St. Simons, in Georgia’s Golden Isles, Lets You Explore Treasure Trove of American History

One of the most important historic attractions on St. Simons, Christ Church and cemetery is the link to so many of its key people and events © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

I hadn’t anticipated becoming so entranced by the history of  St. Simons Island, the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles, when I came to experience The King & Prince Resort, which has been attracting guests since 1935. One of Georgia’s barrier islands, St. Simons played a pivotal role in how America’s history unfoldedView slideshow: St. Simons among Georgia’s Golden Isles holds a treasure trove of history

Indeed, the events here figure in to why the British prevailed over the Spanish, and the rest is history.

It is entirely possible to come to the King & Prince resort and enjoy all its amenities, the beach, the championship golf course, perhaps wander over to the Neptune Park Pier and even visit the Lighthouse or explore some of the restaurants and shops around the island, but never realize the intriguing stories that lay underfoot: how James Edward Oglethorpe, who founded the Georgia Colony, set up Fort Frederica here to prevent the Spanish from expanding their colonial hold on the East Coast, how the Wesley Brothers came over at his request and established the Methodist Church in Georgia, how early settlers established plantations, first with indentured servants and soon after with slave labor, how one woman who was witness to the horror of slavery, single-handedly may have turned the tide of the Civil War for the North, and how, during World War II, advanced radar systems were developed here in top secret.

Lighthouse Trolleys Tour

Dick Gardner, our Lighthouse Trolleys guide and driver © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

All of this unfolds for me during the Lighthouse Trolleys Tour – traveling in a a delightful open air old-timey trolley with plastic, roll-down windows for when it rains – which offers the best way to get oriented to the island and its important attractions, so you can go back on your own and appreciate what you see all the more, going back as I did with new appreciation to explore Christ Church, Fort Frederica, the Lighthouse and Museum, particularly.

It is a delightful open air trolley with plastic, roll-down windows for when it rains.

From the King & Prince – itself a historic attraction – Dick Gardner, our Lighthouse Trolleys guide and driver, goes by the US Coast Guard Station, built in 1936 by the WPA. It seems odd – about a block away from the water, but in those days, the station was just 15 yards from the steps to the water. This is because the barrier islands are moving south year after year, he says, (and as the exhibit at the Lighthouse Museum notes, the island is growing because of the soil and silt being deposited from inland rivers).

In colonial times, the coastal area from South Carolina to St Augustine was claimed both by Spain, and the British, so the entire Southeast coast was called “debateable.” Indeed, it was the Spanish who named St Simons – San Simeon.

King George II sent James Edward Oglethorpe to the Georgia colony in 1733. After Oglethorpe laid out the plans for Savannah, he came south to St Simons, and in February 1736, set about to build a fortress, he named Fort Frederica after King George’s son, Frederick (another fort was already named Fort Frederick). He built the Old Military Road that connected to south end (the same road we travel today).

Governor Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo, who established St Augustine, In July 7 1742, commanded 52 war ships, with 3000-5000 men, to invade St. Simons. They landed at the south end of the island and marched up Military Road.

This was Oglethorpe’s worst nightmare. He knew that he could defend the island from the water, but he worried about a ground invasion.

Gardner continues the story as he pulls the trolley into the Bloody Marsh Battle site.

The Spanish knew there were only 750 men at Ft Frederica. Oglethorpe petitioned South Carolina Governor for troops but the SC governor held them back for his own defense.

By now, Oglethorpe had been on St. Simons island for six years. He was confident that no naval power could take the fortress, but he worried about land invasion.

Scouted out where could place defense.

Oglethorpe sent Capt Demere with 200-250 Scottish Highlanders to ambush the Spanish – harass them and delay them as much as possible.

So the Spanish soldiers landed, tired, hungry, and marched straight away through dense woods. They turn into a palmetto thicket and right into the British ambush.

After a six hour battle, in what became known as the Battle of Bloody Marsh, just one British soldier died, but 200-300 Spanish soldiers were slain, the “blood of Spain.”

The Spanish commander, panicked and retreated south, convinced that South Carolina had reinforced Oglethorpe and feared the worst defeat of his career. He loaded up his transports and sailed back to St. Augustine.

This led to a treaty in 1759 where the Spanish gave up their claim.

“This battle most important in early formation of colonies. Were it not for British victory, the East Coast might be speaking Spanish.”

Demere Road was named in honor of the captain.

Gardner pulls into Fort Frederick National Monument just to get a peak at the outside, but I plan on making a return visit to spend more time.

The trolley takes us passed Gascoine Bluff where Oglethorpe landed.

St. Simons became important for the lumber industry The 600-year old Southern live oak was much valued as dense hardwood. Indeed, in 1797, the Continental Congress authorized construction of six warships; St. Simons’ Southern oak was used to build the frigate USS Constitution which went on to fight in Tripoli in 1803 and sunk four British warships in the War of 1812. The British who watched cannonballs fall off its sturdy sides gave the ship the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” It is the oldest commissioned warship afloat, now in Charleston.

Timber from here was used to build the first Brooklyn Bridge.

