St. Simons Island, one of the famed and fabled Golden Isles that grace this corner of Georgia's coast, is especially alluring. St. Simons Island, called "San Simone" by 16th century Spanish explorers, is now simply called "wonderful" by those who retreat to its shores today. Visitors will travel back in time as they Explore the island's well-preserved history and abundant cultural attractions, heritage sites, monuments and parks.
St. Simons Island has a rich history that dates back thousands of years, starting with its indigenous inhabitants and continuing through European exploration, colonization, and the growth of the United States. Here's a brief overview of the history of St. Simons Island:
Native American Settlements
Prior to European arrival, St. Simons Island was inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Guale and Mocama people. They lived on the island for thousands of years and left behind shell rings and other artifacts.
In 1526, Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón attempted to establish a colony near St. Simons Island, but the effort failed due to disease and conflict with the local indigenous populations.
In the 18th century, the British established colonies along the Georgia coast. In 1736, James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, landed on St. Simons Island and built Fort Frederica to protect the area from Spanish expansion. The fort played a crucial role in the defense of Georgia during the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742.
Following the American Revolution, St. Simons Island became a hub for plantation agriculture. Sea Island cotton, rice, and indigo were the main crops cultivated, and enslaved Africans were brought to work on the plantations.
The Retreat of the Wealthy
By the 19th century, St. Simons Island had become a retreat for wealthy plantation owners seeking refuge from the summer heat. They built grand homes, known as "cottages," on the island. Some of these historic homes, such as the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, Christ Church, and the Hamilton Plantation Tabby Slave Cabins, can still be visited today.
The Civil War
During the American Civil War, St. Simons Island was occupied by Union forces in 1862. They built Fort Bartow on the island's southern tip, which saw action during the war. After the war, the economy of the island declined due to the abolition of slavery and the devastation of the war.
In the 20th century, St. Simons Island underwent a period of development, with the construction of bridges connecting the island to the mainland, making it more accessible for tourism and residential development. The island has become a popular tourist destination, known for its beautiful beaches, historic sites, and natural beauty.
Today, St. Simons Island retains its historic charm while offering a mix of residential areas, resorts, and recreational opportunities. It continues to attract visitors who appreciate its rich history, picturesque landscapes, and coastal attractions.
St. Simons Cultural Attractions, Heritage and Preservation
The Avenue of Oaks is a picturesque and iconic feature of St. Simons Island, Georgia. It is a beautiful tree-lined avenue that stretches along Riverview Drive leading to the entrance of the Sea Island Golf Club.
The Avenue of Oaks is characterized by a double row of majestic live oak trees with Spanish moss cascading from their branches, creating a canopy overhead. The live oak trees are a signature sight of the southern United States and are known for their sprawling branches and long, moss-draped limbs.
The exact origins of the Avenue of Oaks are not well-documented, but it is believed that the trees were planted in the early 20th century by Anne Page King as a grand entrance to the former Hamilton Plantation, which was later transformed into the Sea Island Golf Club. The trees have since become an iconic landmark of St. Simons Island, attracting visitors with their natural beauty and providing a sense of charm and tranquility.
Driving or walking along the Avenue of Oaks is a popular activity for residents and visitors alike. It offers a scenic and peaceful experience, especially when the sunlight filters through the dense foliage, creating a magical atmosphere. Many visitors take the opportunity to capture photographs or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll beneath the arching branches.
The Avenue of Oaks serves as a reminder of the island's rich history, its natural beauty, and the grandeur of the plantation era. It is a testament to the island's preservation efforts and a cherished landmark that contributes to the unique character of St. Simons Island.
Visitors are captivated by the beautiful and natural canopy provided by the live oaks that grow for so long and so large. In the early days, St. Simons Island was home to a thriving lumber industry. In fact, oak timbers, cut from Cannon's Point on the Island's north end, were used in 1794 to build the frigate U.S.S. Constitution. In 1874, timbers from the Island were also cut for use in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Legend holds that the average life span of an oak is 300 years.
The A.W. Jones Heritage Center serves as a hub for exploring the history, culture, and natural heritage of the area. The center is named in honor of A.W. "Bill" Jones, a philanthropist and preservationist who played a significant role in the preservation and restoration of historic sites on St. Simons Island. It was opened in 2001 as part of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.
