Get Your Camera Out!
At the end of a road trip to St. Marys, Georgia, and a ferry ride through the Intercoastal Waterway is a natural treasure that most have heard about but few have experienced. Cumberland Island National Seashore is the perfect blend of nature and history, blanketed with tales of the insanely rich, slavery, invention and family squabbles. As Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island, Cumberland is protected in most part by the National Park Service (NPS) although some of its 40 square mile area is still privately owned by descendants of the original Carnegies and Candler owners.
Travelers to modern-day Cumberland view a similar landscape to that of the turn of the century. Live Oaks dripping with moss, a single sandy thoroughfare for moving from the south to the north, and remains of homes that once signaled the excess of Cumberland.
It's mostly foot traffic on the island. Bikes, which can be rented while the ferry is in dock, are allowed on the main road but not in designated wilderness areas or the beach. Whether there for a day or for a week-long camping trip, preserving the wilderness and the 17 miles of unspoiled beaches is the main priority of the NPS. With only 300 visitors allowed on the island daily, reservations for the ferry (from St. Marys to Sea Camp Dock) and island campsites are recommended well in advance of a trip. Visit the National Park Service website for details, Lands and Legacies Tour schedules, contact information and island updates. www.nps.gov/cuis.
Dungeness (located 1 mile from Sea Camp Dock): The remains visible today are the third "Dungeness" structure all built on the same spot. The first was built by James Oglethorpe in 1736; the second by Nathanael Greene in 1836; and the third, by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie in the late 1800s. The 59-room Scottish castle was the home to Lucy Carnegie and her nine children following the death of her husband. She owned almost 90 percent of the island. The home was abandoned in the 1920s and was destroyed in 1959 by a fire that burned for three days.
Plum Orchard (located 8 miles from Sea Camp Dock): Lucy Carnegie built Plum Orchard in 1898 (the first of three phases) for her son George as a wedding gift at the completed cost of $56,000. The 22,000 square foot Georgian Revival mansion is now maintained by the National Park Service and is open for tours.
The First African American Church (located 17 miles from Sea Camp Dock): The church on the northern end of the island was founded in 1893 for the workers on the island. It has 11 pews and three windows on each side. John F. Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette were married here in 1996.
The Live Oaks: They were once an export of this island, a way of allowing Catherine Greene and her second husband to escape debt. Today, the hundred-year-old oaks frame the campgrounds and the Grand Avenue (main road). A grand sight, visitors marvel at their land-hugging limbs, ecological wonder, and enduring strength. And of course, if you're in the right spot, you'll discover deer, birds, armadillo, turtles, and of course, a hundred or more wild horses that roam the island.
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