St Simons offered an excellent deep water river port – protected from storms; the cut trees were floated down the river could ship

After the Civil War, with the St. Simons economy devastated by the destruction of the plantation system, Anson Dodge and other wealthy New York merchants saw a great profit in southern lumber and organized the Georgia Land and Lumber Company. In 1868, they purchased large tracts of land and erected mills, and by 1874 had decided upon St. Simons Island as the center of their operation. Gascoigne Bluff and Hamilton Plantation on the Frederica river were purchased. The mill became one of the three largest n the US, and made Dodge wealthy.

The story next turns to plantations, slavery, and the Civil war era.

Here, we go through what would have been Hamilton Plantation where there are still two slave cabins made of tabby that remain from that time.

Only a couple of slave cabins remain on St. Simons © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Sherman’s March to the Sea destroyed every vestige of plantation life except for four buildings, including these 2 slave cabins. They were cleaned up, he says.

James Spalding owned Retreat Plantation and experimented with what might grow — grapefruit, oranges, lemons, figs, dates, rice, indigo, cotton. Spalding brought seed from British Antigua – long silky fibrous blossoms – long stemmed Sea Island cotton – which became the gold standard of cotton industry – made owners wealthy

In 1860, the year before the start of the Civil War cotton from the South represented 57% of all exports from America to the rest of world.

“Cotton was truly king,” Gardner says.

Slavery made cotton cultivation possible and Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin made cotton profitable again and that’s what re-incentivized the slaveholders to cling to this inhumane institution.

This tiny island turned out to have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the Civil War.

The story begins with Pierce Butler, who owned Hampton Plantation on St. Simons. He is described as “a hard man who was notoriously tough on his slaves, but he had a soft spot for Fanny Kemble, an English actress, whom he married.”

He brought Fanny here to Hampton Plantation where, for the first time, she came face to face with the reality of slavery.

Determined to change things, she stood up to her husband. Instead, Butler shipped her back to England and divorced her. But Fanny had kept a diary which she published as a book, “Life on a Southern Plantation”. It became a best seller in the North, fueling the abolitionists’ cause, and in Britain.

At the time the Civil War broke out, England was heavily dependent on Southern cotton and Queen Victoria was strongly influenced by the South (it bears noting that New York City was also heavily dependent on southern cotton and sought to secede and set up an independent country so it could remain neutral and continue its commerce). England was staying out of the war until Fanny Kemble’s book generated such an outcry against Southern culture of slavery that Britain threw its support to the north. (I subsequently learn more about Fanny Kemble and Hampton Plantation at a free exhibit at the AW Jones Heritage Center at the Lighthouse Museum, a must-see).

By now the trolley is taking us over a small bridge and Gardner, our Trolley Tours guide, turns our attention to Ebo’s Landing. “By 1803, importing slaves was against law but a Dutch slave ship from Nigeria with boatload of slaves locked below decks ran the barricade, came up backside to that point, with Ebo tribesmen chained together. Recognizing they would be bound in slavery, they chose to walk off the other side – all chained together – to their death. It was a mass suicide, the only recorded case of mass suicide by slaves.” Ebo’s Landing still draws visitors from Nigeria who come to pay homage to their ancestors, he says.

After the Civil War, the plantations were cut up and the property divided among freed slaves. A good number of St Simons residents today are heirs to the freed slaves, Gardner tells us.

We next travel past Masgrove Plantation, which Gardner says was never an plantation – the, 1400 acres were owned by heirs of RJ Reynolds and hosted President Carter (Reynolds also owned nearby Sapelo Island, another of these Georgia barrier islands, and the mansion there).

These days, what would be comparable is the state-of-the-art stables and thousands of acres of property acquired at fire-sale prices during the economic collapse by Wayne Huizenga, the multi-millionaire founder of Waste Management.

Next we pass First African Baptist Church – established 1859, two years before Civil War, which I gather was fairly progressive. “It was built by slaves for slaves, the materials provided by slaveowners.”

Now we come to the first of the three most photographed sites on St. Simons: Christ Church grounds (the other two are the Lighthouse and Avenue of Oaks).

Another theme runs through St. Simons: its connection to the Wesley Brothers, founders of the Methodist church, who were brought over to Georgia by James Oglethorpe.

The Methodist Church at Epworth by the Sea founded by the Wesley Brothers, now used only for weddings which can be booked three years in advance © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.

Our tour has already taken us through Epworth by the Sea (www.epworthbythesea.org), a Methodist Center named in honor of the boyhood home of John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism, which was carved out of the Hamilton Plantation.

The complex has a charming church that is only used for weddings (some are booked three years in advance) and a museum.

Now at Christ Church, the connection to the Wesleys continues.

Christ Church

At Christ Church, one of the most interesting historic sites on St. Simons, we get out of the trolley and go into church for commentary, then walk around cemetery.

Christ Church has been attended at service by more seated presidents (four) of any but National Cathedral in DC –Coolidge, Wilson, Carter and Bush #1 (he honeymooned here and used to come for vacations; “It wasn’t unusual to see George and Barbara Bush,” Gardner tells us).

Christ Church was first built in 1820 by a plantation family in Civil War. Then Sherman’s Armies descended on the barrier islands. The Church grounds were occupied by the famous Massachusetts 54 (the all-Black regiment featured in “Glory”). “They burned almost all the pews for firewood; and housed their horses in the church,” he says. “What was left, lay fallow for 15-20 years and became overgrown.”

But in the late 1870s-80s, Anson Dodge (the New Yorker who made a fortune in lumber) – had a son Anson Green Phelps Dodge Jr., who became enthralled with the mystique of Wesley Brothers, the founders of the Methodist Church, who had preached to soldiers at Fort Frederica 100 years before.

“He has an epiphany: he doesn’t want to follow the father’s lumber business but wants to a preacher in the style of the Wesley Brothers. His parents send him to Yale Divinity School where he meets Ellen Dodge (they were first cousins, as it turns out). His parents don’t want them to marry but Anson and Ellen elope to London, then take a honeymoon around the world in his boat (he was rich, after all). When they get to India, Ellen gets sick, dies of cholera, but makes him promise he won’t leave her. So he builds a crypt of lead and in 1884, sails back to St. Simons, places the crypt in the church that the shipwrights were building for him. They hadn’t finished the altar so he builds the altar around the crypt so he keeps his promise never to leave her side.

“Anson later marries Anna Gould, granddaughter of James Gould, the original lighthouse keeper and contractor. But in 1898, at age 38, Anson dies of a heart attack. Anna dismantles the altar, removes the crypt and places Anson in the crypt with his first wife, re-seals it and moves it into the family plot, honoring his promise to his first wife where it is today, next to his mother’s burial and on the other side, Anna’s with their 3-year old son next to her.”

The church, which only seats 165, is actively used so may conduct as many as five services a day. A few of the pews from the 1820 church were saved. There are brass plates on the pews where Presidents have sat.

The original walls, built by shipwrights with that famous heart of pine lumber, are so secure and impervious, they have never been painted.

Christ Church has exquisite stained glass windows that depict the history of the island. One window portrays Anna Musgrove, whose mother was Creek and became the translator for Oglethorpe © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.

It is a small, narrow church and one of the most picturesque and intimate I have ever seen. What makes it so stunning are the large stained glass windows, installed at different times.

One is from Rebecca Dodge (Anson Greene Phelps Dodge Jr’s mother), where there is also a bust of her son as a boy.

Another is a Tiffany window (but not signed because Tiffany didn’t personally supervise the installation). But that is not the most valuable window – the most valuable is just to the right of it, because the red sections are made of ruby.

The most intriguing to me, though, shows Indians, one of the few reminders of the original inhabitants of this island. One window portrays Anna Musgrove, whose mother was Creek and became the translator for Oglethorpe; she is given credit for the success of the British over the Spanish, and for her service, the King gave her 1400 acres of land (I’m not sure what happened to that land or her family, but I learn more about her when I visit Fort Frederica).

Most fascinating of all is the cemetery.

We see where Anson, Ellen, Anna and their three-year old son are buried (he was trampled by horses).

Anna, who was just 10 years younger than Anson’s mother, Rebecca, and yet outlived him, established the Anson Dodge Home for Boys, which operated 14 different homes; last one closed in 1956.

“A Kind Master” is emblazoned on the crypt of Thomas Butler King at Christ Church cemetery© 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Gardner brings us to the King Family Plot, where he tells us the story of the King family: King owned the largest plantation on the Island. Before King, James Spalding owned the Retreat Plantation, which was sold to the Page family. The Page family lost all their children but Anna Matilda Page, who was sickly, also. In a last effort to save her, they moved to this semi-tropical environment. Anna thrived, wound up managing the cotton plantation and married Thomas Butler King from Carolina. And because women’s property reverted to the husband, he took it over though she still managed the plantation.

They had a son, Henry Land Page King, called Lordy. It was a practice to bring up a slave child of same age as own child and this was a boy named Neptune Small. The two were schooled together; whenever they gave the son a horse, they gave Neptune one also. “They were master and slave but best of friends,” our guide says.

“The Civil War breaks out, Lordy fights for Southern cause; he can take a manservant so he takes Neptune with him. They thought they would wup those Yankees, and have a great adventure.

“At the Battle of Fredericksburg, Lordy is killed on the second day. Neptune Small only had to walk across to the Union line to be free, but he chose not to. Instead, he waited for night and snuck out to find Lordy’s body. He carried the body back to Retreat Plantation for burial.

“He could have had his freedom but he didn’t want it,” Gardner says. “Then, Neptune Small went out to find his other master – he went to Virginia to stay with Tyler King. Both came back alive from the war.”

As a reward, King gave Neptune Small five acres of land – on Southeast corner of plantation against the water – today it is called Neptune Park, that beautiful pier and village.

On the crypt of Thomas Butler King (1800-1864) is written: “A profound statesman who laboured faithfully for the public good. A man gentle and true, a devoted husband and father. A kind master.”

We continue on to where Retreat Plantation would have been.

It no longer exists; instead the area is now owned by the Sea Island Company and is a grand, exclusive resort with three world-class golf courses, Plantation Retreat, where PGA holds its classic. Every major tournament in the 1920s was played here.

