By Margaret Davis Cate
The story of Gascoigne Bluff is the story
of the area. In no other small tract of land can one find so many traces
of all the epochs that make up the history of coastal Georgia. From the
days of Indian occupation, through Oglethorpe’s military era,
plantation days, Civil War, lumber mills, and on to present-day life,
Gascoigne Bluff has played an important part.
Located on a bend in the Inland Waterway,
Frederica River, this bluff, about a mile long, offered vessels the first
landing place after they entered the harbor. Throughout the changing
scenes it has been the gateway to St. Simons Island.
The many refuse piles, or kitchen
middens, left here by the Indians, attest the popularity of this site
when the Indians roamed these lands unmolested. These were of Muskhogean
stock and the Spaniards called them Guale Indians, while to the English
they were known as the Creeks.
France, Spain, and England laid claim to
this territory, with France the first to attempt colonization. In 1562
French Huguenots, led by Ribaut, settled Port Royal in what is now
South Carolina, a settlement which was soon abandoned. Two years later
another settlement, led by Laudonniere, was made on the south bank
of the St. Johns River in Florida and called Fort Caroline.
These settlements aroused Spain who sent
her ablest seaman, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, to rout the French and
hold the lands. Menendez founded St. Augustine in 1565 and
destroyed the French, the following year exploring the coast of Georgia
and of South Carolina. He brought Jesuit priests to found missions among
the Indians; later, the Jesuits were replaced by the Franciscans. Three of
these mission settlements were located on St. Simons Island, one of
them—San Simon—giving the island its name. British raids brought an end to
these missions and in 1686 Spain withdrew all of her settlements north of
the St. Marys River. With Charles Town, South Carolina, as Britain’s most
southern settlement and with the Spaniards south of the St. Marys River,
the area which is now Georgia was an abandoned land and for half a century
it remained so.
The founding of the Colony of Georgia in
1733 was Britain’s challenge to Spain’s claim to this land and the
building of Fort Frederica (1736) and Fort St. Simons (1738) on St. Simons
and Island and Fort St. Andrews and Fort William on Cumberland Island gave
proof that the British planned to make their claim hold. A regiment of
British soldiers brought over in 1738 manned these fortifications and Fort
Frederica became the headquarters of this Southern Frontier for all of
Britain’s provinces in North America.
The settlers who founded Frederica set sail
from England in the fall of 1735 in two vessels, Symond and
London Merchant, and were convoyed by the British sloop-of-war Hawk,
commanded by Captain James Gascoigne. This was known as ‘The Great
Embarkation,’ being the largest group of settlers ever to leave the shores
of the Mother Country for the purpose of settling in the Colony of
Georgia. These vessels brought the men, women, and children of the forty
families who were Frederica’s first settlers; and, in addition, were
colonists who went to Savannah, a group of Salzburgers who went to
Ebenezer, and a number of Moravians who joined their brethren at Irene.
It was on this voyage that John and
Charles Wesley, with two of their followers—Charles Delamotte
and Benjamin Ingham—came to Georgia. John Wesley had charge
of the religious affairs of the Colony and remained in Georgia for a year
and nine months. During this time he made five trips to Frederica and
spent many weeks there. Charles Wesley was stationed at Frederica
for three months, serving as secretary to Oglethorpe and as
minister for the Frederica settlement.
Captain Gascoigne established his
headquarters at the bluff which bears his name. He was granted five
hundred acres of land where he established a plantation and built for
himself ‘a convenient house’ and many other buildings. In addition,
Oglethorpe built a storehouse at Gascoigne Bluff which was used for
public stores. Hawk, a twenty-gun ship, with a crew of seventy men,
as well as its tender, Ranger, and other vessels, were stationed
here for the protection of the coast of Georgia. In addition to his duty
of protecting the coast, Gascoigne was directed to survey the coast and
harbors and chart the area for the British Admiralty, this being the first
such survey ever made of this coast.
War was declared in 1739. With his
regiment, a South Carolina regiment, Darien Highlanders, Rangers, boatmen,
and Indian allies, Oglethorpe invaded Spanish Florida but failed to
capture St. Augustine.
