Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Tybee Island Adventure, Day 5

[Composed 8/3/2021]

Today was our chance to explore the city of Savannah. We started in Forsyth Park with a trip to the playground and then the nearby Fragrance Garden. The kids enjoyed both sites. I loved the concept of the garden which encouraged us to take in the scene with our nose and not just our eyes.

From there we made our way to the historic district where I planned to deploy my secret weapon for learning about Savannah's history: a carriage ride. After our experience in Montreal, I realized that a carriage ride is a delightfully kid friendly way to take in a city. And Savannah's carriage ride was no different. First off, what kid (or adult for that matter?) doesn't love being pulled by a horse? Our driver / tour guide was an absolute pro, casually dropping historic facts that kept everyone interested. And best of all: no tired legs or feet. At some point, the kids (and Shira) may be old enough and motivated enough to cover blocks of a historic city on foot, but until then, I'll gladly pay a premium price for the horse and driver experience.

Both J and I took plenty of photos on the carriage ride. However, I was so impressed with J's pics that I'm using them instead of the ones I took. So here's a feel for what we saw, all through J's lens.

I came away from the carriage ride blown away by the history of Savannah. We toured at least 4 notable time periods. Savannah starts with a sort of utopian founding which falls apart in less than 20 years. Next up, there's its role in the Revolutionary War and the failed attempt to extricate it from British control. Then there's its involvement in the Civil War, including the Union occupation. And finally, there's the battle of Ellis Square.

The last battle wasn't between armies; it was between local interests:

Ellis Square is one of the original squares planned by James Edward Oglethorpe during the founding of Savannah ... For over 200 years, the square served a market area and locals referred to it at Market Square throughout from the mid-1700s through the mid-1950s, when it ceased to exist.

In 1954, with much dismay, the significant square was demolished and turned into a multi-level parking garage that stood for more than five decades. This event helped ignited the restoration movement that has restored so much of the Savannah you can see today.

In the 1950's, Savannah wasn't the pristine historic location we toured today. The demolation of Ellis Square was very much a sign of what was to come:

By the mid-1950s, much of the downtown was wallowing in disinvestment and decay. Buildings were blighted and empty, crime was high, residents were fleeing to the southside, and there was little to no tourism. In 1954, the demolition of the beloved City Market on Ellis Square for a parking garage served as the catalyst for a nascent preservation movement.

By the following year, another serious threat arose-a nearby funeral home was set to purchase the c.1820 Isaiah Davenport House to tear it down for a surface parking lot.

Savannah residents were energized by the Ellis Square demolition and succesfully fought off attempts to tear down the Davenport House to make way for a parking lot. From there, they went on to save hundreds of other buildings and succesfully turned Savannah into the historic Mecca that it is today.

While this isn't the utopia Oglethorpe, the town founder, had in mind, if I squint I can see some similarities. Savannah opted to take a deliberate path that prized values over short-term gain, and the results are a beacon for others to embrace.

After our carriage ride we made our way to City Market. Some sources suggested the the market was a fun place to explore; other's suggested it was too touristy to be of much use. Given the heat and the age of our kids, we found it wasn't anything special. We did a walk through in a few minutes and then made our way back to one of the nearby squares to eat the lunch we'd packed for the day.

At this point, the sunshine and 86% humidity were taking their toll. It was hot and Shira had lost her patience for traipsing around the city. Grasping for one more thing to do, I suggested we visit Books on Bay, a used book shop located near the historic district. I figured what better place to spend our tourist dollars than in a local bookstore, and I liked the idea of taking the kids to a place where I'd be psyched to buy them something.

T found a paperback section that interested her, and she and Shira scoured it looking for a book for her, but all the titles ended up being too adult. J found the sci-fi section and ended up picking up an old school Star Trek book. I tried my hardest to get C and G to be interested in the various old-school girl-oriented series books (think Hardy Boys, but with girls on the cover) but had no luck. On the plus side, I ended up discovering the Cherry Ames series and picked up the one where she worked as a Flight Nurse. I was sold on reading it and hoped the kids would enjoy it, too.

But it was D's find that ended up being the most interesting. He picked up a copy of Mildred Wirt's Courageous Wings. When Shira went to buy our stack of books, it was then that we discovered the book he had picked up hadn't been priced yet. This triggered a fairly lengthy converstaion between the store owner and D. It started innocently enough, with her asking where he found it in the store. From there, we learned why it hadn't been priced yet and that she wasn't sure she was even going to sell it. D and the owner chatted on. By the end of the conversation we learned that this copy of Courageous Wings had been published during Word War II, when war scarcity caused the book to be printed on thinner, more delicate paper. Ultimately, she opted to not sell us the book. Instead, she gave it to D as a gift. The whole thing couldn't have been more touching.

I'm not sure the kids were blown away, but I'm definitely adding visit used book store to our list of activities we can do when visiting a new city with the kids. There's just too much opportunity to discover something new and interesting.

After the book store we did a bit of shopping at the outlets nearby and then made our way home.

I read the kids chapter one of Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse. I loved it. The kids, not so much. Oh well, it was worth a try.

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