Here, we drive down the famous Avenue of Oaks – planted 200 years ago, 20 feet apart, extending for quarter mile, today they form a thick canopy. You can’t drive through any more (the road is on either side), but it is the most popular place for photographs, especially for wedding photos.

Anna Matilda Page King (1788-1859) planted 125 varieties of roses on Retreat Plantation.

She also built a hospital exclusively for the use of the slaves, Gardner says. “I never heard of that anywhere else.”

As we leave the Retreat Plantation, we see the drainage ditch which played such a part in how the plantation survived a major hurricane. It was dug by slaves, overseen by Morris, a slave himself, who (I learn later in the Lighthouse exhibit) was rewarded with a tankard and an offer of freedom but he turned down the offer of freedom because it did not include his wife and children, so he just got the tankard.

The drainage ditch dug by slaves is still working for drainage for golf course.

The Lighthouse Trolley tour is quite good – a great way to get oriented to the island and learn its stories. I get lots of ideas of where to explore and I have a greater appreciation for what I see.

I get off the trolley at the Neptune Park pier beautifully redone. It is at the end of a charming street of shops and eateries and connects to a paved path along the water large playground and gazebo and the to the lighthouse and museum, where there is also the AW Jones Heritage Center, a free exhibit which is a “must-see.”

I now understand the significance of the name, Neptune Park, named for the slave who stayed.

Lighthouse & Museum

The St. Simons Lighthouse, which you can climb, is the centerpiece of a museum complex which offers a fascinating insight into St. Simons history © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The St. Simons Lighthouse is a major attraction. The original lighthouse was built in 1810 by James Gould of Massachusetts who became the first lighthouse keeper; his daughter, Anna, married Anson Green Dodge; it is a fixed 3rd order Fresnell Lens and you can climb to the top, but you have to arrive by 3:45 pm and it takes 35-40 minutes to complete the tour ($10/adult, $5/child admission, saintsimonslighthouse.org, 912-638-4666).

Before I arrived in St. Simons and Sapelo Island I had no idea the role these barrier islands played in colonial times and their role in Civil War, and it adds to my Civil War Heritage tour which started for me in Tennessee, continued to Vicksburg, was taken up again at Darien and Sapelo Island (a neighboring Golden Isle), and now here. But on Sapelo and St. Simons, I more fully understand the plantations, have some inclining of slavery, and what happened after.

My education continues at a wonderful free exhibit at the just beside the St. Simons Light Station, at the AW Jones Heritage Center.

The exhibit discusses the natural features of Little St. Simons, and the fact the island is growing because of the undammed Altamaha River.

Between 500 and 1500 AD, Native Americans made seasonal visits to the island in search of food, feasting on oysters.

The Spanish established missionaries but pulled back to St Augustine, Florida, due to raids by Native Americans allied with the English., and pirate attacks of 1683 & 1684. There is only one Indian site from that period that has been identified.

Private ownership of the island began with Samuel Auspourger of Zurich, Switzerland. In 1730, James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia colony, appointed Auspouger to be engineer surveyor for new settlement at Fort Fredericka. In July 1739, Auspourger traveled to England to secure a royal grant of a 500-acre plantation and brought over two indentured servants.

In 1773, James Graham Reynolds from Savannah, got a grant for marshland, and established Five Pound plantation. His brother, John secured Hampton Plantation.

In 1774 Major Pierce Butler of South Carolina assembled a network of plantations, including Hampton Point and Five Pound, and a 1500 acre island on the Altamaha River, south of Darien, called “Butler’s Island”. He also acquired a remaining parcel of Little St. Simons Island.

Major Pierce Butler had come to America in 1767 where he met and married Mary Middleton, heiress to several plantations. He resigned his commission to Britain and supported American independence. He was a signer of the Constitution and was elected South Carolina’s first US Senator, 1789.

By 1815, over 500 enslaved laborers worked Butlers’ plantation, raising rice, long-style cotton, indigo, sugar cane and subsistence crops.

Butler was an absentee owner from 1802-1838, handing over management to Roswell King and his son Roswell King Jr. Apparently, their techniques were abominable: in 1803, there were 120 slaves living at Experiment under worst conditions of any Butler plantation. “Banishment to Five Pound was used as punishment.”

Major Butler died 1822 and in 1836, in order to inherit his property, his grandsons Pierce and John Meese of Philadelphia, took the Butler surname. Pierce Meese Butler brought his wife, British actress Fanny Kemble and their two young daughters to his coastal plantation, 1838-39.

After seeing the horrors of slavery, Kemble became an ardent abolitionist; tensions rose between them and he packed her off back to England. They divorced in 1849. One of their daughters sided with Fanny and the other went with Butler.

Pierce Meese Butler squandered his fortune but was saved from bankruptcy by 1859 sale of 436 slaves, an event that became known as the “Weeping Time.”

“Each person was examined and his or her value assessed. This was the preparation for what would be the largest single sale of human beings in United States history,” I subsequently learn after doing some more research.

