James K. Polk was the first former president to visit Savannah, arriving on Saturday, March 10, 1849 at 9 p.m. Upon reaching the city, there was a thunderous salute from cannons situated around the city.
The mayor and aldermen of Savannah came out to the boat carrying Polk and escorted him to the shores of the city. After resting briefly at their hotel, Polk's party proceeded to the Armory Hall for an enormous reception.
On Sunday, Polk rested at his hotel, until he traveled across the city to dine at the home of his old friend and former colleague in Congress, George Welshman Owens.
Sunday morning, March 12, Polk's party left the hotel for the Central of Georgia Railroad depot with a full military escort. Polk was accompanied on the train by a group of prominent Savannahians to the 90 mile station on the Central, where he was met by a committee of Macon dignitaries.
Former President Millard Fillmore decided to visit the south after he left office. He traveled on a Central of Georgia Railroad train, and his party was joined at the Griffin’s Dinner House some distance from Savannah to act as escort into the city, where he arrived on April 21, 1854.
Mayor John Elliott Ward and the city aldermen met him at the Central of Georgia Railroad depot when his train pulled in. The Chatham Artillery promptly gave him a 31-gun salute, followed by a reception in Central's vast warehouse.
A crowd of some 250 citizens escorted President Fillmore to a public levee (a military parade followed by a grand banquet) held on the grounds of the Pulaski House, which was considered by many to be one of the finest hotels in the South.
During his visit, the Fillmore party was feted at a huge party on the grounds of the Bonaventure Plantation. Fillmore graciously accepted the invitation of Captain Hardie to visit his ship, the steamer Keystone State, which was docked on the river downtown. In honor of his visit he was offered another salute of 21 guns.
According to the New York Times, Fillmore praised the city, saying: “I have heard of its pleasant promenades, its broad avenues, its public squares, its comfortable and tasteful mansions, its stately temples of worship, and above all, of its intelligent, benevolent, and hospitable citizens.”
Fillmore attended three services while he was in Savannah: first in the morning at Christ Church, then in the afternoon at the Independent Presbyterian Church, and finally, during the evening, at the Unitarian Church.
On Monday, Fillmore boarded the steamer “Seminole” to attend another grand banquet on the parade grounds of Fort Pulaski. According to Savannah newspaper accounts, the menu included codfish, flounder, roast beef, lamb, mutton and corned beef.
Later that evening, there was a farewell grand ball at Saint Andrew's Hall. The next morning, Fillmore and his party left for Charleston accompanied by several prominent Savannahians.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. He provides a brief look at the area's historical past. Email Roger at email@example.com.