Our family recently decided to go on a short weekend excursion to St. Simons Island, Georgia. This quaint, historical location is just a four and a half hour drive from our home in Atlanta. The island’s charming, natural setting is highlighted by the many large moss-draped live oak trees dotting the landscape. It boasts a slow-paced atmosphere, with many of the locals and vacationers choosing to travel throughout the island by bicycle instead of with motor vehicles. We found it to be an ideal place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city while finding out more about the area’s fascinating history.
Speculator Views from a Lighthouse
St. Simons Lighthouse was the first stop on our bucket list for our visit to the island. It’s one of only five actively working lighthouses located in the state of Georgia. During many our previous visits to nearby Jekyll Island we were able to see the St. Simons Lighthouse from a distance and always wondered what it would look like up close. We weren’t disappointed. We were able to find out all about this fascinating location and the important role the island played during World War II during a documentary we watched at an outdoor viewing on the lighthouse lawn.
Our family was even allowed to climb 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse for incredible views of the St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and the mainland. The lighthouse area includes a Victorian brick keeper’s home, the lighthouse museum and gift shop, and the lighthouse itself. We took our time perusing through all of the public areas. One of the many benefits of homeschooling for our family is the opportunity it affords us to enjoy these types of hands-on, eyewitness learning experiences.
Exploring the Antique Show, Fishing Pier, and Playground
A short stroll from the lighthouse brought us to an open-air antique market. We browsed the local vendor table and found a few pieces of jewelry that caught our fancy.
Next, we made our way over to the nearby fishing pier. It was fun to watch the locals throw crab nets that looked like baskets into the water. Not long after casting their lines they would pull them up to reveal a net bursting with tasty crabs!
Then Emily and her sister spent a few minutes playing on the playground nearby.
Searching for the Tree Spirits
Local area folklore includes a number of legends about the souls of sailors lost at sea off St. Simon’s coast coming back and inhabiting the stately old oak trees which are found throughout the island. These tree spirit myths inspired artist Keith Jennings to carve wistful, haunting figures on some of the island’s oak trees. These works of art were meant to bring the tree spirit legends to life to add a touch of whimsy and mystery to the island’s scenery. They can be found hidden in the knotty trunks of trees in all sorts of public and private locations. There are about 20 of them in all throughout the island.
We were delighted to come across one of the faces accidentally while wandering around on the streets near the Lighthouse. Next to the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau building, we saw a mermaid figure carved into a giant oak tree. We decided to go on a scavenger hunt to search for some of the islands other Tree Spirits. With our map in hand, we embarked on our quest. We asked some locals in the park where to find them, but they were unaware that such carvings even existed. We found seven of the tree spirit carvings and had a blast driving around the island searching for them.
Discovering the Fort Frederica National Monument
Last year in her history class Emily learned about the Battle of Bloody Marsh. This conflict took place on St. Simons Island on July 7, 1742. during the War of Jenkin’s Ear between the British and Spanish. She found it enthralling to be able to explore the very ground on which this strategic battle took place. The British won the battle, granting them control of both Fort St. Simons and Fort Frederica. Emily had also learned about James Oglethorpe, who founded the British Colony of Georgia in the year 1733. He originally established Fort Frederica to provide much-needed defense for the new territory during this volatile time period.
We were pleased to find out that Fort Frederica National Monument offered free admission. Our family took the opportunity to look around the welcome center, watch an informative video about the history of the fort, and search for some souvenirs in the gift shop. There were many fun activities at Fort Frederica which were designed just for kids to help them learn and play at the same time. Emily and her sister were excited that they got to dress up in 18th Century attire to look like some of the fort’s original inhabitants.
The Fort is home to plenty of historical artifacts that have survived through the generations including a number of foundations for houses and shops, some original structures, and other architectural remains.
Photo Opportunity at Christ Church Frederica
Near the entrance of Fort Frederica, we found the lovely, historic Christ Church Frederica, which is surrounded by live oaks and plenty of other native island foliage. The church is currently home to St. Simons Island’s Episcopal congregation. Though founded in 1820, the church’s original building was badly damaged by the Union forces during the Civil War. The current structure, which was built in 1884, is surrounded by live oak trees and moss.
Some of the most famous preachers to ever visit the church include English evangelist John Wesley and his brother, hymn writer Charles Wesley. These brothers were founders of the Methodist Church and were also highly influential in the development of the Episcopal denomination. Many of Wesley’s famous hymns are sung in churches throughout England and the United States to this day. The church sanctuary includes a number of breathtaking stained glass windows. We made a quick stop at this picturesque location to take some photos before ending our visit to the island.
Emily highly recommends St. Simon’s Island as a great place to experience a historically-educational, nature-filled, and fun day trip. There are many free or inexpensive places to visit on the island for those who want to learn more about Georgia’s past while enjoying the sights and sounds of the present.