St. Simons, Georgia

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St. Simons, Georgia
Glynn County Georgia Incorporated and Unincorporated areas St. Simons Highlighted.svg
Coordinates: 31°9′35″N 81°23′19″W / 31.15972°N 81.38861°W / 31.15972; -81.38861Coordinates: 31°9′35″N 81°23′19″W / 31.15972°N 81.38861°W / 31.15972; -81.38861
Country United States
State Georgia
County Glynn
 • Total 17.9 sq mi (46.2 km2)
 • Land 16.6 sq mi (43 km2)
 • Water 1.3 sq mi (3.2 km2)
Elevation 10 ft (3 m)
Population (2000)
 • Total 13,381
 • Density 747.5/sq mi (289.6/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
FIPS code 13-68040[1]
GNIS feature ID 0322308[2]

St. Simons is a census-designated place (CDP) located on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, United States. The community and the island are both considered to be one location, known simply as "St. Simons Island", or locally as "The Island". St. Simons is part of the Brunswick, Georgia Metropolitan Statistical Area, and according to the 2000 census, the CDP had a population of 13,381.

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia's renowned Golden Isles (along with Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and privately owned Little St. Simons Island). It is also one of the largest of the Golden Isles. After being cultivated by English colonists for rice and cotton plantations worked by large populations of African slaves, who created the unique Gullah culture, the island since the early 20th century has been developed as a resort community. Much of the island remains marsh or woodland. It has many seasonal residents, as well as a steady base of year-round residents.[citation needed]

The primary mode of travel to the island is by automobile via F.J. Torras Causeway. Also, Malcolm McKinnon Airport (IATA: SSI) is located on the island.


St. Simons is located at 31°9′40″N 81°23′13″W / 31.16111°N 81.38694°W / 31.16111; -81.38694 (31.161250, -81.386875),[3] approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Brunswick, Georgia, the sole municipality in Glynn County and the county government seat.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 17.9 square miles (46 km2), 16.6 square miles (43 km2) of which is land and 1.2 square miles (3.1 km2) of it (7 percent) is water.


As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 13,381 people, 6,196 households, and 3,804 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 805.8 people per square mile (311.0/km²). There were 8,437 housing units at an average density of 508.1 per square mile (196.1/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 94.29 percent White, 3.69 percent African American, 0.16 percent Native American, 0.93 percent Asian, 0.01 percent Pacific Islander, 0.28 percent from other races, and 0.63 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.89 percent of the population.

There were 6,196 households out of which 22.5 percent had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.8 percent were married couples living together, 6.8 percent had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.6 percent were non-families. 32.9 percent of all households were made up of individuals and 13.3 percent had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.14 and the average family size was 2.71.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 19.3 percent under the age of 18, 4.6 percent from 18 to 24, 24.1 percent from 25 to 44, 30.7 percent from 45 to 64, and 21.4 percent who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.8 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $58,475, and the median income for a family was $73,580. Males had a median income of $50,725 versus $32,351 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $37,256. About 2.4 percent of families and 4.5 percent of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.6 percent of those under age 18 and 7.5 percent of those age 65 or over.


Native American history[edit]

St. Simons Park marker
St. Simons Park

Just north of the village on St. Simons Island off Mallery Street is a park of oak trees named St. Simons Park. On the southern edge of the oaks, along a narrow lane, is a low earthen mound where 30 Native Americans are buried. The men, women and children interred there lived in a settlement on the site two centuries before the first European contact.

The first inhabitants of St. Simons lived there during fishing season about 2,000 BCE. It is not known what they called themselves. The much later historic tribe, who encountered the Europeans, became known as the Timucuan. The tribe and its people persist. Arising from the prehistoric Mississippian culture that flourished over much of the Southeast, the eastern Timucuan had a territory ranging along the coastal plain of southeast Georgia and northern Florida. Their complex and loose confederacy was made up of seven distinct tribal groups that spoke at least five dialects of the Timucuan language.

The Marsh[edit]

During the early Spanish colonial period, St. Simons Island was the northern boundary of the tribal and Spanish mission province known as Mocama, which extended southward to the St. Johns River in present-day Florida. Its name was taken from that of the dialect of the people. The town of Guadalquini was located on the south end of the island at the site of the present-day lighthouse. The Spanish applied the town's name to the island as well.

Just north of Mocama was the territory of the Guale, who occupied the lowland coastal area between the Altamaha and Ogeechee rivers. The Guale spoke a different language from the Timucuan, but their cultures were closely related.

The coastal Indians[citation needed] were a healthy and robust people. They adorned their bodies with strings of shell beads four to six fingers in breadth. These were worn around the neck, arms, wrists, and under the knees and ankles. They painted their breasts, biceps and thighs with bright red body paint, soot and charcoal. Both men and women wore their hair long. They let both their fingernails and toenails grow. The men would sharpen their fingernails on one side, to use in warfare. The Timucuan engaged in periodic warfare with their coastal neighbors as much for sport as for spoils; violent ball games sometimes substituted for war. The men wore deerskin breechcloths in all but the coldest weather; the women wore skirts made of moss.

