From the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution and Farming Sea

Experience Savannah’s Cultural Heritage

08/21/2013  |  By JOHN A. CARAMIA, JR.
Experiential Learning

The Coastal Heritage Society of Savannah, Georgia, operates five different historic sites. Each offers a number of hands-on interactive programs that lead to discovery and understanding of our American story. These programs, based on current social studies curriculum standards, explore aspects of the coastal history from the American Revolution to life in the 20th century African American community of Pin Point. The mission of the Coastal Heritage Society (CHS) is to preserve the cultural heritage of coastal Georgia and to provide relevant educational and experiential programs. To that end, the society operates four National Historic Landmark sites: Old Fort Jackson, Battlefield Memorial Park, the Georgia State Railroad Museum and the Savannah History Museum. Since September of 2102, CHS has operated the Pin Point Heritage Museum.

Pin Point Heritage Museum

The Pin Point Heritage Museum, southeast of Savannah, is located in the recently restored A.S. Varn and Son Oyster and Crab Factory on the Moon River. The company was established in 1926 and operated until 1985. For nearly 60 years, the primary source of income and employment in the Pin Point community came from gathering and processing seafood. Men and women worked in a variety of capacities at the seafood factory, harvesting and processing oysters in the winter and crab in the summer. A number of home industries developed including bateau building, net knitting and preparing deviled crab for area restaurants.

The museum is more than just the story of the oyster factory. It is the story of the Pin Point community founded in 1890 by freed slaves, originally brought from Western Africa to work the indigo and cotton plantations on Georgia’s Sea Islands. Pin Point provided their descendants the first opportunity to purchase their own land. It was a place to build their community, nurture families, live, work and worship as they pleased. This community has a uniquely American story to tell. The Pin Point Heritage Museum, with more than 3,000 square feet of exhibition space, including artifacts and interactive displays, helps to tell the story of their history, traditions, language, spiritual life and culture.

The educational program at Pin Point combines elements of history and science as it looks at one of the last African American waterfront communities in Georgia. Students experience the history of Pin Point and its intimate relationship with the natural environment. They see the challenges faced by the residents of Pin Point to retain their values and traditions in the face of economic pressures from the outside. Students learn about the journey from Africa to Pin Point, the struggle for African Americans to own land and become self-sufficient after Emancipation, as well as the Gullah-Geechee culture that developed along the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Students also explore how important the surrounding marshes and rivers are to the livelihood of the community and learn how the blue crab and oyster were harvested and processed by members of the Pin Point community.

Old Fort Jackson

Named after Revolutionary War hero James Jackson, Old Fort Jackson, located just east of Savannah, was built to defend the port of Savannah from attack via the river. Originally, the site played host to the “Mud Fort,” an earthen artillery battery built in 1777. During the administration of President Thomas Jefferson, the United States began building a series of coastal fortifications for the defense of the major rivers and harbors on the east coast of the United States. The construction of Fort Jackson began in 1808. It was garrisoned during the War of 1812 and the Civil War, when it was the headquarters for the river defenses of Savannah.

Students who come to the fort are enlisted into the Georgia Militia and have the opportunity to discover what it was like to be a soldier garrisoned at Fort Jackson during the Civil War. They participate in infantry drill, a cannon crew and semaphore. Students learn what each soldier would have been issued, what it took to stay healthy while stationed at Fort Jackson and the impact of Sherman’s March to the Sea. A cannon firing closes the program.

Tricentennial Park

In downtown Savannah, the society operates Tricentennial Park the home to three historic sites: Battlefield Memorial Park, Georgia State Railroad Museum and the Savannah History Museum.

Battlefield Park commemorates the spot where roughly 800 soldiers died in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution on Oct. 9, 1779. On that day, more than 8,000 troops clashed for control of the city of Savannah and a combined French and American force failed to extract it from British control. The society offers two different educational programs that focus on the American Revolution. During the “American Revolution In Savannah” program, students participate in a multi-site visit that begins at Fort Jackson and ends at the site of the Battle of Savannah. They are introduced to the causes of the American Revolution and its impact on Georgia.

The second program is the “Siege of Savannah.” Students are provided an in-depth view of the 1779 Battle of Savannah. Soldiers from what are now eight modern countries participated in this pivotal event. In both programs, they experience the impact of Great Britain’s southern strategy as well as the military tactics and weapons employed.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum is located on the site of the former Central of Georgia Savannah Shops, a major repair facility for the Central of Georgia Railroad and a vibrant part of Savannah’s industrial heritage. Construction began on the site in 1851 and the shops soon flourished as engines and rolling stock were built and repaired on site. The Civil War brought damage and destruction to the Central of Georgia Railroad, but by 1866 rail service had been restored and the Central was making a profit transporting cotton to the port of Savannah. The Central continued expanding and reached its peak in the 1920s. For over 100 years it was the largest employer in Savannah. Here students discover the importance of railroads to the state of Georgia and the United States. They learn how steam power effected the industrialization of American life and why the Central of Georgia was established. The Savannah History Museum is housed in the old Central of Georgia Railroad train shed built in 1860. The building was used by the railroad until 1972. In 1984, a historical attraction called The Great Savannah Exposition opened in the building. The Coastal Heritage Society took over what had become the Savannah History Museum in 1990. The museum is now home to more than 10,000 artifacts — the largest collection of artifacts in the entire coastal community. Here our educational programs focus on the diverse history of Savannah: the Native Americans living in the area, the city’s role in the American Revolution; the impact of the Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, which was developed within 10 miles of this site; the importance of railroads to the growth of the country; the impact of the Civil War on Savannah.

We invite you and your students to visit our sites and participate in the field trip programs of the Coastal Heritage Society!

John A. Caramia, Jr. is the Director of Interpretive Programs for the Coastal Heritage Society. for more details and to make reservations.
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