Smooth Sailing

The Cotton Sail Hotel

Stroll across Savannah’s manicured squares or wander through the orderly grid of the old city, and you’re sure to feel as though you’d stepped back in time. Spanish moss sways languidly in the coastal breeze, and the stately homes quietly observe the rhythms of the workaday world, as they have for hundreds of years.

It’s when you reach the edge of this tidy city grid that things start to get really interesting. The pedestrian-scale squares give way to industrial-scale warehouses left over from the old cotton economy.  The carefully groomed landscape tumbles down a 40 foot bluff to the Savannah River, and the interstitial space between city grid and riparian zone becomes its own mysterious ecosystem.

This transitional space is known as Factor’s Walk, named after the cotton brokers who set international cotton prices back when Savannah was one of the busiest ports in the world. The Factors worked in giant brick warehouses which rose two or three stories above the city side of the grid, and were rooted two or three stories down on the river side. Offices, which were connected to the city side by iron walkways, occupied the top floors; down below, cotton barges unloaded directly into the warehouse spaces from the docks.  In between, a semi-underground walkway runs between Bay and River Streets. Secluded by a massive river wall on one side and looming buildings on the other, this cobblestone path is home to service entries, dumpsters, wandering tourists, and the occasional ghost. The river wall itself, composed of layers ballast stone from incoming ships, bricks, and Savannah rock, is evidence of a unique international geology which finds a repurposed headstone from China next to a Georgia clay brick next to marine fossils from deep in prehistory. Dappled light filters down into Factor’s Walk through the series of iron walkways overhead. You can see every layer of Savannah’s history built into the rocks. The whole space feels slightly perilous and delightful.

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