Cumberland Island, GA

Our night anchored off Cumberland Island was not as serene as the sunset earlier had portended as the winds cranked up into the 20-25 kt neighborhood just after dark. A bit noisy and bumpy, but not enough to keep us awake. Still a bit breezy in the morning, we had breakfast and headed ashore. This trip to Cumberland Island is our second visit, having stopped in June of 2009 as we headed north. We visited then with fellow Selene owners aboard Orient Moon, Terry and Leslie.

Some History:

Cumberland Island is one of Georgia’s barrier sea islands. Rich in history, the first inhabitants can be traced back to indigenous peoples who settled the area some 4,000 years ago. From 1566 to around 1733 the Spanish held the island, then the English. Cumberland was named for the Duke of Cumberland by a young Yamacraw Indian named Toonahowi, the nephew of Chief Tomochichi who visited England with General James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia Colony in 1733. Oglethorpe established a hunting lodge on the south end of the island, naming it Dungeness after a headland in Kent, England. Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene purchased land on the island in 1783 to harvest live oaks for ship building. Wood from the island was used to build the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides.” Greene died in 1786. His wife, Catherine, remarried Phineas Miller ten years later, and they built a huge, four-story tabby mansion on top of an Indian shell mound. She named it Dungeness after Oglethorpe’s hunting lodge. The house burned down in 1866.

In the 1880’s, Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and his wife, Lucy bought land on Cumberland Island for a winter retreat. Construction of a mansion began in 1884 on the site of Miller’s Dungeness, though Carnegie never lived to see its completion. Lucy and their nine children continued to live on the island, naming their mansion Dungeness after that of Greene. Dungeness was designed as a 59-room Scottish castle. They also built pools, a golf course, and 40 smaller buildings to house the 200 servants who worked at the mansion. The last time Dungeness was used was for the 1929 wedding of a Carnegie daughter. After the Crash and the Great Depression, the family left the island and kept the mansion vacant.

It burned in a 1959 fire, believed to have been started by a poacher who had been shot in the leg by a caretaker weeks before. Today, the ruins of the mansion remain on the southern end of the island. The Carnegie family owned 90% of the island. Lucy Carnegie also built other estates on the island for her children, Plum Orchard, Stafford Plantation and Greyfield, with the agreement that the Carnegie estate would maintain the building and grounds, the children were responsible for the inside of the home. Nice. It’s said that upon his death, Thomas left a safe with $685 million – in cash.

In 1954, the Carnegie family began efforts to establish Cumberland Island as a National Seashore, and despite complications introduced by some of the heirs’ sale of property to Hilton Head developer Charles Fraser, eventually the plan came to fruition and in 1971, Richard Nixon signed legislation making Cumberland Island a National Park. Today, 90% of the island is National Park Service land, with the balance of the land eventually reverting to NPS upon the expiration of life estate rights. Some private residences still exist on the island, which is some of the most undeveloped land in the country.

Footnote: Full story at Wikipedia, source of the historical information.

There are two NPS docks on the southwest shore of the island, private vessels are permitted day docking, and dinghy access is available at both. The southernmost dock is the old Dungeness pier, and is closest to the ruins and other outbuildings. The Sea Camp dock is the site of the ranger station and is where campers come ashore from St. Mary’s. Our day trip ashore began at the Dungeness dock, where we walked the old road to the mansion ruins. Such a shame for the loss of the majestic building, the ruins lend a creepy note to the beautiful grounds. Enough remains to evoke memories of bygone times, ah, for that time machine to give us a window into that time and life! Photos gleaned from the Carnegie photo albums depict a lifestyle that was opulent at the same time it was casual, at least for the time! It’s just mind boggling to envision the amount of man hours and material that went into creating this small community simply to cater to the vacation whims of a single family! The south is rich with many examples of the “cottages” erected by those industry titans during the Gilded Age. Truly impressive! The Park Service does walking tours with talks, very interesting, and they do a 6 hour van tour of the northern portion of the island that includes a visit to recently restored Plum Orchard as well as Strafford and “The Settlement”. Unfortunately, the tour was not running during our visit due to hunting activities. Cumberland Island is a beautiful place, miles of pristine beach a short walk from the dock, beautiful old growth live oak areas. For other cruisers who may be following and haven’t made the visit, be sure to include this on your itinerary at some point. Easy access via St. Mary’s inlet. I would not hesitate to put in to the anchorage here at night, it is well-marked and charts are accurate. Protection is excellent in all but stiff N or S winds, good holding, quiet. We’ll be sure to return.

We’ll head out Monday and make the short hop to Fernandina Beach, pick up fuel at Florida Petroleum, and stay a night on a mooring. The shutdown problem is not entirely solved, as we experienced another as we headed into the Cumberland anchorage and again Monday headed toward Fernandina Beach. More troubleshooting!

Tuesday we’ll be underway to St. Augustine, where we’ll spend Christmas.

One Response to “Cumberland Island, GA”

  1. joyce rocko on 25 Dec 2011 at 7:46 AM #

    cumberlandisland is one of our “must stop”‘s on the way home each year. we have never been there that our memories have not been woven into the gold threads of good times!