarters and learn why enslaved people painted their windows and ceiling “Haint Blue.” You will see how the enslaved people lived and worked.
Moving through the garden into the main house, you will see the beautiful and authentic furnishings. Notice architectural details like the floating bridge, inset serving table, and the ice chamber downstairs in the basement.
The ice chamber was a state-of-the-art feature in homes built by architect William Jay for wealthy clients that allowed them to store 50-pound blocks of ice shipped from up north.
Another remarkable feature is the plumbing system. Three different-level cisterns on the roof allowed them to use three marble bathtubs, a shower, multiple sinks, and two toilets.
Finally, downstairs there is a section devoted to documents detailing the history of the families and enslaved people that lived in the home.
Colonial Park Cemetery
More than 700 victims of the 1820 Yellow Fever epidemic are buried in Colonial Park Cemetery. Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is interred here. Sadly, Federal troops camped in the cemetery grounds during their occupation of Savannah changed the dates on many of the headstones.
Laurel Grove Cemetery
Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, and more than 1500 Confederate soldiers are buried here. In 1853, 15 acres of the original cemetery were set aside for the burial of “free persons of color and slaves.”
The Bird Girl stature made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is no longer here. It is now at the Telfair Museum. However, the cemetery is the resting place for many of Savannah’s most famous residents.
Getting Around Savannah
To pay for parking in Savannah online, download the free ParkSavannah app at Google Play or on the Apple Store. It saved me from a ticket several times. Street parking is free on Sundays.
For free transportation, the Downtown Transportation (known as DOT) is a good way to get around.
There are also several paid trolley tours that are hop on hop off, but the best way to see Savannah, if you’re able, is by walking – be careful on those bumpy, brick streets with the tree roots buckling them!