CUMBERLAND ISLAND — A Brief History of Time
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First the Earth cooled…then the dinosaurs came…
Just a little bit later – Cumberland Island formed of Pleistocene sediments prior to last ice age.
And a while after that…Timucuan/Timucua Indians live in the northern third of present day Florida and a small portion of southeastern coastal Georgia. Living as seven distinct tribes, the Timucua who live on Cumberland and the surrounding mainland are called the Tacatacuru. The Indians call the island Missoe (beautiful), Wissoe (sassafras, which grew on the island), and Tacatacuru (beautiful island.) Timucuan men typically stood over seven tattooed feet tall and the women were often over six feet and were worshippers of the sun and the moon. The Timucuan diet consisted of oysters, other shellfish, fish and the occasional deer or other meat. So many oysters were eaten that their piles of discarded shells, called middens, still exist to this day.
1513 – Famed Florida Explorer and searcher for the fountain of youth, Juan Ponce De Leon sails by Island.
1562 – French Huguenots land on island and become friendly with the Timucuans. Sassafras becomes a huge export to Europe, believed to be a cure for many of life’s ills. Boiled, the fleshy, sticky root of the sassafras trees results in a sort of tea. Used by the Indians and European explorers, this infusion is thought to be very useful in reducing fevers, curing headaches, stopping colds, healing lamends and relieving constipation. In 1682 it was written that sassafras,” profits in all Diseases of the blood and Liver, particularly in all Venereal and Scorbutick (Scurvy) Distempers.”
1566 – The Spanish Governor of Florida orders the capture of French settlers and solders on what he considers Spanish land. Later the prisoners are executed near St. Augustine at what is now known as Matanzas,” massacre”, Inlet. The Spanish name island San Pedro, build fortifications and presidio (log and earth fort) with 80 men. Jesuit priests arrive to set up mission but all 3 are killed by Timucuans who are still loyal to the French.
1568 – Coastal Indian populations in the area total between fifteen and twenty thousand according to a French survey.
1573 – Harsh tropical conditions and disease force Spanish settlers to abandon island.
1578 – Franciscan Spaniards arrive; invent Tapas meal, successful conversion of Timucuans begins.
1582 – Guale Indian revolt. Revolt starts when a Franciscan Friar publically berates a Guale chief for his having multiple wives.
1587 – Spanish build a large mission, San Pedro de Mocamo. The mission is much like a small town in size. Located on the west side of the island, 2 leagues (about 6 miles) from Cumberland Sound, on the southern end. “Mocamo” is the name of the Tacatacuru spoken dialect.
1595 – A second mission, San Pedro y San Pablo de Portuba is built on the north end of the island on the riverside.
September 1597 – A forty-canoe Guale war party attacks San Pedro, burning the mission and its church but is defeated by the loyal Timucuans.
1603 – Spanish rebuild San Pedro de Mocamo church. This new church is reportedly as large as the cathedral in St. Augustine.
1600’s through 1680’s – Fiery raids on Coastal Indian Missions by Carolina Colonists who are financed and encouraged by British companies and have the blessing of the Crown.
Around 1650 – European diseases effectively depopulate the Guales and Timucuans. One measles outbreak kills thousands of coastal Indians. Creek Indians expand into coastal areas.
1670 – Disease and increasing English presence in area weakens Spanish positions.
1681 – A Spanish census of Cumberland counts only around 200 people.
1683 – French pirates attack Cumberland Island, looting and burning many of the buildings. Most of the natives and Spanish missionaries flee the island.
1684 – Spanish pirate Thomas Jingle’s attacks on the island lead to the abandonment of the island.
1717 – A census of the remaining Timucuans counts only 250 in three poor villages near St. Augustine.
March 1736 – Georgia founder James Olgethorpe lands on Island with a mixed force of Scottish Highlanders and loyal Creek Indians. Creeks are led by their Chief, Tomochichi, and his young nephew, Toonahowi. Toonahowi had been brought to England previously where he met and befriended the 15-year-old Prince William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland. Toonahowi asks that the island be renamed after his friend. Star shaped timber and sand Fort Saint Andrew is built on the north end around present High Point area.
1738 – Barracks for 220 Highlanders with storehouses completed at Fort Saint Andrew. Village of Barrimacke is built next to the fort. Highlanders quickly become restless and unhappy resulting in much drunkenness, fights, duels and even one solder taking a shot at General Oglethorpe.
1739 – England and Spain fight in the War of Jenkin’s Ear (War of Austrian Succession.)
1740 – The English continue to fortify the island building Fort Prince William at the southern tip of island.
1742 – Spanish invasion of Coastal Georgia. A Spanish armada of 50 ships and 2000 solders sails from Havana to drive the English from Spanish territories. Fort St. Andrew attacked and destroyed by Spaniards while English forces are concentrated at Fort Prince William and on islands to the north. The Spanish are repulsed at the Battle of Bloody Marsh on Saint Simons Island just to the north of Cumberland. Spanish forces fall back and attack Fort Prince William but British solders successfully defend the fort.
1748 – Cumberland becomes neutral territory between Spain and English and a refuge for criminals, debtors, and dissenters from both sides. Extensive smuggling in the area.
1754 – The French and Indian War begins. Seven Years War between England and France in a bid to increase territories in the New World.
1763 – Florida ceded to English by the French in the signing of the Treaty of Paris ending the French and Indian war.
