The coastal riverside community of Isle of Hope enjoys a picturesque location amidst the beautiful marshes of Georgia’s tidewater zone, its streets and historic homes arranged around a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Skidaway River.
Isle of Hope (in spite of its name, not actually an island, but a peninsula bounded but not quite cut off by the area’s marshland waterways) is less than 30 minutes from Savannah (about 10 miles), and has a place in the history of Georgia almost as old as the city itself.
Several of Savannah’s attractions are in the immediate vicinity of Isle of Hope, but the town is also an ideal spot for a scenic and relaxing riverside stroll or as a place from which to explore the marshes stretching from Savannah to the Atlantic Ocean.
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For its first 150 years, Isle of Hope was a small and quiet settlement, home only to a few fishers and farmers, but it would later become one of Savannah’s favorite summer resorts. Savannah’s wealthier citizens began to build their summer houses on the banks of the Skidaway River around the mid-19th century, hoping to escape the heat and the diseases then rampant in the city.
Until the Civil War, a single dirt road through the forests south of Savannah provided the only access to Isle of Hope. In 1871, the Savannah, Skidaway and Seaboard Railroad connected Isle of Hope to the city, and the settlement began to grow more quickly. Its layout, in contrast to the grid usually employed in Savannah, was designed to take advantage of the bend in the river and its cooling breezes.
A small historic African-American district centered around Parkersburg Road also dates from around this period, established by freed people who had formerly worked on the nearby Wormsloe Plantation.
From the late 19th century into the early years of the 20th, Isle of Hope was a popular resort for Savannah residents and visitors from further afield, as were other nearby waterfront communities such as Thunderbolt and Tybee Island. Later, the advent of the personal vehicle lessened the need for such resorts so close to home, and the town transitioned into an ordinary residential community.
Within Isle of Hope’s Historic District (roughly speaking, the area between the Skidaway River and the line of Parkersburg Road and Cormus Drive), many of the houses date from its resort period, with larger historic properties on the riverfront Bluff Drive and smaller cottages on inland lots. Two historic frame churches date from the 1870s, and a few houses are older still, believed to have been constructed in the early 19th century.
One of the best ways to experience the architecture and serenity of Isle of Hope is to take a walk along Bluff Drive, which with its moss-hung live oaks and historic homes is one of the highlights of the town. The road fronts upon the Skidaway River, the porched houses and their landscaped gardens on one side and the river and marsh, punctuated by dozens of boats and private jetties, on the other.
A half mile long, centered upon the Isle of Hope Marina (one of Georgia’s official stops on the Intracoastal Waterway), Bluff Drive makes for an especially picturesque stroll around sunset, with beautiful views out over the river and marsh.
Wormsloe Historic Site Isle of Hope’s main attraction, its entrance located a mile outside of the town, is Wormsloe. This colonial-era plantation, with tabby ruins, nature trails and historical exhibits, is managed by the state as a Historic Site. One of Wormsloe’s more notable features is its mile-long avenue of live oaks, which make a beautiful and dramatic entrance to the former plantation grounds.
Wormsloe is open daily, 9am-5pm. Adult admission is $10. More details
Pin Point Heritage Museum Located in a former oyster canning factory 10-15 minutes from Isle of Hope is the small but interesting Pin Point Heritage Museum, which highlights the history of the seafood-processing community of Pin Point through oral histories, fishing craft demonstrations and other exhibits. The museum is open Thursday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. Adult admission is $8.
Bethesda Less than four miles from Isle of Hope is Bethesda. Today, Bethesda is a private school for boys, but it was once an orphanage, established by evangelical minister George Whitefield in the very early years of the Georgia colony.
A small, recently-opened museum on the Bethesda Academy campus outlines the history of the school and former orphanage. It is open Thursday-Saturday, 10am-4pm. Adult admission is $7. More details
The easiest way to enjoy the landscape of the Skidaway region is at Skidaway Island State Park, around 15-20 minutes drive from Isle of Hope on adjacent Skidaway Island. This beautiful state park has several miles of trails through marsh and forest, passing sights of historic interest including old liquor stills and the remnants of Civil War fortifications. The park is open daily, 7am-10pm. There is a $5 parking fee.
Isle of Hope and its nearby launches on the Skidaway River also provide a base from which to see the creeks and wildlife of Georgia’s inland tidal marshes by boat or kayak.
Kayak, paddleboard or boat tours are one way to explore the surrounding waterways and see their birds and other wildlife. Boat charters too are available to the Skidaway area, and longer boat excursions to barrier islands such as Wassaw and Ossabaw can also be taken from here.