FX Excursions

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Archaeological Paths

Savannah: Steel Magnolia

Feb 1, 2006
2006 / February 2006

There’s more to Savannah than meets the eye. This quintessential Southern city, oft rated one of the nation’s most beautiful urban centers, is also home to a diverse economy that includes manufacturing, service, government and military, tourism, port-related distribution, and a burgeoning number of creative and technical businesses. It boasts an educated — and ever-renewing — workforce, with more than 44,000 students enrolled at a dozen colleges and universities within an hour’s drive. On top of all that, the Port of Savannah serves as a major distribution hub, with spokes reaching into a 26-state region that’s home to a whopping 75 percent of the U.S. population.

Savannah enjoys a strong and diversified manufacturing base. Products range from paper and forest products to chemicals, from construction equipment to food processing, and from corporate jets to drill bits. Gulfstream Aerospace is headquartered in Savannah. In fact, Gulfstream recently announced plans to expand its research and development wing into a new, 100,000-square-foot building here. Approximately 5,200 of the company’s workforce of 7,500 are located in Savannah.

“Gulfstream is a world-class company with a world-class product,” Rick Winger, president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said at the time. “They have locations around the world and could have put this new facility anywhere. That they chose Savannah, where the company started 38 years ago, is very gratifying and validates our community to other businesses that may be considering relocation or expansion.”

Fortune 500 companies with a presence in Savannah include BellSouth, Comcast, General Dynamics, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Merck and Weyerhaeuser. In addition, a growing number of creative and technical firms are opening up shop in the city.

Savannah also boasts a well-earned reputation as a top tourist destination. Almost 17,000 area residents are employed in travel- and tourism-related jobs, catering to the millions of annual visitors (direct traveler expenditures totaled $1.7 billion in 2003, a 4.4 percent increase over the previous year) drawn to explore the city’s history and beauty — a history that dates to Savannah’s role as the capital of America’s 13th, and final, colony.

Settled in 1733 by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, Savannah is considered America’s first planned city. Unlike other colonial-era settlements — Boston and lower Manhattan (then New Amsterdam), for example — Savannah was laid out on a grid system with boulevards, parks and squares. And thanks to conscientious preservation efforts, 21 of the city’s original 24 public spaces remain in existence today. Savannah’s Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and remains one of the largest historic landmarks in the country, with more than 1,600 restored structures rated historically and architecturally significant within a 2.5-square-mile area.

Ironwork is one of Savannah’s signature architectural attributes. Cast-iron balconies and stair railings adorn many of the homes in the Historic District. The craft has seen resurgence in popularity, as works by local crafters are displayed alongside historic elements in gated gardens sprinkled throughout the district.

Home to one of the largest art schools in the country — the Savannah College of Art and Design — Savannah is high on the arts, too, as faculty and student influence heightens its creative energy. Visitors seeking a cultural experience are sure to find something to satisfy their interest at any of the city’s diverse music and arts venues.

Savannah is also famous for its “Lowcountry” cuisine — flavorful fare heavy on fresh native ingredients and a strong Caribbean influence passed down through the generations by the region’s Gullah population, descendants of former slaves who live on the barrier islands off the South Carolina and Georgia coastline.


LODGING

MARRIOTT RIVERFRONT HOTEL
Th is 379-room hotel located on the riverfront is a favorite among business travelers. Each guestrooms features a dataport, coffeemaker, hair dryer and iron/ironing board. There’s an on-site restaurant and bar, two swimming pools (one indoor) and laundry service. $$$
MARRIOTT RIVERFRONT HOTEL
100 General McIntosh Blvd.
tel 800 228 9290, fax 912 233 3765
www.marriott.com

THE WESTIN SAVANNAH HARBOR GOLF RESORT & SPA

Opened in 1999, this is a relatively new addition to the lodging landscape in a city where a predominance of inns and B&Bs are housed structures dating to colonial days. The largest of the city’s major hotels, the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa is a popular choice for convention business. Guestrooms feature Westin’s signature “Heavenly Bed,” high-speed Internet access and Starbucks coffee. On-site amenities include two restaurants, two bars, two outdoor swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course and a fitness center. $$$
THE WESTIN SAVANNAH HARBOR GOLF RESORT & SPA
1 Resort Drive
tel 800 WESTIN, fax 912 201 2001
www.westinsavannah.com