1765 – Earliest records of first Dungeness hunting lodge (named after Duke’s country seat, Castle Dungeness.)
1767 – Last of the Timucuans dies in the Spanish colony of Cuba.
1770 – Fort Prince William abandoned.
1776 – Revolutionary War. Island mostly abandoned during the war. The British occupy the island for a staging area for raids in the Saint Marys area and later in the build up prior to attacking Savannah in 1778.
1783 – General Nathaniel Greene purchases land on Cumberland for timber harvesting, hoping that income from timber will get him out of the massive debt he incurred from paying for supplies, etc during the Revolutionary War. Live oak is highly prized in shipbuilding industry for its curves and strength.
1783 to 1821 – With the English loss in the Revolutionary War, Florida reverts back to Spanish control.
1786 – Nathaniel Greene, age 43, dies suddenly of complications from sunstroke, leaving his property to his wife, Catherine and their children.
1794 – President George Washington signs legislation authorizing the construction of six heavy frigates. Shipbuilders from Philadelphia arrive on Cumberland and in surrounding area to start harvesting live oak for the construction of the United States Navy’s first purpose built warships, the United States, President, Congress, Constellation, Chesapeake, and of course the Constitution. Live oak is so hard and dense that some cannonballs fired at these ships simply bounce off giving the Constitution the nickname “Old Ironsides.”
1796 – Catherine Greene marries her children’s’ brilliant tutor, Phineas Miller who also happened to be the late General Green’s secretary.
1799 – Greene – Miller family moves to Cumberland. Family industry on island is the cultivation and harvesting of Sea Island cotton and live oak.
1803 – Phineas Miller (husband of General Greene’s widow) dies. The 4-story, 76-foot tall, 26 room Dungeness tabby mansion is built on a shell midden with attached Gardner’s house, the Tabby House that still stands to this day. (Tabby is a form of coastal concrete made from lime, sand, water, and oyster shells.) The Dungeness Mansion had 6-foot walls at its base and was heated by 16 fireplaces using 4 chimneys. Twelve acres of gardens surround the mansion. Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin and friend of the Miller family, is a frequent visitor to Island as well as to Catherine. (The Tabby House is later used as slave quarters.)
1804 – United States Vice President Aaron Burr kills popular Founding Father and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Indicted for murder, Burr flees Washington, DC first seeking sanctuary at his old friend’s house, Dungeness on Cumberland Island. Turned away, he hides out in the home of a former classmate, Major Archibald Clark on the mainland in Saint Marys. Burr later returns to Washington, where he was never tried for killing Hamilton, and resumes his vast duties as Vice President. The Clark House still stands in Saint Marys.
1807 – President Thomas Jefferson signs the Embargo Act into Law. All trade with warring Great Britain and France is prohibited. Florida is not part of the United States at this time creating a lucrative smuggler’s paradise in the triangle of Amelia Island, Cumberland Island and Saint Marys.
1812 – War of 1812.
1814 – Catherine Greene Miller dies and wills Dungeness to her daughter Louisa Shaw.
January 1815 – Unaware that the war is now over following the British defeat at The Battle of New Orleans, British forces attack St. Marys and occupy Cumberland for eight weeks using Dungeness as the British Admiral’s headquarters. Louisa Shaw, her family and guests are restricted to the upper floors until some of the young Naval Officers invite the women folk downstairs to dinner. Eventually two of the young ladies guests marry British Lieutenants. Additionally, Admiral Cockburn (who with his men had burned Washington, D.C. earlier in the war) decides to free any slave on the island or who makes it to the island, irritating greatly, the American slave owners in the region. Some twelve hundred slaves are freed, many joining the British Army and later settling in Bermuda, Trinidad and even Nova Scotia.
Winter 1818 – General “Light Horse” Harry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee, and subordinate to General Greene) arrives ill on his way back from the West Indies where he had gone in the hope that the different climate would help in the treatment of his cancer. He requests from Greene’s youngest daughter to die on Cumberland Island. Louisa cares for him until he passes away on March 25, 1818. Robert E. Lee places tombstone at his grave, visiting his father’s grave in 1829 and 1870.
1818 – Louisa begins to cultivate other produce including olives and oranges. Groves near the mansion eventually include some 600 olive trees, more than 2000 orange trees as well as fig, banana, pear, peach and apricot trees. Most of the rest of Cumberland still remains a wilderness.
1831 – Louisa Shaw dies at Dungeness, willing Dungeness to her nephew, Phineas Miller Nightingale.
1840 – In financial trouble, Phineas Nightingale sell various parts of his holdings. Robert Stafford Jr. becomes largest plantation owner on the island. At his peak, Stafford owned 348 slaves. The Island becomes mostly developed plantations with many slaves. Sea Island cotton is the number one crop.
1850 – Island hits its peak post Spanish era population, 520 people. 65 of which are white and the other 455 are black slaves.
1861 – The Civil War begins.
1862 – Cumberland falls to Union Forces in Civil War. Adjacent Fort Clinch on Amelia Island is the first Federal Property recaptured during the war.
1866- Robert Stafford Jr is offered $100,000 in gold for 8,000 acres on Cumberland by a German colonization society that was looking to place 300 German farmers on the island growing cotton. ($12.50 an acre)
1867- While still occupied by Union forces, the Dungeness mansion is completely burned leaving just the outside walls. Some say the fire was the result of drunken debauchery. Precedent is set for drinking and burning things.
