Because so few downtown Savannah  streets can accommodate 18-wheelers, Bay Street unfortunately has become the default route for industrial traffic in the area on its way to and from the industrial west side of town.
In front of the Hyatt Regency is a concrete bench, marking the spot on which Oglethorpe  pitched his first tent. But dominating Bay Street is City Hall (2 E. Bay St.) next door, with its gold-leaf dome. The 1907 building was designed by acclaimed architect Hyman Witcover and erected on the site of Savannah’s first town hall.
The large gray Greek Revival building directly across from City Hall is the U.S. Custom House (1 E. Bay St.), not “Customs” regardless of what the tour guides may say. Built on the spot of Georgia’s first public building in 1852, the Custom House was also Georgia’s first federal building and was the first local commission for renowned New York architect John Norris, who went on to design 22 other buildings in Savannah.
Within its walls was held the trial of the captain and crew of the notorious slave ship Wanderer, which illegally plied its trade after a national ban on the importation of slaves. Local newspaper publisher and educator John H. DeVeaux worked here after his appointment as the first African American U.S. Collector of Customs.
Directly adjacent to City Hall on the east is a small canopy sheltering two cannons, which together comprise the oldest monument in Savannah . These are the Chatham Artillery Guns, presented to the local militia group of the same name by President George Washington during his one and only visit to town in 1791. Today, locals use the phrase “Chatham Artillery” differently, to refer to a particularly potent local punch recipe that mixes several hard liquors.
Look directly behind the cannons and you’ll see the ornate Savannah Cotton Exchange (100 E. Bay St.), built in 1886 to facilitate the city’s huge cotton export business. Once nicknamed “King Cotton’s Palace” but now a Masonic lodge, this delightful building by William Gibbons Preston is one of Savannah’s many great examples of the Romanesque style.
You’ll become well acquainted with Preston’s handiwork during your stay in Savannah—the Boston architect built many of Savannah’s finest buildings. The fanciful lion figure in front—sometimes mistakenly referred to as a gryphon—represents Mark the Evangelist. However, it isn’t original—the first lion was destroyed in 2009 in a bizarre traffic accident.