In 1742 Spain assembled a great fleet of
fifty-one vessels with three thousand men and sailed against Georgia. They
entered St. Simons Sound 5 July, where ‘the great guns’ of Fort St. Simons
failed to prevent their sailing by. The Spaniards landed at Gascoigne
Bluff and burned the buildings and stores. Oglethorpe abandoned
Fort St. Simons and concentrated his entire force at Fort Frederica. The
Spaniards took possession of Fort St. Simons, making it their
headquarters. On the afternoon of 7 July the engagement between these
forces, known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, proved to be a decisive
victory for the British. The Spanish forces hastily withdrew and never
again did Spain attempt to regain control of this area. This was the
turning point in the struggle between Spain and Britain for control of
this southeastern section of our country. It was part of the struggle
generally known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear, which was ended in 1748 by the
Treaty of Aik-la-Chapelle. In 1749 Oglethorpe’s regiment of British
soldiers was disbanded and St. Simons was practically abandoned. It was
not until after the Revolutionary War that settlers came again in
Live oak timbers for the building of the
U.S. Frigate Constitution, better known as ‘Old Ironsides,’ and the
others that made up the first vessels of the United States Navy, were cut
on St. Simons Island and loaded at Gascoigne Bluff for shipment to various
ports where the vessels were built.
Following the invention of the cotton gin,
great plantations were developed on St. Simons. Their staple crop was sea
island cotton. In 1786 this variety of cotton had been sent from the
Island of Anguilla by Colonel Roger Kelsall to his friend James
Spalding at Retreat Plantation, now the site of the Sea Island Golf
Course. For many years it was known as Anguilla cotton and its long silky
fibers commanded top prices.
Soon after the Revolutionary War Gascoigne
Bluff became the property of Alexander Bissett, one of the first to
plant and export Anguilla cotton. After Bissett’s death this area
became the property of Richard Leake, afterward coming into the
possession of James Hamilton.
James Hamilton and John Couper
came to Georgia from Scotland about the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
For some years they had business interests in Savannah and at Sunbury
before moving to St. Simons. Mr. Couper established his plantation
home at Cannon’s Point. Mr. Hamilton made his home at Gascoigne
Bluff in a spacious tabby house which stood just south of the large tabby
Mr. Hamilton accumulated vast
holdings in this section and in Philadelphia. His home in Philadelphia, at
260 Walnut Street, was one of the finest of its day. He died there in 1829
and was rated as one of the few millionaires of the country.
After Mr. Hamilton’s removal to
Philadelphia, Hamilton Plantation was managed by Captain John Fraser,
who had been an officer in the British Marines attached to Admiral
Cockburn’s fleet which operated in this area in the War of 1812.
During this time he became acquainted with St. Simons’s Island residents,
who regarded him very highly. At the close of the war he returned to St
Simons and married Ann Sarah Couper, eldest child of John Couper
and his wife Rebecca (Maxwell) Couper, of Cannon’s Point.
During their residence here the Frasers
entertained Fanny Kemble, noted English actress and wife of
Pierce Butler of Butler Point Plantation. She described Hamilton as
‘by far the finest estate on St. Simons.’
After the death of Captain Fraser in
1839, the plantation was managed by William Audley Couper, son of
John Couper. During their stay here the Frasers and
Coupers occupied the old Hamilton residence. This house was
burned about 1890, being occupied by Rev. D. Watson Winn, Rector of
Christ Church, Frederica, St. Simons Island, and Archdeacon and Mrs.
Winn at the time of its burning. Some of the tabby walls stood until
1927 when they were torn down.
Additional prominence was given this site
in the 1850’s when several of the plantation owners built a wharf here so
that they could more easily load their cotton for shipment. This wharf
became the scene of a terrible tragedy in 1852. Magnolia, a steamer
that made regular trips on the Inland Waterway, carrying mail, passengers,
and freight, had just finished loading cotton at the wharf and was
preparing to leave when the boiler exploded. The forward part of the boat
was blown up and the vessel sank in less than ten minutes. Nothing was
saved from the wreck. Several were killed by the explosion and more than a
dozen drowned, while scores were badly burned and suffered other injuries.
For care of the injured a temporary
hospital was set up in the large two-story tabby barn of the plantation.
Bales of cotton were used as beds and doctors were brought from Darien and
from Brunswick to care for the wounded, some of whom remained at Hamilton
for weeks. The survivors of Magnolia sent Mr. and Mrs.
Couper a silver pitcher, suitably inscribed, as a token of their
appreciation. This pitcher is now owned by Miss Helen Marshall of
Rome, Georgia, a granddaughter of the Coupers.
