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Countdown to Savannah: America's First Planned City

Kathy Wood (kaydee)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

James Oglethorpe lays out plan for Savannah

Immediately after the first settlers arrived in February 1733, James Oglethorpe began to lay out his plan for the new city. Today, historians and city planners debate where he got his inspiration — perhaps from Old English, Roman, or Chinese designs. Oglethorpe designed Savannah as a pattern of grids with wide streets, interconnected neighborhoods and shady public squares, the very design that residents and visitors enjoy today. His plan for Savannah was an easily repeatable system of self-sufficient wards. Each ward had forty building lots, four trust lots (for churches, schools and other public purposes), and one public square. Each building lot was assigned a five-acre garden lot inside the town boundaries and a forty-five-acre farm lot outside the boundaries.

Oglethorpe’s grid design makes the historical district of Savannah very easy to understand and especially to navigate on foot. Take a look at this modern-day map and begin to get acquainted with the simple and distinctive layout of historic Savannah.

Today, Savannah's plan is considered a masterpiece in the history of American city planning. Author and architect, John Massengale, called it "the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world." Oglethorpe's plan of squares and streets for Savannah is "so exalted that it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence," said Philadelphia planner and author, Edmund Bacon. The area of the original Savannah plan was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1966 and, in 1977, The American Society of Civil Engineers designated the city plan of Savannah as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Although there is some uncertainty about its accuracy, the drawing below (“View of Savannah as it Stood the 29th of March, 1734") is the oldest representation of Savannah’s city plan that remains today.

Photo of Oglethorpe's Plan for Savannah

Olgethorpe's Plan for Savannah

Learn more about the original plan for Savannah:

Savannah City Plan

See a map of Savannah from 1796 (from the Library of Congress website):

Map of Savannah - 1796

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood


Kathy is a former Human Resources executive who now works as a consultant and part-time college professor. She and Charley also lead The Luberon Experience (www.luberonexperience.com), a week-long, small-group trip based in Provence.

© Kathy Wood, 2007


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