Back in December my wife and I were in Chicago when the temperature dropped into the teens with wind chill, so we hopped in an Uber to go a few blocks. I got to chatting with the driver, as I am prone to do, and mentioned that we were from Savannah where cold is more of a rumor than a reality. Upon hearing "Savannah", he responded with such enthusiasm that I was taken aback. Had he been before? No, but he had read a lot about the city. Why? He was in law school and his favorite Chief Justice was none other than Clarence Thomas.
I am not accustomed to people knowing much, if anything about Savannah, and I must say that I had to laugh a bit when the Uber driver revealed his reason for being fascinated with the city had to do not with the famous old buildings, Spanish moss, or Paula Deen but rather with the notoriously stoic lawyer. It is true that Thomas is from Savannah, in a manner of speaking, as his home is the tiny marsh-side hamlet traditionally known as Pin Point. A casual acquaintance of Savannah might not have ever heard of what was at one time a thriving Gullah/Geeche community and home to a renowned oyster and crab factory. It is indeed a blip on the map, but it occupies a spot on a busy causeway that is, these days, marked by a big sign declaring "The Birthplace of Justice Clarence Thomas." I had driven by that sign many times, but at the time of my conversation in Chicago, had never given the place much thought. Thus, when the weather warmed up earlier this year, I went over and had a gander.
In recent years, what was once the A.S. Varn and Sons Oyster Canning Factory has been transformed into the Pin Point Heritage Museum. I went on a day when all the museums in Savannah were free (Super Museum Sunday, so called because it was also Super Bowl Sunday. Savannahians are clever like that.) Greeting me was a nice lady with mini cupcakes that she practically forced me to eat before I could even enter the place so thankful was she that I had chosen Pin Point to grace with my Super attendance. Little did she know that it was my third museum that day and I only ended up there by chance as I headed back from the tiny, but still pleasant Skidaway Island Aquarium. Though I came as an afterthought, it turned out to be a rewarding experience.
The museum is top notch, and if you have any interest at all in the real fabric of the coastal communities that used to make a living off of the natural resources in the region, then it is a must visit. The Oyster factory was owned by a white man who employed the Geechees (former slaves) living there in Pin Point to catch and process the oysters and blue crabs found in abundance in the tidal waters. What could easily have been exploitation, became something much more positive. The people of Pin Point loved Varn, and his factory kept the whole community going from 1926 all the way up to 1985. The full story of the place can be learned from wonderfully produced documentary, that includes interviews with Thomas, shown regularly at the museum. Pin Point, it is told, has maybe 300 people in its tiny area now, but that number is in decline and, as is the case with Daufuskie, almost no one speaks Gullah any more. However, if you are interested, you can learn a few words from one of the exhibits.
Of particular interest to me was the converted canning factory. Pin Point is located in the Skidaway Narrows, and the factory is built right on the marsh. Men would leave early to head to deeper water, collect crab and oysters, and bring them in before it was too hot out. Then the women would shuck and pick the seafood before packing it and storing it on ice to be sold later. Pin Point oysters were sold everywhere, to include New York City.
I went on a day when admission wasn't charged, but regularly it is 8$. I think the price is fair and probably cheaper than you would pay for far less interesting "museums" downtown that have nothing to do with the city and its natural and sociological history. Savannah is a place tied to the water and its people for generations, black and white, made their living that way. Pin Point gives a unique look at what really made the region a unique one, the "real Savannah", if you will. It is worth going out of the way to visit. Just be sure to stay and watch the documentary.