1868 – In accordance with Sherman’s General Order # 15, Freedmen (former slaves) are placed on large plantation owners’ property against the will of the owners. Later, plantation owner Robert Stafford Jr and others are permitted to reclaim their lands. The former slaves’ quarters, now the Freedman’s homes on Stafford’s property burn (possibly by Stafford himself) creating what is known today as The Chimneys.
1871 – Phineas Miller Nightingale dies. Due to his outstanding debts, the Dungeness property is transferred to Edmund Molyneux.
1872 – General William George Mackay Davis, a former Confederate general, friend and distant cousin of President Jefferson Davis, purchases Dungeness.
August 1st 1877 – Robert Stafford Jr. dies.
March 1880 – General Davis’s son, Bernard M. Davis, accidently shoots his own 5-year-old son on the island and 9 months later dies in a possible suicide there. It’s thought that the Miller-Greene cemetery on the Island contains both bodies. Mason T. Burbank purchases land on north end and forms the Cumberland Island Company that features a hotel and guesthouses that eventually will accommodate some 500 guests.
1881 – General Davis sells Dungeness to Thomas Carnegie (younger brother to Pittsburgh steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie) for $35,000.
1881 – The remaining walls of the tabby Dungeness are demolished. Some of the large pieces are used in the construction of the jetties. Smaller pieces are used in road construction on the island.
Feb 1884 – Cornerstone laid as construction begins on a $285,000 mansion built on the same shell midden mound site of the first and second Dungeness.
1882 – Stafford heirs’ sell portion of Stafford property to Thomas Carnegie for $40,000.
1884 – Thomas Carnegie’s wife Lucy becomes the first female member of the New York Yacht Club.
1885 – Dungeness mansion is completed. There are some 44 rooms encompassing 6,720 square feet and topped with a 100-foot tall tower. West of the mansion, at the end of the vine-covered pergola or arbor), the 29 room “Cottage” is built for son Thomas Morrison Carnegie Jr. and his wife, Virginia
1886 – Thomas Carnegie, 44, dies leaving all to his wife, Lucy Coleman.
1887 – Remaining Stafford lands purchased by Lucy Carnegie. Lucy gives Stafford Place mansion to son William Coleman Carnegie & wife Martha Gertrude Ely.
1887 – By this time the Carnegie’s Cumberland Fleet includes the 75 foot steam yacht, Missoe, which is used among other things, as an island supply boat, running almost daily between the Dungeness property on Beach Creek, Fernandina and/or Saint Marys as required as well as Lucy’s 119 foot ocean going steam yacht, Dungeness, which had a crew of seventeen men including a Japanese cook and steward.
1890 – Up on the north end, the Cumberland Island Company expands the hotel property. Features include a horse drawn trolley from the river pier to the hotel. Company investors divide the Half Moon Bluff tract into 52 lots, 50 by 100 feet. Former slaves and other blacks purchase these lots building ramshackle houses, forming The Settlement. Many work at the hotel or for the Carnegies.
1893 – The First African Baptist Church is built in The Settlement. The small church is also used from time to time as a schoolhouse.
1896 – The 2-story “Addition” is built onto the existing Dungeness Mansion raising the total to 59 rooms. New construction and modifications to the house include extensive porches and 2nd story and tower balconies. The new dining room in the Addition features a parquet floor and paneling made from the century old olive trees first planted by the Greenes. Another new feature built into Dungeness at this time is a water-powered elevator, which is supplied by a 10,000 gallon elevated water tank and runs from the basement to the 1st and 2nd floors.
1896 – Carnegie pool house built next to Dungeness. The “Casino” is 150 feet long with turrets and a cedar shingle roof. Inside it has a heated 75 by 25 foot wide swimming pool, steam room, bathes, recreation room, barber shop, gunroom, a gymnasium, a billiard room, 4 upstairs bedrooms, a squash court and a doctor’s office. It would often serve as a bachelors’ house where the men folk would smoke cigars and play cards.
1898 – Lucy has the Plum Orchard mansion built for son, George Lauder Carnegie and wife Margaret Thaw as a wedding present. It was characterized at the time as a “cottage” for the newlyweds costing just $10,000 to build.
September 14, 1899 – Lucy Ricketson is born in New York City. Her parents bring her to Cumberland for the first time just six weeks later.
~1900 – Greyfield House construction begins for Miss Lucy’s daughter, Margaret “Retta” Carnegie and her husband Oliver Garrison Ricketson. Oliver handpicks the deepwater site, known as Grey’s Fields, so he would have a place to tie up his seventy-foot schooner.
1900 – Lucy Carnegie now owns more than 16,000 acres on Cumberland, all but 2,000 acres on the North End (whose families refuse to sell.) Dungeness is in its prime for next 30 years. Most Dungeness support structures are either complete or soon to be completed. Outbuildings include a coal fired electric plant, bakery, greenhouses, stables, a dairy, a 200 pound a day ice making facility, workers’ dormitories and dining buildings. Some 300 employees now serve the Carnegies and maintain the island. Salaries are $1.00 a day for the white workers and 50 cents a day for the black employees.
January 1901 – Stafford Place burns. In its place, Lucy has the two-story Mediterranean style Stafford House built.
