There’s no better way to unwind on vacation than on a bike. Just a short walk from The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort on St. Simons Island, Ocean Motion offers a variety of bikes for all riders. Local maps clearly delineate the major bike paths as you embark on your tour, complete with the tangy salt smell of the sea filling the breeze as you glide by. The beaches are a natural avenue of sand, and you can ride from the village at the island’s southernmost tip all the way up to a breathtaking inlet. You might see a mighty cargo ship as it follows the channel out to sea from Brunswick. You’ll ride past pretty beach cottages and stunning modern beach homes alike. Look out to sea and you’ll probably see a small pod of dolphins that likes to play just outside the breakers.
Further up the beach, you can visit the old Coast Guard and Maritime Museum. Built 150 or so years ago, the station sits several hundred yards from the beachfront. Once it was right at water’s edge where the Coast Guard could launch its rescue boats, but the powerful tides and drifting sand have changed the ocean front face of the island. The Maritime Museum features numerous galleries that feature both the history of the island and its ecology. It’s a great place to learn about this island’s beaches, marshes and forests.
Cross the East Beach Causeway – a two lane road across a beautiful section of marsh – to find the site of The Battle of Bloody Marsh. James Oglethorpe led the colonization of Georgia for Great Britain, beginning to fortify St. Simon’s Island in the 1730’s against the Spanish in Florida. Tensions over trade and border disputes between England and Spain were at a boiling point, and the path up the eastern coast north of Georgia was potentially a clear road of conquest for Spain.
A Spanish attack led by Spanish Governor Don Manuel De Montiano from St. Augustine was met by Oglethorpe. Montiano’s vastly outnumbered force was quickly driven off the island, not to return, on July 18, 1742. This decisive victory likely saved Georgia and the early colonies from Spanish rule. The battleground is so named for claims that the marsh ran red with the blood of Spanish soldiers. In truth, only seven were killed. There’s not much there now but a monument and a plaque, a great view across the marsh and a somber atmosphere of history.
Some seven miles or so north is Fort Frederica, with a monument and visitor’s center commemorating the archaeological remnants of a fort and town built by Oglethorpe between 1736 and 1748. About 630 British troops and 500 colonial residents lived in the fort and town. By 1749, however, the Spanish no longer threatened the colony and the government disbanded the garrison. The village soon fell into economic decline, and by 1755 it was mostly abandoned. A fire in 1758 sealed the town’s fate. A charming visitor’s center with film presentations, walking paths, and a number of restorative archaeological digs give a great picture of early colonial life.
Back at the village, the famed St. Simon’s Lighthouse, one of only a few major lighthouses remaining on the southern coast, dominates a waterside park just a walk across the street from restaurants and shops in a tiny, friendly little metropolis.
In its current iteration the lighthouse is a fully automated aid to navigation, but its history goes all the way back to 1804. At that time, the finished structure stood 85 feet tall and was constructed entirely from tabby, a local material comprised largely of oyster shells. It was an 8 sided pyramid, the top of which was an iron lantern ten feet high. Destroyed by the Confederates in 1862 to prevent its use by invading Union forces, it was rebuilt in 1872, including a new Victorian style Keeper’s cottage. The keeper and his assistant shared the dwelling. Tempers flared one Sunday morning in March 1880 between the head keeper and his assistant, leaving the keeper, Frederick Osborne, dead.
In 2004, the lighthouse was deeded to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society under the Lighthouse Preservation Act. Evidently, Fred remained; his footsteps in the tower have been heard by the wives of later keepers … and by lighthouse visitors.
Saint Simon’s Island is rich with history and many other historical sites. Don’t miss Christ Church, for instance, visited frequently by American presidents, and the home of a story of loyalty and love that is pure inspiration. On the very same road, approaching Fort Frederica be sure to visit the first African church in America, built by slaves, for slaves.
To learn more about Saint Simon’s Island, history tours, beaches, marshes and ghosts, contact the King and Prince Resort at www.kingandprince.com.