Story + Photography by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Many a Savannah tourist has “discovered” this little window onto the past, with its evocative front archway and dignified avenue of oaks. Yet for us here on the Carolina side, the Wormsloe State Historic Site remains largely off the beaten track. I personally would never have thought to visit if not for several miles of trails that came up while scouting for new adventure spots on the AllTrails app. But the merit of this 1736 colonial estate doesn’t lie in its hiking — it’s the chance to see history come to life that sets Wormsloe apart.
Just inside the front gate an impressive 1.5-mile-long avenue is lined with oaks that aren’t huge and ancient but have otherwise achieved perfection in their arched tunnel streaming with Spanish moss. Little knots of tourists shuffle around the visitor’s center, but past that and the parking lot is a trail head. I made for straight for it and soon was alone, my breath deepening as the forest began to work its therapeutic magic on my nervous system.
The path wound along the marsh edge to meet Moon River, named for the hit song written by Savannah boy Johnny Mercer, who grew up picking huckleberries along tidal creeks. (He originally called the song “Blue River” after the berries, but when he found out that name was already taken, he changed it to Moon River, and later life mirrored art.) At a particularly pretty bank, I lay down for a few minutes in the sun; it was the sort of gentle landscape that makes the Lowcountry a healing balm.
Back on the trail a little spotted fawn scampered out of its hiding place, and several more deer bounded off with their white tails bobbing and flagging in the sun. Other wildlife sightings included the usual assortment of bugs, birds, lizards and skinks. But by the time I reached the end of the loop, I had entered the world of Noble Jones.
Jones came to the Colony of Georgia in 1733 with James Oglethorpe (Savannah’s founder) and within a few years had set up shop here on Isle of Hope. The remains of tabby fortifications built to defend his home against Spanish attacks are now the oldest standing walls in the Savannah area. Less than a hundred years later the home was abandoned, but a two-story frame house built in 1828 by Jones’ grandson has since sheltered another seven generations right up to the present day.
Noble Jones raised cattle and crops at Wormsloe and planted oranges, peaches, figs, apricots, pomegranates and mulberries, which were later enjoyed by the pioneering botanist William Bartram as he passed through in 1765 on his botanical surveys. These days visitors can see heirloom veggies, thanks to the efforts of Sarah Ross, who has grown hundreds of rare varieties in her heritage plots and gives the seeds away via her nonprofit Social Roots. At the time of my visit, the “African Garden” was full of beautiful squashes and okra.
The other thing that fascinated me about Wormsloe’s historical exhibit was the wattle and daub hut — a replica built to simulate colonial life — which would have housed indentured servants and slaves. It was tiny inside, with one room dominated by a wooden table and soot-blackened fireplace that made the whole place smell like bacon. A ladder led up to a sleeping loft with a rustic cot under the rafters. I would definitely live there — at least as a seasonal camp — but not if I had to be some dude’s slave.
If you’re looking for a quiet place to spend the day amongst tabby ruins and sunlit rivers, I recommend Wormsloe. Take the kids and dogs, or your parents and grandparents, or just go by yourself. You won’t feel alone with spirits of the past as companions.
If you go
Location: Isle of Hope
Hours: 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m., Monday-Sunday
Cost: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $4.50 for youth (6-17) and $2 for children under 6
Travel tip: Grab a trail map at the visitor’s center so you can explore the entire site