Georgia’s Coast stretches approximately 100 miles between historic Savannah — Georgia’s oldest city — to St. Marys, the gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore. This region features dozens of opportunities for every traveler. From isolated beaches, mysterious swamps, and tranquil marshes; to cobblestone streets, historic forts, and lush plantations; to century-old buildings, dozens of which, are now called home to boutiques and restaurants, there is something here for everyone.
Coastal Georgia has a very rich history, from Native Americans, to French and Spanish explorers, to becoming the southernmost of America’s original 13 colonies. The first documented exploration was carried out along the coastline in 1525 by two ships from Puerto Rico under pilot Pedro de Quejos, who had landed in South Carolina in 1521 on a slaving expedition.
The first European settlement in what would become the 13 colonies was made in Georgia in 1526, when Spanish explorer, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, who had landed in South Carolina, moved south with his colonists along Indian Trails. The short-lived colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, thought to be near Sapelo Sound, lasted just a few months before it was abandoned in early 1527.
It is believed that the pirate, Edward Thatch, better known as Blackbeard, sailed along the Georgia coast, plundering other ships, and using Georgia’s meandering rivers, creeks and inlets as hiding places. It is rumored that Blackbeard buried treasure on a Georgia island that was never recovered.
Take a tour through Georgia’s beautiful and history-rich coast.
Savannah – The largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, Georgia, Savannah was established in 1733 and was the first colonial and state capital of Georgia.
Savannah Historic District – A National Historic Landmark, this district is significant for its distinctive grid plan as well as its 18th and 19th-century architecture. The district encompasses the original town plan laid out in 1733 by General James E. Oglethorpe, founder of the British colony of Georgia. Today, Savannah retains much of this plan based on divisions also called wards, squares, and “trustee lots.” Most of the original squares remain and are surrounded by fine examples of buildings in the Georgian, Greek Revival, and Gothic styles. Notable buildings include the Owens-Thomas House built in 1818 (Oglethorpe square), the Beaux-Arts style Edmund Molyneux Mansion circa 1917 (Bull Street), the Spencer Woodbridge House built in 1795 (Habersham Street), and the 1853 Gothic Revival Greene House (Madison Square). Important sites associated with the African American community in the district include Beach Institute (East Harris St.), constructed in 1865 as the city’s first black school, and the King-Tisdell Cottage (East Harris St.), the 1896 home of a working-class African American family.The boundaries of the Savannah Historic District are the Savannah River, E. Broad Street, Gwinnett Street, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Self-guided tours of Savannah are available from the Savannah Visitor Center, in the restored Central of Georgia railroad station at 301 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The visitor center is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (912) 944-0455.
Savannah Victorian Historic District – Savannah’s first suburb, this area is located just south of the Savannah Historic District. Originally a parade ground, the extension of street railways in the late 19th century spurred the development of this neighborhood. The wood frame houses dating from the 1870s and 1880s are a mixture of several Victorian styles of architecture. Some of the best examples of these are the Carpenter Box style houses on West Gwinnett Street embellished with ornate brackets and cornices, the Queen Anne style mansion at the corner of Whitaker and Gwinnett, and the imposing Victorian Telfair Hospital on Park Avenue. The boundaries of the Savannah Victorian Historic District are Gwinnett Street, Anderson Street, and building lines just beyond Montgomery Street and Price Street.
Laurel Grove-South Cemetery – This historic cemetery is significant as a visual record of African American history in Savannah. In 1852, fifteen acres of the Laurel Grove Cemetery was set aside for the burial of “free persons of color and slaves.” The cemetery was historically separated from the white Laurel Grove-North Cemetery by what is now Highway 204. Tombstones range from small markers with little or no ornamentation, to monumental markers with elaborately carved figures. Inscriptions on many of the tombstones record African American history not included in written histories of the region. It is located on 37th Street in Savannah.
First Bryan and First African Baptist Churches – In 1788 Andrew Bryan, a former slave, organized one of the earliest black Baptist churches in North America. Bryan began preaching while a slave in Chatham County. In 1788 he purchased his freedom and formed a congregation which was chartered under the name of First Bryan Baptist Church. This congregation was significantly involved in the affairs of the Savannah black community. In 1793 Bryan obtained the lot where the First Bryan Baptist Church (constructed in 1873) now stands. A dispute over doctrine in 1832 caused a schism, resulting in two congregations. The congregations of the First Bryan Baptist Church and the First African Baptist Church, constructed in 1859, are direct descendants of Bryan’s original congregation. First Bryan is at 575 West Bryan Street and First African at 23 Montgomery Street in Savannah.
Fort Pulaski National Monument – Built between 1829 and 1847 on Cockspur Island to protect the river approaches to the city of Savannah, Fort Pulaski was part of America’s ambitious Third-System of coastal fortifications. Featuring walls of solid brick seven and one-half feet thick, the fort was considered impregnable by most military authorities. At the beginning of the Civil War, Confederate forces occupied Fort Pulaski, and early in 1862, Union forces laid siege to it. Using newly developed rifled cannons with superior range and penetrating power, the Federals breached the walls of the fort in a 30-hour bombardment that forced a Confederate surrender. The restored fort stands today as a monument to the power of technology to render previous conceptions of invincibility instantly obsolete. Fort Pulaski National Monument, administered by the National Park Service, is east of Savannah off of US Highway 80. Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information visit the National Park Service website, Fort Pulaski National Monument, or call 912-786-5787.
Wormsloe Plantation – Situated on a forested peninsula surrounded by coastal marshes, Wormsloe Plantation was established in 1737 by Noble Jones one of the first British colonists in the area. The site includes a plantation house built by Jones’ grandson in 1828, a detached library, the ruins of a fortified house, a mile-long drive bordered by large oaks, and Confederate earthworks. Wormsloe was Noble Jones’ country estate where he experimented with his grand passion—horticulture. He protected the cypress and oak forests of his property and never cultivated the land. The surviving ruins of the original house are one of the only remaining examples of fortified houses once common throughout coastal Georgia. Wormsloe Plantation State Historic Site is located 10 miles southeast of Savannah at 7601 Skidway Road, just north of Isle of Hope. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00 a.-5:00 p.m., Sunday 2:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Admission fee, 912-353-3023.