A portrait of Fanny Kemble, who documented the hardship of slaves on her husband’s Hampton Plantation. Her book, “Life on a Southern Plantation” became a best seller in the North and in England, where it turned the British against supporting the South © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In 1863, 14 years after her marriage ended in divorce, with the American Civil War underway, Kemble published her diary, “Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation,” which as I learned on the trolley tour, was a major factor in England supporting the North against the South, even though England was dependent on importing Southern cotton.

After the war, Pierce Butler returned to Butler Island with his daughter Frances. Many of his former slaves were living there, and he arranged for them to work as sharecroppers (this is what infuriates me so much about the Civil War, as you look back; the Southern planters could have transitioned to paid labor; on Sapelo Island, I learn, that the freed slaves were not entirely free to refuse becoming sharecroppers). Butler contracted malaria and died in August 1867, and Frances took over the management.

At the exhibit, I learn more about Morris, another slave, who was became a hero. Morris had authority over the other slaves and was responsible for the levees, drainage ditches.

In advance of the 1804 hurricane which caused death and destruction, Morris created Hurricane House; 100 slaves survived the storm, earning the praise of the plantation manager, Roswell King. As a reward, Major Butler offered Morris an engraved silver tankard and his freedom. “But since freedom didn’t include his wife and children, he chose to remain a slave.” Morris died in 1822.

Fort Frederica

James Oglethorpe knew he could fend off any attack from the water from Fort Frederica © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The next day, I bike from the King & Prince Resort on the south end of the island, on paved bike paths that take me pass a tabby slave cabin (now a quaint shop), up the very road that Oglethorpe built and over which Spanish soldiers marched to attack Fort Frederica before they were stopped by Bloody Marsh, changing the tide of history, and bike to the fort itself.

A national monument managed by the National Park Service, this is a vast 55-acre archeological park – - of what once was one of Georgia’s finest colonial settlements.

Here you really are stepping back into time, more than 100 years before the Civil War, to the earliest colonial days.

You walk along the grassy boulevards and streets, alongside the excavations of the foundations of buildings and homes where there are superb historical markers with descriptions, artwork and even artifacts, so you can really visualize what this colonial town was like.

You can imagine the boulevards and streets that were here in the colonial town at Fort Frederica, now an archeological park © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Now it is more like a ghost town. Once one of the most populated settlements of colonial times, this whole, remarkable town was largely destroyed in the Great Town Fire of 1758.

I come to the remains of the house of the woman I learned about in Christ Church the day before– and that very familiarity sparks my interest. In 1743, Mary Musgrove Matthews, James Oglethorpe’s Indian interpreter, lived on this lot – “a good house of tabby.” She was a daughter of a white trader and Creek Indian mother and the niece of a Creek Indian King. She left the Indian tribe when she was 10 years old to receive Christian education in South Carolina. A skilled interpreter, negotiator and trader, she served as an interpreter for 10 years, and helped Oglethorpe win the friendship and support of Indians, so vital in the ultimate defeat of the Spanish.

I visit the house built by Primrose Maxwell, a Lieutenant in Oglethorpe regiment, who took part in the 1740 expedition against Spanish at St Augustine and also served as pall bearer at funeral of the great Indian leader, Tomechichi (that’s the part that interested me)

I walk down Broad Street – they have the street markers so you can easily imagine how the streets were laid out; drawings complete the picture of what the house would have looked like, the people, there are quotes from diaries.

Here I come upon the house that belonged to Patrick and Priscilla Houston. Patrick inherited the title of Baronnet and was appointed to the Royal Council of Georgia. One of their six of their children, John, who may have been born on this site, served as a delegate to Continental Congress and later was elected governor of Georgia.

I see where there would have been a public bakery – established in 1736 by Oglethorpe in a rather ingenious program to promote the welfare and security of the community. Oglethorpe bought off the time of an indentured servant who was a baker and had him bake for the whole colony. The colonists “gave him their allowance of flour and he returned to them the same weight in bread, the difference made by water and salt, his gain.”

Finally I come to the remains of the fort, itself, and see how Oglethorpe planned the defense.

(You can take advantage of an audio tour; you can easily spend several hours here and there are special tours and programs.)

There is a marker here, as well: accompanying James Oglethorpe to this island in 1736 were John and Charles Wesley, leaders in evangelical movement and founders of Methodist church, who preached to the soldiers and settlers at Fort Frederica. “The World is my parish.”

It is a remarkable setting – open, with live oaks, so peaceful, and yet with these wonderful remnants of structures – you can easily spend hours here.

A church bell tolls at 11 am on this Sunday morning. I know that Christ Church will be filling with worshippers.

I see the Old Burial Ground and where Military Road starts.

It’s also time for me to leave. So much of St. Simons history comes full circle, just as my ride.

The biking is absolutely marvelous, and brings you to scenes and sites you might not have noticed if you go by car.

The path takes me by a slave cabin which has been turned into a quaint shop. I am always fascinated by the “happy face” they seem to put on slavery, in this case, the historical marker, with names that are now familiar to me: “Tabby slave cabin of Retreat plantation, now Sea Island Golf Course, was one of 8 cabins hat stood in this area, known as New Field. The slaves who lived here tilled the Sea Island cotton fields nearby. Each of these cabins was 48 x 18 ft, with a partition and a chimney in the center they stood about 300 feet apart and were shaded by beautiful live oak trees Retreat Plantation, originally the property of the Spalding family, was sold to Major William Page whose daughter, Anna Matilda Page, married Hon. Thomas Butler King, MC.”

