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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Georgia Coast & Okefenokee

By Richard J. Lenz

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Sherpa Guides > Georgia Coast & Okefenokee> Northern Coast > Savannah > Historic Parks and Cemeteries

Historic Parks and Cemeteries

Forsyth Park. Visitors should take a stroll through some of Savannah's historic parks and cemeteries, which are notable for their beauty, tranquility, and history.

Trustees' Garden. E. Broad Street. One of Oglethorpe's activities was to establish a 10-acre experimental garden on the outskirts of the settlement, which he named Trustees' Garden in honor of the men in England who supported the colony. As Georgia has the longest growing season of any of the colonies, the plan was to find crops that thrived in the New World that could help support the other colonies. Grapes were grown to produce wine, and mulberry trees were cultivated to produce silk, but both efforts failed. Cotton succeeded, however, and went on to become the most important crop in Georgia. When the garden was no longer needed, the area was converted to residential and commercial buildings. One building was a tavern, which was built in 1794 to serve the needs of sailors who visited the growing seaport. This tavern became the Pirate's House, an eccentric-looking family restaurant.

Within walking distance is Fort Wayne, known as "The Fort" during the American Revolution when the British captured Savannah. In 1784, it was renamed Fort Wayne for "Mad"Anthony Wayne, and was improved for the War of 1812.

Emmet Park. Bordering E. Bay Street is a beautiful, tree-shaded park named for Irish patriot and orator Robert Emmet. Found here is a Vietnam Veterans Memorial and historic Harbor Light (1858), a gas-powered light erected as a navigational aid to vessels in the Savannah River. The light stands 77 feet above the river and helped ships avoid the hulls of ships scuttled by British forces during the siege of 1779 in an effort to prevent French warships from using the harbor.

Colonial Park Cemetery. Oglethorpe and Abercorn streets. Between 1750 and 1853, Savannahians were buried here in this shaded, moss-draped cemetery. Victims of the 1820 yellow fever epidemic that claimed 700 lives were interred here. Historical plaques mark graves of important early colonists, including Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Civil War, encamped Union soldiers vandalized the cemetery. Later, the broken headstones were cemented to the rear wall. Today, the cemetery is a public park. Open daily from 9–5. Free.

Forsyth Park. Bull Street between Gaston Street and Park Avenue. This 20-acre park features one of the most beautiful fountains in America, in a breathtakingly beautiful setting of azaleas, flowering trees, and Live Oaks. During the Civil War, Union soldiers encamped here. The lovely white fountain was built 1858 and restored in 1988. Memorials in other parts of the park honor Civil War and Spanish-American War dead. Lighted tennis and basketball courts are always in use, and joggers and cyclists will enjoy the 1.5-mile perimeter path.

Georgia Historical Society. 501 Whitaker Street. Located across the street from Forsyth Park is Hodgson Hall, the headquarters for the Georgia Historical Society. Built in 1875, the Italianate-Greek Revival building is open to the public and is a treasure trove of manuscripts, records, and artifacts relating to Savannah and Georgia's history. Open Tuesday through Friday 10–5. Saturday 9–3. Free. (912) 651-2128.

King-Tisdale Cottage. 514 E. Huntingdon Street. Located four and a half blocks east of the park on E. Huntingdon is a quaint Victorian cottage built in 1896 and dedicated to preserving African-American history and culture. Open Tuesday to Friday, noon–4:30. Weekends 1–4. Small fee charged. (912) 234-8000.

Laurel Grove Cemetery. Established in 1852, beautiful Laurel Grove has thousands of graves that give silent testimony to Savannah's rich history in a natural setting of dogwoods, magnolias, live oak, and pine. Divided into north and south sections by a highway, visitors will find in the north section Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low, "waving girl" Florence Martus, and 1,500 Confederate graves (101 of whom died at Gettysburg), including eight generals. In the south section are many African-American graves, including two Confederate veterans. To find the cemetery, drive south from the visitors center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Turn right on Anderson Street and drive straight to the gate. Open daily 8–5. Free. (912) 236-8097.

