Savannah & Jekyll Island: A New Chapter of Travel

For the past four years, Jessica and I have joined our some of our besties on an annual couples trip. Our trips are typically bursting with activity, as we try to partake in the best a city has to offer over a long weekend. St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis have been some of our past experiences. This year, we went down south to Georgia, where a baby invasion drastically altered the way we conducted our trip annual trip.

Rapid-fire exploration of cities was replaced with a slow, unpredictable trip that revolved around meeting the needs of Ella-G, be it monitoring her sleep schedule, limiting her exposure to the sun, or scheduling around feeding times. Fortunately, our dear friends are seasoned travelers who had good techniques for travelling with babies – I’m not sure what we would have done without their calming guidance!

Our travels quickly showed me how vacation was no longer primarily about meeting my relaxation or discovery needs. Reading on the beach and enjoying cold drinks by the pool made up a much smaller percentage of my time this trip than in beach trips past. In their place was a week of conditioned heart transformation that led me to embrace the realities of our family-oriented life. Caring for the many urgent needs of a vulnerable infant takes precedent over the self-serving tendencies typically associated with vacationing.

Time spent relaxing may have been sparse, but we still manged to experience some of the noteworthy sights and unique culture of the area. In fact, when we got back from the trip, I felt inspired to do some digging regarding the area’s history to better uncover the context of what we had just experienced. For the dozens of us who might want to know more about the Savannah region, what follows are some of the highlights from the trip.

Family Pic, Jekyll Island (KP, 2018)
Our goofy family, July 2018. Photo Credit: Kelsey P.

Savannah

Savannah radiates southern charm throughout it’s well-preserved historic district – which I learned is one of the largest such districts in the country. The beautiful downtown is made unique through the innovative planning and design by James Oglethorpe, founder of the British colony of Georgia.

Oglethorpe Square (MP, 2018)
General James Oglethorpe, founder and master planner of Savannah, is memorialized by his statue in Oglethorpe Square.

Savannah was planned as a modular “ward” system of ~10-acre blocks. Each ward centered around a public space intended to be used as market space, communal farming, or militia drilling. Surrounding this public space are a mixture of commercial and residential plots. Each ward was identical in it’s layout, thus when stacked next to each other, naturally produced commercial strips of activity with residential side streets. All told, 24 wards we’re built out through the 18th-19th century. Today, 22 of the planned public spaces survive as beautifully landscaped parks or plazas.

Savannah_cityplan_1818
Savannah City Plan in 1818. Fifteen wards were built by this time. (Public Domain)
Telfar, Owen-Thomas House (MP, 2018)
The Owens-Thomas and Slave Quarters is one of the three Telfair Museum sites in Savannah. We were transported back to the 19th century while on a guided tour through this antebellum house.
St John the Baptist Cathedral (KP, 2018)
The Cathedral of St. John The Baptist is home to the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Georgia and stands as an impressive representation of Victorian Gothic architecture. Photo Credit: Kelsey P.

Savannah has a story whose beginning reads differently from most southern cities. While on our trolley tour of the city, I was surprised to learn how Oglethorpe and the Georgia Trustees intended to embody the Enlightenment ideals promoted by John Locke when they established the Colony of Georgia with Savannah as its capital. At the heart of Oglethorpe’s comprehensive and multi-faceted plan there was a vision of social equity and civic virtue. As I learned in an excerpt from The Oglethorpe Plan, “the mechanisms supporting that vision, including yeoman governance, equitable land allocation, stable land tenure, prohibition of slavery, and secular administration, were among the ideas debated during the British Enlightenment.”

The manifestation of these ideals was relatively short lived. In 1750, not even 20 years after Savannah was founded, the Georgia Trustees were replaced by elected delegates from the colony. Slavery was legalized. The local economy, originally intended for family-oriented silkworm cultivation and rice farming, gradually transitioned to cotton farming due to soil composition issues. Savannah grew as a port city and center of trade for plantation owners.

Cotton Exchange (MP, 2018)
The Savannah Cotton Exchange was completed in 1887. The building is one of the first to be built over a public street. During its heyday as much as two million bales of cotton a year moved through Savannah.
Savannah Riverfront (MP, 2018)
The Savannah Riverfront has long since closed its downtown port, but the old warehouses have been transformed into shops and restaurants catering to all us tourists.

