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Savannah: Live oaks for long walks

Many Girl Scout troops visit Savannah to see the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the organization. Photos courtesy Savannah CVB

You could call it the city of 1,000 stories: Everywhere you turn, Savannah has a fascinating tale to tell.

Many people first got a taste for Savannah from the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which catapulted this city onto the national culture scene more than 20 years ago. But this community’s stories go back much further than that.

Groups that visit Savannah today can revel in the beauty of this classic Southern charmer, with its landscaped public squares and immaculately restored historic homes. As they tour the city and the surrounding area, though, they’ll hear story after gripping story of the distinctive men and women that have made the city what it is today.

Take your travelers to Savannah, and they’ll learn about the vision of early city planners and modern restoration experts; slaves, abolitionists and the Underground Railroad; World War II air heroes; and numerous Savannah locals who have created big movements in this small city.

Trolley Tours
The best way for a group to begin a visit to Savannah is aboard a trolley tour of the city. Several companies offer trolley tours around the historic district, most stopping at the same locations. Groups can take the whole 90-minute tour at once or take advantage of hop-on, hop-off service to explore sites around the city at their leisure.

During the tours, drivers tell some of the great stories of Savannah’s beginnings and its 20th-century renaissance. The city was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe and a number of English settlers as the seat of the Georgia colony. Oglethorpe planned the city’s design before even arriving, laying it out on a grid of blocks that surrounded 24 public squares.

Today, 22 of those public squares still exist, giving Savannah its distinct character. Each square is unique, but many feature beautiful flowers and iconic live oak trees, draped with spanish moss. Each square also has a historic monument in the middle, and tour guides tell the stories of some of the most famous monuments and the people they honor.

The tours also highlight numerous historic buildings throughout the city and the restoration efforts that have returned them to their 18th- and 19th-century glory. Much of the restoration was done by the Savannah College of Art and Design, which continues to be an integral part of the community and the visitor experience today.

Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
Among the most significant historic structures in Savannah is the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Built in 1845, the house was the home of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts organization in the early 1900s.

The Girl Scouts of the USA acquired the home and did extensive restoration to the building in the 1980s, and the organization operates it as a house museum today.

“We interpret the time period around 1886, the year that the family made major changes to the house,” said director Fran Harold. “About half of our collection is original to Juliette Low and the Gordon family. We’re not the prettiest house in Savannah, but we’re probably the most historically accurate.”

A tour of the home takes visitors through the first two floors, where they see the original and period furnishings and discover aspects of life in 19th-century Savannah. They also learn about the life of Low and her adventures abroad that inspired her to start the Girl Scouts organization.

Some of the most intriguing stories surround president William Howard Taft, a friend of the Gordon family, and his visits to the home. Visitors see extra-wide dining room chairs that the family had specially made for the president and hear stories about what the household staff did to accommodate the famously large man.

“We have letters about the time he spent here,” Harold said. “They say that he ate an enormous amount of food. The cooks and servants didn’t know what to do with him.”