Unusual Savannah

January 20, 2012

I wanted to start off the new year with a photo essay of some of my favorite lesser-known cool and quirky things around Savannah that you won’t find highlighted in the usual tours and tourist material. Let’s start off in typical local fashion with, yes, a cemetery.

The Sheftall family burial ground near Garrison Elementary off West Boundary Street

The Levi Sheftall family burial ground and the nearby Mordecai Sheftall plot are memorials to one of Savannah’s oldest families, one which played a key role in Savannah’s efforts to fight for American independence.

While the Jewish diaspora was generally late in coming to most U.S. cities, Savannah and Charleston are notable exceptions. Indeed, Savannah’s Jewish population came over in force within a few months of Gen. James Oglethorpe’s initial landing in February 1733. While the vast bulk of these early coastal Jewish settlers were of Sephardic heritage, with roots on the Iberian peninsula, the Sheftall family itself were Ashkenazi Jews.

The interior of the Sheftall burial plot

But neither Sheftall plot was the first Jewish burial ground in Savannah — that was on present-day Oglethorpe Avenue, then called South Broad Street. A plaque is all that’s left to indicate that burial ground today.

One thing that’s not a gravestone but is often mistakenly thought to be one is the old White Bluff Road marker at Bull and Anderson Streets. Though now at the fringe of the beginning of the Victorian District, it once marked the southern edge of Savannah and signaled the extention of Bull Street into White Bluff Road — though today Bull Street is actually called that for several more miles westward.

The old White Bluff road marker in its little 'cage' at Bull and Anderson

Charleston, of course, is famous for its “single houses,” a unique design attributed to Charleston’s original Barbadian founders. A Caribbean style, the single house features south-facing piazzas (the better to attract and corral dominant breezes) and sits length-wise on the lot — meaning the “front yard” is actually on the side of the house.

While Charleston is absolutely chock-a-block with single houses, Savannah has only a handful. Here’s one of them.

A rare example of a Charleston-style single house in Savannah

Another unique feature of Charleston architecture is the frequent use of “earthquake bolts,” introduced after the enormous 1886 earthquake, which was the largest to hit the U.S. east coast in recorded history. While Savannah did indeed feel the earthquake and many buildings were damaged here, earthquake bolts simply didn’t come into widespread use.

Here’s an exception:

Earthquake bolts on a Savannah house; also note the 'ghosting' between the windows, evidence of a prior window

Near that Savannah single house is this strangely out-of-format street sign at Abercorn and Hull. I’ve always liked this tiny sign — why I’m not quite sure:

Odd street sign at Hull and Abercorn

The furniture shop 24e at 24 E. Broughton has been in the same family for decades. Go upstairs to the second-floor showroom to see these well-preserved old walls with the original painted advertisements pretty nearly intact:

Old advertisement mural upstairs at 24e on Broughton

Here’s another one:

Another old advertisement in 24e

On the south side of Bay Street on the east end of downtown is the remnant of an old business which harkens back to the days before the tourism boom of the ’90s, when downtown and the waterfront in particular were still pretty seedy, and where you went to find a good time — any good time you wanted.

What kind of good time? Take a close look at what’s left of this signage and decide for yourself:

Old signage on Bay Street


Detail, Bay Street signage

And another:

Detail of signage on Bay Street

Getting the picture yet? On a more innocent note, here’s an interesting little doo-dad just off the sidewalk on Whitaker Street:

Interesting fountain thingie

Just around the corner at the entrance to the popular bar Hang Fire (which itself was long home to downtown’s longest-running strip bar back in the day; the original stripper pole is hanging over the bar), is this collection of confiscated illegal IDs:

Part of the display of confiscated fake IDs at the entrance to Hang Fire

Speaking of drinking, let’s close with a quintessentially quirky Savannah artifact, the famous “Countdown to St. Patrick’s Day” sign at ground-level at the Knights of Columbus building at Bull and Liberty:

The countdown to St. Patrick's Day at the K of C; by now the numbers are a lot closer


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