Ah, the cabin was shaded by live oak trees. How charming.

Top 10 Things to Do on St. Simons

The Lighthouse Trolleys tour (912-638-3333, www.lighthousetrolleys.com)

Christ Church (dating from 1884, has a Tiffany stained glass window, and cemetery that is absolutely fascinating, christchurchfrederica.org),

Ft. Frederica National Monument, where you can see ongoing archeology of the colonial-era community (nps.gov/fofr).

St. Simons Island Lighthouse (which you can climb; this one dates from 1872) and Maritime museum and AW Jones Heritage Center (saintsimonslighthouse.org)

Neptune Park Pier village (the waterfront park is marvelous and there is a new Fun Zone playground), which is a block-long “downtown” of shops and restaurants (the island has more than 20 galleries and antique shops);

St Simons Island ‘Island Playhouse” theatre and Library”,

Historic sites including Bloody Marsh,

Bike the island – a bike path connects most of the major attractions(Ocean Motion, 800-669-5215,

Kayak (a two-hour dolphin nature tour is $45, Ocean Motion, 1300 Ocean Blvd, St Simons, 800-669-5215)

Golf

Stroll the beach

Stay in history: The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, 201 Arnold Road, St. Simons Island, GA 31522, 912-638-3631, www.KingandPrince.com; also historichotels.org.

For visitor planning information: Golden Isles Georgia, 800-933-2627, Goldenisles.com.

See also:

King & Prince Resort in Georgia’s Golden Isles Has Storied Past, Playful Present and slideshow

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King & Prince Resort on St. Simons in Georgia’s Golden Isles Has Storied Past and Playful Present

The King and Prince on St. Simons Island among Georgia’s fabled Golden Isles has been welcoming guests since 1935 and still offers a traditional, old-fashioned Southern hospitality © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

The King & Prince on St. Simons Island among Georgia’s fabled Golden Isles is a resort with all the delights one can imagine to draw generations of families, honeymooners, empty-nesters and golf enthusiasts. A member of Historic Hotels of America, what makes the King & Prince so special is its connection to St Simons Island and the history of the Georgia coast – in fact, the America’s colonial past and the Civil War.

Indeed, each of the 235 members of Historic Hotels of America is unique, with its own special history, personality and character. Each has a special connection to place as well as events and people. These are so much more than mere buildings, structures and rooms. They embody the spirit and lore. These properties keep – and tell – the stories of the people and place – and as a result, you feel a connection to the generations who have stayed here before – and you come away from this step back into time realizing that people then are not so different from people today. That is very humbling. And while they are all distinct and different – some are grand and luxurious and some are modest inns – I have always come away with a very special experience (800-678-8946, historichotels.org).

The King & Prince resort’s storied past dates back to 1935, beginning with Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn founding their own private club after being thrown out of the Sea Island Club for being practical jokers and troublemakers. They built their club as a gambling, drinking, dancing destination. Mysteriously, their club burned down within a matter of months of opening. They rebuilt and opened again and that building, too, was burned down. But the third time was the charm.

View slideshow: King & Prince Resort on St. Simons in Georgia’s Golden Isles

Every owner of a historic property adds to the story, and also takes on the responsibility (most say it is a love) of caretaker, steward, guiding and nurturing the hotel for future generations. The Sturdivant family of Mississippi bought the King & Prince in the 1970s and turned the King and Prince into the jewel of their company, MMI Hospitality.

Over the last 10 years, they have invested $15 million in renovations to the golf, lobby, pool and rooms: the Historic Building was renovated and restored in 2003; the Oceanfront Building rooms where we stay were renovated from 2007-9; the golf course was done in 2009,the pool complex redone in 2012, and even during our visit, they were putting finishing touches on the renovation to the ballrooms, front desk and executive offices.

The renovation has preserved what is so special about the King & Prince. For example, the ballroom, which overlooks the water and is so popular for destination weddings and special events, has these utterly exquisite stained glass windows, each that meticulously tell a story.

All the windows but the north wall were installed in 1938 and designed by High Point Glass and Decorative Company from High Point, NC. Three additional arches were discovered on the north wall during renovations in 1983. Three new stained glass windows were designed by the son of the original artist.

The historic building of the King and Prince Resort has Cabana rooms with oceanfront parlors and patios © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Historic Building also has specialty accommodations including oceanfront suites, Tower rooms, and Cabana rooms (my favorite) with oceanfront parlors and patios (I vow when I return this is where I will stay).

The resort is its own village, with several different buildings offering a combined total of 194 rooms.

There is also the Oleander Building with spacious rooms each with its own balcony and ocean view; and Beach Villas with two and three-bedroom accommodations and full kitchens, living areas and patios or balconies; and Resort Residences which are quaint one-bedroom beach cottages and private homes with up to five bedrooms.