1901 – Will Carnegie, managing Stafford Farm, purchases a steamroller and creates a nine hole “golf link” on the old cotton fields, including a clubhouse (with well stocked bar), tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool and of course, a real Scottish golf pro. Caddies were summoned with the ringing of a large mounted plantation bell. The present day Stafford airstrip sits on the remains of the golf course.
April 9th, 1901 – Lucy’s seventh (of nine) child, Florence “Floss” Nightingale Carnegie marries Fredrick Perkins on the south terrace of Dungeness.
1902 – Construction of the Grange begins, finishing the following year. Paid for by William Enoch Page (aided by a loan from Miss Lucy) it becomes the home for Page and his new wife, Eleanor Bickford, the society reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Page was originally the tutor for the Carnegie children using the Tabby House as a school. Page is now Miss Lucy’s trusted estate manager. (In Old English grange meant ”the house of the farm-steward.”)
1905 – Wings are added to Plum Orchard, including an indoor squash court and a deep indoor pool. The now 22,000-square-foot mansion boasts 100 plus rooms if you include the multitude of closets.
1913 – After decades of pressure from Virginians, General “Light Horse” Harry Lee’s remains moved to Washington and Lee University Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia and placed beside his son’s grave in the school’s chapel.
January 16, 1916 – Lucy Coleman Carnegie, age 69, dies. Her will establishes the Cumberland Island Trust, which prohibits the selling of even one acre of Island land while any of her children are still alive.
1920 – Cumberland Island Company on north end shuts down the hotel. A group of businessmen buy it, form The Cumberland Island Club and use the property as a hunting lodge.
1920 – Lucy Ricketson marries Robert W. “Bob” Ferguson in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Later they would arrange with the Carnegies’ Trusties to have the use of Greyfield.
April 15, 1925 – The unoccupied Dungeness is cleaned up and reopened for the marriage of Nancy Carnegie to James “Rocky” Rockefeller (grand nephew of oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller.) After this, Dungeness, too costly to maintain, is left vacant. Later, family members remove the furniture, marble washstands, statuary, and even the fireplace mantles to their own homes on the island. The Chinese gong that Miss Lucy used to call family and guests to dinner with is taken to Greyfield. One member of the family even rips out the olivewood parquet floors and paneling and uses it on a boat he is building that he later sails to the South Pacific.
1930 – Howard Candler Sr. (who purchased the rights and secret formula to Coca-Cola from the inventor) and son buy the Cumberland Island Club property at High Point.
1937 – First African Baptist Church is replaced by current structure.
1949 – The Cottage is destroyed by fire. The much smaller brick house, the currently standing Cottage, is built around this time.
1955 – A study by the U.S. National Park Service ranks Cumberland Island 2nd only to Cape Cod as places of unblemished national significance along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
1955 to 1957 – Cash strapped and getting desperate, several Carnegie descendants negotiate with mining and paint companies to strip mine the island for titanium. Litigation brought by another heir, Nancy Carnegie Rockefeller, goes all the way up to the Georgia Supreme Court and ends the proposal. Also in this timeframe and up to 1972, the State of Georgia and Camden County make several attempts, most of them backroom and underhanded, to seize the island for full development. This causes distrust and hostility of the heirs towards the state and county that lasts to this day. Thus the Greyfield Inn’s business headquarters and boat service is in Florida on Amelia Island and not in Saint Marys.
1956 – Construction of an Army Marine Terminal (Ammunition Depot) begins across Cumberland Sound from the island. Completed in 1958 at a cost of $21 million dollars, it was used only twice, during The Cuban Missile Crisis as a staging area for troops in the proposed invasion of Cuba and as a shelter for locals in 1964 during Hurricane Dora.
May 6, 1959 – Carnegie overseer J. B. Peoples shoots at deer poachers on the Island near Old House Creek. The men escape and one ends up in the hospital on Amelia Island with seven buckshot wounds. Eight days later, and coincidently, after the poacher gets out of the hospital, the Dungeness yacht is found adrift and sinking. Later, on 24 June, the Dungeness mansion is set afire and completely burns to the ground. Although the F.B.I. investigates, no direct evidence is ever found, nor are any charges filed.
1962 – The last of Miss Lucy’s children, “Floss” Nightingale Carnegie Perkins dies, breaking the trust. The Island is divided up among the 5 “clans” of heirs. Each clan gets two parcels of land, one in the proposed mining area to the north and one in the middle or south end where each had a mansion or house.
1965 – Short on money to maintain the Greyfield Estate, Lucy and Bob Ferguson open the main house as an inn. The room rate was $35 dollars a day. Today, a room costs $395 to $595 per night with a two-night minimum. (Alcohol and the 18% tax are extra. Dinner jacket required.)
1968 – Two of the Carnegie heirs sell their shares of the island, almost thirty-one hundred acres to Charles Fraser, the developer of Hilton Head Island, for $1.5 million. ($483 an acre) Fraser now owns 1/5th of island and intends to eventually own it all. He plans a resort/wilderness park with hundreds of houses, golf courses, airports, stores and an aerial tram system to and from the mainland. Using bulldozers, he clears land for an airport at the north end and a construction camp near the south end, now the site of Seacamp. (Fraser’s old island headquarters is the present Seacamp welcome center.) The remaining Carnegie heirs, who treasure the island as they grew up on it, are getting desperate to prevent Frasier’s plans.
Early 1970 – Hoping to cash in on Frasier’s development, the Okefenokee Rural Electric Company runs electricity to Cumberland.
