A Design Lover’s Guide to Historic Savannah

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In my humble opinion, Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in the US. I first fell in love with it after seeing the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, based on the book by John Berendt in 1997. The movie was directed by Clint Eastwood, and made the book and the town famous.

Savannah is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts, and it’s no surprise why — there is so much to see, y’all! Savannah is a city I could visit every year for the rest of my life and never see all the history and architecture it has to offer. Really.

I especially love the Southernness of the city. Everything is steeped in history, and everyone has a reverence for it. There is a love of antiques found everywhere there, and hospitality is part of the beating heart of the town. The pineapple, for example, is a sign of welcome and you see them everywhere here. But most impressively…

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A beautiful entrance

Savannah is Home to a TON of 18th and 19th Century Architectural Styles

My favorite part are the TRUE examples of 18th and 19th century architectural styles all over Savannah, mostly European but with a couple that started right here in the US. Over 40% of the city’s more than 2,500 buildings have architectural or historic significance (source). And you can see it.

They include architectural styles of Federal (US), Georgian (UK), Colonial (US), Gothic Revival (UK), French Gothic, Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival (also called Italianate), Regency (UK), Romanesque (Europe), and Second French Empire. Wow. 

If you don’t know these terms or what these styles look like, that’s okay. I know you’ll enjoy them anyway. Here are some of my favorites, including sites to see and why they’re so special…

Sights & Sites to See

Mercer House

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Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance Revival (Italianate) 

Why I love it: Italianate is one of my favorite architectural styles, and I love, love, love Mercer House. I have toured it many times and probably will again. It’s the home of the late Jim Williams, which the book (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) is about. He was a very well known antiques dealer and house preservationist in the ‘70s and ‘80s until his death. You MUST read the book or see the movie. And visit. It’s SO good!

Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist

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Architectural Style: French Gothic

Why I love it: This basilica is a wonder to behold of architecture. The arched windows and turrets. The stained glass windows on the wooden door. The golden accent color around the edges. I love it all…and it’s a lot bigger in person!

Armstrong House

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Architectural Style: Italianate

Why I love it: The Armstrong house is 100 years old, four stories, and beautifully restored in the Italian Renaissance style. It’s passed to different owners throughout the years, including Jim Williams (owner of Mercer House), but now it’s home to one of the most prestigious law firms in Georgia. Can you imagine coming to work here every day? It’s enough to make me consider a career change…

Telfair Academy

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Architectural Style: Regency

Why I love it: Telfair Academy is modeled after the Regency style, which was a design and architectural movement in the UK in the early 1800s during the reign of King George III. It’s now a museum filled with 19th and 20th century art, including the famous Bird Girl statue (right). I have a to-scale replica of her in my foyer!

Trinity Church

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Architectural Style: Greek Revival

Why I love it: There are many examples of Greek Revival around Savannah, and I love it. Greek Revival is also the style of The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home, which is practically down the street from me. Buildings like these feel so grand and impressive up close. As they say, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

Forsyth Fountain

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Why I love it: Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park is one of the most photographed fountains in Savannah. It has become an icon of the city and is beautiful up close. A must-see.

Historic Savannah Neighborhoods

Why I love them: You could walk around any of Savannah’s historic neighborhoods and never run out of things to see, like these beautiful scenes. You’ll also find tree-lined sidewalks with their branches shading the streets. Beautiful, respected architecture that you don’t even need a name for. Everything I love about the south. Can you tell I’m already fixing to go back?

Where to Eat in Savannah

When you’re seeing the sites, you’ll also probably want to stop for a bite to eat. Here are a few places we stopped and loved…

1st Place: Elizabeth On 37th

I love Elizabeth On 37th! Not just for the obvious reason. I’d always wanted to go here since I read about it in “the book,” but we had never made it on prior trips. Well, we made it this time, and it was fabulous! I recommend it.

Honorable Mentions go to…

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Well, I’ll stop here, but what a trip! Our whole family loved it, even my kids, who could probably care less about architecture. I know I missed something, but I’d love to hear what y’all love best about Savannah. Have you been? If you haven’t yet, well…what are you waiting for? It’s even more incredible in person. 🙂

Xo,

E

4 replies to “A Design Lover’s Guide to Historic Savannah

  • Sounds like a wonderful trip! I still have never been to Savannah, but really want to go. Are there many house interiors that are open for tours? That’s my favorite thing to find when I travel. I’d love to know the names of specific ones so I can put that on my list. 🙂

    • Yes, many!
      But the one you must do is Mercer House. It’s the home of Jim Williams who was a preservationist back in the 70’s and 80’s and he saved many of Savannah’s historic homes. The book and movie I mentioned was about him and some things surrounding him- it is fascinating! Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is the title of the book and movie- watch the movie to get a quick overview, and then read the book.
      For the movie, they completely moved out every single antique in Mercer House and replaced with exact replicas, because the insurance company would not provide coverage during the shoot because of the value of the interiors.

  • I enjoyed your article! I’ve been to Savannah once with my daughter when she toured SCAD and the two days we were there to take it in were not enough time at all! I’m definitely going back to soak it up and take some of those house tours you mentioned. I’ll need to re-read some of my old architectural design books from college so I can truly appreciate it all.

    • Thanks Leisha, I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
      and yes, you definitely need to plan a trip back when you can- there is just so much there to see.

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