Delightful Richmond Hill and Darien, Georgia

I’ve been driving up and down Interstate 95 to destinations anywhere from Arlington, VA, to Key West, FL, for 30-some years now.  I’ve passed by, but never stopped in, Darien, GA.  It’s about an hour South of Savannah, GA.

Steve and I visit Savannah often.  We make Savannah our headquarters, and we always pick a day, hop in the car, pick a direction, and just drive.  Last week was no different–this time, we went South on Route 17, which I call the “Southern Coast Road”.  It runs from Virginia to Florida, and it was one of those roads everyone had to take to get North or South before Interstate 95 was built.  Route 17 runs through many small towns.  Many of them have died out since the interstate was built.  It’s always a delight and a surprise to discover a special town.

One of the outbuidings on the grounds at Ella's in Richmond Hill.

One of the outbuidings on the grounds at Ella's in Richmond Hill.

When we head South from Savannah, we always stop in Richmond Hill.  It’s near the Ogeechee River.  We love Richmond Hill (I confess one of the reasons I like it is the name…it has “Richmond” in its title and I am a Virginian…).  Prosperous rice plantations were abundant in the area before the War Between the States.  Sherman burnt it during the war, and it was a very poor area from then until 1925.  Henry Ford really put Richmond Hill on the map.  You’ll find more details about its history here.  We love to ride around and stop at some of the shops.  Ella’s is one of our favorites–great items for home interiors, and a great selection of regionally hardy plants (Zone 8b)  and decorative items for the garden in their small, adjacent garden center.  We’ve bought plants for Wilmington here, and learned a lot about what grows in the area and what doesn’t.  It’s always a treat to stop by.

Back in the car, we stopped at some pretty funky places as we headed South.  One is the antiques and collectibles shop at the Biltmore RV Park (and the owner is a native Virginian–we had lots to talk about).  We love to engage with the owners–we pick up area history, and always ask, “Where else should we stop?”  A tip:  Always ask–you’ll find out about places off the beaten path.  And these are often the best.  Same thing goes for local places to eat.

A street in Darien, GA

A street in Darien, GA

We ended up in Darien, GA, later in the afternoon.  It’s right in the Altamaha River delta–Darien, Butler, Champney Rivers and Cathead Creek.  It was a large cotton port prior to the War Between the States; now, it’s a shrimping town.  The shrimp boats line the river.  I thought immediately of two movie towns:  Bayou La Batre, LA,  in ‘Forrest Gump’ and Chinquapin, LA, in ‘Steel Magnolias’.  The streets are canopied with ancient Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss.

St. Church,
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, Darien.  It was built in 1876 for the African-American community.  Notice the “tabby” walls.  Tabby is a typical building material in the Low Country.  It’s made of of homemade lime, sand, oyster shells and water.  Walls with oyster shells are always a hint that they may be tabby.
A better view of the tabby walls.

A better view of the tabby walls.

We could live here.  We drove up and down the streets, slowly, buying and re-doing half the houses in town.  The parks and gardens are glorious.  Every, single person we drove by or walked past nodded and/or said hello.  Many stopped to talk.  We had time.

A Darien cottage, wrapped in Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).  Sorry this is a little blurry!

A Darien cottage, wrapped in Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). Sorry this picture is a little blurry!

After one false start selecting a place to eat supper (we walked in and felt like we were in a church hall serving Sunday dinner–not a bad thing; just not what we were looking for right then), we found a place called Skipper’s Fish Camp, right on the river.  When you walk through the entrance, you can go either left to the restaurant or right to the bar.  “Wait a minute”, Steve said; he thought the music might be live in the bar, and it was.  We walked into a lively, fish camp atmosphere; it was bustling for a small town.  Great happy hour prices, and full dinner is served on that side, too, so we grabbed a table.

The shrimp and grits, wings, and blackened mahi-mahi were To.Die.For.  And the collards.  THE COLLARDS!  Melt-in-your-mouth food from the gods!!  Were these boiled in sweet tea?  (hint: I’m going to try making them this way…)  All this, and the singer/guitar player, Jared Wade, was sublime.  If we’d stayed a bit longer, an overnight room would have been necessary!  But we caved and headed on back to Savannah.  Reluctantly.

We will be back to Darien.

Photos by the author and his mate.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Garden Travel, Southern Gardens, Travel