Having watched Gone With the Wind many times as a kid, I always assumed that if you had a big house in the South you also had to have an oak tree lined driveway. After visiting Rosedown Plantation in Louisiana on this trip and seeing pictures of plenty of other plantations, this seems like an accurate assumption. When I was looking into things to do in Savannah, Wormsloe Plantation kept getting mentioned and everything pointed to it being an excellent example.
And how. Rosedown had maybe 12 trees on each side of a 200 yard long alley, but Wormsloe dwarfs Rosedown by having a MILE AND A HALF oak alley. It was planted in 2 stages, first in the mid 1800’s and then another round in the late 1800’s for a total of about 400 trees. It’s super impressive, you could really get a feeling of what it would have been like to arrive from Savannah on horseback or in a carriage. We drove slowly down it in our car with the top down and lucked out by there not being any cars around. I imagine it would be a bit spooky at night, if you were on horseback, and by yourself, as the trees are quite close together and block quite a bit of the light. I also imagine you’d be like, "Man how impressive are the people who live here?". Well, at least if you were the sort to judge people by the length of the oak alley. Either way, I was really impressed.
Deep into the property are the original tabby ruins (a type of concrete local to southern Georgia and Florida made of oyster shells and lime) of the fortified house that was built on the site by Noble Jones, who was one of the original settlers who came over in the 1730’s from England. The ruins are the oldest standing structures in Savannah, though I’m not sure how you can claim some walls a standing structure, but anyway that’s what they claim. The original house is at the end of the oak alley by the water’s edge and their are some illustrations to show you what it looked like. The old family cemetery is also nearby.
In the 1820's the family built a new plantation house which is still owned by the heirs of the original owner. It has had numerous changes made it it, as multiple generations of heirs always do — for a while it was Victorian styled. You can see the house from the oak alley, but the 50 or so acres around it are off limits to the public.
The name Wormslow is taken from the Welsh border country that Jones was originally from. Jones was given a plot of land in town, and 500 acres on a peninsula south of town, and was allowed to build the fortified house, which had some boats and some soldiers. The soldiers were there to keep an eye out for any Spaniards who had a mind to move their holdings north from Florida to the English holdings in the Carolina’s which would put them into the no-man's land that Georgia was at the time. Jones held all sorts of jobs, surveyor, doctor, carpenter, cultivator of interesting fruits, commander of a company of marines, and probably most importantly, a friend to the founder of the colony, James Oglethorpe. Eventually his plantation got to be quite large, and in the true spirit of any new colony they cultivated all sorts of things, cotton, grapes, corn, rice, indigo and mulberry trees so they could feed their silkworms, which mostly proved unsuccessful. In 1749 the ban on slavery in the colony was lifted, (no word on if the ban on alcohol was also lifted,) but the plantation still was fairly unprofitable, though he eventually ended up with about 5500 acres and 5 lots in town. Jones died in 1775, which was probably good timing, as his son was for the Revolution, while he was very much against it. His heirs kept the land, but didn’t do much with it besides let it fall into a bit of disrepair. Eventually they built the first plantation house in 1828, and the owner at the time began an imprint that publishes books on Georgia history. The generation after that kept up the site, and made numerous improvements, including the oak alley, until it passed into a trust in the early 1970’s.
There is an area on the grounds where the park puts on Colonial days, an event where you can come and learn about how the soldiers lived and worked in the early days of the Georgia Colony. You can also tour the tabby ruins and see the remains of a large oyster midden near the waters edge, proof that the original inhabitants of the area made good use of the waterways around Savannah. We went for a nice walk through the forest, which turned out to be the long way around. The forest was quite pretty, though fairly new as like pretty much everywhere some bug has killed all the older local trees, but fortunately not the oak trees.