I’m always telling visitors how much I love Factors Walk, and it practically pains me when they respond with, “Never heard of it”. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a hidden gem along River Street, but it’s one definitely worth visiting. The historic aspect alone is quite interesting.
Factors Walk is where you’ll find the Cluskey Vaults and the old Savannah Cotton Exchange building (with its iconic winged lion statue), plus some intriguing secret tunnels. I think it’s about time I introduce you to one of my favorite areas in Savannah!
FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you purchase through one of my links.
If you’re new around here, first of all…welcome! My name is Erin, and I authored the Savannah First-Timer’s Guide. I love taking photos in and around Savannah, and I also enjoy helping visitors plan their trips. I post about the good and the bad sides of Savannah, and I always keep it real. Here’s a handy table of contents if you want to skip to a certain section…
Factors Walk Savannah: The Basics
Factors Walk is located between River and Bay Streets. It looks a lot like a back alley where service trucks might park so it’s easy to overlook, but I’m going to show you a few things that make it special.
Bull Street is the east/west dividing line for the city, so everything to the east of Bull Street is considered East Factors Walk and everything to the west is considered West Factors Walk. (That’s easy enough to remember!)
Factors Walk also has different vertical levels. In some areas you’ll only find an upper and lower level. However, closer to the center of Factors Walk there are actually three sections: upper, middle, and lower. A visual probably works best in situations like this…
The top level of Factors Walk is ornamental and houses entrances to shops, restaurants, and hotels. The middle level is very plain in appearance and leads to homes (mainly vacation rentals) and a few businesses. The bottom level is utilitarian and primarily consists of service entrances for the many restaurants and businesses facing River Street.
But First…Is Factors Walk Haunted?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question, now isn’t it?
While I’ve personally never spotted a ghost there, it’s one of the few places in Savannah where I genuinely get a little spooked. As I mention in my 11 Most Haunted Spots in Savannah post, the air just feels heavy along certain parts of Factors Walk — particularly the lower level. It seems like a place with a dark past. (Heck, it IS a place with a dark past.)
Plus, the area looks downright spooky, and that’s gotta count for something. Right?
As I usually tell people, it’s not the ghosts I worry about when I explore Savannah after dark…it’s the criminals. Unless you’re on a ghost tour or are visiting with a local, I don’t suggest first-time visitors go wandering around the lower levels of Factors Walk late at night. Visit during the day when you can better see all of its unique details!
Related Reading: Savannah Crime Map: Updated Daily with Current Statistics
History of Factors Walk Savannah
During the early to mid-1800s, when cotton was the South’s most valuable export, the rows of warehouses along River Street served as offices for men who were known as cotton factors.
It was their responsibility to “factor” (determine or influence) the worldwide value of cotton. They worked as a middleman between plantation owners and clients who wanted to purchase cotton in bulk.
The buildings they worked in were referred to as Factors Row, while the system of pedestrian bridges and alleyways behind those buildings were referred to as Factors Walk. These days, everything is nicknamed Factors Walk for short.
The factors worked out of the upper floors of the warehouses, and bales of cotton were stored in the lower levels. Pedestrian bridges allowed easy access from the office spaces to the bluff, which leads to Bay Street and the rest of the Historic District. (Those bridges also came in handy so factors could stand on them to inspect goods passing below.)
The majority of those pedestrian bridges are still in use today! In fact, one of the reasons I’m so smitten with Factors Walk is because it still looks much like it did hundreds of years ago.
If you check out the different building materials used throughout the area, it’s very visually apparent that Factors Walk was constructed in layers over time. As ships came into port and unloaded heavy ballast stones, those stones were put to good use in ramps, retaining walls, and buildings all along the waterfront.
If you’re a fellow history buff and want to take a deep dive into the many layers of Factors Walk, be sure to check out this in-depth video by SCAD professor, Dr. Robin B. Williams. I’ve learned so much from his Urban Traces YouTube channel!
Upper Level: Old Savannah Cotton Exchange Building
This beautiful building is one of the most well-known landmarks in the area. I love this historic photo that shows cotton growing around the winged lion statue out front…
People often say the Cotton Exchange is “built on air”. That’s because the building sits over the Drayton Street ramp, and you can actually walk or drive under it to access River Street.
