In a frantic search to fill 24 hours in Savannah, Georgia, I came across Wormsloe Historic Site. It’s difficult not to become mesmerized by the endless rows of arched live oaks at the entrance to the property. Outside of wanting to drive under a canopy of trees with spanish moss draping over the branches like forgotten streamers from a birthday party, I had yet to research what else my visit to Wormsloe would entail. As I paid for my ticket to begin my experience, a glance over the brochure should have clued me in that this was not a typical pre-civil war plantation.
Expectation: A Smooth Ride Through The Arched Oaks
As I scrolled through pictures of Wormsloe, I could only imagine hearing the oak leaves fluttering as the wind passed through the mile-long ally. The scene from Forest Gump flashed in my head, and an echo of Jenny screaming, “Run, Forrest, Run” played on a loop. It was going to be a rainy day, but I knew this meant the trees would come alive with various moody green mosses and darkening black bark flanking each tree. Mesmerized by the branches joining together like two hands clasping in unity, I imagined cars would slowly glide down the road while the passengers tried to memorize the shape of each tree.
Reality: Your Car Will Need An Alignment After Visiting Wormsloe
Knowing this property predates the civil war, I expected some relics to be preserved from the period; I did not think they would preserve the atrocious unpaved road leading through the property. The path leading through these enchanted oaks might as well be the face of the moon. The depth of the potholes was anyone’s guess as they were filled with the morning’s rain. Instead of looking up in entranced excitement, navigating the road was like traversing a field of land minds.
I thought I would exclaim ohh and ahhs as we moved under the lumbering branches. However, the conversations sounded more like Ouch! Watch out! Do you have a spare tire? Do you think the Park Rangers will come to get us if we get stuck? The Oregon Trail was probably smoother!
A happy couple stood to the side as a photographer captured engagement photos, the swirling branches framing the two as they embraced each other, looking deeply into each other’s eyes. In contrast, I was clutching the oh shit handle for impact from the next pothole. However disastrous the road conditions were, the scenery of the Wormsloe oak trees was just as beautiful in person as the postcard pictures had shown. I captured photos and video from the car’s sunroof as my friend navigated the rough seas, eventually making it to the Visitors Center.
Expectation: A Tour of a Grand Colonial Era Home
Historic home tours are one of my favorite things when visiting a town or city. This love of old, creaky floored manors started when I was young. My mother and grandmother would take me on estate tours around southern Georgia, and I would imagine I lived in the homes hosting parties and inviting friends over for tea. My perspective on life was a Disney version of life in the 1800s. The people who lived in these homes were always happy, and their daughters married Prince Charming. I know now more than ever this wasn’t the reality. Still, the childlike wish to live in a Victorian home with twelve-foot ceilings and a fireplace in every room has not left my imagination.
Toward the end of the oak tree tunnel, a large white plantation house peered between the rows of trees. Without referencing the map, I assumed we would eventually be able to walk over to this home.
Reality: The Tabby Ruins
My morning coffee must have kicked in when I eventually referenced the Wormsloe grounds map. The Jones Family Plantation House was labeled clearly on the map; however, I missed the notation of it being on private property and the outline of a fence encircling the grounds.
I contemplated pretending like I was a part of the film crew setting up tents and cameras for what I am assuming was for a movie (I’m assuming again; clearly, this is my toxic trait). Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule, and spending a night in jail for trespassing wasn’t in our plans for that day.
What is available to view is the Wormsloe Tabby Ruins, the home built by the first colonist Noble Jones around 1737. Tabby homes were constructed of lime, sand, water, and oyster shells that were boiled down and poured into molds to create a concrete-like structure. This fortified tabby house overlooked a significant water route for ships during this time. To defend himself and his family against passing Spanish and Native Americans, Noble built eight-foot walls around his home.
Today not much of the fortified structure remains. Small wilted portions of the once dominating walls are all that’s left standing. Silently, the forest and damp air reclaim the structure back to the earth, dissolving the memories that time so easily takes from us.
Expectation: Education on ALL the people who lived at Wormsloe
It may not stay in the name anymore, but Wormsloe was a fully functional plantation. The success of Wormsloe was built on the backs of enslaved people working crops of corn, rice, and indigo. Marketed as one of Savannah’s must-see attractions, the stories of life on the Wormsloe plantation are seemingly forgotten in light of the instagramable photo opportunities.
I knew this was a plantation before agreeing to drive under the hypnotic oak branches. Once on the other side of the tunnel, I expected to learn about all the people who inhabited the land, both the good and the bad. There isn’t a Disney version of how hard life was in the early 1800s. Wormsole is fraught with a history of displacing Native Americans, battling the Spanish, enslaving people, and being a garrison for Confederate troops during the Civil War. Over the centuries, thousands of lives and stories have called this marshy land home, and I was eager to hear what everyone had to say.
Reality: One Curated Story
The central figure in the narrative of Wormsloe is one of Georgia’s colonial founders, Noble Jones. The brochure and map given out at the ticket counter boast only of the successes and positive impacts during the founding of Savannah. Signage around the property follows the generational succession of the family up to the present day, and the white plantation house visitors are not privy to see is still owned by direct descendants of Noble Jones.
The entire “Historical Site” narrative did not accurately convey the stories the land could share. I could only find one sign that briefly mentioned the presences of enslaved people on the property. In contrast, the lineage of seven generations of the Jones family has been traced, touting the achievements along the way. Rebranding by removing the word plantation from the Wormsole name worked as it dawned on my friend that this was not just a rich person’s estate who had a keen eye for horticulture.
Not telling the entire story of Wormsole left a bitter taste in my mouth. Noble Jones’s life was similar to scrolling through an Instagram highlight page. Every success and great triumph cast him in a positive light while the reality of life lurked just out of sight within the shadows. Our history is full of things we don’t want to talk about or are otherwise not proud of. But not talking about them doesn’t make them disappear. We continue to grow by facing these conversations head-on, not sweeping them under the rug; it can’t just be out-of-sight, out-of-mind.