Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cumberland Island, Georgia

     Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost barrier island along the Georgia coastline. Fortunately, 90% of the island has been preserved as a national park. It is one of the least developed places in the country.


      Cumberland Island is steeped in history. Early settlers were indigenous
people who lived on the island 4,000 years ago. Afterward, the island was
the site of Spanish settlements in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the 18th
century the English laid claim to the island.

Detail of Live Oak tree bark

General Henry Lee's grave marker
father of Robert E. Lee
     After the Revolutionary war, in the late 18th century interest in the island's live oak trees grew as a source of wood for shipbuilding for the US Navy. Old Ironsides was built from the live oaks that were harvested on Cumberland Island. Today the live oak trees are the primary variety of vegetation that provide the canopy for the maritime forest.
Dungeness in the early
20th century


The Carnegie name is synonymous with Cumberland Island's more recent history. In 1880 Thomas Carnegie brother to the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie purchased 90% of the land on the island.

He and his wife began constructing a fifty-nine room mansion later named Dungeness. The family used the mansion until 1929. It was left vacant thereafter and burned in 1959. Today the ruins of Dungeness are one of the popular attractions on the island.
Dungeness ruins as they are today

     This was our first trip to Cumberland Island and it took less than an hour to reach from St. Mary's, Georgia. The weather forecast called for light winds from the west which were ideal for the anchorage. It can be uncomfortable in northerly winds with the opposing strong currents. The anchorage is directly off the ferry dock and is only a short dinghy ride to shore. The ferry brings campers and hikers to the island daily.  

     At first glance the island is captivating with its heavily wooded canopy draped with Spanish Moss gently swaying in the breeze. It seems as though the forest is whispering. We stopped several times while walking along the paths and listened. The world seemed silenced. At other times depending upon where the path led us, crashing ocean waves could be heard off in the distance.

Cumberland Island National Seashore
A wild mare and foal

     Wild horses roam the island and meeting them on some of the narrow paths is not uncommon. Several horses walked past us as we explored the forest and ruins. We spotted wild turkeys and even saw fresh prints from a wild boar!

A foal walking on the path
      The skeletal remains of the Dungeness mansion were fascinating. It's easy to imagine the elaborate parties that once brought life to these ruins. Now wild horses graze on the grounds along with wild turkeys and deer.

A stallion taking a drink at the duck pond

     Joe and I spent three days in the anchorage. We were able to fill our water jugs with potable water at the ferry dock, but other than water there were no amenities on the island. Boaters and campers must come to the island fully provisioned.


      The wind shifted to the north on the morning of our last day in the anchorage. The boat was sitting to the current and waves began hitting her on the side. It was time to go. The previous afternoon's sunset seemed a distant memory with the passage of this wet cold front. In a way we were glad that weather had made our decision to leave for us. A feeling of sadness came over me when we left, but there's always the possibility of a return to this special place in the spring or perhaps even next 
                    year during our fall migration.

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