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The largest and southernmost of Georgia's barrier islands, Cumberland Island parallels the Georgia coast just north of the Florida border. The relatively flat island, 17.5 miles long by 3 miles wide, is separated from the mainland by several miles of salt marsh, river and sound. On its eastern side white sand beaches rise to dunes that give way to a forest of magnolias, oaks, palmettos and pines. More than 300 species of birds have been sighted on the island.
Although Cumberland Island exists in a relatively undisturbed state, Native Americans inhabited it as early as 4,000 years ago. They called the island Missoe, which meant “sassafras.” These Native Americans were succeeded by the Spanish in 1566 and the English in 1736. At various times live oaks were cut for ships timbers, and land was cleared for the cultivation of fruits and sea island cotton.
The family of Revolutionary War officer Gen. Nathanael Greene built Dungeness plantation on the island in the late 18th century. Only a small building of tabby—a mixture of oyster shell, lime and sand—and a family cemetery remain, the latter the original burial site of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee of Virginia, the father of Gen. Robert E. Lee and a friend of Greene.
A century later Thomas Carnegie built a lavish 30-room mansion called Dungeness as the centerpiece of an estate that covered 90 percent of Cumberland. Vegetation grows through the remains of the second Dungeness mansion, which burned in 1959. Wild horses and other wildlife roam along the beaches and throughout the ruins. Plum Orchard, another Carnegie house, survives on the banks of the Brick Hill River. A small percentage of the island is privately owned and not open to visitors.
Restricted camping is available at developed and back-country campsites; reservations are highly recommended. For further information contact Cumberland Island National Seashore, 101 Wheeler St., St. Marys, GA 31558, or phone (912) 882-4336.
A small museum houses furnishings, carriages and photographs belonging to the Carnegie family as well as exhibits about the War of 1812.
A 45-minute ferry ride provides the only access; 300 visitors are permitted per day. Private vehicles and pets are not permitted on the Island. Bicycles are permitted on the south part of the island. The ferry departs from the St. Marys Visitor Center daily at 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., returning from the island daily at 10:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. (also at 2:45, Mar.-Aug.); advance reservations are highly recommended. There is no scheduled service Christmas and Tues.-Wed., Dec.-Feb. The park and visitor center is open daily 8-4; closed Christmas. The museum is staffed by volunteers and is open Sun.-Fri. 1-4, Sat. 10-4 (based on staff availability); closed Christmas.
Admission, good for 7 days, to the national seashore is $7 per person; free (ages 0-15). Round-trip ferry fare $28; $26 (ages 62+); $18 (ages 0-15). Ferry reservations are highly recommended. Phone (912) 882-4336 for information or (877) 860-6787 for ferry reservations.
Ranger-led walking tours that explore the Dungeness historic district depart from the Dungeness dock twice daily (based on staff availability). Reservations are not required and the tours are free. A motorized tour to the north part of the island departs from the Sea Camp ranger station. The tour takes 5 to 6 hours to complete, is an arduous journey over bumpy, unpaved roads and is not recommended for young children. Reservations are required and a fee is charged; phone (877) 860-6787.
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Current Location: Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia