Cumberland Island in Georgia steeped in history

 
Published4/18/2009 11:54 PM

Q: I'm interested in one of the Golden Isles in Georgia called Cumberland Island. I remember that John Kennedy Jr., was married at an exclusive inn there. Is that island open to the public? What are the accommodations there? I'd appreciate any information you have, and thank you very much.

A: Cumberland Island National Seashore is indeed open to the public and it is where JFK Jr. was married.

 

It's a fascinating island because, of all the islands along the Atlantic Coast, this one is closest to its unspoiled, natural state. It's just 18 miles long and three miles wide, covered with moss, oaks, palmettos, marshes and empty beaches. Wildlife includes ibises, ducks, alligators and wild ponies. Loggerhead turtles return annually to lay eggs in the dunes.

Before I get into accommodations, let me give you a little background. Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, built a hunting lodge on the island and called it Dungeness after a castle in Kent, England. After the Revolution, Gen. Nathaniel Greene of the Continental Army acquired the structure, planning a magnificent mansion. His widow completed it after his death in 1786.

In 1881, Thomas M. Carnegie (brother of financier Andrew Carnegie) and his wife Lucy bought Dungeness, and it became a favorite retreat for the family. Carnegie's widow added to the house and built three others - one of them, Greyfield, for her daughter. This is where young Kennedy was married. Unused since the 1920s, the Dungeness mansion was burned by vandals in 1959. The ruins, located at one end of the island, are on the National Park Service's guided tours.

Greyfield., a restored Southern plantation/mansion, became Greyfield Inn in 1962, and accommodates guests in its 16 rooms and one suite. Carnegie family portraits and antiques are scattered throughout the house and meals are served at the long Carnegie dining table, complete with heirloom silver candlesticks. Greyfield provides ferry service from Fernandina Beach, Fla. The 16 rooms are much in demand in the spring and fall so advance reservations are a must. Also, it is expensive ($395 to $525 a night); however it is on the American plan so meals are included.

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Camping in the park is limited to 120 persons per night. Sea Camp, which can handle 60, is the only developed camp. Reservations are required and sites are assigned. A National Park Service ferry carries passengers to and from St. Mary's, Ga., and ranger/naturalists conduct tours to the main parts of the island.

If you're not into camping and Greyfield is out of your price range, the little town of St. Mary's offers accommodations. St. Mary's, with it waterfront pavilion, has a historic district of it own that boasts some favorite haunts of the Carnegie family. A Georgia travel guide, which includes Cumberland Island, is available by calling (800) 847-4842.


Send your questions at least sixweeks prior to travel to MadelynMerwin in care of
Travel,Daily Herald, P.O.Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or e-mail
dpmerwin@sbcglobal.net.

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