The city thrived until the conclusion of the Civil War. When General Sherman’s military campaign, “March to the Sea,” began heading toward Savannah, city leaders wisely met the Union army outside of the city to negotiate a surrender. General Sherman found the terms to be suitable, and therefore didn’t subject the city to his destructive scorched earth policy.

The post-Civil War history of Savannah is not unlike many other Southern cities: The failure of Reconstruction hindered the city’s growth through much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What growth did occur was harmed by deindustrialization, leading to a general sense of grittiness felt in areas outside of the vibrant historic district.

We were able to experience Savannah’s complicated past firsthand during our visit. While the city has its scars, contemporary leaders seem to have done well in preserving the colorful city’s history while turning a new page forward.

Prohibition Museum (MP, 2018)
The American Prohibition Museum offered a well-documented account of Prohibition’s impact on Savannah and the country as a whole. The museum features a functioning speakeasy part way through the experience. To more fully feel the sting of prohibition, Eloise played the role of prohibition officer and knocked my drink into my lap. Party foul!
Forsyth Park (MP, 2018)
Forsyth Park substituted the public squares as Savannah continued its growth into the 19th century. The Forsyth Park Fountain serves as the centerpiece of the 30 acre park.
Savannah College of Art and Design (MP, 2018)
The Savannah College of Art and Design seems to be a key player of keeping the downtown historic district alive and poppin’. It seems a fair percentage of the buildings have been repurposed by the school. I particularly enjoyed the cannon columns of this reused 1892 armory.

Jekyll Island

We spent most of our time on Jekyll Island, about an hour and a half outside of Savannah. Being our first time travelling with babies, we thought a beach trip would be the best way to get our feet wet (both literally and figuratively).

Jekyll Island had all the makings of a classic beach vacation: An affordable hotel with access to sandy beaches, swimming pools, and several nearby beach-inspired restaurant options. The local community has largely resisted the urge to commercialize, so there was still a fair sense of tranquility and original naturalness to the island.

Driftwood Beach (KP, 2018)
A strange but remarkable area of the island, known as Driftwood Beach, is a “tree graveyard” of sorts. Photo Credit: Kelsey P.

What made the island truly remarkable, however, was the Jekyll Island National Historic District. The island once played host to the Jekyll Island Club, whose prestigious members bought the island in 1886. The National Park Service describes how the club was considered to be the most exclusive social club in the United States: “The Jekyll Island Club had a limit of 100 members, among them the Astors, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, Morgans and McCormicks and was laid out by prominent landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland.” We took a morning stroll around the grounds to marvel at the novelty of how American industrial ‘royalty’ spent their time recreating and relaxing.

Jekyll Island Clubhouse (MP, 2018)
Main clubhouse for the Jekyll Island Club.
Sans Souci Condo (MP, 2018)
The Sans Souci condominium had separate living quarters for select club members (such as JP Morgan).
Jekyll Island Oaks (MP, 2018)
The club grounds were lined with beautiful oaks provided which provided a much needed reprieve from the intense sun.
Sea Turtle Center (MP, 2018)
The club’s power plant was transformed into a sea turtle museum and rehabilitation clinic.

Foodie

🔥 Claiming to be the oldest standing building in Georgia, The Pirate House has it all: A great menu, historical intrigue, and a cozy atmosphere.

🔥 Considered one of Savannah’s marquee dining locations, Old Pink House anchored our final evening of the vacation. The 18th Century mansion-turned-restaurant offered a fine selection of lowcountry foods – but being a boring person I chose the humongous plate of fried chicken as my Last Supper in the south.

🔥 Beach House Restaurant was probably my favorite place on Jekyll Island. Quality brews and food at a low-key, beachy building are all it takes to make me happy while dining on the beach.

Closing Time

On the whole, our trip proved to be a revealing experience as to how travels with kids will generally operate. I learned to say goodbye to our jam-packed city trips, and even somewhat to beach/poolside relaxation. It was a tough breakup, but its my hope that this next chapter of life will bring a whole new level of fulfillment when traveling with Eloise.

A lesson learned worth mentioning: We as new parents can’t be ignorant to our new reality. We planned our beach trip before Eloise had even joined our family, how could we know her preferences? She deserves a say in what we do, how we travel. Going forward, I think we’ll be more cognizant of her preferences and find things to do that she can enjoy. She did tour the city well, so maybe there’s opportunity to do more of that – at least until she learns to walk and needs to do everything on her own.

Raising Eloise is going to be an adventure in and of its own. I’m not quite sure what travelling with a child looks like, but I hope we can adapt and learn how to travel well with kids.

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