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. It’s 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 y’all to one of my favorite areas in Savannah!

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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.

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…

Side view of a bluff and adjacent warehouse buildings on Factors Walk in Savannah with three clearly marked sections consisting of an upper level connected by pedestrian bridges, a mid-tier level with cobblestone alleyways and larger bridges, and a lower level alleyway
This is the view of Factors Walk from the Abercorn Ramp, which offers a good cross-section of the three levels.

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?

A brown and orange moth clings to the railing of a bridge over Factors Walk, it's wings with spots that mimic spooky yellow eyeballs
You just never know who…or what…might be watching over you along Factors Walk.
Dark and eerie lower-level alley at night surrounded by brick walls on two sides and old iron crosswalks above
The lowest level is the spookiest to me. It’s not an area I recommend visiting late at night — especially if you’re alone.
The lowest level of Factors Walk is illuminated by an eerie green glow as a homeless man sleeps on a ledge beneath air conditioning equipment
I thought I was alone when I took this shot — until the homeless man sleeping on the ledge to my left stirred when he heard the click of my camera’s shutter.
Spooky older cobblestone building with wonky shadows and old shutters
This façade has “haunted” written all over it. I love how the lighting from below causes so many wonky shadows on the building.
A gargoyle light fixture hangs from beside an arched brick door along Factors Walk
Kudos to these business owners for their choice in lighting. The gargoyle style definitely adds to the ambiance!

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.

Historic B&W photo of Factors Walk with dirt roads under pedestrian foot bridges along a row of warehouses
Factors Walk, aka: Stoddard’s Upper Range, back in the mid 1900s when dirt covered the ballast stone streets. Photo circa 1939 [or 1944], courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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.

A series of pedestrian bridges leading from the warehouses of Factors Walk to the bluff along Bay Street in Savannah

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.

An old wall on Factors Walk constructed from a variety of stones and bricks
Just look at the variety of stones and bricks used to construct that retaining wall. It makes such a beautiful backdrop for photos!

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…

Historic B&W photo of the exterior of the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange building circa 1904 with men in suits and hats standing out front on Factors Walk
How neat is it to see those boys dressed in suits and hats on their bikes in front of the Old Cotton Exchange Building? This photo is courtesy of the Library of Congress. Circa 1904.

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.

Old Cotton Exchange Building with a ramp and people walking beneath
I’ve walked through that tunnel many times! It feels like I’m being transported back in time whenever I stroll along Factors Walk.

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.

The Savannah Cotton Exchange building with an elaborate terra cotta facade sits atop a concrete and steel framed bridge that's open underneath
Looking towards a brick street towards warehouses in the distance
It’s truly rare to see this area so deserted during the day. I captured this shot as a hurricane was headed towards Savannah.
Terra cotta details on the roof of the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange indicate a date of 1886. The copper trim has aged to a soft green patina
The details on the façade of the building are incredible. The date reads 1886, but it was officially completed in 1887.
A terra cotta winged lion statue stands guard in front of the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange building
The winged lion stands guard in front of the building and looks out towards Drayton Street. Back in the old days, there were tufts of cotton growing around him instead of the seagrass you see today.
Side view of a terra cotta winged lion statue with a stream of water spraying from its mouth
The statue is a recreation. The original was destroyed when a drunk driver crashed into it in the summer of 2008. Her car flipped when it hit the statue, and it came to rest in front of the door of the building.
Room inside the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange building with an oversized fireplace and desks set up for use as an office space
The interior first floor east wall features an oversized fireplace. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A wide stairwell and oversized doors with stained glass above in the interior of the old Savannah Cotton Exchange building on Factors Walk
The interior first floor entry hall showcases beautiful woodworking details. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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.

View of Savannah's City Hall with the Cluskey Vaults in view to the east of the building
The Cluskey Vaults are located to the east of the City Hall building, and you can only see them if you walk or drive down the Bull Street ramp. You can’t see them from the road when you’re on Bay Street or River Street.
View of the Cluskey Vaults in Savannah from the Bay Street level of Factors Walk
This is the view of the Cluskey Vaults from the upper level of Factors Walk, near Vic’s on the River restaurant. That’s Bay Street in the background.

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 Cluskey Vaults on the lower level of Factors Walk with a walking bridge covered in jasmine stretching overhead
The Cluskey Embankment Stores are simply referred to as the Cluskey Vaults today. This is what they look like from the mid to lower level of Factors Walk.

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.

A sign with photos and text explaining the history of the Cluskey Vaults in Savannah GA
A sign at the entrance to each vault that describes their history and some unique details. For example, each vault can support 2,700 pounds of soil overhead.
Walking bridge over Factors Walk with iron railings shaded by the branches of mature oak trees
This pedestrian bridge on the upper level of Factors Walk near the Thomas Gamble Building is one of my favorite photo spots in the area. It looks prettiest in April and May when the Confederate Jasmine is blooming.

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…

Old rock wall with tunnels that have been sealed closed with bricks
There are bricked-over tunnels on Factors Walk that are rumored to lead to the basements of buildings on Bay Street.

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.

An old brick retaining wall along Factors Walk with clear remnants of tunnels that have been bricked over
One of the old tunnels on Factors Walk that has been sealed off by bricks to deter curious explorers
This is just one of many sealed-off tunnels you’ll find on Factors Walk.

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 reportedly have 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. 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.

It’s fascinating how decorative the upper level looks, while everything below the Bay Street level is overly utilitarian and grimy.

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…

A green-framed window surrounded by a mixture of old bricks and stones along historic Factors Walk
See what I mean about Factors Walk being constructed in layers over time? It’s evident these walls were pieced together from random materials as they became available.
Old bricks surround a window boarded over with chipped and rotting wood to form a rather artistic result
Those window ledges are about two feet wide. For the members of the homeless community who call Factors Walk home, they make an ideal sleeping spot or a place to escape from the rain.
Old bricks surround a boarded window with graffiti sprayed on the wood along Factors Walk in Savannah
One thing I appreciate about Savannah’s graffiti artists is that they rarely tag historic structures. Notice how the spray paint is only on the plywood and electric boxes? It’s not on any of the beautiful bricks.
Graffiti painted beneath a boarded window on Factors Walk that says Vannah Say, Enjoy Savannah!
Vannah say, enjoy Savannah!” Details like this make me smile. I know most of my readers prefer seeing the pretty side of Savannah, but I like the gritty side just as much — if not more.

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.

B&W photo of a thin, older man homeless man in Savannah with a gray beard and bare feet. His arm is wrapped protectively around the neck of an older female, and he's throwing a peace sign.
Christine and Jerrime are always happy to talk my ear off when I run across them. They always ask me to take their photos, and they even want me to write a book about them someday.
A homeless man wearing a tank top and a backwards ballcap poses and smiles for a photo in Savannah
Barry is another character I’ve met along Factors Walk. He’s a storyteller who loves attention. He insists on posing for pictures and tells me he goes “in and out” of homelessness.

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!

Dimly lit alley at night with stairs leading to mist in the background
The stone stairs of death haven’t really offed anyone (that I’m aware of) — unless you count the demise of one local politician’s career.

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.


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 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:


Vrbo


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…

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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A terra cotta statue of a winged lion with text overlay that reads An Insider's Guide to Factors Walk Savannah GA
Side view of a bluff and adjacent warehouses with three distinctive levels of access. Text overlay reads An Insider's Guide to Factors Walk in Savannah GA
Sunset view of upper and lower levels of historic warehouse buildings with text overlay that reads An Insiders Guide to Factors Walk Savannah GA

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/.

Citations

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.