Back in 1935, the Women's Auxiliary of Christ Church began a modest home tour as a means to raise money for the charitable needs of the community during the Great Depression.
The idea took root, blossomed and flourished. From March 27-30, the 79th annual Savannah Tour of Homes & Gardens will take place.
Dottie Courington is one of three co-chairs.
"It's a joint venture between the Women of Christ Church Anglican and the Historic Savannah Foundation," she says. "On Sunday, we work with the Ardsley Park-Chatham Crescent Garden Club for the Ardsley Park portion of the tour."
The tour offers an opportunity to get inside some of Savannah's most beautiful homes and their storied gardens. Each day's tour is different and offers sites in the Historic Landmark District and Ardsley Park.
The 1935 tour featured five houses in one evening. It brought in $50, a considerable sum for the time.
In 1976, the partnership between the Women of Christ Church Anglican and the Historic Savannah Foundation was formed. Today, it raises money for the support of several charities in Savannah and around the world via Christ Church Anglican.
Proceeds also go to preservation projects of Historic Savannah Foundation and Ardsley Park. Previous recipients have included Habitat for Humanity, a local food mission that serves more than 60,000 meals per year and a home for unwed teenage mothers.
Guests have a wide variety of options.
"The first three days are all in the Landmark District," Courington says. "The money raised then is divided between the church and the Historic Savannah Foundation.
"The church gives out their money in the community and also to missionaries," she says. "Historic Savannah uses their share for preservation advocacy and operating expenses."
The event attracts visitors from around the globe.
"We have people who come, not just locally, but all over the United States," Courington says. "We even have Canadians and some people from Europe, including some who are repeat visitors."
Each day's tour is different from the others.
"Each day, people see six to eight houses and gardens," Courington says. "They are different every day.
"There are three sessions, with one group setting out from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., another from noon to 3, and there is a 2-5 p.m. shift. They set out at their own pace to see those sites.
"Each day is in a different part of the Landmark District," she says. "Thursday is the southeast quadrant, with six houses on East Jones and East Taylor streets and a couple of others in the outlying area, all within walking distance."
Friday features the northeast quadrant, between Bay Street as far south as East Charlton.
"Saturday is the southwest quadrant west of Bull closer to Forsyth Park," she says.
A detailed listing of the walking tours and other events can be found at www.savannahtourofhomes.org.
"Some people come and go multiple days," Courington says. "Some come and do one.
"You can see Victorian houses, Italianate houses - we've got frame houses and stucco houses of all different sizes and types," she says. "We're so appreciative of people who will do this."
Not everyone is eager to open their home to strangers.
"It takes a lot of wooing," Courington says. "We go out and with Historic Savannah as a partner, have a pretty good feel for what houses should be on the tour. That is a huge help."
Even so, it takes time to find enough houses and gardens to feature.
"It is a challenge each year, so we are appreciative of the ones who do this," Courington says. "This year, we're really thankful for people who offer their gardens.
"There are so many lost gardens due to the harsh winter," she says. "Some have replanted their whole gardens for us. I'm sure it's going to look great."
Sunday's tour will feature a plethora of gardens.
"The Ardsley Park tour on Sunday really is highlighting gardens," Courington says.
"There is a small lane in Ardsley Park that our guests will be able to walk down, with six gardens open on each side of the lane."
In addition to tours, this year includes an old-fashioned Southern lunch at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, interactive history tours and evening events.
"Mrs. Wilkes is not normally open on Saturday, but the owners have agreed to open for us," she says. "We'll have eight seatings there.
"We've also got some special events at Paula Deen's restaurant," she says. "There are other special events, some of which you pay for and some of which are free for ticket holders.
"If you buy a ticket for the walking tour and are a visitor to Savannah, the women of Christ Church Anglican have a complimentary reception in Chippewa Square with homemade goodies," she says. "That's followed up with a 30-minute church service in the Independent Presbyterian Church."
For visitors, the tour is a great way to see the sights.
"It's a great introduction to Savannah," Courington says. "If you do know it, you get into places the public doesn't normally get to go in."
There also will be some preservation seminars.
"It's sort of a quick fly-over, with some preservation walking tours that are geared toward someone really into preservation," she says.
"We also have flower arranging and other special events," she says. "There's Antiquing 101 that Jere's Antiques does. It seems like the men really like that one."