Today, the Cotton Exchange building sits empty for the majority of the year — except when the masons use it to host monthly meetings. It’s not open to visitors, and that’s probably a good thing since it’s in need of some structural work.
Mid-Level: The Cluskey Vaults
The Cluskey Vaults are located about mid-level along Factors Walk. You’ll find them between the Drayton Street ramp and City Hall, which is the beautiful building with the gold dome at the top.
Four of the vaults are open, and the one furthest left (east) is sealed closed. You can walk inside each of the open ones to explore them. They’re brightly lit at night, so they don’t feel very spooky.
The vaults were built in the 1840s by an architect named Charles B. Cluskey. He designed them as retaining walls and storage units. At one point there were gates and windows on them, but those are long gone.
Some people (including myself) have speculated about their use as a holding area for enslaved individuals, but there’s no definitive proof of that. Georgia Southern University (GSU) partnered with the city on an archeological survey to better determine their original use. They discovered Civil War-era buttons, wood posts, iron pots, glass bottles, and similar items.
Mid-Level: Factors Walk Tunnels
Many visitors (and locals) are curious about the tunnels along Factors Walk. Rightly so; they’re very mysterious! Almost all of them have been bricked over, in an effort to deter curious explorers.
There are a few areas with missing bricks where you can stick your cell phone inside to take photos. For example, you can see a hole between the fourth and fifth tunnels on this photo…
I’ve poked my phone inside the tunnels before, but the shots only show empty space, lots of darkness, and a ton of spiderwebs. NOTE: Only reach your phone inside if you don’t mind losing it. If it drops, you won’t get it back.
Rumor has it the tunnels lead to the basements of buildings on Bay Street and the first few streets of the Historic District. Moon River Brewing and B. Matthews Eatery are two local business that confirm tunnels leading into their basements.
Savannah’s ghost tour guides propagate fascinating tales of a vast network of tunnels throughout the north end of the Historic District, but it’s difficult to know which stories are true and which are false.
There are a myriad of reasons for a network of tunnels to exist beneath Savannah: to more easily move alcohol during the Prohibition era, to transport enslaved individuals, or — in the case of the Old Candler Hospital tunnels — to store bodies during massive Yellow Fever outbreaks.
I’m sure I’ll do some digging (not literally!) and will write a lengthier post about the topic at some point!
Factors Walk: Lower Level
Moving on from the mid-level to the lower level of Factors Walk…this is weirdly my favorite section!
The photo below does a pretty good job of demonstrating the stark contrast in appearance between the upper and lower levels of Factors Walk. The upper level is ornamental, while the lowest level is utilitarian.
Enslaved individuals used to transport cotton bales out to the docks from this area, but these days you’ll mainly find service industry workers hauling wheelbarrows of ice into Wet Willies.
Some of the doors and windows on the lower level are incredibly old and timeworn. They make for some interesting photo opportunities, especially if you’re a fan of street style photography. I love the colorful pop of green on this old window…
Savannah’s Homeless Community
Yes, homelessness exists in Savannah; let me go ahead and make that abundantly clear. You’ll encounter members of the homeless community in many areas of the Historic District, but particularly along Factors Walk and River Street.
I have a chapter in my ebook dedicated to Savannah’s homeless community and how to best handle your interactions with them, but the main point is this: please be a good human.
Some folks choose to be homeless, while others are temporarily down on their luck. Some suffer from mental illnesses and can’t afford their medications. Many are veterans who fought for our country.
The men and women you encounter may seem cranky because they slept on a bench all night, because they haven’t eaten, or because they’ve simply lost hope. It never hurts to extend a little grace.
How to Help: Many charitable organizations in Savannah are working towards long-term solutions for the homeless community; The Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless is one and Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity is another.
NOTE: Christine, Jerrime, and Barry each gave me permission to post their photos. They want their stories told, but many others do not. Some members of the homeless community may be in sensitive situations (escaping from abusive situations, etc.), so I would never disrespect anyone by taking photos and posting them without permission. Hopefully you’ll be considerate, as well!
Stone Stairs of Death
These treacherous stairs are located in the Plant Riverside District, which is on the far west end of River Street. You can find them along Factors Walk directly below Jere’s Antiques.
