We're gonna make like a bastard out of Carolina and head all the way down the Georgia coast tonight. Which reminds me, I haven't heard much from Dorothy Allison lately. She's a South Carolina native (Greenville). By chance, I came across Buggydoo blog, whose author, in the 12/10/04 entry (Every Little Girl is a Princess), calls Aiken "one of the most beautiful places in the world," and relates a good story about growing up in the town. Nothing as harrowing as Dorothy Allison's story, thankfully. There's also a joke about South Carolina virgins, but you'll have to check out the site to read it. I don't want to offend the delicate sensibilities of my regular readers (or reader). You don't believe that, do you? Oh well, more weirdness and destruction awaits! Like this MG, still parked in front of a long-abandoned store. If you're heading out of Aiken on US 278 toward the coast, you might pass it. Only, don't tell 'em I sent ya.
The Golden Isles, as they're known, are barrier islands all down Georgia's coast. There's Tybee, St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll, Sapelo (access restricted to scientific research), Cumberland, and a few more. Since I only have so much time in this life, we're going to skip all of them except the southernmost (and largest), Cumberland. I will say this, though: it's always taken bucks to live on these islands. Jekyll Island was the winter home of the Rockefeller's, Morgan's, Astor's, Pulitzer's, Hill's, and Vanderbilt's.
About 30 miles north of Jacksonville, just across the Florida border, is St. Mary's, the access point for Cumberland Island. Florida is out of my jurisdiction, but I highly recommend checking out Life and Times on the Florida North Coast to see what's going on in the Sunshine State, including a photo trip to the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. Before the Carnegies, the Timucuan Indians lived on Cumberland Island for 3,000 years. Their principal food was oysters, which must've been, well, either really boring or totally exhilirating. It also resulted in large piles of discarded shells around the island. In the 1550's, the Spanish arrived bringing horses and missionaries. The Timucuan's eventually made the missionaries leave, but kept the horses. General James Oglethorpe arrived in 1736 and built two forts and a hunting lodge on the southern end of the island. He named the lodge Dungeness, but no one really stayed on the island until Nathaniel Greene, a Revolutionary War General, bought the whole shebang, logging the island's live oaks for navy ships and building a mansion on the Oglethorpe site. He named the place Dungeness, but died before it was finished. Here are some of the wild horses that still populate the island, remnants from the Spanish. No wild missionaries have been sighted for some time. Yes, I am available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs!
Greene's widow continued building his four-story mansion, complete with six-foot-thick tabby walls. No, not kittens. Tabby is a concrete-like compound made of crushed oyster shells, sand, water, and lime. The lime was obtained by burning the shells which, as I mentioned, had already been stacked into neat piles by the indigenous people. Pretty convenient. Tabby was a common building material along the coast, used chiefly by plantation owners in the 19th century. Anyhow, Greene's family used the mansion for 60 years, but the Civil War put an end to that. In 1866, at the start of Recontruction, Dungeness burned and Greene's heirs left. Next, Carnegie came along and decided to build a mansion on the Greene homestead. He named the mansion Dungeness, but died before it was finished, leaving the widowed Ms. Lucy Carnegie to finish the job. Sounds like a good, old-fashioned curse to me. Pictured above is the entrance to Carnegie's Dungeness.
Over time, ownership of Cumberland Island had been inherited by any number of Carnegie relations. Some couldn't afford to keep their shares and were looking to sell. Others weren't sure what they wanted to do. A famous developer, Charles Fraser, wanted to build what is now known as a "gated community" on the island. It was to be called "Cumberland Oaks." On the other hand, David Brower of the Sierra Club and, later, Earth Island Institute, considered the island the last remnant of pre-Spanish settlement landscape left on the East Coast and wanted it preserved. Some Carnegie's sided with Brower, others Fraser. Thus, the Carnegie's began to wrangle and bicker amongst themselves, as any family worth their salt would do. More of Dungeness.
Brower began to push for making Cumberland Island a national seashore. Fraser was okay with that--as long as the preserve was situated AROUND his development. Fraser was being a bit disingenuous since a national seashore would increase the value of his development exponentially by preventing further construction nearby.
At least I assume it looks much as it did in 1600. Most of the island is totally inaccessible to the casual (or even not-so-casual) visitor. Vehicles are not allowed on the island and the southern end contains the only drop-off and pick-up points for the ferry. So, no, you can't just go off and buy a cheeseburger and fries. Actually, you'd be lucky to find a picnic table. You can, however, do other stuff, like, uh, swim or check out Dungeness.