Discover Where History Was Made on St. Simons Island

The island may stretch a mere 12 miles in length, but St. Simons’ rich history runs longer than the Georgia coast on which it rests. 

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Photo By: Johnson Pictures Inc.; GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Johnson Pictures Inc.; GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Chris Bordeleau; GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: Johnson Pictures Inc.; GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Photo By: GoldenIsles.com

Cassina Garden Club Slave Cabins

A significant piece of African-American history resides on a former working plantation at Casciogne Bluff on the western side of the island. There, in the late 18th century, James Hamilton built four slave quarters made of tabby—a mixture of lime, sand, water and oyster shells—as part of a planned community of slave dwellings to work the 500 acres of the antebellum plantation that harvested Sea Island cotton and logged timbers. British troops later raided and looted the Hamilton Plantation during the War of 1812, liberating many of Hamilton’s slaves. The Cassina Garden Club were deeded the property in 1950 and proudly took on the role of land stewards, restoring the two remaining cabins with as much historic accuracy as possible. Their work earned the cabins a place on the National Register of Historic places in 1988.

Fort Frederica National Monument

James Oglethorpe built the fort in 1736 to protect the southern border of Georgia from the encroaching Spanish. Overlooking the Frederica River, the military outpost gave the British an important vantage point from which they could control the inland passage up the coastline and operated as a hub of military operations for more than a decade. Most notably, the fortified walls proved impenetrable by the Spanish during the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742. Shortly after that British victory, the fort disbanded.

Today, visitors walk among the fort’s archaeological remnants that include the ruins of the palisade walls, the magazine where gun power was stored and a soldiers’ barrack. The property, which is managed by the National Park Service, also includes burial grounds from the 1700s, with ancient tombs emerging from layers of natural overgrowth.

Christ Church

Built in 1820, Christ Church is the second oldest Diocese in Georgia and regarded as one of America’s most beautiful churches—and most photographed. The quaint chapel not only serves as a memorial to John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist Church who delivered sermons there under a magnificent oak, but also to a young man’s lost love. After Union forces nearly destroyed the church during the Civil War, 24-year-old Rev. Anson Dodge, Jr. financed its reconstruction in honor of his wife, Ellen, who died unexpectedly on their honeymoon. Anson had her buried beneath the altar. The peaceful and pristine grounds also bear one of the oldest cemeteries in the state, where a number of well-known Georgians rest, including novelist Eugenia Price.

Avenue of Oaks

Many a country club boasts a grand entrance, replete with auspicious waterfalls and Roman statues, but few can compare to the natural, breathtaking beauty encountered upon the approach to the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons. Formerly the entrance to the most prosperous antebellum plantation in the Golden Isles, double rows of majestic 160-year-old live oaks form an expansive canopy. It’s said that at one time the property boasted so many flowers that sailors could smell their alluring fragrance before ever stepping foot on land.

St. Simons Lighthouse

The white statuesque lighthouse is a signature of St. Simons—as is the ghost rumored to roam its spiral staircase. After the original lighthouse was destroyed by retreating Confederate troops during the Civil War, the U.S. Government built the current 104-foot structure in 1872. Eight years later, the keeper at the time, Frederick Osborn, was killed in a duel on the grounds by his assistant keeper. Reports of hearing mysterious footsteps along the staircase have been made ever since. The keepers’ brick cottage at the base of the lighthouse has been converted into a popular museum, but the 129-step to the top of the tower is well worth the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Golden Isles.

Rooted in the South

The South is well-known for its cotton and rice production in the 1800s, but few realize that timber was also a thriving industry. St. Simons began exporting lumber in the late 1700s. The timber harvested from Casciogne Bluff was sent up north to build the USS Constitution, better known as “Old Ironsides,” as the hardy oak planks helped prevent cannonballs from penetrating the ship. Nearly a century later, lumber from St. Simons was also used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ebo Landing

In 1803, a slave ship made the harrowing trek through the Middle Passage and landed in Savannah, Georgia, to be sold at the slave market. There, some of the African people known as the “Igbo” (also spelled Ebo or Ibo) were purchased and sent by boat to a plantation on St. Simons Island. En route, the Africans united and rebelled, sending their captors overboard. From there, the story of the Igbo’s landing on Dunbar Creek diverges along several paths. 

One written account claims that the Africans immediately walked into the creek, proudly singing, “The Water Spirit brought us, the Water Spirit will take us home,” and drowned themselves. Other stories claim only a few drowned, and the survivors were re-enslaved or relocated. But another account, handed down by African American oral tradition, is known as the “Myth of the Flying Africans,” and has been immortalized by notable writers like Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Jamaica Kincaid, to name a few. According to the legend, the Africans transformed into buzzards and flew back to Africa. While a historical marker does not yet officially designate the private property on which Ebo Landing exists, it will forever be an important piece of African America history. 

Wesley Memorial and Gardens

On the grounds of Christ Church, one can enter the venerate scape of the Wesley Gardens. The two-acre garden is adorned with 4,000 azaleas and shrubs of 60 varieties, of particular interest to visitors with green thumbs. But the garden’s centerpiece remains the 18-foot Celtic cross made of Georgia stone to honor the early ministries of John and Charles Wesley.

The brothers came to Georgia in 1736. And while Charles was revered as a poet and writer who penned well-known hymns like “Hark the Herald,” and served as Oglethorpe’s secretary of Indian Affairs, John would be remembered as the founder of American Methodism.

Tree Spirits

As the legend goes, back in 1982, local resident and artist Keith Jennings first carved a face into the truck of an oak behind the local haunt Murray’s Tavern in an attempt to settle a bar tab. The intricate weathered face then inspired Jennings to carve more than 16 in the trunks and severed branches of trees across the island. Many of the faces allegedly pay homage to the sailors who lost their lives at sea, but it’s more likely that the trees themselves determine the spirit that emerges from their skin. Either way, the artistically rendered faces perpetually serve as a reminder of the creative talent literally carved into the island’s roots.