The Indians' main source of food was the sea; they fished for sheepshead, sea catfish, drum, shellfish and the great Atlantic sturgeon, mostly in and near the coastal marshes. Their diet was supplemented by small game, such as raccoons, opossum and the white-tailed deer. They also grew varieties of pumpkins (a kind of squash), beans and corn; the latter was ground into meal for use. They also gathered a wide array of nuts, grapes and berries from the rich land.

During spring and summer, the Indians gathered in villages and planted crops, hunted, and fished until harvest. The villages included granaries, a large communal structure, and shelters for extended families made of saplings and boughs covered with palmetto fronds. The chief usually had a dwelling larger than other tribesmen. They used a wide range of bone tools; conch shells were formed into hoes for agriculture, as well as hammers.

They harvested corn in the fall, storing the surplus in the large village granaries. Several times a year they distributed the food held in common in ritualized festivals; after the fall redistribution ceremony, the Indians dispersed into small groups and abandoned the larger village pattern until the following spring. They ranged along the coast, from inland pine and river valley forest on the mainland to the high hammock forests, tidal flats, beach and dunes of the barrier islands. The group lodged in temporary shelters of large, oval-shaped pavilions, moving on when game and fish were no longer plentiful. When food was scarce, a hunter could hunt or fish in territory belonging to the village of his wife.

The Indians were governed by territorial and local chieftains known as caciques (Mocama) and micos (Guale) and by lesser-ranking functionaries within each of the coastal villages. Like nearly all Native Americans, they developed a matrilineal kinship system, with hereditary power passed through the mother. The chiefs were required to marry a commoner, therefore a sister or nephew inherited the title. Governing power was based on the storage of corn - hence control of the food supply in lean times - cultivated by labor tribute from the subordinate villages. Along with their political power, the caciques and micos enjoyed the right to have more than one wife; monogamy seemed to be the norm for the rest of the population.

Little was recorded about the Timucuan religion before changes of European encounters. The accounts of the Guale were recorded by a Dominican missionary priest who heard it third hand. Guale mythology seems to have embraced the origin and destiny of the soul, and communal atonement for sin. Their major deities were Mateczunga, god of the north, and Quexuga, god of the south. The Guale believed that all souls originated in the north, lingered briefly on earth, then departed to the realm of Quexuga.

The Spanish were fascinated by their ceremony with clearly religious connotations: the drinking of the "black drink" brewed from the berries of the cassina tree. After drinking this potent beverage, "their bellies swelled and vomiting followed", which allowed the participants to be cleansed.[citation needed]

Knowledge of the Timucuan and Guale way of life prior to European contact is limited to the archeological record and the subjective observations of the early explorers and missionaries. From all indications, they were becoming more settled at the time of European contact.

Fort Frederica[edit]

Remains of Fort Frederica

Fort Frederica, now Fort Frederica National Monument, was built beginning in 1736 as the military headquarters of the Province of Georgia during the early English colonial period. It served as a buffer against Spanish incursion from Florida.

Nearby is the site of the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and Battle of Bloody Marsh, where on July 7, 1742, the British ambushed Spanish troops marching single file through the marsh and routed them from the island. This marked the end of the Spanish efforts to invade Georgia during the War of Jenkins' Ear.[4]

It has been preserved in the 20th century and identified as a national historic site largely by the efforts of Margaret Davis Cates, a local resident who contributed much to historic preservation. She helped raise more than $100,000 in 1941 to buy the site of the fort and conduct stabilization and some preservation. It was designated as a National Monument in 1947.[5]

Cotton production[edit]

Avenue of oaks, St. Simons

During the plantation era, Saint Simons became a center of cotton production known for its long fiber Sea Island Cotton. Nearly the entire island was cleared of trees to make way for several large cotton plantations. These were worked by African slaves and their descendants. The plantations of this and other Sea Islands were large, and often the owners stayed on the mainland in Darien and other towns, especially during the summers. This season was considered bad for diseases of the lowlands. A concentration of Africans on these islands led to the development of the Gullah people, preserving more remnants of West African ethnic groups than in areas of the Upper South, where African-American slaves were held in smaller groups and interacted more with whites. The Gullah language and culture has survived into the 21st century, although much disrupted through the 20th.

One of the last slave ships to bring slaves from Africa docked at St. Simons Island, but the slaves threw themselves off the boat into the water, dragged down by their chains, and drowned themselves rather than submit to slavery.[6] An original slave cabin still stands at the intersection of Demere Rd. and Frederica Rd. at the roundabout.

Development of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in the late 18th century made processing of short-staple cotton profitable. This type of cotton was more easily cultivated in the upland areas of the interior mainland of the Deep South. The majority of cotton cultivation shifted to the mainland, and led to development of new plantations through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, western Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas, with King Cotton the most important crop of the Deep South. The demand for slave labor increased so much that slaves were sold from the Upper South into the Deep South - more than one million were forced to migrate through the domestic slave trade in the antebellum years.