The tabby barn which was used as a hospital
on this occasion is still standing, as are several of the slave cabins of
James Hamilton’s daughter, Agnes
Rebecca, married Francis P. Corbin of Virginia. The Corbins
with their three children, lived in Paris, where the daughters married
into the French nobility. Though they lived abroad the Corbins
considered themselves citizens of the State of Georgia and when their
State cast her lot with the Confederate States of America, the son,
Richard W. Corbin, found he could not be content, ‘in these stern
times, with a horizon bounded by the Bois de Boulogne and the Jockey
Club,’ but felt that he must ‘act as it becomes a man who wishes to earn
the respect of his countrymen’ and offer his services to his country. He
succeeded in slipping into the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, on a
blockade runner, made his way to Virginia and became an aide on General
Field’s staff of General Longstreet’s Corps, in which office he
gave devoted service to the Confederacy. With Lee’s surrender he
returned to his family in France, secure in the knowledge that he had not
been found wanting when duty called.
During the Civil War Gascoigne Bluff, with
its excellent facilities for vessels, became headquarters for vessels of
the United States Navy. Here they had a coaling wharf and other
conveniences and maintained contact with the vessels, as well as the
forces of the United States Army who occupied the area.
This coaling wharf was the prime target of
a raid by a small band of Confederate soldiers when Captain William
Miles Hazzard, with nine men [Asa Alexander Burney, William
Campbell, William duBignon, Adam E. Foreman, T.E. Hazzard, James Harris,
Frank Higginbotham, Hardee M. Stafford, and J.W. Taylor],
burned the coaling wharf and damaged other Federal installations here even
though St. Simons Island and the surrounding waters were occupied by Union
forces. So successful were Captain Hazzard and his soldiers in
accomplishing their objectives, in spite of overwhelming odds, that they
were cited for bravery.
When the War was over, most of the owners,
as well as their former slaves, returned to the plantations. They had no
other place to go and it was hard for them—both master and freedman—to
realize that their former way of life ha ended and that a new era had been
born. The master had only his land and houses; the Negro had nothing. But
they took up life as they found it and tried to grow crops so that they
might have food, if nothing else. It was a hard life for both.
And then the lumber mills came to Gascoigne
Bluff, brining an opportunity for every man, white or black, to work and
be paid in money—a scarce commodity at that time.
The first of these mills (1874) was owned
and operated by Urbanus Dart, Sr., of Brunswick and his three sons,
Urbanus Dart, Jr., Jacob E. Dart, and William R. Dart. It
occupied the site where the Sea Island Yacht Club stands today and was
known as Gascoigne Mills. This mill cut the timbers used in building the
Brooklyn Bridge. Captain Urbanus Dart, Jr., built a steamboat,
launched here in 1879, which he named Ruby in honor of his
daughter. For many years it carried passengers and freight between
Brunswick and St. Simons Island and was also used as a tug boat.
In 1876 the Dodge, Meigs Co. built a mill
at the upper end of Gascoigne Bluff. The Dodge family identified
with this mill included William Earl Dodge and his three sons,
Anson Green Phelps Dodge, George E. Dodge, and Norman W. Dodge.
Associated with them in the ownership of lands in Middle Georgia (under
the firm name of Georgia Land and Timber Co.) were William Pitt Eastman
and William Chauncey. (The County of Dodge, with the towns of
Eastman and Chauncey and the village of Normandale memorialized these
This company owned three hundred thousand
acres of Georgia land located in Laurens, Montgomery, Telfair, and Pulaski
Counties, lying between the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers and extending to
the junction of these rivers to form the Altamaha. This tract of land,
five hundred square miles in extent, was covered with virgin pine—the
choicest yellow pine—and the St. Simons Mills were built to cut these
timbers into lumber. Hundreds of men were employed to cut the timbers and
seventy-miles of tramways built to haul them to the river. The timbers
were then made into great rafts, with about fifty logs to a raft, and
floated down the Altamaha River to Darien.
These rafts were built with a pointed end,
which formed the bow. This was done with the use of an upright piece of
wood (of oak, gum or hickory) which stood about two or three feet high and
was called the ‘pin.’ To this pin were fastened two long timbers, called
‘boom logs,’ which formed the bow and the outside of the raft. (The nails
and bolts used in these boom logs were the only nails or bolts used in the
raft.) Logs were tightly jammed into the V-shaped bow and the space filled
with more logs until a firm compact raft was formed. Several cross
binders, generally of ash or some other supple wood, were laid across the
logs and fastened to the boom logs to help hold the raft together. Since
the logs floated and were firmly wedged, with luck, the raft would hold
its shape on the long trip down the winding path of the river.