1970 – The Andrew Mellon Foundation, working with The National Parks Foundation, purchases 8,300 acres of Cumberland to be held in trust for a proposed National Seashore. Spending $7.5 million, the average price for the land was about $900 an acre.
October 23 1972 – After years of Carnegie heirs negotiating with the United States Government, President Nixon establishes Cumberland Island National Seashore. As part of the deal that donates or sells Carnegie land to the Park Service, George and Margaret Carnegie’s daughter, Nancy, donate Plum Orchard to the Park Service. The Park would open to limited camping two years later. The Park Service rolls the vintage Carnegie cars out of the carriage house and leaves them out in the open to make room for their equipment where the now rusted hulks of the cars remain to this day. The National Park Service continues to try to buy up all remaining private property on the Island.
1973 – Being excellent swimmers, armadillos paddle over to Cumberland from the mainland and make their first appearance on the island. In ‘74 they extend their range with a short swim to Little Cumberland.
June 5 1975 – The first 37 visitors to the Park take the $1 boat ride to the island. 3,500 people visit Cumberland in its first three months of being open. The original master plan for the island included the park headquarters at present day Cabin Bluff, twelve 100 person ferries, conference and study centers, horse, bicycle and camping concessions, bathhouses, and beach refreshment stands all able to support a capacity of 10,000 people a day.
1976 – The old Army Marine Terminal at Kings Bay across from Cumberland Island is selected as the site of a new Navy Submarine Base. Coincidently this decision is made shortly after Georgian Jimmy Carter becomes President. Additionally, President Carter, along with powerful Georgian U.S. Senator Sam Nunn plan on using the Island for a Southern White House during Carter’s second term which he later doesn’t win.
April 1980 – Carol Ruckdeschel, an eccentric biologist and naturalist famous for collecting, preserving (and possibly eating) road-kill, beach-kill, and any other kind of dead animals, shotguns her drunk boyfriend through the locked door of her shack in The Settlement as she and a “wandering” male hiker huddle inside. No charges are filed after a 30-minute hearing the next day on the mainland. Local folklore has it that when a close friend of the dead boyfriend independently investigates the shooting, he dies in a car accident after his brake lines are cut as he leaves Saint Marys.
July 1981 – A lightning strike on the North End sparks a seventeen hundred acre wildfire.
1982 – The Candler family sells 2,190 acres of their High Point property To the National Park Service for $9.6 million. ($4,383 an acre)
September 1982 – The U.S. Congress passes the Wilderness Act of 1982 that establishes 8,840 acres of Cumberland as protected and are now included in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Another 11,718 acres are designated as “potential wilderness,” with the long-term intent that these additional lands will, one day, also be protected. (Wilderness System areas are subject to specific management restrictions; human activities are restricted to non-motorized recreation (such as backpacking, fishing, horseback riding, etc.), scientific research, and other non-invasive activities. In general, the law prohibits logging, mining, roads, mechanized vehicles (including bicycles) and other forms of development.) The Wilderness Lands of Cumberland are unique due to the pre-existing roads and buildings that are now within the Wilderness Boundaries.
1986 – The United Nations designates Cumberland Island as a U. N. International Biosphere Reserve.
January 1989 – The USS Tennessee, a 560-foot long Trident II submarine, arrives at its new homeport of Kings Bay. Due to the large commercial impact of the subase on Camden County, pressure for the county to exploit Cumberland Island has largely passed. Decades of state and county plans for a bridge to the Island finally die due to the positive economic impact of the base and the Navy’s refusal to allow a bridge to interfere with the navigation of the submarines.
September 11, 1989 – Three days short of her ninetieth birthday, Lucy Ferguson, after finishing a bowl of ice cream, announces,” I am going to die.” A few hours later, she passes away in her sleep.
September 21 1996 – The secret wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Besset in the First African Baptist Church. With the bride and groom running late in reaching the church and past sunset, only a single candle is allowed in the historic wooden structure. The Greyfield Inn hosts the 60-person reception. The honeymoon night is spent on the Kennedy family yacht Honey Fitz anchored off shore. With no prior notice of the wedding, reporters are not allowed on the island because they couldn’t get overnight camping reservations.
1997 – The Greyfield heirs sell a portion of the estate to the Park Service via The Nature Conservatory of Georgia. The eleven hundred acres sell for $19 million dollars. ($17,272 an acre)
1997 – Mystery writer Nevada Barr writes bestselling who-done-it, “Endangered Species”, set exclusively on Cumberland Island. The murderous villain of the book is an eccentric, slightly mad female biologist famous for collecting dead animals, preserving them and even possibly eating them as well as having male companions mysteriously die off. Not surprisingly, Carol Ruckdeschel sues for defamation. After the book’s publisher threatens to re-open the investigation into the questionable shotgun death of Carol’s first endangered lover, an agreement is worked out that all future editions of the book will have the gender of the murderer changed.
2000 – By this time there are still twenty-one retained rights properties on the Island These are land owners who have sold their property to the Federal Government but have the “right” to occupy, but not improve their properties, until a specific date or death of the owner or owner’s children. Several will expire in 2010, like The Grange, and some, if not all, of the occupants are planning on fighting any evictions. Carol and the Candler family at High Point are two of the more famous retained rights islanders. A few other property owners, like the Fergusons at Greyfield, never sold their land to the National Park Service and are called in-holders and have no obligation to ever leave their land (and could even develop it.)
