I love my work and running my own marketing business with a great team and, although people occasionally refer to me as a workaholic, it does not feel that way to me. Nevertheless, I will admit that it is good for me when friends from around the world visit and make me slow down a little to enjoy this beautiful part of Georgia in which we live.
Last week, it dawned on me that I had not been to the ocean this year! An old friend from England was visiting and expressed an urge to ‘go to the seaside’ as we say in the UK. I find water very soothing to my soul whether it is a lake, river, creek or even a swimming pool. However, there is nothing to beat the beauty and majesty of the ocean. We set off for a day trip to St. Simons Island, a long walk along the beach, and to take off our shoes and have a little “paddle” in the water, as we say in the land of my birth!
Only 65 miles away and just off the coast close to the town of Brunswick, we are lucky to have four barrier islands known as the Golden Isles within a day trip’s distance: Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and St. Simons Island. Barrier islands are separated from the mainland by shallow bodies of water and can stretch for miles, protecting the coastline by absorbing energy from incoming waves. This of course makes them vulnerable to hurricanes and storms, but in spite of some ominous clouds as we crossed the bridge onto St. Simons Island, the rain stayed away.
This island is one of the four Golden Isles, named as such because of the beauty and mild climate, and not because they were discovered by Spanish explorers seeking gold more than 400 years ago. St. Simons is approximately 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, the second-largest and most developed of the Golden Isles. According to the 2020 US census, just under 15,000 live here but with an almost year-round tourism industry, many more people flock to the beaches and the small waterside town. Tourism began in the 19th century when wealthy northerners began vacationing on St. Simons and by the 1880s a new pier and grand hotel could be accessed by a ferry from the mainland. The opening in 1924 of the Brunswick–St. Simons Highway, today known as the Torras Causeway, was a milestone in the development of resorts in the area. St. Simons’ beaches were now easily accessible to locals and tourists alike.
As always, I am fascinated by the history of places I visit. There is evidence of Native American settlements on all the Georgia barrier islands and by 1500 the Guale Indians were using St. Simons as their hunting and fishing grounds. Beginning in 1568, the Spanish attempted to create Catholic missions along Georgia’s coast and assimilate the native culture into the Spanish colony of Florida, but by 1684 pirate raids led to most of these missions and villages being abandoned. By 1702 the Spanish settlements were largely gone as they increasingly felt the threat of the British. England’s General Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1732 and four years later he established Fort Frederica on St. Simons, named after the heir to the British throne, on the west side of the island to protect Savannah and the Carolinas from the Spanish. This settlement grew and was a thriving town at the time of Britain’s decisive victory over Spain in the Battle of Bloody Marsh in 1742. The British military disbanded in the area seven years later and the fort was largely abandoned.
St. Simons Island did not play much part in the American Revolution and following the war the island was used mainly for agriculture with 14 cotton plantations and the production of long-staple cotton which soon came to be known as Sea Island cotton. Of course, the plantations in the 18th and 19th century were worked by slaves from Africa, and the west side of St. Simons commemorates where, in 1803, survivors of the so-called “Middle Passage” voyage from Europe rebelled and drowned themselves at Ebos Landing. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 stopped the plantation era and Union troops occupied the island from 1862, along with 500 freed people including Susie King Taylor who organized a school for freed children. Later that year this Gullah Geechee population relocated from St. Simons to Hilton Head and Fernandina in Florida.
By 1870, the timber industry returned the island to economic recovery and then tourism began in earnest. However, before the Second World War there were still only a few hundred permanent residents. Troops stationed nearby led to more visitors and residents especially as a major shipyard was located in nearby Brunswick. In 1942 German U-boats torpedoed the SS Oklahoma and SS Esso Baton Rouge in waters near St. Simons Island. Due in large part to the military’s improvement of the island’s infrastructure during the war, development on the island boomed in the 1950s and 1960s leading to the growth experienced today. I will have to return there someday for a visit to St Simons’ World War II Home Front Museum, dedicated to preserving Coastal Georgia’s contributions to the war effort.
I will leave you this week with a quote from American artist and conservationist, Robert Wyland: “The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.”
God Bless America!
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