Our room in the Oceanfront Building has a refreshing nautical color palette of blue and white, and when we open the balcony door, the sea breezes flush through. We overlook the newly redone pool complex (stunning) and the lush landscaping, palm trees, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

Within minutes of gazing out to the water, I see a pod of dolphins swimming by.

Exploring the King & Prince

The King & Prince resort offers today’s vacation goers what resorts have always offered previous generations: rest and respite, a place to be together, updated to be sure to for modern tastes. But then again, the resort was modern in its day.

In this age when time seems to be sped up so much, these historic hotels have a timelessness that makes you feel as if time stops when you walk through. You take a breath as you cross the threshold, like a “zen” aura.

This is what I hoped for – and found – as I explored the King and Prince, but what I had not ever known was how historically significant St. Simons Island was.

And while there is plenty to do at the resort – especially playing its championship golf course – it is also the base from which to explore, preferably by bicycle, this interesting island.

I am off to explore.

The pool complex at the King and Prince was redone in 2012, part of $15 million in renovations to the historic resort over the past 10 years © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A focal point for the resort is the oceanfront pool complex, which was completely redone for the resort’s 77th birthday. It is absolutely exquisite, with three different pools, lush landscaping, dramatic lighting at night, and a new Ocean Terrace Grille lets you dine amid the magnificent ambiance.

There is a family-friendly wading pool with water features, shaded areas and castle-building space; a lagoon-style pool with underwater benches and deck-jets; a formal relaxation pool with chaises, umbrellas; and an oceanfront deck where you can lounge.

There is also an indoor pool.

I’m loving the name they have given to the historic beach cottage where they offer spa treatments, The Royal Treatment Cottage. The quaint cottage is designed for relaxation, with a fireside relaxation lounge, changing cabanas, and quiet treatment rooms. The focus at The Royal Treatment Cottage is on massage therapies and treatments, both traditional and customizedSwedish, aromatherapy, reflexology, sport-specific, side-by-side for couples, and custom therapies. Massage appointments at The Royal Treatment Cottage are available daily (based on availability) and require advanced reservations.  (Click for a complete listing of services,  912.638.3631, ext 5690.

There are also tennis courts and a tennis pro on property.

I head for the beach, the best place to completely decompress as you walk.

By now it is sunset, the colors changing the landscape so dramatically moment by moment.

I walk back along a small promenade that goes in front of the beachfront cottages, where there are delightful swing chairs.

We head to dinner at The King’s Tavern Restaurant as couples arrive, every woman in a red dress, for a special ball in the ballroom.

The King’s Tavern Restaurant

The King’s Tavern Restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offers a perfect atmosphere:  very colonial, with a fireplace and wood paneling. Here you delight in Southern coastal cuisine while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean through a gorgeous oval picture window.

The dinner selections this evening include baby spinach and artichoke salmon; Atlantic salmon; Angus beef rib eye, 12 oz ;  New Zealand rack lamb loin); Surf & turf, Crab legs. They offer a special where you can get all you can eat crabs legs, served on an enormous plate; there is also a prime rib special that is superb.

We thoroughly enjoyed the tomato/mozzarella appetizer and the crab-shrimp bisque was sensational, a perfect texture and flavor.

For dessert, we enjoyed the Granny smith caramel apple pie, key lime pie. Other popular selections: the Southern bourbon peace pie; triple chocolate cheese cake.

We start our day with the Southern Breakfast Buffet that includes King and Prince Muffins, Omelettes Made-to-Order, Belgian Waffles, Cheese Grits, Sizzling Bacon, Sausage Patties, Biscuits & Gravy, Fresh Fruit, Pastries, and much more. There is also an a la carte menu. Offering a delicious selection of fresh local delights, dine ocean side while choosing from chef inspired soups, salads, and sandwiches, or try the signature Shellfish Spaghetti.

The King and Prince was in the midst of transitioning to a new Executive chef, Jason Brumfiel, who had been at the Cloister Hotel on Sea Island. He brings a farm-fresh-to-the-table orientation and a focus on healthy dining experiences.

At The King and Prince, Jason is creating dishes with an elegant yet delicate hand. He uses his knowledge of global cuisine and ingredients to add an exciting twist to Southern culinary traditions  that have been the Resort’s signature for nearly eighty years.

The pool menu is being enhanced with more healthy options as well as grab-and-go salads, wraps, Gazpacho, Mediterranean selections, but there will still be burgers and fries (you have to).

King & Prince Golf Course

The back nine holes of the King and Prince golf course is famous for the marsh and natural setting – there’s even an eagle’s nest © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In the morning, we get to experience one of the unique attractions of the King & Prince – its championship golf course.

The King & Prince Golf Course is on the north side of St Simons, about a 30-minute drive along the 16-mile long historic Frederica Road from the resort on the southeast corner of the island.

It is one of the most beautiful courses I have ever played on.

Unlike tennis, where the environment and atmosphere play hardly any part, golf courses are unique settings, and the King & Prince is an outstanding golf destination. It is no surprise that Golf Digest Magazine featured the King & Prince among its “36 Best Buddies Trip Destinations” – and I have to believe that is because the course isn’t just great for golf, it is a destination you want to experience.

