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Countdown to Savannah: Forsyth Park
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.
Savannah's Version of Central Park
Forsyth Park is Savannah’s version of “Central Park” and a source of year-round pleasure for local residents and visitors. The 30-acre urban park is at the southern end of the Historic District, at the end of Bull Street and about a mile from the riverfront. The park’s perimeter is bordered by Gaston Street, Whitaker Street, Park Avenue, and Drayton Street; Bull Street picks up again at the southern end.
Many of our Slow Travelers will be just a few minutes from the park, as it’s only a short walk from the last row of Savannah squares (Chatham, Monterey, Calhoun, and Whitefield). If you want a place to run, stroll quietly, have a picnic or play frisbee, Forsyth Park would be the perfect destination for you.
Forsyth Place was the first large park created in Savannah after the smaller squares planned by General Oglethorpe when he designed the city. Originally known as Forsyth Place, the park was designed in the 1850’s around ten acres and was named for former Georgia governor John Forsyth. Union soldiers encamped here during the Civil War. In 1867, the park was expanded to add twenty more acres intended as a military parade ground. Savannah’s historic preservationists have fought to retain the park’s original design.
The original park was designed in a French style. According to the City of Savannah website, “Stylistically… the park was influenced by the urban renewal of Paris in the 1850's. Paris was given broad boulevards and parks for practical reasons: improving access to the new railway stations and important public buildings, clearing slums, increasing fresh air and green space, developing middle-class and working class suburbs, putting in piped water and storm sewers, and financing public works to provide employment, investment opportunities and increase property values in Paris. This greatly influenced city planning throughout the industrial world--every large city in the United States was developing large city parks in the 1850's... Bull Street was thought of as a boulevard and promenade (both French terms) and the fountain served as a focal point of a long vista, all the way from the Exchange, which was City Hall. In an economic context, the park and the fountain would not have been possible if Savannah were not experiencing economic prosperity. The 1850's were the first consistently prosperous period throughout the South, which admired and emulated the high style of the French Empire.”
The most famous and photographed spot in Forsyth Park is its beautiful fountain, which is thought to be the largest in America when it was built in 1858. The fountain was modeled after one of the fountains in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Every year the water in the fountain is dyed green as part of Savannah’s extensive St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
The northern end of the park—closest to the Historic District—includes the fountain and has 11 acres filled with a wide variety of trees and shrubs, sidewalks and benches.
The southern end of the park is more recreational with a large children’s playground, basketball and tennis courts, and open green fields. There are a couple of war memorials in this part of the park. When Jan, Leslie and I visited Savannah last January, the weather was beautiful and clear, and Forsyth Park was very busy. I noticed lots of people jogging, cycling, walking dogs, sunbathing on blankets, and playing frisbee, soccer and softball. This is a very popular spot for families and students from the Savannah School of Art and Design. The park is also the site of major annual events such as the Sidewalk Arts Festival and the Savannah Shakespeare Festival.
Between the two areas are two dummy forts, structures that were built in 1909 and used for military exercises before World War I. One of the forts was renovated in 1963 and is now a Fragrant Garden for the Blind. The other fort is supposedly being renovated as a restaurant. Another structure in the park is Hodgson Hall, a 19th century Italianate Greek-revival building that houses artifacts and manuscripts from the Georgia Historical Society.
And just across the street from the park on the Drayton Street side is the recently restored Mansion at Forsyth Park, the most upscale hotel in Savannah. Several Slow Travelers will be staying, dining, drinking and cooking there during our weekend.
If you want to burn off some of your Gathering calories, you can jog or walk in Forsyth Park or around its one mile perimeter. Or, just sit on a bench near the oaks dripping with spanish moss, soak up some southern sunshine, and people watch. Maybe you’ll even run into some other Slow Travelers with the same idea!
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 Wood, 2007
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