Lighthouse Inn’s Susie Morris says that Tybee Island, Georgia, is THE vacation destination on the Georgia coast, and that Savannah makes a great day trip. There is no uncertainty about how much she adores living the beach community lifestyle that is so unique on Tybee Island, Georgia. Ask her. She will tell you all that Tybee Island offers!
On a beautiful September morning I was driving from downtown Savannah to Tybee Island to meet Susie for lunch. It was a rare occasion on a gorgeous day. I had thirty to forty-five extra minutes to amble my way east on the Savannah-to-Tybee Island road, unhurried so that Susie would not be rushed with her breakfast guests.
I decided to go exploring — taking a few side trips, some mental and some by car — to appreciate a few of the wonderful Savannah / Tybee Island connections on my drive along U.S. Route 80 east*.
A slow drive down River Street…. With her faithful collie at her side, “The Waving Girl” statue depicts Florence Margaret Martus (1868 – 1943) waving her large white handkerchief to passing ships. For nearly 50 years, from Elba Island (between Savannah and Tybee Island), the red-haired Florence drew attention and captured the hearts of maritime sailors who wrote to her from around the world. One poem calls her “River Queen“. I only learned recently that The Waving Girl Statue, costing $60,000, is the work of renowned sculptor Felix De Weldon, who sculpted the United States Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”).
My detour on the narrow road to Fort Jackson…. The Tybee Depot (circa 1880s) serves as an entrance point, ticket booth and gift shop at Old Fort Jackson along the upper Savannah River between downtown Savannah and Tybee Island. “For many years this depot served the citizens of Savannah as the first stop on the way to Tybee Island,” writes RoadsideGeorgia.com. It is a portion of the Central of Georgia structure that stood at 130 Randolph Street (between President Street and General McIntosh Boulevard), Savannah, Georgia. [Vintage photo here]
Between the Bull River Bridge and Fort Pulaski, the stalwart row of palmetto palms (on the left) gives a clue to where the McQueen Island rails (ca. 1887) once ran, crossing over river and marsh from Savannah to Tybee. The historic rail bed is now a “Rails to Trails” biking, walking and running trail.
“The future of the hiker/biker trail will also expand to include Battery Park located on the adjacent island, Tybee Island,” states the First Centennial Strategy of Fort Pulaski National Monument, celebrating the National Park Service (1916-2016).
At Frank Spencer Boat Landing…. A shrimp boat floats hauntingly alone and abandoned. During the Georgia coast seafood harvest, beach-goers will often see active shrimp boats — picture perfect, especially at sunrise or sunset — at work off the Tybee shore.
I teased my imagination about the adventuresome times experienced by character-rich men and women who braved nature and economics to reap their catch of succulent Wild Georgia Shrimp. Oh, the tales that now-forlorn boat might deliver up!
The Inter-coastal waterway bridge…. Crossing above the wide Wilmington River expanse, my thoughts turned to Walter Cronkite, America’s renowned news broadcaster and yachtsman who is reported to have sailed into Thunderbolt marinas. In November 1983 (yes, I was there!), Mr. Cronkite and Savannah painter Ray Ellis released South by Southeast, a delightful tabletop book that offers its own escape. Cronkite’s free-flowing narrative and Ellis’s impressionist art take us along to see and “hear” more of the wonders they spotlighted along The Deep South’s eastern coastline of the United States. My photograph with Mr. Cronkite, taken at the book’s Savannah release held at the Ships of the Sea Museum, is one of my photo treasures.
A meandering drive after lunch…. Susie and I rode to see the nostalgic and now-restored beach houses along Officer’s Row. She knows the family name of each owner of these prized beach homes. We pass Jaycee Park and the crepe myrtle trees, gifts from the City of Savannah to then Lt. Col. George C. Marshall. The trees were planted for beautification to the soldier’s post, an expression of thanks for Marshall’s community-minded outreach and friendship to the citizens of Savannah during his command at Fort Screven.
Near Lighthouse Inn…. Along the way Susie points out the darling little “corporal’s house,” a tiny turn-of-the-century cottage. The modest soldier’s home is now brilliantly colorful, with a side pool and gardens. What a darling cottage!
Fort Screven (originally Fort Tybee, then Fort Graham) was built during an era when the U.S. Army post was THE Georgia seacoast’s defense, beginning for the Spanish-American War of 1898 through the end of World War II. In addition to protecting access to the Port of Savannah, U.S. Navy divers as well as Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers trained here.
Every time I take this Savannah to Tybee Island drive, I re-discover a wonderful escape from city life. Susie is right: Uniquely, the beach community feel of Tybee Island makes it an ideal destination — not just for its flat beach, but for the southern welcome wrapped in storytelling, unexpected adventure, and nature’s beauty. On my splendid getaway today, I was happy to proclaim, “City life can wait!”
I’m home now, back in the big city. “I bet the stars are more brilliant on Tybee’s vast open beach,” I think, wistfully.
You don’t have to tell me twice about THE destination — Tybee Island’s off-the-beaten path escape!
*U.S. Route 80 is an east–west United States highway, much of which was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway. Today the highway ends on Tybee Island, Georgia (at 19th Street, a few hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean) and at the border of Dallas and Mesquite, Texas.
A Walk Through Savannah’s Civil War: Fort Jackson (video), SavannahNow.com by Richard Burkhart
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Lighthouse Inn, a Tybee Island beach house inn
Tybee Beach Bed and Breakfast Inn Celebrates 100 Years!
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