Savannah’s port has always played a significant role in the city’s history, serving as a leading shipping avenue for New World products bound for Europe. Now the wharf pilings that launched those ships 250 years ago is continuing to live on, as reclaimed wood for new flooring in Savannah and across the country.
All of a sudden—perhaps with a remembered sense of patriotism or new nesting instinct—modern designers and homeowners are rediscovering antique wood floors. One company that specializes in recovering antique woods recognized the inherent benefits of the Savannah River dock pilings and purchased them to remill into luxury flooring, millwork and stairparts.
The pilings are made of heart pine and heart cypress older than any previously recovered antique pine and cypress, according to George Goodwin, president of Goodwin Heart Pine Company, located outside Gainesville, Fla.,
“We have been recovering heart pine and heart cypress for more than 25 years and this wood is older than any antique wood I’ve seen,” Goodwin said. “These pilings were constructed about the time General James Oglethorpe was creating Savannah and were hundreds of years old when they were cut down. And just as Savannah is rich in architectural and natural beauty, so too is the wood from it’s first dock.”
The pilings were made from original-growth Longleaf Pine and Bald Cypress. The cypress is a survivor from prehistoric times, commonly living more than 1000 years and towering over 100 feet. These giants of the southeastern swamps helped build America along with heart pine from Longleaf pine trees, which grew slowly and are hard and extremely durable. Both of these antique woods are in limited supply and available only from specialists who reclaim them.
The indigenous woods withstood the elements and became the principal building materials through the entire area. The dock was made up of logs and beams, many of which still show the ax marks where they hand hewn.
Tim Wellford, who owns a restaurant on the pier at St. Simons, installed Goodwin’s Midnight Heart Pine™ flooring in his contemporary home and loves both the look and the romantic history of the historic wood. Next he plans to build an entertainment center from the Midnight Heart Cypress™.
“I didn’t even know about this wood until I start researching wood,” Wellford said. “It’s so much better than any ordinary wood because it’s a better product, it’s good looking and it has historical value. I just never knew I could have wood this nice.”
Heart Pine is hard, nearly indestructible and has a rich red patina. The Savannah River pilings offer antique heart pine with chocolate tones.
Heart Cypress, also called antique tidewater cypress, is fine grained and finishes to a warm, honeyed brown. It is often used for paneling, trim, fireplace surrounds, mantles, whole slab table tops and exterior projects. The heart cypress from the Savannah wharf piling are a bit darker.
“Throughout its eons of adaptation, original-growth cypress developed natural oils that resist insect and water damage, which you just don’t find in other woods,” Goodwin said. “It was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright’s and, with its blend of vertical straight grain and arching swirls, it’s easy to see why.”
Goodwin said the dock functioned through the 1800s and pilings could still be seen intact from River Street in downtown Savannah looking toward Hutchinson Island until the summer of 1997. The decision to build a theme park and raceway created the need to remove the pilings.
Known for his passion for conserving original-growth wood without cutting trees, Goodwin finally secured the rights to buy the pilings after more than 18 months of researching the issue. The homeowners fortunate enough to install this rare treasure appreciate his diligence.
“My wife is born and raised in this area,” Wellford added. “The fact that we have a floor from a local landmark just adds to the benefits we receive. If we ever sell this house, I know the historical value will be a great selling point.”