After four days of a more relaxed morning pace, we were up and out by 7:30 am. Our destination was Cumberland Island National Seashore and we had to be to the dock to catch our 45 minute ferry ride by 8:30.
Cumberland Island is the largest of the barrier islands in Georgia. It’s history has mingled French, Spanish, English and Native American stories. For our purposes, we were going over to visit the island ecology and history as a plantation and then a winter playground of the rich and famous, in this case the Carnegie family which owned 90% of the island in the early 1900s. (Although the Candlers of Coca Cola money also have a place). It was one of those deals where the National Park Service got the land to preserve when the maintenance cost got too much for the rich so they took a tax deduction and a lifelong right to use their houses. (My personal interpretation of history.)
We drove from Amelia Island to St. Mary’s Georgia to pick up the ferry, about a 45 minute drive. After an orientation talk, we took the 45 minute ferry ride to the island. THe clouds and sprinkles we had on the way to St. Mary’s disappeared and the day was sunny and in the high 60s.
We had signed up for a day long park ranger led tour that combined walking and riding in a van. There was more van riding than we expected, the island is long and the “road” bumpy and narrow.
During the course of the tour, we saw about ten of the 150 horses running wild on the island. Although looking down, one could observe evidence of many horses. One of the Carnegies stipulated that her horses were to be set free upon her death. There are mixed opinions today as the population is large for the island’s size and some believe they are having a negative impact on the land and ecology. The grasses are not the most nutritious for them.
We visited the beach and saw oyster beds (used also in the construction of tabby buildings in the area). Waterfowl were sparse today. We saw many more in the Florida preserves.
We visited one of the Carnegie summer homes. This one was 24,000 sf. Another one that burnt down was 37,000 sf. There are others now private, an inn, or destroyed. (For reference for MN people, the James J Hill house is 36,000 s.f.)
We visited the small African American settlement that arose after the Civil War. On a side note, the small church in the settlement area was the site of the 1996 wedding of John Kennedy Jr and Carolyn Bessette-the ability to control access and keep the wedding secret and private was evidently a major reason for its use, along with a friendship with the Candlers.
After a return to land, we drove back to Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach, watching the sunset and having dinner again at Barbara Jeans.