Two posts back I mentioned going to Cumberland Island as we stayed at a historic hotel in St. Mary's, Georgia. This is our trip:
We took the morning ferry over to Cumberland Island. The day was warm as we were still in our streak of days over 90 degrees, days when the heat index was rising over 110. There was little wind when we boarded the ferry for its 45 minute ride to the southernmost of Georgia’s Sea Islands. These islands stretch from the Santee River in South Carolina to Amelia Island, which is just across the Florida border. We snaked our way through the St. Mary’s River and into the Cumberland Sound. At the mouth of the river, across from the large paper mill on Florida’s Amelia Island, we headed north. (Why Florida allowed such a thing on one of these beautiful islands is unknown to me. Thankfully, most of Georgia’s islands are protected.
As we head north, to starboard is Cumberland Island; off port, somewhat hidden behind another island, is King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base. The ferry makes a short stop at Dungeness, where a few people planning to stay for the day depart, and then continues on to Sea Camp, where we depart. Coming into the island, we have a mandatory ranger talk about what we can and can’t do on a National Seashore. She hands out red film for us to put over our flashlights if we want to walk on the beach at night. We are coming into turtle hatching season and the young turtles will mistake flashlights for the moon and get lost as they make their way back to the water (we don’t see any turtles). Then she assigns campsites (there are four of us). Not knowing anything about the sites, I take one she suggests for being great for hammocks. Next time I will ask for a campsite closer to the ocean in order to get the maximum breeze. We hike the half mile to the assigned site, set up camp and then head to the beach. It’s heavenly.
There are some twenty miles of beach on Cumberland Island and only a handful of people are out enjoying the sun. We set up an umbrella to give us some solar protection and spend a leisurely afternoon reading. I take a couple of dips in the ocean. The water in the beaches further north in Georgia have low visibility because of the amount of silt coming out from rivers. But Cumberland Island is larger and the water clearer. After a couple of hours, we retreat back to our camp, have dinner and then walk back over to the sound for an incredible sunset.
|Maritime Forest (live oaks, saw palmetto, pines, holly)|
|Entrance to Dungeness|
We take the river trail down to the Dungeness ruins. At one time a community was situated around this estate and many of the buildings still stand. The first house on the site was built by Catherine Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene. Her husband had been granted land on the island as a part of his pay for service during the Revolutionary War. Interestingly, it was in the Greene home that Henry “Light-horse Harry” Lee, father or Robert E. Lee, died. He had stopped there on a return trip from the West Indies. He was sick and nursed by Nathanael Greene’s daughter. After his death, the naval attachment based in St. Mary’s provided the Revolutionary War hero a military funeral on the island. The first Dungeness fell into ruin in the middle of the 19th Century. Even in ruins, the place is incredible. To have been at this house during its day, when there were large parties and the gardens were in bloom would have been a treat. While walking around, we keep bumping into wild horses that still inhabit the island. Two of the horses have found a low live oak to use as a backscratcher and are seemingly pleased with themselves.
|Horses and wild turkeys|
|Horses scratching their backs|
In the 1880s, Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew and also a wealthy industrialist in his own right, brought much of the island. On the ruins of the first Dungeness, he built a much larger and more elegant home, which he also called Dungeness. Sadly, he died before he could see the finished home, but his widow and family continued to live in the home until 1925. The home was abandoned and burned in 1959.
Around the home are houses for servants (which many Park Service employees stay when on the island), a huge laundry, an ice house (ice was sailed down from New England and stored for parties), a boat house, a huge barn and assorted other buildings that helped make life in the 58 room mansion comfortable. About eight miles north of Dungeness is Plum Orchard Mansion. It was built for Thomas and Lucy’s son. It’s open for tours, but we decide not to hike that far (we could have rented bicycles, but decided against it because of the heat). At the far end of the island is Greyfield Inn, which was built for one of their daughters. That mansion is still operated by a member of the Carnegie family as a guest lodge. Nightly Lodging starts at $645, which includes three meals and an afternoon tea. Most of the island was given to the National Park Service in the early 70s to create Cumberland Island National Seashore.
|Dungeness before the fire|
|Main Road that runs the length of the island|
|Sunset with approaching storm|
After we toured the ruins of Dungeness, we hike back to our camp, have lunch and then head to the beach for another wonderful afternoon of sitting under an umbrella and enjoying the sound of the surf. The wind comes up, so it doesn’t feel as hot as the day before. However, the wind dies around sunset, which we again watched from the marsh side. It appears we might get a thunderstorm and there’s some spectular lightning in the distance, but the shore breeze keeps the storms inland. Without the wind, it’s another hot humid night of sleeping on top of the sheet. In the early morning, I’m awaken by something rustling and making a racket in our campsite. I wonder if I had left the door open to the food box that the park service provides, but upon looking realize it’s just an armadillo. Those animals are as graceful as a Sherman tank. At dinner the evening before, we saw a whole family of raccoons make their way through the camp (which is why they have food boxes mounted on poles), but they didn’t bother us.
|Looking south at sunrise (toward paper mill on Amelia Island)|
Thanks to the armadillo, we’re up well before sunrise on our final day on the island. We take a long hike at sunrise, then return to camp to fix breakfast (oatmeal and perked coffee). Then we pack everything and hike to the dock in time for the 10:30 AM boat to the mainland. I will return to this island as there is so much more to see.
Traveling tip: If you go to the island and stay at sea camp (which is only a half-mile walk), you can rent carts to haul stuff. Others came with coolers and stuff. Although there are no stores on the island, you can buy ice from the ferry (which comes to the island four times a day during the summer). They also sell snacks and sodas. We chose to hike in, but did have folding beach chairs strapped to our packs and an umbrella, which added a lot of weight but was worth it for spending hours on the beach.
Have you been to Cumberland Island? Would you be interested?