Whenever someone asks where I was born or grew up, I inevitably say, “I’m from Savannah.” Without fail, they respond by complimenting our neighbor to the southeast. “Oh Georgia! What a wonderful city.” My response: “No, Savannah, Tennessee. It’s a small town 100 miles east of Memphis, near Shiloh National Military Park and Pickwick Lake.”
It’s only fitting I pay homage to the older city sibling, Savannah, Georgia. After all, my hometown is named after her. After all, it is a wonderful city!
Founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, Savannah, Georgia is a majestic southern city just off the Atlantic coastline and one of my absolute favorite places to visit. The city’s architecture, complimented by its beautifully designed and laid out city parks, magnolia-laced southern heritage and scenic riverfront, make it a must-see destination. The recent edition of Garden&Gun has a wonderful article penned by Savannah native, Bruce Feiler.
Interestingly, some quick thinking men and women saved their city from destruction during the Civil War (aka, War of Northern Aggression) by using their southern charm on Union General William Sherman as the angry commander lit a torch through most of Georgia in his March to the Sea. Of course, several cups of Chatham Artillery Punch probably helped too. That’s were the similarities between the two Savannah’s begin.
Located on the banks of the Tennessee River, it is believed the area was first settled in the early 1820’s by James Rudd, who operated the infamous Rudd’s Ferry, then a major passageway to the west. In the early 1830’s the settlement was renamed Savannah in honor of the hometown of Elizabeth Robinson, the wife of David Robinson, a wealthy landowner who purchased the ferry operation.
Robinson also built one of Savannah’s oldest and historic landmarks, the Cherry Mansion. Robinson’s son-in-law, William Cherry, was a Union sympathizer and allowed General Ulysses S. Grant to use the home as his headquarters as Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was advancing from Middle Tennessee to North Mississippi when the Battle of Shiloh took place in early April, 1862. Floors in the home still contain the blood of Union soldiers, including Generals C.F. Smith and W.H.L. Wallace, who died in the home of wounds suffered during the battle. Queen Haley, the grandmother of renowned author Alex Haley, was a domestic servant in the mansion in the years after the war and is buried in the Savannah Cemetery.
The home was purchased in 1935 and restored by Savannah businessman Bob Guinn. It remains in the Guinn family today and through marriage, I take pride in the fact I’m related to the current inhabitants, Mary Ann and Anthony Gilchrist.
In its early years, this small river town built its economic base around the river traffic of the times and not much as changed in last 180 plus years. Known as the “Catfish Capital of the World,” the Tennessee River is some of the richest fishing waters in the state. Hagy’s Catfish Hotel, arguably one of the best places to consume this deep-fried delicacy is located on minutes upstream or by land on the outskirts of Shiloh National Military Park. The battlefield is one of the most visited in the nation and a must-see if you are in the area.
When the Tennessee Valley Authority was seeking to bring power and economic vitality back to the region in the mid-1930’s, Pickwick Lake was formed. Encompassing an area near the intersection of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, it’s one of the busiest commercial waterways in the nation and showcases a shoreline of impressive waterfront homes, cabins and marinas. Recreational boating looms large on both the banks of the Tennessee River and on Pickwick Lake. Serious waterskiing enthusiasts believe the Tombigbee Waterway provides some of the smoothest, glass-like water in the area.
My dining recommendation if you’re boating of sightseeing at Pickwick is The Outpost. Located just north of the dam, Cher and Jay Harrison prepare some wonderful food and much sure you save room for dessert. Oh, and if you want to stay in the area, they have two beautifully appointed guest rooms you can rent too.
With a population just north of 7,000 residents, Savannah boasts one of the prettiest historic streets of any small town in the region. The recently completed Savannah City Park, along with recent downtown revitalization efforts is breathing new life into the community.
Like many kids who grew up in a small town, I looked forward to living in a bigger city where more amenities could be found. Yet I’ve discovered great things can come in small packages. All of my life my mom repeated the phrase, “Savannah is the garden spot of the universe,” whenever the opportunity to sell her adopted hometown presented itself. As time passes I realize Mama knows exactly what she’s talking about.
Savannah’s prime location put it within a two-hour drive of both Nashville and Memphis so next time you’re looking for a quaint, small southern town to visit, then Savannah, Tennessee and the surrounding area is the perfect weekend getaway. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you visit and if I’m in the area I’ll be happy to show you around.