The Center offers a range of exhibits and interactive displays that delve into the island's rich history. Visitors can explore the maritime heritage of the area, learn about the indigenous cultures that once inhabited the island, and discover the significance of St. Simons Island in various historical periods.
The center also features rotating exhibits that cover a wide range of topics, including the Gullah-Geechee culture, the Civil War, and the coastal ecology of Georgia. These exhibits provide a deeper understanding of the diverse elements that have shaped the island and its surrounding region.
Additionally, the A.W. Jones Heritage Center serves as a venue for educational programs, lectures, and community events. It offers resources for researchers and historians, including an archives and research library, which houses historical documents, photographs, and maps related to the region.
Adjacent to the center is the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, which showcases the history and significance of the iconic lighthouse that has guided mariners along the coast since 1872. The museum features exhibits on maritime navigation, local history, and the lighthouse keepers who maintained the structure.
Overall, the A.W. Jones Heritage Center provides visitors with a comprehensive and immersive experience, allowing them to delve into the rich cultural and historical heritage of St. Simons Island and the surrounding area.
The first floor of the Center includes an entrance gallery featuring exhibits, an event hall, an executive board room and a museum store. The second floor features a climate-controlled hurricane-safe vault housing the Coastal Georgia Historical Society's vast collection of objects, artifacts, archival materials, and a 500 volume research library. Visit coastalgeorgiahistory.org for more information.
Bloody Marsh Battle Site
Located Off Demere Road 912.638.3639
The battle fought here on July 7, 1742, when Spanish troops landed on the south end of St. Simons Island, proved to be the turning point in the Spanish conquest of Georgia. The marsh ran red with Spanish blood and the battle was a decisive British victory which ended forever the threat of Spanish invasion into this colony.
The battle took place during the War of Jenkins' Ear, a conflict between Great Britain and Spain over control of territories in North America. The British forces, led by General James Oglethorpe, successfully defended the British colony of Georgia against a Spanish invasion from Florida.
The name "Bloody Marsh" is derived from the supposed intensity of the battle, although historical records suggest that the fighting may not have been as bloody as the name implies. Nevertheless, the battle marked a turning point in the conflict, as the British victory at Bloody Marsh thwarted the Spanish invasion and secured British control over Georgia.
The site of the Bloody Marsh Battle is now part of the Fort Frederica National Monument, which also includes the remains of the colonial town and fortification of Fort Frederica. Visitors to the battle site can explore the area and learn about the events that transpired through interpretive panels and exhibits.
While the battlefield itself is not marked with physical remnants of the battle, the site offers beautiful views of the surrounding marshlands and provides an opportunity to reflect on the historical significance of the clash between the British and Spanish forces.
The Bloody Marsh Battle Site and Fort Frederica National Monument are popular destinations for history enthusiasts, providing insights into the colonial history of Georgia and the military conflicts of the time.
The Christ Church congregation traces its origins to 1776, and to the very earliest days of St. Simons Island. However, the first religious services were held on the site of the church some forty years earlier. It was here that John and Charles Wesley, two brothers from England considered the fathers of Methodism in America, first preached to natives beneath the limbs of an enormous oak tree. The first church structure was built in 1820, but was partially destroyed by occupying Union troops during the War Between the States. In 1884, Anson Phelps Dodge, Jr., built the present structure in memory of his wife, Ellen, who died during their 'round-the-world honeymoon. Today, the beautiful church with its magnificent stained glass windows and heavily wooded grounds that include a cemetery with graves of early settlers, is one of St. Simons Island's most treasured landmarks.
The church building itself is a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture. Its distinctive features include pointed arches, stained glass windows, and a prominent tower. The interior is adorned with intricate woodwork and elegant furnishings, creating a serene and reverent atmosphere.
Christ Church has strong ties to the island's history and has been a witness to many significant events. It played a role in the plantation era of St. Simons Island, as wealthy landowners and their families attended services there. The church also experienced the hardships and challenges faced during the Civil War when the island was occupied by Union forces.
One notable aspect of Christ Church is its cemetery, which holds the final resting place of many early settlers, plantation owners, and other influential figures from St. Simons Island's past. The cemetery includes historic gravestones and monuments that provide insight into the island's history and the lives of those buried there.