They’re tough enough to maneuver when you’re sober and practically impossible after a few drinks. Don’t even bother if you’re wearing spiked heels!
Photo Op: The stone stairs of death are another of my favorite photo locations on Factors Walk. They look best at night when the twinkle lights illuminate the alleyway.
If you pay close attention to the many layers of history found on Factors Walk, you’ll notice some of the streets are made from the original ballast stones used to weigh ships down as they journeyed to Savannah from far away shores, while others — such as the path leading to the Stone Stairs of Death — are stamped concrete recreations.
While the stamped concrete is more uniform in appearance and doesn’t look as authentic as the real thing, it’s nice that the city at least tries to retain some of the historic character of the area whenever work is performed on the streets. Whenever you’re in the area, see if you can notice the difference between the real and the fake stones!
Where to Park
Parking is hard to come by anywhere close to River Street. If you have to drive, I suggest parking in Emmet Park, which is on the far east end of Factors Walk. The earlier you arrive, the more likely you are to find a spot. The Bryan Street Parking Garage is another decent option.
Where to Eat & What to Do
There are a few really good restaurants in the area! Here are a few favorites, as picked by travelers in my private Facebook group for first-time visitors:
- Breakfast: Huey’s on the River (brunch), Henry’s, and Debi’s Diner. My personal favorites in the vicinity are Café M and Huey’s.
- Lunch: Olympia Café and Boar’s Head Grill & Tavern. My personal favorite in the vicinity is Little Duck Diner.
- Dinner: Vic’s on the River and The Pirates’ House. My personal favorite in the vicinity is Treylor Park.
If you’re looking for things to do along Factors Walk, Graveface Museum gets my top vote! It’s a really unique museum for people who love roadside attractions, aliens, and all things strange and unusual. (I’ve spent hours in one of their rooms that’s filled with works of art from famous serial killers like John Wayne Gacy).
They’re currently offering after-hours tours of Graveface Museum, so if you’re into the paranormal, I highly suggest a visit! The owners, Ryan and Chloe, often post interesting videos on the museum’s FB page showing strange activities their video cameras captured during the night.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay directly on Factors Walk, you have quite a few good hotel options.
These two really popular options are located very close to Factors Walk, along nearby River Street:
Prefer a home rental? Here are two options from VRBO:
- Affordable Factors Walk Loft Overlooking River Street – $$
- Factors Walk Loft Overlooking River Street – $$$$
Savannah Travel Guide
So…what do you think? Does Factors Walk look interesting? If you want to check out more of my favorite photo spots in Savannah, here are a few additional posts to inspire you…
- 11 Photos That’ll Make You Fall in Love With River Street
- Is Jones Street Really the Prettiest Street in Savannah?
If you’re already planning a trip to Savannah, here are some resources I’ve created to help you out…
- When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Savannah?
- Savannah First-Timer’s Guide – This is my ebook, and it’s by far the easiest way to plan your trip. It has all of my best insider tips in one place! When you purchase, you’ll also gain access to my (very active) private Facebook group about Savannah. It’s the best place to pick my brain about your travel plans, get insider tips, and read trip reports from others who have recently visited.
- Savannah FTG Free Resources Library – When you join my email list, you’ll get a free printable list of 50 Things To Do On-Foot in the Historic District, plus more goodies. I’m terrible at staying in touch via email, so I promise I won’t overwhelm you with messages!
As always, if you have any questions for me about Factors Walk, feel free to drop them in the comments section below! It’s one of my favorite areas to explore in Savannah, so I’ll continue updating this post with new photos as I take them. Be sure to save this post if you want to check back for updates!
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Historic Photo Citations
Stoddard’s Upper Range: Johnston, F. B., photographer. (1939) Stoddard’s Upper Range, Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia. Savannah United States Georgia Chatham County, 1939. [or 1944] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017886572/.
Cotton Exchange: Detroit Publishing Co, C. C. & Detroit Publishing Co, P. (ca. 1904) Cotton exchange, Savannah, Ga. Savannah United States Georgia, ca. 1904. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016799768/.
Cotton Factors: Stone, A. (1915). The Cotton Factorage System of the Southern States. The American Historical Review, 20(3), 557-565. doi:10.2307/1835857, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1835857.