Savannah, Georgia, is one of my favorite places to visit. It is home to some fabulous houses that we enjoy photographing for our magazines. I had the privilege of interviewing Laura McCarthy of the Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens, and I asked Laura to tell us about the tours and the marvelous community work that is done with the proceeds.
Laura McCarthy: This year’s tour is the 80th Annual Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens; it is definitely a big deal to us and to our volunteers, not to mention the countless organizations and community members who have benefitted from the Tour.
We are a volunteer-driven non-profit who not only hosts thousands of guests each year for our events, but most importantly we are able to pour thousands of dollars back into the community.
In post-Depression Savannah in 1935, a small group of church ladies gathered to brainstorm about how to raise money to feed the hungry. They decided to open their doors and charge admission to see them; that first year they raised $50 and were over the moon with delight—and hence the Tour was born!
As you can see, our mission began as feeding Savannah’s hungry, and this is still important to us, but we have since expanded to include many additional missions. In the 1970s we began partnering with Historic Savannah Foundation, and through them we support historic preservation initiatives, as well.
We are an annual event that features private homes and gardens in four different historic areas (one each day over the course of four days). Plus, we have a multitude of additional seminars, luncheons, and tours. This year we also will have a very special gala event, the “Ruby Jubilee Celebration,” as it is being called (the 80th anniversary is known as the ruby jubilee anniversary.)
At the Ruby Jubilee, we are honoring four of our past chairs who have been very dedicated to the Tour for many years. We also have an event chair each year, and this year it is Mollie White. She recruits the committee chairs, who recruit their committees. By the time all is said and done we have about 700 volunteers each year! We are so grateful to them; an event of this magnitude could never happen without that kind of support.
Our homeowners are also critical to our success. Each year we rotate which houses/gardens are on Tour, and we do not repeat them for at least 4-5 years (unless a house changes ownership and we feel it is “different enough”). It is quite an honor to be chosen to be on Tour and also quite a commitment, for which we are eternally grateful!
Each of the four days of the Tour is in a different section of the city, so guests can come multiple days and see different homes and gardens each day. The architecture in Savannah can vary widely, as can the decorating styles—sometimes we even surprise guests with a modern or contemporary home! It is fun to juxtapose what you can do with a traditional space in a not-so-traditional manner. We do, however, limit this to at most one a day because although our guests enjoy the variety, we have found that they primarily want to see traditional styling.
The Tour offers a rare opportunity to enter some of Savannah’s finest private homes and experience the architecture, furnishings, and collections that have been treasured by families for generations but seldom seen by the public. These properties have been meticulously restored, preserving the character of the space yet allowing for the enjoyment of modern amenities. Several sites incorporate more current design trends. The 2015 Tour features homes in two of Savannah’s National Register Historic Districts. Thursday through Saturday focuses on downtown, home to the largest urban National Historic Landmark District in the United States featuring 22 oak-canopied squares surrounded by lovely homes, businesses, and churches. Ardsley Park, Savannah’s first planned suburban area, is featured on our Sunday Tour.
Thank you Laura for the wonderful work your organization does in Savannah. We love visiting there when we are working on our magazine Cooking with Paula Deen. The dates this year’s tour are March 26-29, 2015. Go to savannahtourofhomes.org to browse the brochure that tells you all about the wonderful events that will take place.
Have you ever visited Savannah? I’d love to hear about your favorite sights!