November 2002 – First ever camping trip of the future-to-be-named SJOF. Possible sighting of bob-coon. Jim has near heart attack when a twig gets broken (but gets very lucky later on.) Chili rules. Jay attacked by crazed picnic table but toughs out broken ribs and a bruised spleen and paddles off of the island the next day. Will not be Jay’s last brush with injury and death on the island.
Fall 2003 – Carol Ruckdechel’s present male companion dies under strange and suspicious circumstances in her shack and “museum” at the Settlement. No investigation is even contemplated.
November 2003 – Un-named camping group trip to Island. Hammocks first sighted in campsite. Jay actually set on fire one night on this trip. Infamous midnight bike vs. tent incident also occurs. Trish McMillion vows never to camp with us EVER again. Both sides very happy with this result.
November 2004 – Still un-named camping group trip to Cumberland. Amazing endurance bike trip up the beach to Plum Orchard and back along Main Road. More importantly, the incredibly foolhardy fuel in the bamboo trick is performed, explosively. Jay nearly set on fire again and in the resulting hour long laughing bout, first the web site than the actual name, SET JAY ON FIRE, are created.
December 2004 – Federal Legislation signed into law that historically rearranges Island’s Wilderness Areas removing the Main Road from the Wilderness Area, adding other acreage to the Wilderness area on the south side of the island as well as mandating 5 to 8 daily vehicle tours a day to the north end of island. (It would be Summer 2011 before these trips will begin.)
Fall 2005 – The SJOF trip that never was as trip is cancelled at the last moment. Will there ever be another one? Faith in the Firewood Bitch collapses.
2006 – Multi-year multi-million dollar restoration of the Plum Orchard Mansion is begun by the National Park Service.
December 2006 – Small group of SJOF members dare to trust the Firewood Bitch and venture out to Island. The Great Trip of Doing Nothing – but doing it spectacularly. Beads make their first appearance.
March 2007 – Coastal Living Magazine rates Cumberland Island # 7 on its list of the ten best beaches for hunting seashells.
August 2007 – The Travel Channel picks Cumberland as the Best Wilderness Beach in the USA.
December 2007 – Incredible event packed SJOF trip to Island. Highlights include first ever SJOF Island road trip to north end of the island with tours of High Point, the First African Baptist Church and The Settlement Cemetery. SJOF members visit with Carol Ruckdechel and tour her “museum” of preserved animals in jars and bleached bones. Tradition of fire breathing flaming toasts begins when Jim forgetfully leaves a bottle of 100 plus proof Ouzo behind.
2008 – The Camden County Sheriff gets in hot water for helping a retained rights landowner improve his property and build on it. The Sheriff even illegally uses convict labor and Sheriff’s boats to do the work on Ben Jenkins’ property. Far from the only controversy involving the Sheriff, he gets voted out of office (after his family holding the position for many decades) and a Federal Grand Jury is investigating. The National Park Service fires the Park Superintendant over the incident.
Spring 2008 – $1.2 million National Park Service stabilization project to save the Dungeness ruins. Massive undergrowth removed as well as the installation of huge I-beam structural stabilizers throughout the ruins.
May 2008 – A lighting strike north of Stafford ignites a fire on the east side of Cumberland. From 15 acres the fire expands northwards and eventually burns more than 1600 acres dominating the middle and north end of island which the Park Service closes to campers for the duration. No lives or significant structures are lost before heavy rains put out the fires in July.
Late Summer 2008 – SJOF debuts own clothing line. Paris and Milan fashion houses tremble. Bravo Television Channel opens negotiations about new cable TV show.
November 2008 – Fantastic SJOF trip to Seacamp with unbelievably great weather. Majority of daylight each day spent on the beach. Other highlights include lobster and king crab for dinner, an espresso bar with Barista Jeff, a horse attempting to crap on Pete’s tent, midnight beach Frisbee and, surprisingly enough, some major campfire flare-ups. On the downside, Jay was exiled from the island for this trip and Jeff is unsuccessful at brazen attempt at grabbing attention by trying to cutoff one finger.
March 2009 – The mothers of two 16-year-old boys who drowned at the Seacamp beach in June 2006 announced a 16 million dollar lawsuit against the National Park Service for negligence and wants compensation for their tragic loss as well as future earning of the boys. The boys who were “strong swimmers” allegedly were pulled to their deaths by a strong undertow from less than chest deep water. Neither people even further out in the water than they, nor the two families were able to save the two boys and their bodies were found in less than an hour further down the beach in two feet of water.
June 2009 – Now 5 years after Congress passed a law altering the Wilderness Areas on Cumberland and dictating vehicle tours on the island the Environmental Impact Study for the tours was finally approved. Mandating 5 to 8 tours a day of up to 30 people each in three vehicles as well as handicapped tours of the south side of the island there is still no actual plan or money to start the tours.
July 2009 – Men’s Journal magazine names Cumberland Island’s beaches as the best secluded in the Southeast. Highlighting the desolate and deserted Long Point on the extreme northeast end of the island one wonders what the men in Men’s Journal are doing up there. SJOF members may refer to the island as Fire Island but that’s for a totally different reason.
September 2009 – The U.S. Mint announces a new series of state quarters featuring one park from each state to begin being issued in 2010. Georgia has selected Cumberland Island and its coin will be released in 2018. SJOF design inputs can be submitted to the Mint.
