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Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. He had a plan for the city that was based on Venice, Italy with piazzas, thus Savannah's park-like squares, every other block, throughout the historic district.
A number of famous architects designed and built homes here for some of the merchants and businessmen who got very rich trading cotton and other commodities between the new world and the old. So anyone interested in architecture could find much to study in a relatively small area.
One reason for the abundance of rare antebellum homes and buildings in Savannah is the fact that the town was not razed by General Sherman in his march from Atlanta. Legend has it that, in a very Savannah style deal, the local merchants convinced the General to offer Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. Perhaps, a large quantity of cotton changed hands as well but that is just a rumor...
Because Savannah sits in a funny little corner of the state it has been pretty much ignored for the last 120 years or so until two things happened. First, The Savannah College of Art and Design began to grow and spread throughout the Historic District. They have renovated buildings for offices and classrooms and at the same time have brought thousands of little renters and spenders-of-money downtown.
The other life-changing event for Savannah was "The Book" in 1994 and "The Movie" in 1997. In "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" John Berendt painted a picture of a bizzare and beautiful, steamy and sordidly interesting little city that suddenly everyone in the U.S and around the world wanted to see. This began the rolling of a snowball that is still noticibly growing every year.
In 1986, the common joke was "How many Savannahians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?", the answer? "Ten. One to screw it in and nine to talk about how much better it was with the old bulb." That is still true to an extent but the cat is out of the bag. This town is changing and growing and no one, short of God, is going to stop it.