Bonaventure Cemetery

[Fig.6(3)] Many believe Bonaventure is the most beautiful cemetery in the world. The attractive plants, sweet smells, and beautiful views of the Wilmington River make for a peaceful final resting site—and a tranquil site to visit. Recently, it has received worldwide fame from being featured on the cover and in the text of writer John Berendt's hugely popular bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Benches have been installed on the perimeter roadway to allow enjoyment of peaceful views of the golden marsh, or one can stroll the cemetery among the Live Oaks, red cedars, southern magnolias, and azaleas.

Gifted naturalist, explorer, and politician John Muir spent five days camping on the grounds in September of 1867 on his famous 1,000-mile walk from Louisville, Kentucky to Cedar Key, Florida. Down to his last 25 cents, he waited for funds from his brother at Bonaventure Cemetery, where he became impressed with the plant and animal communities he found. Muir was a Scotsman who went on to found the Sierra Club and influenced the U.S. Congress to establish Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, along with the national forest system. His words were posthumously published in the book Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. He wrote that he discovered at Bonaventure "one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I have ever met…Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such depth of life…The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm undisturbed grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord's most favored abodes of life and death."

Other famous people buried in the cemetery include the Noble Jones family descendants, the Tattnalls, Edward Telfair, songwriter Johnny Mercer, poet Conrad Aiken (whose memorial is a bench overlooking the Wilmington River inscribed with "Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown"), and Danny Hansford of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame. Visitors who wander the cemetery in search of the enigmatic statue that graces the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are wasting their time. The Bird Girl, as it is called, was moved to the Savannah History Museum after the book and the statue became so popular.

Famous Civil War Confederate generals found here include Robert J. Anderson, who commanded cavalry under Wheeler in the Atlanta Campaign; Henry R. Jackson, who served in western Virginia and Georgia; Hugh Mercer, who commanded in the Atlanta Campaign; and Claudius C. Wilson, who commanded at Chickamauga and Chattanooga and died of disease in Ringgold 13 days after Missionary Ridge. Also buried here is Alexander R. Lawton, a West Point graduate who was president of the Augusta and Savannah Railroad, and commanded the Lawton-Gordon-Evans brigade under Stonewall Jackson, considered to be one of the hardest fighting units in the Civil War. Wounded at Sharpsburg, he recovered to become the quartermaster of the Confederate Army until the end of the war. He later became president of the American Bar Association and was U.S. minister to Austria.

Bonaventure was first settled by an English colonel named John Mulryne, who came to Savannah from Charleston around 1760. He named it by combining the Italian words buono ventura, meaning "good fortune." His daughter married Josiah Tattnall, and to mark the event he planted avenues of Live Oaks in the form of a monogram combining the letters M and T. These Spanish-moss draped oaks, which so impressed John Muir, are still found in the cemetery today. The eighteenth century plantation home of Josiah and Mary Mulryne Tattnall no longer stands on the property, having burned to the ground. Mrs. Tattnall is believed to be the first buried at Bonaventure in 1794.

During the Revolutionary War, Savannah citizens were divided between their loyalties for England and America. Josiah, a Tory, wouldn't fight for either side, and he had Bonaventure confiscated by the local patriots. He and his two sons, John and Josiah Jr., left for England. John fought on the English side, but Josiah Jr. fought on the American side with Gen. Nathanael Greene. He distinguished himself so well that the state let him buy back Bonaventure. He eventually became a member of U.S. Congress and Governor of Georgia. When he died in 1804 at the age of 38, he was buried next to his wife in Bonaventure, leaving behind an orphaned son, Josiah Tattnall III, who was raised in England by his grandfather, the original Josiah Tattnall. The son returned to America and later joined the U.S. Navy. He felt a strong allegiance to England as well, and on one occasion he breached American neutrality by coming to the aid of the British fleet, which was fighting in Chinese waters. His famous defense when he was reprimanded was "blood is thicker than water," which helped mend some of the bad feelings that remained between the British and Americans from the War of 1812. Josiah III went on to serve as commodore for the Confederate Navy during the Civil War, and was involved in the naval defense of Savannah and the burning of the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia or Merrimack. Josiah III was buried in the family plot at Bonaventure.

Bonaventure became a cemetery in 1850, when Captain Peter Wiltberger, owner of the Pulaski Hotel, purchased the property. In July 1907, the property transferred to the City of Savannah, which owns it today. Since Berendt's book, many city tours have included a tour of Bonaventure on their must-see list.

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