Another upright piece of wood, similar to
the pin in the bow of the raft, was erected in the stern. On each of these
uprights was mounted a long slender piece of pine—fifty to sixty feet
long—dressed to resemble the blade of an oar. These sweep-oars were used
to steer the raft around the bends and curves of the river. With the blade
in the water, a man at the other end of the sweep-oar could walk across
the logs and swing the raft in the proper direction.
A pilot and two helpers made up the crew
for a raft. The pilot called the directions and the crew men—one at the
bow and one at the stern—set the sweeps accordingly.
On the Altamaha River these raft hands did
not use the nautical terms ‘port’ and ‘starboard.’ Instead, they called
the east bank of the river ‘White’ and the west bank ‘Indian’ fro the fact
that as late as the 1830’s white people inhabited the lands to the east,
while the west bank was Indian country.
About midway the raft, boards were laid on
the logs and dirt piled on the boards to provide a place for cooking.
Sometimes during inclement weather a rude shelter was built here to
provide cover for the crew.
A tin coffeepot, an iron skillet (frying
pan), and iron pot were the essential equipment for cooking. Wood for
cooking and for heating in winter was picked up on the river bank.
Groceries were supplied by the owner of the raft and consisted of corn
meal, white bacon, lard, syrup, and coffee, as well as a plug of chewing
As the raft floated down the river all
sorts of animals jumped on board from rabbits, squirrels, bears, painters
(wild cats), and fish to snakes. Each man carried a rifle with which he
could dispatch these. If sufficient food did not hop on board during the
day, when the raft tied up for the night the men fished or went ashore and
found game for the meal.
Generally the rafts traveled only during
the day. However, a skilled pilot, especially when the river was at the
right height, might run on moonlight nights, but this was a risky
practice. If the raft hit a submerged log or other obstruction it might
break up and it was almost impossible to retrieve the logs and rebuild the
raft. (Up and down the river were men who lived by collecting these
During the freshet the river sometimes cut
across high land and made a new path, which was called a ‘suck.’ Rafts
caught in a ‘suck’ generally had to be towed out by a steamboat.
When a raft met a steamboat it was the
steamboat that got out of the way, for the weight of the raft gave it
speed and the steering arrangement was not calculated for delicate
Also, the raft could break up if it was
stopped too suddenly. Each crewman carried a large manila rope—an inch or
more in diameter—with which he would lasso a stump on the banks and slow
the speed until it was safe to bring the raft to a stop.
Sometimes as they neared the end of this
river journey the pressure of the incoming tide was such that it would
seem to push the raft back and then it was necessary to tie up to the bank
until the tide changed, when the raft continued the journey.
In the quiet solitude of the river voices
carried a great distance and the rafts were so numerous that it was
possible to talk with the crew of the raft ahead or the one following. In
this way messages were sent to Darien or the folks back home.
The trip from the upper part of the
Altamaha River covered a distance of about two hundred miles and took
about a week. On either bank of the river the names of the bluffs and
waterways were interesting. On the eastern bank were Hall’s Ferry,
Milligan’s Bluff, English Eddy, Cobb’s Creek, Mann’s Landing, Bell’s
Ferry, Sandy Slough, Hells’ Shoals, Ohoopee Bluff, Stafford’s Ferry,
Stooping Gum Cut, Bug’s Cotton Patch Bluff, Doctor Creek, Kneebuckle
Point, and Fort Barrington Ferry. On the west bank were Red Bluff,
Alligator Creek, Buck Horn Bluff, Tillman’s Ferry, Sister Bluff,
Watermelon Creek, Oglethorpe Bluff, Doctortown, Steamboat Cut, Alex’s
Creek, Sansavilla, and Clark’s Bluff.
Upon arrival at Darien the rafts were
delivered to the log booms where they were stored until needed by the
mills. These booms extended on all sides of the river for a distance of
three miles, though there were none immediately in front of Darien. They
were so close together that a person could walk from one raft to another
for as much as a mile. From these booms the rafts were towed to the mills
on St. Simons by the steam tugs Iris and Passport and placed
in the ‘boom pond’ at the north end of Gascoigne Bluff.
