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Until the 1850s, what is now considered downtown Savannah constituted the entire city. Although the growth of suburban neighborhoods since that time has attracted most of the city’s residents, the downtown area is remarkable for its continued rich and heterogeneous character, retaining residential enclaves, a healthy variety and distribution of commercial enterprises, more than twenty houses of worship spread evenly across the district representing at least nine distinct faiths, and numerous public buildings serving as the civic focus for the southeast Georgia region. During the 1960s and 1970s, as residents, businesses, and a few congregations followed the national pattern of moving to the suburbs, parts of downtown were abandoned and numerous buildings were lost to demolition (sometimes for their cherished Savannah Grey bricks). Throughout the postwar years, however, public and private investment in downtown—sometimes as heavy-handed urban renewal, more often as sensitive historic preservation—sustained its continued survival, allowing it to avoid the fate of other cities and towns whose downtowns all but died. Despite the influx of millions of tourists annually and the proliferation of museums, downtown Savannah retains the vibrancy of a living community.

The organization of this guidebook follows the chronological growth of Savannah from the city’s founding in 1733 through the successive expansions of the Savannah plan between 1791 and 1855, along with the development of the flanking areas of the Beach Institute on the east and the Central of Georgia Railroad complex to the west. Although all parts of Savannah comprise wards, nowhere is this concept more significant than in downtown, where they are direct expressions of James Oglethorpe’s visionary plan. The tours in this and the two subsequent chapters highlight a representative variety of buildings, monuments, structures, and landscapes.

Writing Credits

Robin B. Williams with David Gobel, Patrick Haughey, Daves Rossell, and Karl Schuler

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