Cumberland Island is a must-see spot if you ever get the chance (note: you can only get here via boat but there is a ferry service from the mainland).
Cumberland Island consists of large areas of salt marshes, a dense maritime forest with gnarled live oak trees covered with Spanish moss and palmetto trees, as well as white-sandy beach which stretches over 17 miles. The island is known for their feral horses that roam freely, but we also came across an armadillo, turkeys, a raccoon, and some dolphins (when we got back to the boat). However, we still haven’ seen any alligators.
The history of the island is pretty interesting, in summary:
- First inhabitants were indigenous peoples who settled there as early as 4,000 years ago.
- The Spanish arrived in 1566 and set up shop.
- Starting in1683, pirates attacked the island and settlements – the Spanish got the heck out of town. Survivors retreated to St. Augustine (Florida) to the south.
- In 1733, English General James Oglethorpe established a hunting lodge called Dungeness.
- In 1786, Catharine Littlefield Greene built a huge, four-story tabby* mansion on top of a Native American shell mound. She named it Dungeness, after Oglethorpe’s hunting lodge. *Tabby is a type of building material made from lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash.
- In 1790, live oak wood from the island was used to build the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”
- In 1866, Dungeness burned down
- In 1884, the Carnegie family bought land on the island and began building a castle-like mansion on the site of Dungeness, as well as pools, a golf course, extensive gardens, and smaller buildings to house the hundreds of servants.
- 1929 marked the last event held at Dungeness: the wedding of a Carnegie daughter.
- In 1959 fire, Dungeness burned down (again)
- On October 23, 1972, the US Congress established Cumberland Island as a national seashore; the bill was signed by President Richard Nixon. The Carnegie family sold the island to the federal government. With donations from the Mellon Foundation, Cumberland Island became a national park.
- Today, there is a small private Inn located at the northern part of the island, small houses are still used for restrooms and ranger stations, and the Dungeness ruins remain.