At the end of their river trip the raft
hands were paid off and started the return trip to their homes. They
boarded the steamer Daisy which operated between Darien and
Hammersmith’s Landing located on the south bank of the Altamaha River. At
Hammersmith’s Landing two lines of hacks (operated by B.A. Phillips
and G.S. Washington) offered transportation. If there was no
carriage waiting, they walked to ‘Number One’ [Sterling], which was the
first stop made by the Southern Railway train after it left Brunswick on
its trip to Macon and Atlanta and, so, returned to their homes. (The
Brunswick Advertiser of 18 December 1880 stated fifty-four raft hands
took the train at No. 1 to return to their homes in the Dodge County
area.) Later, the steamer Hessie made daily round trips from
Brunswick to Darien, bringing the raft hands to Brunswick where they
boarded the train.
After several days on the raft with
cooking, and sometimes warming themselves by the blaze of a wood fire,
these men were unclean in appearance, having a week’s growth of beard and
as much soot and smoke!
For ease in carrying, the equipment for
their river trip was fastened to their bodies. The iron skillet and pot
and the tin coffeepot hung on the right side, while the axe or hatchet was
on the left side. The manila rope was wound round the body—over the right
shoulder and under the left arm—so that the man’s head and one shoulder
protruded from the coil much as a musician playing a Helicon or a
Sousaphone. His rifle was carried over his left shoulder. As these raft
hands walked, with pots and pans rattling against each other, they were
heard even before they were seen!
About 1890 Captain Francis A. Boyle,
C.S.A., of North Carolina moved to St. Simons Island and built a mill at
Gascoigne Bluff just south of where the present drawbridge touches the
Bluff. This mill was for the cutting of cypress timbers. Coming from North
Carolina with Captain Boyle were his brother-in-law, Robert H.
Everett, and James P. Davenport, who were associated with him
in the operation of the mill. Captain Boyle sold this mill to the
Hilton-Dodge Co. and built another cypress mill on the mainland a few
miles north of Brunswick at a place which is still known as Cypress Mills.
The cypress mill at Gascoigne Bluff burned and the Hilton-Dodge Co. then
bought the Boyle mill on the mainland. (Cypress trees were
girded—cut through the pale sapwood down into the red hear of the
cypress—and left standing for a year ‘to drain themselves of the water
weight’ before they were felled; otherwise cypress would not float.)
Vessels from the ports of our Atlantic
coast, and from Europe as well, lined the wharves at Gascoigne Bluff to
load their cargoes. The Negro stevedores, who handled the lumber and
stowed it in the hold of the vessel, sang as they worked, with the hum of
the saws in the great mill as their accompaniment. These stevedores were
strong, husky men and they handled the large timbers with skill. As the
leader sang a line of the chanty the men joined in the next line and at
the proper time all pulled together in perfect unison. One of the songs
developed here at the Hilton-Dodge mill and still sung by the Negroes of
St. Simons is:
Oh pay me, pay me, Pay me my money
Pay me or go to jail; Oh pay me my money down.
Think I hear my captain say Pay me my money down,
Tomorrow is my sailing day, Oh pay me my money down.
Oh pay me, pay me, Pay me my money down;
Pay me, Mr. Stevedore, Oh pay me my money down.
One o’ these days I’m goin’ away, Pay me my money down,
Won’t be back till Judgment Day, Oh pay me my money down.
Oh pay me, pay me, Pay me my money down,
Pay me or go to jail, Oh pay me my money down.
Wish I wuz Mr. Foster’s son, Pay me my money down,
Stay in de house and drink good rum, Oh pay me my money down.
Sometimes a capable Negro with the proper
enterprise would get a crew of workers and contract the loading of a
vessel, paying his crew and handling the contract with ability. Such a
‘boss man stevedore’ often became well to do and was highly regarded by
the citizens of the community.
In the late afternoons and evenings sailors
of the European vessels came shore and strolled around singing to the
accompaniment of their accordions, harmonicas, and jew’s-harps.
As the vessels which came here for lumber
brought no cargoes they were loaded with rocks for ballast which was
dumped on the marsh lands along Frederica River. (This was the only rock
known to this area.) On the marsh island west of Frederica River and
opposite the upper end of Gascoigne Bluff there is a large deposit of this
ballast rock which came across the ocean and, so, is called ‘Little
Europe.’ On these ballast piles seeds that came with the rock have
sprouted and grown into plants and shrubs that cover the rock pile. Seeds
that have hitchhiked their way to our shores! Some of these, notably the
tamarisk, have spread to other areas and can now be found many miles from
the ballast piles.