Today, Christ Church continues to serve as an active parish and welcomes visitors to experience its rich history and spiritual ambiance. Guided tours of the church and cemetery are available, providing an opportunity to learn more about the church's historical significance and the people associated with it.
Christ Church and its surrounding grounds have become an iconic landmark on St. Simons Island, attracting both worshippers and visitors interested in the island's history and architectural heritage.
A beautiful two story frame structure built in 1869 by former slaves of the St. Simons plantations. The congregation itself organized ten years earlier. Constructed with round arch windows, and an off center, pyramidal roof steeple, the exterior was updated with crisp white asbestos shingle siding. Electricity was added in the 1950’s. Members of this African American church traveled from all around the island to attend worship services every Sunday. In the late 1800s, First African began to establish mission churches around St. Simons to better serve the needs of its members on the south end of the island. Although as old as many of the area's historic sites, this lovely part of Saint Simons Island culture and history is often overlooked in tourism books and brochures.
Established in 1736 by James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of his new colony of Georgia, this historic national site includes remnants of a tabby fortress the British built in the 1730s as a bulwark against Spanish invaders from Florida. The fort was named in honor of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King George II.
In 1736, 44 men and 72 women and children arrived to build the fort and town, and by the 1740s Frederica was a thriving village of about 500 citizens. When Spanish troops sought to capture St. Simons Island in 1742, Oglethorpe's men won a decisive victory in what is now called The Battle of Bloody Marsh. You can visit the site of Fort Frederica, a national park, and see the ruins of the fortifications, barracks and homes. A museum, film, dioramas, tours and demonstrations bring the settlement vividly back to life. Hiking and nature trails are on site and historical tours are available.
The town of Frederica grew around the fort and became an important center of commerce and defense. At its peak, the town housed around 1,000 settlers, including soldiers, colonists, and indigenous allies. It served as a military stronghold and played a significant role in maintaining British control over Georgia.
However, Fort Frederica's significance diminished over time, and the town eventually declined. The fort was abandoned in the 1740s, and by the late 18th century, Frederica was largely abandoned as well. Today, the ruins of the fort and some reconstructed structures stand as a reminder of its colonial past.
Fort Frederica National Monument was established in 1936 to preserve and interpret the history of the site. Visitors to the national monument can explore the remains of the fort, including its defensive walls, barracks, and other structures. The visitor center offers exhibits, audio-visual presentations, and guided tours that provide insights into the history and significance of Fort Frederica.
The site also features a nature trail that winds through the surrounding marshes and maritime forest, allowing visitors to appreciate the natural beauty of the area. The monument is managed by the National Park Service and serves as an important educational resource for understanding the colonial history of Georgia and the role of Fort Frederica in shaping the region.
Fort Frederica National Monument is a popular destination for history enthusiasts, offering a chance to step back in time and learn about the colonial era in coastal Georgia.
P.O. Box 287
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
Located on Gascoigne Bluff Road 912.265.0620
Overlooking the Frederica River, this area was a favorite Native American campground, and during Colonial days, the landing at the bluff became Georgia's first naval base and bears the name of the man, Gascoigne, who first surveyed the Georgia coast for England. Live oak timbers milled here in 1794 were used in building "Old Ironsides," the USS Constitution, in 1874, and timbers were also cut here for the Brooklyn Bridge.
The bluff is named after Captain James Gascoigne, an early settler who arrived on St. Simons Island in the 18th century. Gascoigne established a plantation on the site and became a prominent figure in the community.
Gascoigne Bluff played a significant role in the history of St. Simons Island. During the colonial era, it served as a hub for maritime trade and commerce. The bluff's strategic location along the river made it an ideal spot for ships to dock and unload cargo.
In the 18th century, the bluff was also the site of Fort St. Simons, a British fortification constructed during the period of British colonization. The fort was built to protect the southern boundary of the British colony of Georgia and played a role in the defense against Spanish forces.
Today, Gascoigne Bluff is a popular recreational area and a gateway to the waterways surrounding St. Simons Island. The site features amenities such as picnic areas, a fishing pier, a boat ramp, and a pavilion. It is a favored spot for fishing, boating, and enjoying the natural beauty of the island.
Gascoigne Bluff is also the starting point for the annual "Blessing of the Fleet" ceremony, a local tradition that celebrates the island's fishing and shrimping heritage. The ceremony involves blessing the fishing fleet for a safe and prosperous season.