American Revolution[edit]

An important naval battle in the American Revolution (the Frederica Naval Action) was won by the American Colonists near St. Simons on April 19, 1778. Colonel Samuel Elbert was in command of Georgia's Continental Army and Navy. On April 15, 1778 he learned that four British ships (including the Hinchinbrook, the Rebecca, and the Galatea) from East Florida were sailing in St. Simons Sound. Elbert commanded about 360 troops from the Georgia Continental Battalions at Fort Howe to march to Darien, Georgia. There they boarded three Georgia Navy galleys: the Washington, commanded by Captain John Hardy ; the Lee, commanded by Captain John Cutler Braddock; and the Bulloch, commanded by Captain Archibald Hatcher.

On April 18 they entered Frederica River and anchored about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Fort Frederica. On April 19 the colonial ships attacked the British Royal Navy ships. The Colonial ships were armed with heavier cannon than the British. The galleys also had a shallow draft and could be rowed. When the wind died down, the British ships had difficulty maneuvering in the restricted waters of the river and sound. Two of the British ships ran aground and the British escaped to their other ship. The battle showed how effective the galleys could be in restricted waters over ships designed for the open sea. The Frederica naval action was a big boost to the morale of the colonists in Georgia.

Lumber for ships[edit]

Saint Simons' next military contribution was due to the Naval Act of 1794, when timber harvested from two thousand Southern live oak trees from Gascoigne Bluff was used to build the USS Constitution and five other frigates (see Six original United States frigates). The USS Constitution is known as "Old Ironsides," as cannonballs bounced off its hard live oak planking.

Wesley brothers[edit]

Historical marker about the Wesley Oak

In the 1730s St. Simons served as a sometime home to John Wesley, the young minister of the colony at Savannah. He later returned to England, where in 1738 he founded the evangelical movement of Methodism within the Anglican Church. Wesley performed missionary work at St. Simons while he was still in the Anglican Church, but he was despondent about failing to bring about conversions. (He wrote that the local inhabitants had more tortures from their environment than he could describe for Hell). In the 1730s John Wesley's brother Charles Wesley also did missionary work on St. Simons.[7] In the late eighteenth century, Methodist preachers traveled throughout Georgia as part of the Great Awakening, a religious revival movement led by Methodists and Baptists. They converted African-American slaves as well as British and European colonists.

On April 5, 1987, fifty-five members from St. Simons United Methodist Church were commissioned, with Bishop Frank Robertson as first pastor, to begin a new church on the north end of St. Simons Island. This was where John and Charles Wesley had preached and ministered to the people at Fort Frederica. The new church was named Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica.

Christ Church[edit]

Christ Church

In 1808 the State of Georgia gave 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land on St. Simons to be used for an Episcopal church and its support. Called Christ Church, Frederica, the structure was finished in 1820. During the Civil War, invading Union troops commandeered the small building to stable horses and nearly destroyed it. The church was restored in 1889. This historic building is still in use as of 2015.[8]

St. Simons Island lighthouse[edit]

St. Simons Island Light

St. Simons Island Light is a lighthouse near the entrance to St. Simons Sound in United States Coast Guard District Number 7. It is 104 feet (32 m) tall and uses a third-order fresnel lens which rotates to flash a beam of light every 60 seconds. The light keeper's residence is a two-story Victorian brick structure. In 1975, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society took possession of the keepers' house and turned it into a museum.

The original octagonal lighthouse was built in 1811. Confederate forces destroyed it in 1861 during the Civil War to prevent its use by dominant Union forces. A replacement was completed in 1872, during the Reconstruction era. Electrified in 1934 and automated in 1954, it is still operated by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The current structure is both an active lighthouse for Navigational aid purposes and a museum. On lease from the United States Coast Guard to the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, in 1984, the title was passed in 2004. It is open to the public.

In 2010, the St. Simons Island lighthouse underwent a major renovation. It was closed to the public for several months while all interior and exterior paint was sandblasted off, and then repainted. Eight iron handrail posts at the top of the tower were replaced, recast from one of the originals. All ironwork was sandblasted and repaired as needed. Great lengths were taken to protect the valuable Fresnel lens during the restoration. It was bubble wrapped, shrink wrapped, and then finally enclosed in a plywood box. A temporary spotlight attached to top railing of the lighthouse continued to guide ships into the Sound while the main light was out of operation.

Coast Guard Station[edit]

US Coast Guard Station

East Beach Station is one of only three remaining stations of its era, the station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[9]

King and Prince Hotel[edit]

King and Prince Hotel

The King and Prince Hotel on St. Simons Island was built in 1941. It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Presidential visit[edit]

President Jimmy Carter visited the island with his brother Billy Carter in 1977, arriving by Marine One.[10]

Notable residents[edit]


Rich Products's SeaPak division is based in St. Simons.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]