The King and Prince is designed to wind among the ancient oaks (you can spot an eagle’s nest at the 13th hole), vast salt marshes, and dramatic island holes (see for yourself: you can actually take a 3_D, hole-by-hole flyover of all 18 holes online, www.kingandpricecome/golf.php).

Originally designed by architect Joe Lee, the 18-hole, par 72 course is renowned for a group of four spectacular signature holes on the back nine, carved from the marsh “islands” and accessed by 800-feet of elevated cart bridges.

The championship course underwent a $3.6 million renovation in 2009, improving play and the golf experience.

“Our long awaited golf course renovation now features Mini-Verde greens, 60-inches of Tif sport collars, Celebration tees, roughs and fairways – and our traps are wrapped in Emerald Zoysia,” said Rick Mattox, Golf Club Manager “We’re the only course in our region with these types of grass and our golfers are amazed at the fantastic course transformation.”

Each green has four different grasses – so it looks lush, and enhances the playing experience.

What I find particularly striking is that instead of “men’s” and “women’s” tees, they have five different tees, so you don’t have to be self-conscious about your play, and you can enjoy playing more. Beginners (and occasional golfers like me), can avoid the frustration of attempting to hit over water and marsh (and spend more time enjoying the serenity of the view!).

Golf is social, but it is a game you play against yourself. Here, you really do get the peace, the zen aspects of golf.

I was surprised to learn that it also is one of the most affordable golfing experiences for a course of its quality – astonishing: King & Prince guests play for $79 (and there are golf packages that include balls, carts, multi-day); walk-ups are invited ($115) (Tip: everyone wants to play in the morning so it is easiest to get time in the afternoon).

The Hampton Grill is a  lovely restaurant in the clubhouse – more like a parlor than a restaurant. Its famous for its chicken salad (they’ve been making it the same way for 24 years) and seasoned fries. The prices are actually very reasonable – Caesar salad $6.75, Asian chicken salad, $8.75, burger $7.75, sandwiches $5.75-9.75.

A Resort with a Storied Past

I get back to the King & Prince in time to hop on the Lighthouse Trolleys Tour, which appropriately starts for me with a history of the King & Prince.

The historic King & Prince Resort, on the beach of St Simons island, has been welcoming guests since 1935 © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The King and Prince originally opened in 1935 as a private club – that everyone seems to agree upon. But there are several versions of the origin of its name. One version is that its owners, Frank Horn and Morgan Wynn, two “cut-ups,” practical jokers, and basically troublemakers, opened their own private club after being thrown out of the Sea Island Club. The name was derogatorily applied to suggest their self-importance and the fact that one was tall and the other stocky; another version is that the name “befitted its regal atmosphere.” (I have my own notion that the name came because of there was a landowning family, King, who owned one of the largest plantations, Retreat Plantation.)

They built their club for gambling, dancing and drinking – and had pavilions. But just three months after opening, a fire, attributed to arson, destroyed the Club. Two months later, the rebuilt King and Prince Club reopened with the Mediterranean architecture. That, too, was burned down and they rebuilt again.

At the onset of World War II, radar was in fledgling years. It was developed first in England but the technology was brought here to St. Simons for further research and development of enhanced radar. A top-secret project, St. Simons was selected as a radar research facility because of the island’s isolation from the mainland. The government took over the King & Prince was taken over by the government as a naval training facility and a radar station.

The Lighthouse Trolleys tour is fascinating (more to come); 912-638-3333, www.lighthousetrolleys.com), and shows off many places I come back and visit in more depth – plenty to fill out a week’s holiday: the St. Simons Island Lighthouse (which you can climb; this one dates from 1872) and Maritime museum and AW Jones Heritage Center (saintsimonslighthouse.org), and Neptune Park Pier village (the waterfront park is marvelous and there is a new Fun Zone playground), which is a block-long “downtown” of shops and restaurants (the island has more than 20 galleries and antique shops); the St Simons Island Island Playhouse theater and Library, historic sites including Bloody Marsh, Christ Church (dating from 1884, has a Tiffany stained glass window, and cemetery that is absolutely fascinating, (christchurchfrederica.org), and most fascinating of all, Ft. Frederica National Monument, where you can see ongoing archeology of the colonial-era community (nps.gov/fofr).

My favorite way to get around is also a major activity here: biking.

There is a bike-rental shop, Ocean-Motion, a short walk from the King & Prince, and miles and miles of paved paths around the island; Ocean-Motion also organizes kayak nature tours (1300 Ocean BlvdSt. Simons, 912-638-5225, 800-669-5215).

And we are off to explore the island (see next).

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, a popular resort playground lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, and year-round pleasant weather.

The King and Prince offers guests a complete resort experience, including beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.

High season is from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-August, with a bump around spring break, mid-March through mid-April. Low season is from the week after Thanksgiving through mid-February. Check the website for a host of packages and specials.

The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, 201 Arnold Road, St. Simons Island, GA 31522 
912-638-3631,  www.KingandPrince.com.

See also:

Eagle Island, one of Private Islands of Georgia, offers rare experience and slideshow

Discovering Sapelo Island, Georgia and Gullah-Geechees of Hog Hammock and slideshow

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