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 considerable number.
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 barn.
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 Hamilton Plantation.
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 men.)
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 tobacco.
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 abandoned timbers.)
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 maneuvering.
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:
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 Co.
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 new era.
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 for recreation.
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 congenial surroundings.
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.
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