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.
Cassina Garden Club Slave CabinsA 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. 960 1280
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 Parks Service, also includes burial grounds from the 1700s, with ancient tombs emerging from layers of natural overgrowth.
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 OaksMany 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. 960 1280
St. Simons LighthouseThe 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. 960 1280
Rooted in the SouthThe 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 Gasciogne 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. 960 1280
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.
Wesley Memorial and GardensOn the grounds of Christ Church, one can enter the venerate scape of the Wesley Gardens. The 2-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. 960 1280
Tree SpiritsAs 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. 960 1280
“The Marshes of Glynn”“Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!”
These lyrics make up part of an 1878 poem titled “The Marshes of Glynn,” by the renowned poet and former Confederate soldier Sidney Lanier. The poem, which pays tribute to Lanier’s beloved South, reveres the breathtaking expanse of grasslands in Glynn County, Georgia, that extend toward the mainland. The piece was part of an unfinished compilation titled, “Songs of the Marshes,” yet it succeeded in unveiling the beauty of the coastal marshes to the rest of the world.
Cannon's Point PreserveThough the most heavily populated of the Golden Isles, St. Simons has made strides in protecting its natural history, and none have been more noteworthy than the protection of Cannon’s Point. St. Simons Land Trust acquired the 608 acres of undeveloped land in 2012. In addition to containing the island’s last intact maritime forest—a quickly diminishing habitat along the Atlantic Coast—the site also boasts the ruins of a plantation home and the site of several slave quarters on which many archaeological investigations continue to take place.
An exceptional day trip, Cannon’s Point is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays for biking, hiking and picnicking.
Little St. Simons IslandThe least populated of the Golden Isles is the privately owned Little St. Simons Island. Reachable only by boat—and only then if you have a reservation—the 10,000-acre island is virtually undeveloped, save the 6 cottages that form the Lodge, a modest compound that houses no more than 32 overnight guests. Little St. Simons was a family’s private retreat from 1908 until 1979. Today, the island is revered as a model for conservation. Naturalist-led excursions by foot, bike, boat, kayak or canoe treat visitors to abundant populations of rare and threatened wildlife and the serenity of fully intact natural habitats. Thanks to the island’s owners, Little St. Simons will be preserved for generations to come; in 2015, they donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy on the entire island.
BirdingGeorgia’s barrier islands host a number of native and migratory birds, but Little St. Simons’ rich, undisturbed ecosystem makes it ideal for birding enthusiasts. More than 330 species have been identified on the island, from spoonbills and warblers to herons and eagles. Mapped locations that include observation towers, ponds and trails, indicate the best locations for visitors to see various species. Because of Little St. Simons’ thriving bird population, it has been named an important birding area by the American Birding Conservancy; consequently, a number of avian research partners study migration patterns and rare species sightings. And you can study right alongside them.
Sea TurtlesGeorgia’s beaches are key nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles—some 2,000 nests, in fact. Therefore, it’s very possible to stumble upon nesting females, which can weigh in at more than 300 pounds, or tiny hatched turtles scampering toward the ocean. What’s more difficult is to leave these magnificent creatures alone. But because they’re endangered species, we have to do just that. During the nesting season, which runs May and mid-August, residents of the Golden Isles know to keep their eyes open, noise to a minimum and their lights out to give the Loggerhead population a fighting chance.
Georgia Sea Turtle CenterSix of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide are either threatened or endangered. The source of their dwindling numbers? Us. Pollution, development, poaching and entanglement are constant threats to sea turtle populations. In response, Jekyll Island opened Georgia’s only sea turtle hospital in 2007 as a long-term care and rehabilitation center. The center provides visitors with a viewing area to watch doctors and nurses operate and care for these amazing creatures, in addition to interactive, hands-on exhibits. Whenever healthy sea turtles are ready to be released from care, the center invites the public to cheer these survivors out to sea.
Southeast Adventure OutfittersWith year-round warm temperatures, sandy beaches and diverse populations of sea life, St. Simons Island is a dream for aquatic explorers. Launch your adventure directly from the Pier Village, where the locally owned and operated Southeast Adventure Outfitters takes you by boat, kayak or paddleboard to experience first-hand an unspoiled view of coastal living—from the water side.
Captain GabbyOften referred to as the “mothership,” this former shrimp boat was creatively converted into a fully equipped charter vessel that can sleep up to six guests. If this 42-foot wooden trawler could talk, she’d spin countless tales from her hand-built, hardworking beginnings in 1977 in St. Augustine, Florida, to today, where she takes outdoor enthusiasts on relaxed, customized chartered cruises ranging anywhere from 2-hours to 2 weeks.
KayakingExploring the Intracoastal waterway or ocean by kayak is one of the most serene experiences to be had on St. Simons Island. Besides views of scenic marshlands and sandy beaches, a quiet paddle will put you within arm’s length of sociable sea life. From dolphins and sea turtles to right whales and manatees, the winding waterways through the Golden Isles are rich with encounters landlubbers never get. A guided kayak tour will put visitors in the right spot at the right time.
Stand-up PaddleboardingStand-up paddleboarding (SUP) requires little more than a board and a healthy sense of adventure. Okay, a good sense of balance doesn’t hurt. Islanders have embraced the relatively new sport with zeal, making the Golden Isles a destination for SUP enthusiasts who ride the gentle currents of the Altamaha River or test the ocean waves. The area’s predictable currents and tides eliminate the element of surprise. What might surprise you? The killer core workout you get without even noticing—thanks, in part, to the breathtaking views.
FishingSt. Simon’s Pier in the heart of Pier Village is a popular fishing and crabbing location for visitors, but locals will tell you that island fishing is a lot like a “choose your own adventure.” From fly-fishing to offshore angling, the size of the catch and the scope of the experience is entirely up to you. And while plenty of folks will fish conventionally—from the shore or boat—you’re just as likely to see locals casting a line from a paddleboard or kayak. Want a (true) fish story? Hook up with any one of the handful of skilled fishing charters for local knowledge.