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Glynn County: History and Lore: Ed Green Book:
St. Simons History
VII. EARLY RESORT DAYS
The Civil War had brought a great disruption of family and economic life all across Georgia. These hard times and chaotic conditions continued for several years after the war. However, by the eighteen-seventies conditions were taking on more signs of normalcy. People from the mainland cities were beginning to dream of vacations and the cooling breezes of the ocean, and some of them were becoming aufficiently affluent to come to the coast in summer. On St. Simons Island the lighthouse had been rebuilt. The first one had been destroyed during the war to prevent its being a landmark for Federal ships, but now after ten years a new one again began showing its light in 1872. Also here in the south end of the island a pier had been constructed and a village area was developing.
Of course, people coming to the coast of Georgia for its beauty and fair weather was nothing new. The very rich had been doing this for many years. Often a wealthy person would purchase an entire island, or a large portion of one. Here he would build a mansion as a place of retreat from worldly cares. During mild winter and early spring, it was pleasant to entertain friends for hunting, fishing, and lavish dining. In 1886 a group of the nation's most wealthy men purchased Jekyll Island and ran it as a grand private club.
St. Simons Island was one of the few islands where land was not exclusively in the hands of a few people, so was ripe for resort development. On the south end of the island near the pier, summer cottages were built in great numbers. These were largely unsealed, unheated, summer houses built for three months occupancy. People came to Brunswick by train, by carriage, in early autos, and took boats, such as the Emmeline and the Hessie, across to the pier at St. Simons.
It was in this period that the area received widespread publicity of its wonder and beauty with the publication of the poem in 1878 "The Marshes of Glynn" by Sidney Lanier. Mr. Lanier had come to Brunswick in late 1874 to visit in the home of his wife's brother, Mr. Henry Day. Already, Mr. Lanier suffered the beginning of a dread disease (from which he would die in 1881) and arrived in a weakened condition. With the mild winter and early spring, he was soon able to take daily rides, and was greatly thrilled and moved by the beauty and wonder of the marshes. In the spring of 1875 he wrote a poem "The Marshes of Glynn", and a few days later at a meeting of the literary club at the home of Mrs. James M. Couper this poem was read aloud for the first time and from the original manuscript.
Near the St. Simons Island pier a great number of summer houses had been constructed. So many of the summer residents came from Waycross that a section of them became referred to as the "Waycross Colony". With stores and a hotel, this area had become a bustling summer village.
A resort hotel was built on the ocean at the present site of Massengale Park. To transport the guests from the pier, a railway track was laid from the boat dock to the hotel. Open air cars were pulled by a mule; then later by a motorized unit; then still later, this was replaced by an enclosed trolley car. The beach front hotel was owned by the same people as the Oglethorpe Hotel in Brunswick. For summer when hotel occupancy was low in Brunswick, they- would move much of the Oglethorpe Hotel furniture to their hotel on St. Simons for the summer, and then move it back to Brunswick for the winter.
In 1898 a camp was established near the pier for soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War. Then for many years after the war, soldiers were sent here for summer camp exercises.
Of course this period of time was largely concurrent with the Old Mill Days at Gascoigne Bluff. Yet on this still largely wilderness island with few improved roads, the business activity of the mills and the resort activity of the beach were largely separate. This is the reason for their being presented as separate eras. They both began in the 1870's. The lumber mills went out of existence about 1908, while the early resort period lasted up through most of the 1920's.
It was with the coming of the coastal highway, the improvement of the automobile roads, the mass production of cars, and finally the building of the causeway making the island accessible to people in automobiles, which brought great changes in the nature of the resort community.