Overall, Gascoigne Bluff serves as both a historic landmark and a recreational destination, offering visitors a glimpse into the island's past while providing opportunities for outdoor activities and enjoyment of the coastal environment.
The Hamilton Plantation Tabby Slave Cabins were the living quarters for the enslaved people who worked on the Hamilton Plantation. These cabins were constructed using the tabby material and provided housing for the enslaved community. They were typically modest structures, consisting of multiple rooms or cells that housed multiple families. made from a mixture of lime, sand, water, and oyster shells, creating a durable and weather-resistant material.
The Hamilton Plantation was a large cotton plantation established in the early 19th century on St. Simons Island. The plantation was owned by the Hamilton family, who were prominent planters in the area. They utilized enslaved African Americans as laborers to work on the plantation.
The Hamilton Plantation Tabby Slave Cabins are a significant historical site as they offer a glimpse into the lives of enslaved people during the plantation era. They serve as a reminder of the harsh conditions and inhumane treatment endured by those who were enslaved. The cabins have been preserved and are now part of the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site, managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Visitors to the site can explore the cabins, learn about the history of the plantation, and gain insights into the experiences of the enslaved community. The site provides educational programs and exhibits that shed light on the history of slavery in the region, offering an opportunity for reflection and understanding of this important aspect of American history.
Operated by the Cassina Garden Club, the two cabins are open to the public during June-August on Wednesday mornings from 10:00am to noon, during the club’s special events, and by request from groups visiting the island.
Historic Site Hours:
Wednesday-Sunday / 9am-5pm
Last main house tour at 4pm / Gate locked at closing.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Located to the north of Brunswick, offers a glimpse into the lives of planters and slaves that grew rice along the Altamaha River nearly 200 years ago. You can tour the antebellum home built by the Troup family and examine the nineteenth century farm equipment still stored in the barn.
This beautiful plantation represents the history and culture of Georgia’s rice coast. In the early 1800s, William Brailsford of Charleston carved a rice plantation from marshes along the Altamaha River. The plantation and its inhabitants were part of the genteel low country society that developed during the antebellum period. While many factors made rice cultivation increasingly difficult in the years after the Civil War, the family continued to grow rice until 1913.
The enterprising siblings of the fifth generation at Hofwyl-Broadfield resolved to start a dairy rather than sell their family home. The efforts of Gratz, Miriam and Ophelia Dent led to the preservation of their family legacy. Ophelia was the last heir to the rich traditions of her ancestors, and she left the plantation to the state of Georgia in 1973.
A museum features silver from the family collection and a model of Hofwyl-Broadfield during its heyday. A brief film on the plantation’s history is shown before visitors walk a short trail to the antebellum home. A guided tour allows visitors to see the home as Ophelia kept it with family heirlooms, 18th and 19th century furniture and Cantonese china. A stop on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail, this is an excellent spot to look for herons, egrets, ibis and painted buntings. A nature trail that leads back to the Visitors Center along the edge of the marsh where rice once flourished.
The Marshes of Glynn
Made famous by poet Sidney Lanier, these natural treasures are the first thing you'll see as you cross the marshes approaching St. Simons Island. The birthplace of much of our sea life, a kayak or canoe trip offers you the best way to experience the area's natural beauty. The Golden Isles takes its name from these marsh wetlands, which turn a wonderous golden hue during the colder months of the season. The marshes of St. Simons Island are what give renowned Wild Georgia Shrimp their sweet flavor and help them grow to their jumbo size. Read poet Sidney Lanier's tribute to the Golden Isles - The Marshes of Glynn.
Hours of Operation:
Mon-Sat: 10am - 5pm
Sun: 1:30pm - 5pm
Last climb: 4:30pm
The Maritime Museum closes from 12 noon-1pm Mon-Sat.
The Museums are closed on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
The St. Simons Lighthouse is the oldest brick structure in the area and is still maintained as an operational light by the U.S. Coast Guard. You can climb the 129 steps to the top for a spectacular view of the Island.
First constructed in 1807 by James Gould on Couper's Point, this towering, 104 foot lighthouse was reconstructed in 1872 on the same site to replace the original which was destroyed by retreating Confederate forces in 1862. A beautifully restored 1872 lighthouse keeper's home complements the lighthouse.