November 2009 – Annual SJOF invasion of Seacamp. Jeff sells his soul to the devil for good, dry weather (which he gets) but forgets to ask the Lord of the Underworld about H1N1 which he also promptly gets and nicely shares with several other members of our group. Jay returns to the island after a one-year banishment but then gets all snippy about the Firewood Bitch wanting to test multiple pyrotechnic devices inches from his tent. Jeff and Kathryn continue to spread their hammock cult to new levels and Jay introduces a morning bagel bar. Not surprisingly, other highlights include more great food, kites, really big flames as well as midget invasions, less than abled invasions; a sand tank and some really pretty lights up in the sky Saturday night on the beach.
December 2009 – The National Park Service begins meetings to best formulate a plan on what to do with the first of the retained rights properties that will revert to the Park Service starting in late 2010. Seven individual leases totaling about 50 acres including the 7,000 square foot home called the Grange are supposed to be turned over to the Park. The current residents of the Grange come up with a not too surprising plan in which they get to keep the property and look out for it.
Early March 2010 – A private plane takes off from just north of Cumberland Island so the several occupants can view and photograph the sunset over Cumberland for some excitement. Much more thrilling, the light aircraft suffers a complete engine failure, the prop stops turning, hydraulics malfunction and the pilot ends up making a very good wheels up landing on the beach north of the Greyfield Beach House.
Winter/Spring 2010 – Ben Jenkins continues his fight to build on his retained rights property (which actually belongs to the National Park Service, bought and paid for decades ago.) He insists he has a right to continue building as well as the fact that he will give up the property in October as per his Park Service agreement. Jenkins loses in Federal Court and strangely enough, files an appeal with the very same Federal Judge who ruled against him. He continues to build on the property and is found guilty of criminal contempt. In ill health, he remains out of jail and dies in St Marys on June 2.
July 2010 – In a secret location far removed from the Island, unspeakable experiments in culinary exploration begin. The need for more fire is realized. Phase two testing on humans begins.
August 2010 – Lighting ignites a deep, slow burning wildfire on the Island in the wilderness area. Two weeks later, crews from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee finally put out the 50-acre burn.
Early October 2010 – Seven retained rights properties start the turnover process to the National Park Service. On October 8th, the private rights to the 7.5-acre tract at Old House Creek “owned” by the late Ben Jenkins expired. The 6 plus acre Goodsell tract, located north of Greyfield and west of the Main Road expires in November. Virtually next door to it, the Phillips’ .38 acre property with a 1,200 square foot home expired September 29th but he was granted a 60 day extension to vacate because he wasn’t “ready” to move when the day he had known was coming since 1970 actually arrived. The Grange, a 5-acre estate with a 7,000 square foot home, a boathouse with a dock on Beach Creek expires on December 15th. Also expiring on the 15th, the Nancy’s Fancy tract, a 9.9-acre property with an elevated beach house 250 yards from the beach located between Stafford and Little Greyfield. Later, in May 2011, the 20-acre wilderness area Toonahowie tract on Mumford Creek with elevated house and deepwater dock expires. The 1-acre Stafford Beach House property actually expired in September 2010 and has been vacant since then. Its three wooden buildings that are connected by a multi-level wood deck may be added to the National Register of Historic Places. When all is said and done, the Park Service will gain 49.27 acres, 5 modern houses, 2 historic structures as well as two docks. Proposed uses for the land are still up in the air. Options include historic leases to the highest bidders, Park Service offices or housing, rentals and also bulldozing the structures. Other “Life Estates” are not affected at this time nor are the in-holder estates who never sold to the Park Service and will never have to move.
18 October 2010 – The 1,200 square foot “Mole’s End” House, part of the Greyfield Estate, and less than a quarter mile from the Inn, burns to the ground this afternoon before firefighters from the mainland can arrive. Island volunteer firefighters keep the flames from starting a forest fire in the tinder dry drought conditions.
November 2010 – SJOF Trip #9 to Cumberland Island. A trip that really personified the inner meaning of our little cult. With 6 newbies, the largest overall group ever, a new campsite, and with weather that started out steamy, than torrential and finally just a bit frosty and windy for Friday and Saturday, things could have gone badly. Instead they went fabulously. Brilliant improvisations by Jeff and others on Thursday dealt with the strange weather by opening the bar early to fight off the rain, switching the best low country boil ever to opening night, and let’s not forget, you can never have enough tarps. Tons of dry firewood dealt with the cold as well as the usual fire mayhem. Experiments in hammocks as well as attacks on unsuspecting hammockers continued throughout the weekend. Chairs broke, objects flew, a skull laughed (then burned), backs healed, raccoons attacked, bagels baked, BAC’s rose, flamingo toured, obnoxious midgets screamed, firewood hunter rescued, carcasses desired and denied, strange lights in the sky, you know, the usual. Special kudos to Jeff for his unbelievable Friday night paella, Jay for his masterful turkey’s on Saturday, and special deserts by Kathryn, Bonnie and Bobbie. (FYI: The paella was the stunning result of more than six months of planning and human testing.)
December 2010 – End of the year visitation numbers released for the National Seashore detailing 42,087 people exploring the island either as day visitors or as overnight campers. This averages out to just over 115 people a day. (2009 had 40,382.) Limited vehicle shuttles for the less than abled in the Seacamp – Dungeness areas have begun.