This Dodge mill at Gascoigne Bluff was the
third largest lumber mill in our country at that tie and was capable of
handling one hundred twenty-five thousand feet per day. In addition to the
sawmill there was a planing mill and every part of this large
establishment was handled in the most modern manner and with many
labor-saving devices. The engines were fired with dust chains, thus using
the sawdust for fuel. Several miles of railroad track, both surface and
elevated, facilitated the handling of the lumber. Slabs from the logs were
burned and the fire in the slab pit never went out. In addition, the place
was lighted by a large Fuller electric lamp. In 1880 The Brunswick
Advertiser boasted that one thousand persons ‘receive their sustenance
directly or indirectly from St. Simons Mills.’
A post office, known as St. Simons Mills,
was established here 1 March 1876, with William G. Way as the
postmaster. The mail was brought daily from Brunswick, the mail messenger
making the trip in a small row boat from Dart’s Landing at the foot of
Gloucester Street to the Mills. Later, a naphtha launch was used. (The St.
Simons Mills Post Office was continued until 1912, when the present St.
Simons Post Office was established.)
The first telegraph and telephone service
on St. Simons was established here in 1878 and connected the Mills with
Brunswick (which at that time had less than forty telephones), and fro
there with the rest of the country. The first artesian well on St. Simons
was bored here in 1880.
Substantial wooden buildings were erected
for the superintendent of the mill and other executives. In 1880 Norman
W. Dodge built here a house of worship, St. James Chapel.
The two-story tabby barn and several of the
slave cabins of Hamilton Plantation were utilized by the mill. The barn
was used as a commissary, operated by Wright & Gowen Co.; one of the slave
cabins was made into an office for Dr. Alexander Bruce McCaskill,
while another was a school for white children. After a building was built
for school purposes, this cabin was occupied by Captain Page Gray,
who operated a water boat which supplied the sailing vessels with water
for their voyages.
A public wharf, known as Steamboat Landing,
was built where the wharf had been built in plantation days and where the
Marina at Gascoigne Bluff is now located. This was used by vessels that
plied the waters of the Inland Waterway on regular trips from Savannah to
Florida, as well as by boats from Brunswick and Darien.
In time, the Dodge, Meigs Co. acquired the
Dart Mill, which was known as ‘the lower mill,’ and the two cypress mills
built by Captain Boyle. Later, the Dodge, Meigs Co. became the
Hilton-Dodge Lumber Co.
This Hilton family came to America
from England about 1853. The father, Thomas Hilton, with his wife,
Jane Lachlison Hilton, and their six sons, James, Thomas, John,
Robert, Alexander, and Joseph, and one daughter, Ellen,
lived at Darien. As early as 1855 they had a mill at Cat Head Creek,
operated under the firm name of Thomas Hilton & Sons. In 1878 the
Hilton Timber & Lumber Co. was chartered by Thomas Hilton, Jr., Joseph
Hilton, James L. Foster, and Joseph P. Gilson. They had a mill
at ‘Lower Bluff’—below Darien—and two mills on Union Island. When they
absorbed the Dodge interests the firm name was Hilton-Dodge Lumber
The activities of the Mills attracted many
businesses to St. Simons. A Jewish merchant, Robert Levison, moved
there and operated a store on lands near the mill property. He called the
area Levisonville, but the Negroes called it Jewtown, and so
it is still this day, though Levison left St. Simons in 1880.
Just as the Mills attracted business, it
beckoned to those on pleasure bent. Excursions were run from Brunswick and
from Darien bringing spend-the-day visitors. Boat races in Frederica River
and other events were held for their entertainment and the persons living
at the Mills opened their homes to the visitors. Life was pleasant and gay
and, in a manner, reminiscent of plantation days.
In the beginning the steamers that made the
trip from Brunswick to the Mills picked up their passengers from wharves
in the harbor of Brunswick, sailed down the harbor, rounded the peninsula
and came up to the Mills. Soon a shorter route was developed. A boardwalk
one-third mile long was built over the marsh east of Brunswick, starting
at the foot of London Street and extending to a wharf on Clubb Creek, a
short distance south of the present Brunswick Marina. This proved to be
very popular. Here the boats loaded their passengers, sailed down Clubb
Creek to Back River and then up Frederica River to Gascoigne Bluff. Later,
the boardwalk was filled in and a causeway built over the marsh to the
wharf on Clubb Creek. In 1887 Brunswick’s first street railway ran a track
down London Street and over the causeway so that passengers were able to
ride comfortably on a mule-drawn street car right up to the wharf where
they boarded the steamer for St. Simons.
