As the sun rose, we boarded a boat in St Mary’s and headed for Cumberland Island National Seashore. Georgia’s largest barrier island. (NPS Map)
After a short ride with some of the volunteers from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge we arrived at Sea Camp Ranger Station Dock and boarded a van with our volunteer guide, Jean. Another Minnesotant who spends the cold winter months volunteering in the more hospital climate of Georgia.
Sea Camp is the not only where the ferry docked, but also the place to find out information about the island. From the Sea Camp we headed over to the Ice House Museum with artifacts and the history of the people who inhabited the island. Next we drove out to Dungeness Ruins.
A site which had previously housed two mansions. The first home was started in 1798 and remained in use until 1866 when a fired reduced the mansion to a ruins. In 1884 construction began on the new Dungeness for Thomas and Lucy Carnegie and family. This 35,000 square foot mansion was occupied until 1925 and caught fire and in 1959.
Jean our volunteer tour guide stated the fire of 1959 was rumored to be arson and she mentioned the island was not friendly to men. Not only did Thomas Carnegie pass away at a young age, he passed away soon after the construction of Dungeness. Nathanael Greene the first owner died of sun stroke shortly after he began to build a modest home on the island. Greene’s wife remarried and with the help of her new husband expanded the small house to a four-story mansion and that husband died in 1803
From there we headed north to Plum Orchard Mansion. Which was built in 1884. The mansion was a glimpse in the Gilded Era where those with money weren’t afraid to flaunt to their wealth. The mansion was also where our volunteer had her lodging. She joked about having the nice place to stay on the island.
Another Minnesotant gave the tour of the house and explained the family lineage and elegance of the mansion and the furnishings. What intrigued me the most was the bathroom. I couldn’t help but wonder why this idea failed. The bottom pipe was where they attached their shampoo bottle. I wish our shower in our fifth wheel had an attachment for a bottle and I could turn a switch and the shower head would spray a combination of water and shampoo.
The road from Plum Orchard to the African American church was extremely rough. Along the way were able to see some of the island’s feral horses. Jean has previously participated in the horse count. The volunteers recorded the number of horses, if they appeared to be an adult or juvenile, and gave them a rating based on how healthy they appeared. Some of the horse we encountered looked thin, while other looked well nourished.
Jean also told us about the famous wedding on September 21, 1996 at the Afriacan American church between John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. The island was a favorite place of Mr. Kennedy because of the islands location to the nearby submarine base and the no fly airspace which prevented the media from filming him as he jogged around the island.
For those who like to go to Cumberland Island there is a ferry to bring you to the island. Once you land, your choices for getting around the island are walking, renting a bike or purchasing a van tour. The ride is a rugged and will take 5 to 6 hours in a van, but you will be able to see all the highlights. (Reservations are recommended)
Our last stop was the beach by Sea Camp, with a full day of van travel we had very little time to explore the beach before we hopped on a barge to take us back to St. Mary’s.