Winter 2011 – The National Park Service installs six solar powered lights on docks at the Island and the mainland welcome center as a way to reduce the island’s carbon footprint and as an attempt to compensate for those curious spikes in that very same carbon footprint every November.
April 2011 – Prince William marries Catherine Middleton and become the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Unknown to all but a select few, Cambridge was their second choice, since as it turns out, Cumberland isn’t British territory anymore.
June 2011 – Shermans Travel, LLC names The Willow Pond Trail on Cumberland Island as the second best of the Top Ten National Park Hikes. The trail is about 5.5 miles north of Seacamp with 3 miles in the pond hike itself.
August 2011 – The National Park Service starts the long delayed, and somewhat waited upon, motorized tours of the north end of the island. There will be two of the “Land and Legacy” tours on each weekday and three on weekends and holidays. The ~ six hour “arduous” tours will start at Seacamp, travel up the dirt Main Road to the Plum Orchard Mansion and on to The Settlement and First African Baptist Church before returning.
August 2011 – The National Park Service released details of the proposed plans for the expired retained rights properties that have reverted to park property. The long embattled Schwartz-Jenkins tract with two houses, The Nancy’s Fancy beach house, and the Toonahowie four bedroom house were all evaluated as of having no historic significance and would be torn down. The 7,000 square foot Grange will be opened to visitors in some capacity as an island education center. The Phillips home, Goodsell home and the Stafford Beach house would be rented to Park staff that are required to live on the island or used as visitor/volunteer housing. In the public comment hearings concerns were raised on how the Park Service will pay for upkeep on the properties, especially the Grange, the possibility of using the demolished sites (with their existing plumbing and power) as new campsites, as well as more lobbying by the former owners of The Grange to establish a histories lease that would allow them to stay.
Summer 2011 – SJOF rookie Jen Koerner writes a beautiful and moving article about Cumberland Island for a local magazine. She waxes long about the serenity and ease of the island. Other SJOF members are left wondering why she left out fires, drinking and random explosions.
November 2011 – Big, brash and bold, the Tenth Anniversary SJOF invasion of Cumberland lands for a celebration of the island, fire, food, and of course, zombies. And what would a Tenth Anniversary trip be without setting Jay on fire? And wouldn’t you just know it, symmetrically, it was his feet (again) that were stumped and mysteriously aflame (Jeff?). So, and in no particular order, here’s what happened to our 19 adventurers: 3 Jens & 3 Petes on the tenpeat, stealth hotdogs, a bead factory, the return of the oven, a blender unfulfilled, cooks passing out, the intrepid kayakers of Task Force Sitka, the NFL fines Jay for an illegal hit on a tree, bloody marys galore, bloody zombies galore, Jeff’s undead, Frisbees to the beach, Frisbees to the face, the blunderbuss rocks, remember the colander, whipahol, a hair salon, path’s by Bobby, a fire chief, reverse trick or treating with the damn southies, Penelopee the possum, Kevin ejecting from the hanging chair o’ death to evade a snake attack (A rope, hey, it was dark), the ice fairy, Bobby putting the smack down on the men (Jay & Pete) with her mean skills breaking wood and lighting “Frisbees” the dudes couldn’t, cheese steaks and pizzas, little Cindy Lou Who, damn it – the tapas wasn’t burned, a machine gun toting priest, an ungodly amount of firewood burned, late night antics, great friends and a honey badger.
January 2012 – Smoke on the island is spotted from the mainland, alerting Park Officials to a fire North of Willow Pond. Eventually growing to some 45 acres, the so-called Hickory Hill fire primarily burns undergrowth before being contained and dying out. The exact cause was never found but human actions were determined to have caused the fire.
March 2012 – Cumberland Island conducts its annual horse count over two days using 30 plus volunteers and Park Service employees. 136 horses were counted including 111 adults, 22 yearlings and 3 foals. Since 1981, and the start of the counts, the population has stayed relatively constant between 120 and 140 horses.
Late May 2012 – Tropical Storm Beryl lashes the island causing Park Officials to close it until June 2nd. Dangerous conditions and numerous downed trees and other damage to campsites and trails forces the closure.
Late May 2012 – Tropical Storm Beryl also impacts Cumberland wildlife with the flooding of 56 of the 133 turtle nests on the island at this point. Flooded nests normally produce no hatchlings.
July 2012 – Food and Wine Magazine features Chef Linton Hopkins and his family’s July 4th Southern Style feast at the Greyfield Inn.
Early August 2012 – The Nation Park Service ok’s the Cumberland Island plan to tear down four previously designated retained rights properties and turn three others into staff and volunteer housing. The Grange will be maintained as a visitor center. No money however is budgeted at this time.
August 2012 – Even with many early nests lost due to Tropical Storm Beryl. Cumberland Island is experiencing a record year for turtle nest with 645 recorded so far. (300 to 400 nests are normal.) The Island is also the only Georgia location noted this year for leatherneck turtle nests of which a few are scattered among the loggerhead sites. Incubation periods on Cumberland average around 54 days.
August 2012 – The Land and Legacies van tours on the Island complete their first year with 3,925 people taking the 6+ hour, $15 dollar trip to Plum Orchid and the North end of the island. Still evolving, the program is not yet paying for itself. (Tickets would have to be around $70 to do that.)
October 23 2012 – Cumberland Island celebrates its 40th year as a National Seashore.