THE KEHOE HOUSE
Built in 1892, the Kehoe is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The 13-room Renaissance revival-style property opened as an inn in 1992. Today, antique and period furnishings mesh seamlessly with state-of-the-art amenities, including high-speed Internet access. Guests enjoy a gourmet, made-to-order breakfast, complimentary afternoon tea and evening hors d’oeuvres served with wine. $$$
THE KEHOE HOUSE
123 Habersham St.
tel 800 820 1020 or 912 2321020
fax 912 231 0208
www.kehoehouse.com


DINING

THE SHRIMP FACTORY
A casual dining alternative, the Shrimp Factory is known for its consistently delicious seafood, regional dishes and view of the river. $$$
THE SHRIMP FACTORY
313 E. River St.
tel 912 236 4229
www.theshrimpfactory.com

CHART HOUSE
Part of the nationwide Chart House chain, this dining venue is housed in a late 18th century building that was once a sugar and cotton warehouse. There’s an outside deck, and the bar is one of the most popular on the waterfront. Offerings include the usual Chart House selections, heavy on steak and fresh seafood. $$$$
THE CHART HOUSE
202 W. Bay St.
tel 912 234 6686
www.chart-house.com

MRS. WILKES’ DINING ROOM
No visit to Savannah is complete with enjoying a meal at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. Founded in the 1940s by Sema Wilkes (who died in 2002 at 95), this is a place where meals are served family-style at long tables in a basement dining room. Stick-to-your-ribs selections include fried or barbecued chicken, black-eyed peas, corn on the cob, rice and gravy, candied yams, corn bread, and collard greens. Credit cards are not accepted. $$
MRS. WILKES’ DINING ROOM
107 W. Jones St
tel 912 232 5997
www.mrswilkes.com


DIVERSIONS

The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum (406 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., tel 912 231 8900) archives the struggle of Georgia’s oldest African- American community from slavery to the present. Guided and narrated tours through three floors of photographic and interactive exhibits chronicle the civil rights struggle in Savannah.

In its early years, Savannah was walled against the Spanish. Later, artillery fortifications protected the city from British and Union troops during the American Revolution and Civil War, respectively. Historic forts, including Fort Pulaski National Monument (U.S. Highway 80, tel 912 786 5787, www.nps.gov/fopu), stand today as reminders of Savannah’s military history. Located on Tybee Island, Fort Screven (Fort Screven Road, tel 912 786 4077, www.tybeelighthouse.com) was one of the last coastal artillery batteries built along the East Coast. It was erected in 1875 and was manned during the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. Tybee Museum, located in one of the bastion vaults of the unrestored fort, features exhibits dating to colonial and pre-colonial days. Three miles from downtown Savannah, Fort Jackson (1 Fort Jackson Road, tel 912 232 3945, www.chsgeorgia.org) is the city’s oldest remaining brickwork fort. Constructed between 1809 and 1842, the fort first saw service in the War of 1812 and then again during the Civil War. The $13 million Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum (147 Bourne Ave., tel 912 748 8888, www.mightyeighth.org) honors the courage, character and patriotism embodied by the men and women of the Eighth Air Force from World War II to the present.

Named in honor of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina statesman who was vice president under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun Square (Abercorn and Wayne streets) was designed in 1851. It is the only historic square in Savannah where all the original historic buildings remain intact. Chippewa Square at Bull and McDonough streets was designed in 1815. It is named to commemorate the Battle of Chippewa in the War of 1812. A bronze statue of the colony’s founder, Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, stands in the square — facing south, legend has it, to protect Savannah from the Spanish in Florida. Thirty-acre Forsyth Park (Bull and Gaston streets) features a cast-iron fountain, erected in 1858, that was designed to resemble the one at Place de la Concorde in Paris. It is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Savannah.

Savannah’s history is also recalled in museums and cultural centers, including the Andrew Low House (329 Abercorn St., tel 912 233 6854, www.andrewlowhouse.com). Built in 1848 by cotton merchant Andrew Low (Low’s son, William MacKay Low, was married to Juliette Gordon, founder of the Girl Scouts), the house is owned and preserved by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of Georgia. Savannah’s City Market (between Barnard, Congress and Bryan streets, tel 912 232 4903,www.savannahcitymarket.com) comprises a four-block area in the heart of the Historic District, renovated to capture the authentic atmosphere and character of the city’s old open marketplace. The market features artists working in their lofts and exhibits of works for sale. There are also restaurants, open-air cafes, jazz clubs, theme shops and stores offering crafts, accessories and gifts.


INFO TO GO

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) is located about 15 minutes from downtown Savannah. Taxi fare averages about $25. Chatham Area Transit (CAT) buses service many locations in the Savannah area. Most major car rental companies have offices located on the airport baggage-claim level.

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