Welcome to St. Simon's Island, the heart of Gerogia's Golden Isles and home to around 15,000 permanent residents. It serves partly has bedroom community to nearby Brunswick Ga, partly as resort and partly as a living history museum.
Although there is much evidence that American Indians have been here for thousands of year and some written history from the early Spanish explorers that were on this island, modern history doesn't really begin until 1736 when James Oglethorpe designed a community to serve as a buffer to protect Savannah to the north from possible Spanish invasion from the south. The community he established, of which only a few remnants remain, was much more than a fort, but today it is known as Fort Frederica, named after Prince Frederick of England.
Of much help here was Leo Kennedy, pictured above. He works at the information center and is quite knowledgeable of the history not only of this island, but also Georgia as a whole.
The more people I talk to and the more history I see the more respect I gain for this Oglethorpe fellow.
We talked about him back in Savannah, and we also saw that he laid out Augusta Georgia. This is the only town he planned that did not last long term. One of his big influencing factors in life was when a friend died in a debtor's prison. He could have easily put up the money to save the friend, but by the time he found out the fellow was dead. So he brought many people here who were caught in the web of the English debtor system so they had a chance to be free. He was not popular in England because of his views on how mankind should treat one another.
This guy put his money where his mouth was. He paid out of his pocket for much of the early development in Georgia, never to be reimbursed by England. He struggled here also. The Scots that came didn't want to be around the English. The various Indian tribes all hand demands. Most folks, especially the rum-runners were against his prohibition on hard liquor. The various churches were angry that he let in the other church folk, or the Jews, or that he wouldn't subscribe to any particular brand of religion. The merchants railed against his ban on slavery. Political types hated his ban on attorneys. The Spanish wanted this territory, and the French were always lurking about looking for trouble.
But his man still poured his heart and soul into doing the best he could for people. He would not allow a house to be built for him in any settlement until everyone else had a house. By all accounts he was as fair and as even handed as he could possibly be. He was a man's man.
This fort, or town as it may be, was home to 800 folks at its peak. The houses were built in the English styles and were quite cozy. They used tabby as a foundation, were framed, sided and roofed with wood and included much brick and masonry as well. Below is a sketch of the entire place to give an idea of its dimensions.
Here is a wide angle view of one of the streets - the trees being on each side of one of the roads. The whole affair was surrounded with a ten foot wall and a deep moat.
The arrows I overlaid on the map above show the location of the only two bits of ruins. The lower, indicated by the red arrow was the barracks, of which only this entryway still stands.
The other was this spot marked by the yellow arrow, presumably where the gun powder and artillery shells were housed.
Right at the end of World War II the Grand Dames of the South talked the Federal Government into taking this over as a national park. Excavation ensued, and many of the houses have been unearthed.
Beside the foundation of each house is a description of what is known about that residence. Some of them are hilarious. This one tells the tale of the Dr.'s wife going after the preacher with a pistol and scissors. Supposedly the only damage she was able to do was to tear his sleeve with her teeth.
The preacher was John Wesley, who we saw a bit back in Savannah. He had a deep impact on this island, so over the next couple of days I am sure his name will come up a few times. There are some other great stories about him.
Out at the point a couple of cannon keep a watch over the Frederica River.
The cannon below was unearthed from the marsh back in the 1940's. Two hundred years, most of it buried in salty mud - I would think there would be even more corrosion than there is. But it is a neat piece to see with all of the hollows that time and salt carved out of it.
There is a ranger station with a movie theater and a museum where you come in. As movies go in these parks, I found the one here particularly good.
But outside behind the ranger station was one of the neatest things. There are some huge vines here.
They are hard to shoot - this one is much larger a human leg.
It is big, but this one across the island is larger than my torso. Those of you that know me personally know that is some girth - the vine being a bit more solid than my girth of course.
Look how twisted and gnarled it is. I kept feeling like there was a better photo to be had of it, but I couldn't find the angle.
Right outside the fort is another really neat thing. This is Christ Church.
Volunteering here and acting as docent today is Bill Ramsaur, a native of Atlanta. He was brought up a Baptist, she an Episcopal. Well - she won out.
The relationship started with a blind date while he was serving in the Navy. 52 years later the relationship is still going. Bill retired from a career as one of the early computer pioneers working in the business software arena. He is well versed on this church, and was fun to talk with.
Most of the churches we see from the late 1800's and early 1900's are cookie-cutter. The plans for many of the were purchased from the Sears and Roebuck catalog - hence the similarities. But not this one - this one was designed and built by men who worked in the ship building industry on this island back in the 1880's.
For instance, look at this joint in the ceiling. This didn't come out of any Sears Catalog. And look how all of the side-walls are covered with the siding at 45 degree angles. Further, the sidewalls are all built out of the heart of the pine trees, and thus were dense with sap. Thus the mellow look with age - these have never been stained or finished.
There are some great stained glass windows here too. Although a lot of them are of the generic variety, depicting religious icons and scenes, many of them show bits of the history of the church and the island.
This one depicts Oglethorpe.
This one John Wesley.
And I am not sure who this fellow is, but I liked the look.
Just outside the church is a cemetery and a large gardens honoring John Wesley.
This is great - it is Christmas and there are many bushes in bloom here. I am not sure what they are pollinated by - I have not seen an insect in days.
In the middle of the grounds is a large Celtic cross. This is sculpted from one piece of Georgia Granite and weighs thirty thousand pounds.
There is more than one spot to sit a while that makes you wonder who all has sat in the same spot before . .
Down the road a few miles we find a neat thing on the beach. This is an old dead tree that has been adopted by locals and visitors as a sort of exchange tree.
There are gifts for the taking, memorials to people who have passed on - all manner of trinkets. Someone put some Christmas touches on it. The folks I talked to said it has been used this way for a number of years, and every time they look at it it is different.
St. Simons is one of the few beaches we have seen that allow you to let your dog run - many have leash laws. Sullivan's Island by Charleston was dog friendly until the mayor got bit by a poodle a few years back - now there are signs threatening huge fines if your dog isn't on a leash that conforms to his demands. I always enjoy watching them have the space to run free - and the dogs sure seem to love it too.
And today's parting shot -
So, you all know my first grand-child arrived a few weeks ago. Perhaps if I live long enough to see great-grandchildren I can have a sign like this made up to hang around my neck. Probably wouldn't work though.
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Have an awesome Monday !!