The original St. Simons Lighthouse began as a dream of a young architect from Granville, Massachusetts named James Gould. Even as a young boy, Gould dreamed of building a lighthouse. He began work on his light's blueprints when he was a teenager. Gould moved to St. Simons Island as a young man and quickly fell in love with the island and it's people. In 1804, John Couper, a St. Simons Island plantation owner, deeded four acres of land to the federal government for the price of one dollar, as a site for the island's first harbor light. In 1807, James Gould was hired by the Treasury Department as chief architect of a project to build the lighthouse on the northside entrance to St. Simons Sound. The tower was completed in 1808. It was composed of brick and tabby and stood seventy-five feet tall, twenty-five feet in diameter. A ten-foot lantern (lit by oil lamps suspended on chains) topped the white, tapering, octagonal structure. Gould, appointed by President Madison, became the lighthouse's first keeper in 1810. This job required that he climb the tower and tend the lights several times per day, including periodic checks throughout the night. Gould, however, was a man dedicated to the fulfillment of his dream and to his people. He remained the keeper for 27 years, until 1837, when his health no longer permitted him to do so. The Lighthouse Board raised his lighthouse to the level of coastal light in 1857.
The current lighthouse, completed in 1872, stands twenty-five feet from the original site. It was built to replace James Gould's lighthouse, which was destroyed by the Confederate Army in 1862 (the original site is still marked by ropes). The current structure was built by Charles Cluskey, one of Georgia's most renowned architects. It is a white conical tower attached to a brick dwelling. The small house was once the lightkeeper's cottage. However, the oil lamps and chains were replaced by a Fresnel lens (French, hand-made) and timers in 1953, eliminating the need for a keeper. The house now serves as the Museum. No trip to St. Simons Island would be complete with a stop at the historic St. Simons Lighthouse.
Launching the Story of Our Community's Patriotism, Heroism, and Enterprise
In 1940, as war ravaged America's allies, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called our nation the "Arsenal of Democracy." Following Pearl Harbor, the Golden Isles became an important component of that arsenal and contributed profoundly to the war effort. The museum at the Historic Coast Guard Station tells the multi-faceted story of bold initiatives to protect our coast from German submarines, train fighter pilots, build Liberty Ships to supply troops overseas, and much more. State-of-the-art exhibits provide authentic and meaningful activities for visitors of all ages to engage in, as they learn about this critical period in our nation's history.
In 2016, the Society appointed Gallagher & Associates, a renowned museum design firm, to develop the concepts and layouts for the museum. Divided into six themes, the exhibits are housed in the two historic buildings on the site. Outdoor displays add another dimension to the overall visitor experience. Throughout, personal stories are told using interviews, artifacts, documents, and photographs from the Society's collection. Under the direction of Coastal Georgia Historical Society and with donations from many generous benefactors the Historic Coast Guard Station is now the World War II Home Front Museum interpreting local home front activities to defend the coast and support the war effort overseas.
St. Simons Land Trust
Home to more than 12,000 full-time residents, St. Simons is known for its stately live oaks, abundant salt and fresh water marshes, meandering creeks and rivers, and rich history. Spotted seatrout, redfish, flounder and tarpon are bountiful in the creeks and near shore waters. And, just offshore is the calving ground for the North Atlantic right whale - one of the world's most endangered large whale species. Not surprisingly, St. Simons is also a favorite destination for vacationers.
Like so many coastal areas, St. Simons experienced a population boom in the 1990s. Recognizing that the uniqueness of this barrier island would continue to attract new residents and thus be heavily impacted by development, the St. Simons Land Trust was born. Recognition is given to the vision of local leaders such as Ben Slade III, Frances McCrary, and Jim and Jeannie Manning who were the Land Trust's founding members, and the organization's first Executive Director, Catherine Main, who operated the Land Trust out of her home until 2001 when an office was opened on Frederica Road.
The St. Simons Land Trust has become a community institution entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility: to protect our scenic and historic treasures and to preserve the beauty and charm of our island for generations to come.
Since those early days, the Land Trust has preserved more than 1,000 acres (and another 200 acres in a nearby county). We also hold over 300 acres in conservation easements. We are guided in our work by our most recent strategic plan for land conservation on the island that has established target areas for our work and priorities for transactions.
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Map of St. Simons Island Historic Sites & Attractions