The activities at Gascoigne Bluff made it
the industrial and social center of St. Simons Island. But this could not
last always! Already plans were under way to develop other parts of the
island. A pier was built at the South End in 1887 and the following year
the St. Simons Hotel was opened. This hotel was located on the beach a
short distance west of the present Coast Guard Station and, with its
twenty cottages, offered facilities for three hundred guests. A mule-drawn
street car ran from the pier along Railroad Avenue to the hotel and some
of the activity on St. Simons was shifted to the South End. Finally, when
all the trees on the Dodge lands had been cut, the St. Simons mills ceased
to operate and were dismantled in 1903.
Gone were the bustle and activity of the
mill days—the hum of the saws, the singing of the Negroes. The oaks of the
Bluff and the ballast-lined banks of Frederica River awaited the new
activity which was to come when the causeway linking St. Simons with the
mainland was opened 11 July 1924. Now automobiles brought visitors from
far and near and every part of St. Simons was to feel the impact of this
A strip of land, covered by a dense growth
of live oak and juniper (red cedar), lying along the banks of Frederica
River for about half a mile and extending from the drawbridge to the south
boundary of Epworth By The Sea, has been set aside as a public park.
Located in this Gascoigne Park are two of the old slave cabins of Hamilton
Plantation, which are now used as the home of the Cassina Garden Club.
In 1927, Hamilton Plantation, located at
the upper end of Gascoigne Bluff, was purchased by Mr. and Mrs.
Eugene W. Lewis of Detroit, Michigan, who made it their winter home
and resided in the two-story residence built by the mill.
Plantation days had come again to Hamilton.
The entertainment of guests, including such personages as the Henry
Fords; the care and attention given to the development of a beautiful
garden; the farming operations—all were reminiscent of bygone days.
In 1949 the South Georgia Conference of the
Methodist Church purchased a part of the lands of Hamilton Plantation and
made it into a conference ground, known as Epworth By The Sea.
Several of the old buildings of the
plantation era are still in use at Epworth. The two-story tabby cotton
barn of Hamilton is being utilized in the dining room accommodations. The
slave cabin which was the doctor’s office at the St. Simons Mills is used
The school building, built in 1884, is
designated as the residence for the minister in charge of Epworth. The St.
Simons Mills office has been moved to a new location and is sued as a
guest house, while the two-story house, used as a residence by Mr.
and Mrs. Eugene W. Lewis, is known as the Susannah Wesley
Memorial and provides living quarters for the staff of Epworth. St.
James Chapel, built by Norman W. Dodge, is now Lovely Lane
Chapel and is used for church services.
In addition to its use as a general
conference ground for this South Georgia area, Epworth has a year-round
program of activities. These include groups of young and adult church
workers and a Camp Meeting. Church meetings bring together leaders of
Methodism fro all over the world. This Methodist Center is also used by
church groups of other religious denominations and by school groups.
For the accommodation of these meetings
ample facilities are provided by the six cottages of Aldersgate Village;
the assembly room and classrooms of the Booth Youth Center; the Francis
Asbury Lodge, with twenty rooms, and the Court, with twenty-four units.
Strickland Memorial Auditorium, with a
seating capacity of twelve hundred, is used for assemblies.
The Arthur James Moore building provides
headquarters for the Center. These include offices for the Bishop and for
the superintendent, together with a library and rooms for the
accommodation of visiting speakers. This building was built by the friends
of Bishop Moore in honor of his life and his work and to
commemorate the realization of his dream of Epworth By The Sea.
North of this conference ground is the
residential area, Epworth Acres, with beautiful modern homes in a
natural setting of pine and live oak trees. Several of these homes are
occupied by retired ministers, where in the quiet, serene atmosphere they
can still labor in the work of their church and live in dignified and
There is little visible evidence of the
many colorful happenings which took place at Gascoigne Bluff. Only the
slave cabins of the plantation era, the several buildings and ballast
rock, with their foreign plants, from the mill days stand as mute
evidence. These were connected with the rise and fall of commerce. The
present use by the Methodists is built on spiritual values and links the
past with the future as a fitting memorial to the great John Wesley.