St. Mary’s, GA, Crooked River State Park, Site 53 — 1 day
Monday, March 30, 2009 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 10 Months
Monday, March 30. We spend the day on Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Yes, it was a good idea — a great idea. We had a terrific time on Cumberland Island. It was an absolutely wonderful trip.
I had difficulty trying to decide what to take. Will we have rain or sunshine? Will it be hot or cold? I’m so used to having everything at hand in the car for any contingency. We shared a daypack and it was stuffed to the gills. Poor Dennis. We had two of everything: sandwiches and brownie desserts, bottles of water, oranges, bananas, and gorp. We wore layered clothing and brought beach towels.
Fortunately the weather was perfect for a day marooned on an island. It was sunny and neither too hot nor too cold. Temperatures ranged in the sixties and seventies. So we were lucky and a perfect day helped us to have a wonderful experience on Cumberland Island.
On the dock before boarding, we gathered to here some instructions from a ranger. It was common sense information, like drink enough water, don’t miss the return ferry and stay away from the horses. Yes, there are wild horses on the island — about 300 of them. It is springtime and the stallions are fighting to increase their herd of mares. We were assured that feral horses kick and bite.
The ferry carried almost 150 people to the island on each trip so there were about 300 tourists walking around all day. Because of the crowds we were told there would be an extra return ferry at 2:45 pm. The people on the ferry were very good natured and friendly. They sat on the top deck and outside on one long bench against the cabin on either side or on benches along the cabin walls inside. It was fairly crammed. We sat inside because those were the only seats left. Our boat was filled with a large Elder Hostel group who were on a five-day trip. Their tour guide was very extraverted and friendly so we listened in on some of his talks.
Cumberland Island is a long boomerang triangular strip about 18.5 miles long and 5.5 miles at it’s widest point midway. About half of that width is a saltwater marsh on the west side by the sound. The ferry followed St. Mary’s River eastward and then turned north into Cumberland Sound, part of the Intercostals waterway between the mainland and the island. Pelican Banks marks the south tip of the island and just to the south is Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island, FL. The state line runs east-west between the two islands.
We arrived at Dungeness Dock, near the southern tip of the island at 12:30 pm. About three quarters of a mile to the north the ranger pointed to Sea Camp Dock where we could also catch the homebound ferry. I figured we’d spend a few hours and come back on the 2:45 pm ferry — but we didn’t.
Skipping the Ranger tour we began to walk inland on Coleman Ave and soon came to a fork at the Dungeness Trail. We walked beneath a shady canopy under towering live oaks that overlapped each other and dripped with Spanish moss, together with dull green “resurrection ferns” and bright green shiny leaf vines that grow like a parasite on oak trees — similar to mistletoe. This is called a Maritime Forest and I have never seen anything like it in my life. It is awesome. As instructed, we kept a sharp eye out for specific wildlife; turkeys, warblers, snakes and armadillos — but we saw nothing of the sort.
At the fork was a natural park with picnic tables. It was one o’clock so we decided to stop and eat lunch. I heard many bird songs. Other than the passing of Ranger vehicles it was quiet and peaceful. The Elder Hostel group passed us on their way to the Dungeness Ruins. Then the Ranger tour caught up with us and stopped so we listened to some of the history of the Dungeness Ruins. Then we moved south along the Dungeness Trail to the spectacular sight of the ruins of the Dungeness Estate, burned out in 1959.
Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathanael Greene purchased land on Cumberland Island in 1783. General Green died in 1786 and ten years later his widow, Catherine Greene, and her second husband, Phineas Miller, completed a four-story tabby mansion (local shell and limestone mixture) and named it Dungeness. Here she lived until her death in 1814 when her daughter, Louisa Greene Shaw became mistress of Dungeness. With the help of hundreds of enslaved Africans, Sea Island cotton was produced on Cumberland Island plantations. Later, Louisa was influential in switching Dungeness to new crops of olives, oranges, figs, dates, limes and pomegranates.
A greater estate also named Dungeness was built in the mid-1880’s by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. Thomas was the younger brother of financier Andrew Carnegie. He died in 1886 leaving his wife and nine children. Lucy Carnegie expanded her husband’s initial acquisitions, eventually owning 90% of the island. She built Dungeness and four additional mansions for her children. Dungeness went into decline in the 1920’s and had not been occupied for many years when it burned in 1959.
We walked around the perimeter of the Tabby House. It is located on the north side of the main mansion. According to a sign, Tabby House “…is the oldest house on Cumberland Island. In the General Greene – Catharine Greene Miller era it was the gardener’s house, built around 1800. To construct their Dungeness, the Carnegies pulled down the ruins of the Greene – Miller mansions but left this two-story tabby structure.
Isolated by water, Mrs. Lucy Carnegie wanted the island to be self-sufficient, and in 1900 converted the interior of the Tabby House to an office for the year-round management of the Carnegie estate. At that time the estate meant ninety per cent of Cumberland Island.
Tabby is a kind of concrete made of oyster shells, lime, and sand. Prehistoric Indian refuse heaps on the Island were a handy source of shells for tabby manufacture.”
We walked around each building, giving a wide birth to the wild horses calmly grazing on the broad lawns. Turning east, we looked at the ruins of the Recreation building and The Grange, where the Carnegie estate manager lived, the Carriage House and the Greene-Miller Cemetery.
The Carriage House brought us close to Dungeness Beach so we crossed half a mile of sand dunes and were rewarded by the sight of a wide, windblown beach that stretches south and north as far as the eye can see. The sand is hard packed and after we spread our towels we felt like we were sitting on a hardwood floor. We had some snacks and rested for nearly an hour.
Then the Elder Hostel group arrived on the beach. I checked with the tour leader who confirmed that a 1.3 mile walk south on the beach would bring us to Sea Camp Beach and a trail east to the Sea Camp Dock where we could meet the ferry. We set a rapid pace and had an easy walk twenty minute walk to the Sea Camp trail. A board walk crossed over the dunes so that made for an easier trail. We passed under another Maritime forest where there are facilities for tent camping. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the Sea Camp Dock and sat at a picnic table where we had a fifteen minute wait for the ferry.
Good thing we got on the ferry here! After the Elder Hostel group filled it up, there was little space left for the remainder of island visitors at the Dungeness Dock. We secured outside seats on the Starboard side of the ferry, which faced the warm afternoon sun on our southbound return trip. It wasn’t cold and it felt marvelous to sit in the sun with our feet propped up on the edge of the ferry as we watched the water sparkle in the late sun. The ferry left a broad, flat trail of broiling white foam behind us and our wake spread out in parallel rows of waves that stretched ever wider with increasing distance until they passed the wood piers of the channel buoy markers. This was an enchanting forty minutes and I felt very happy.
Tomorrow we will drive to the nearby “Golden Isles” to see Jekyl Island and walk around the historic area of another gilded age playground. I am anxious to see the famous Jekyl Island Club Hotel. And I hope to make it to St. Simons Island where we can visit Fort Frederica National Monument.