Factor's Walk: Savannah's Mercantile History on Display

Factor's Walk is a street and series of buildings on the northern edge of the Historic District in downtown Savannah. It runs between River Street and the Savannah River to the north, or down the bluff, and East Bay Street to the south, or up the bluff. The area is easily accessed from Interstate 16. Factor's Walk is within walking distance of most of the Historic District. It is near many of the large hotels and popular waterfront attractions in downtown.

The Port of Savannah has played a key role in the city's history from its inception in 1733. The Georgia Historical Society's historical marker at Factor's Walk says that "the first commercial house below the bluff opened in 1744.'' By the early 19th century, cotton was one of the country's major exports and Savannah was one of the busiest ports in the nation. M'Culloch's Universal Gazetteer of 1840 notes that "Savannah is at present the centre of commerce for a large extent of [the] country.'' The 40-foot bluff on which the city was built posed a problem. M'Culloch's describes the setup: "The warehouses are numerous, generally lining the wharves ... most of them three or four stories high. The business is generally done in an upper story, entered from the top of the bluff, while the lower stores serve to receive the merchandise directly from the ships.'' The levels between the business offices and the warehouses became a series of buildings interconnected by walkways and bridges. These levels are where the "factors,'' the men who factored how much cotton came in to be sold, worked. The cotton industry was decimated in the 1920s by the boll weevil, a pest that destroyed the crop. By the mid-1950s, all the cotton offices on the Savannah waterfront were gone.

Today, Factor's Walk is a picturesque reminder of when "cotton was king.'' The old buildings, cobblestone stairways and paths, and the connecting iron bridges fascinate history buffs and tourists alike. The buildings now house many different types of businesses, from the serious to the silly. An investment banker, a marketing company and an attorney have their offices there, and the Olde Harbour Inn offers guests a view of the river. Several antiques stores, art galleries, arts and crafts shops and a bookstore cater to the more serious shopper, while gift shops, a package store and the Aura Shop, featuring psychic readings by Sylvia, appeal to the lighter side of shopping on the waterfront. There are also several restaurants and bars along Factor's Walk.

Reviews of the area from travel websites are mixed. Visitors love the history of the buildings themselves. One visitor commented, "Factor's Walk is so steeped and interconnected in the history south ... I enjoyed the cobblestone roads and the fact that much of this area has not been `updated.''' Another notes, "[I]t is full of the history of Georgia and the first Georgians.'' Many people had trouble navigating the steep ramps and old cobblestones, however, calling it "hard to get around'' and a "very uneven and sometimes steep street area of cobblestones that invites an ankle turning.'' Others do not care for the "touristy'' feel of many of the shops, with one person calling it "primarily a collection of t-shirt and cheap souvenir shops. Too bad that the city's river frontage hasn't been put to better use!'' Another person countered this entry by pointing out the many antique shops and galleries that are in Factor's Walk. Nonetheless, most reviewers think that the cradle of Georgia's commercial history is definitely worth a visit.

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