As much as I love a modern, new building with a fresh take on hospitality, I also love hotels with a rich history. I'm intrigued by buildings that have lived many lives and I like to think about all the people who may have passed through the same hallways, or looked out of the same window as me but at an entirely different view outside. So naturally I was very excited to stay The Marshall House, which claims to have been Savannah’s first hotel. It also claims to be haunted.
The house, which was originally built in 1851 was occupied by Union soldiers towards the end of the Civil War and served as a hospital for wounded soldiers, as well as during two subsequent yellow fever outbreaks. So needless to say a lot of shit went down in these halls. A lot of amputations. In the late 1990s when the hotel was being restored to its most recent incarnation, workers found human remains— mostly arms and legs— hidden under one of the floorboards. Yikes. The staff also reported bad vibes and odors coming from a few specific rooms at the hotel— 214, 314, and 414. In addition, guests over the years claimed to have seen ghosts of young children, civil war soldiers, and the hotel’s founding matron herself roaming the halls.
So, yeah, historic hotels certainly come with a lot of baggage— the supernatural aside, old buildings have foundational problems they have to overcome to meet the needs of the modern traveler. So let me tell you how The Marshall House stacks up in 2018…
Upon landing at the airy Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, we grabbed an uber with the original plan of heading straight to our hotel downtown. However, a few minutes into chatting away with our driver— a born and bred Savannah local— we were convinced to make a pit stop for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room first. At Mrs. Wilkes twenty dollars treats you to an all-you-can-eat meal served family style, where you’ll sit at a big table with strangers (likely other tourists) as side after side and plate after plate of food is served until the entire surface area of the table is covered in dishes. It was a great experience to start off our time in Savannah and afterwards, feeling sufficiently carbo-loaded, we walked the remaining 8-or-so blocks to the hotel.
Upon arriving at the hotel we were greeted by the doorman and a welcome gust of air conditioning. The check-in process was fairly straightforward, with the unexpected surprise of a complimentary upgrade from the “petite queen” room I had booked (the hotel’s most affordable offering) to a “superior king” room.
The room we were upgraded to was very simple and traditional— not the type of aesthetic I usually gravitate towards but suiting for a historical hotel and inoffensive. I did appreciate having the larger bed to spread out in (maybe my BFF who likes to cuddle would disagree) but as far as I can tell from photos online, the petite queen room’s layout may actually be better. In our king room there were some odd organizational choices such as an arm chair tucked away into a dark corner of the room, making it less an appealing spot to lounge and more like an elaborate shelf for my duffel bag.
Our view was also virtually non-existent and of the parking lot behind the building— which I didn’t mind as much as the fact that there was only one window in the corner of the room. If you’ve been following my reviews for awhile, you might know that I crave, need natural lighting to feel at peace in the world. In our room it was a bit scant, and a bit gloomy. While I doubt adding an extra window would be a trivial change to make, it does feel like the rooms could use a few furnishing updates to feel as lively as the common spaces downstairs.
As mediocre as the bedrooms are, the bathrooms were a pleasant surprise that truly transported me. With its checkerboard tile floors, white paneling, and vintage light fixtures, one could really believe for a moment that they’re in a turn-of-the-century southern hospital. Well, more like the romanticized ideal of such a thing.
The bathrooms were very clean despite their retro appearance, though the facilities themselves felt a bit older. Our shower faucet kept trickling despite our best attempts to turn it off completely, a problem that could only be solved by the housekeeping’s midas touch.
While I’m lukewarm about the rooms, the common spaces are where The Marshall House truly shines. It’s not just in how they’re decorated— bright, airy, colorful— but how they are utilized. Every evening starting at 5:30pm there’s a complimentary wine happy hour in the hotel’s lounge, which is styled like a fancy southern living room. There’s even an attendant on hand to refill your glass with your choice of red, white, or rosé. What’s cool though is that in addition to the wine there’s also complimentary entertainment— some days it’s a musical session by a harpist, one who even takes contemporary requests— when we there she played us a little Death Cab for Cutie.
The second night of our stay, in lieu of musical entertainment there was a history lesson led by a local historian. This happy hour was surprisingly much more crowded than the harpist’s, and had many older couples in attendance. Pretty much every available seat in the lounge was taken. The historian spoke at length about the history of the hotel— which I was pleasantly surprised to learn centered around a female real estate tycoon. The hotel was founded by Mary Marshall, a local business woman who inherited and grew her father’s fortune as his only heir and was responsible for many new developments in Savannah in the 1800s. She never had any biological children but at age 50 adopted a daughter— who excelled at playing the harp. Ah, it all makes sense. The historian also pointed out a lot of interesting architectural details, encouraging visitors to roam the hotel and see them for themselves— like oddly placed fireplaces and historical drawings of Savannah in its heyday.
The Food + Neighborhood
The Marshall House has an atrium where they serve a breakfast buffet for around $10 per person, but with such a short time in Savannah we passed on eating food at the hotel in favor of the local restaurants nearby. The Marshall House’s extremely central location put it walking distance to several great places to grab a bite. Some of my favorites in the area were... The Coffee Fox, just a few blocks west— an Austin-themed coffeeshop with chill staff and delicious kolaches, Olde Pink House for a fancy dinner, and Little Duck Diner for a boozy brunch. Also in the area is Moon River Brewing Company, where you can get a really generous tasting flight of 10 beers for $15 and The Savannah Bee Company which does a really yummy mead tasting flight.
Left: Olde Pink House; Right: Lavender bubble bath bellini at Little Duck Diner.
All the staff that we interacted with at The Marshall House were extremely friendly and polite, from the doormen to the nightly entertainment and concierge. We bought a bottle wine from the front desk on our last night at the hotel with the intention of spending the night in and enjoying it, but ended up feeling too full to imbibe. Luckily the staff were very understanding and gave us a full refund since we didn’t open the bottle. It seems like the obvious thing to do but you’d be surprised how many businesses wouldn’t. Overall The Marshall House definitely lives up the reputation of southern hospitality.
The Marshall House does have elevator access to all of its floors, and in addition has rooms specifically designated for accessibility with roll-in showers. Check out this review for more details.
I think The Marshall House is an ideal place to stay for first timers to Savannah, like me on this trip. It’s price-point is mid-range: it’s neither the cheapest nor the most expensive hotel in the area, but it may have the best location. While there’s a cluster of newer looking hotels closer to the river, I really preferred The Marshall House’s spot, integrated on a street with coffee shops, bars, boutiques, and a historic theater. It goes without saying that history buffs or anyone who likes to nerd out about that sort of thing would really enjoy it here. I would probably recommend either going with the most affordable room or splurging for one of the balcony rooms, or the Mary Marshall suite, which would presumably get more light and have a better view. It was nice that we got a free upgrade but I don’t know if I would be willing to pay out of my own pocket for our mid-tier king room.
As for any paranormal activity— I can’t say I personally experienced or sensed any restless spirits. Sure, there were creaking floorboards at night but that seems par for the course for an old building. Perhaps I just don’t have the magic touch that would attract said spirits, but I can’t say it bothered me. I felt a lot more comfortable and at peace not thinking about it, and perhaps too distracted by all the fun I was having in Savannah to notice. I was also severely jetlagged having just traveled from Bangkok so as soon as I hit the sheets, I was out. Sorry, ghosts. Maybe next time.
If I were to go back to Savannah I’d probably want to stay in a less central location to get a better taste of local life in the city but again for first time visitors, considering all the restaurants, nightlife, and attractions it’s walking distance from, combined with the historical atmosphere, it’s certainly a unique place to stay for a reasonable value.
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