Oglethorpe Alumni Trip to Savannah: A Walk Through Time

Statue of James Edward Oglethorpe

When the trip to Savannah to celebrate OU’s 175th anniversary was announced, my response was, “I’m in!”

During the 70’s I traveled to Savannah on business several times a year. During those trips, I always marveled at the shabby appearance of the downtown area. The sidewalks were crumbling, paint was peeling from once-beautiful buildings, and the area seemed unsafe. Didn’t anyone care about their city?

During the mid-80’s, my family and I lived in Savannah for two years. Remarkably, the areas that had been slum-like during my business travels to the city, were being snapped up by young professionals for renovation. During two years as a resident, I heard that renovation costs were multiples of the purchase price of the property. Again, I was amazed at the appearance of the city, but for positive reasons this time.

There had been no reason to travel to Savannah in the 25 years or so since we had returned to live in Atlanta. I looked forward to seeing the city again with the alumni group, this time as a tourist. Since my husband had passed away at the end of December, this opportunity represented a chance to vacation with a group of friends in an environment that would feel safe. There would be no stress; someone else had planned the itinerary. All I had to do was show up with a few changes of clothing.

Bill ’64 and Carole Aitken ’65

Again, there were plenty of reasons to be amazed. We learned that during the late 1970s, a group of seven very determined women restored the Davenport House to show the city fathers and the citizenry the possibilities of restoring the Historic District. They did such a good job at restoration and selling the concept, all the houses and the squares in the Historic District have been restored. Areas that were once slums are now in good repair and are very pricey.

As might be expected, I learned more about Savannah and its history–as well as James Edward Oglethorpe’s contribution to the city and the colony–in the three days I was there as a tourist with the alumni group than I had learned during my business travels or during my residency. Our group walked and walked and then walked some more as we took a walking tour of the Historic District. We learned that Oglethorpe had laid out plans for the city, including the squares, before ever leaving England, thus becoming the New World’s first urban planner. Oglethorpe had five rules for the new colony: no Catholics; no Jews; no attorneys; no slaves; and no rum. He was the final authority in all disputes among the residents of the new colony during the 10 years he was in Georgia.

OU alumni and President Schall and his wife Betty gather for a meal together in Savannah.

It was wonderful to revisit the grand old city with a group of fellow alumni. From our first outing at the Pirates’ House for lunch on Friday, to the dinner at the Olde Pink House on Saturday evening, we had a delightful time. After all these years, I finally learned where Yamacraw Bluff is located: it’s where the Historic District meets the canal along River Street. Who would have thought it? We all left Savannah with happy memories and more information about Savannah and Oglethorpe than we had dreamed possible. When is our next trip?

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