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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Georgia Coast & Okefenokee

By Richard J. Lenz

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Sherpa Guides > Georgia Coast & Okefenokee> Southern Coast > Little St. Simons Island

Click here for a new window with a large version of this map.Little St. Simons Island

[Fig. 19] If nature lovers were allowed to design the perfect sea island resort, they would come up with Little St. Simons Island, a privately owned barrier island that combines 10,000 acres of pristine maritime forest, beach, and tidal marsh with everything one might want in outdoor recreation, accommodations, and meals. Located northeast of St. Simons, this quiet hideaway offers bird-watching, hiking, biking, horseback riding, beachcombing, swimming, fishing, canoeing, boating, and interpretive programs with trained naturalists. With guests limited to 30 visitors a day, each has 333 acres of unspoiled barrier island all to themselves, which is ample space to restore one's senses and replenish one's soul. While the cost of visiting the island is not inexpensive, the memories gained may be priceless.

Measuring 6 miles long by 2 to 3 miles wide, the island's diverse habitats, located in a relatively small area, allow visitors to enjoy lots of bird and wildlife watching in a short time. Guests can hike, bike, boat, or be driven to various sites where they can identify some of the 220 species of birds known to visit the island. Or they can observe some of the island's exotic game animals, such as European fallow deer (Dama dama). Rare species nest on the beaches, including least terns, Wilson's plovers, and black-necked stilts. The island is the best place in Georgia to see long-billed curlews. One guest identified more than 100 species in one day. Freshwater ponds host the last of the ruling reptiles, the alligator, along with migrating ducks and wading birds in the shallower areas. The shell-littered beaches are popular nesting sites for threatened loggerhead sea turtles, which bury an average of 36 nests each year. Armadillos, seen rustling through the underbrush, may be the most commonly seen animal on the island. Offshore and in the tidal creeks are dolphins and river otters, and endangered right whale calving grounds are located just off Little St. Simons Island's beaches.

The island's 3,500 acres of uplands have a mix of tree species, including old examples of slash and loblolly pine, along with live and laurel oaks, sweetgum, cabbage palm, and American holly. Cedar is very common, especially near Indian shell middens found on the island. The shells decompose, creating a soil pH preferred by cedars. Saw palmetto thrives in the understory, and yaupon holly, wax myrtle, and muscadine vine are common plants. The Live Oaks support a healthy assemblage of Spanish moss, resurrection fern, bubblegum lichen, and the rare greenfly orchid. Marshes buffer the western side of the island, separated from St. Simons Island by the Hampton River. On the eastern side of the island, a causeway is needed to reach the beach, providing dry passage over tidal creeks and marsh that are new to the island since 1869. Little St. Simons Island has grown tremendously since that time due to the increased load of sediment washing up on its shoreline from the Altamaha River. Post–Civil War Georgia had its Coastal Plain forests extensively logged, which released millions of cubic yards of topsoil into its waterways.

Off the island's northern end are Egg and Little Egg islands, important nesting sites for rare terns and part of the Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge. Off the southern end is Pelican Spit, another important "bird island" that recently has come under state protection. Certain species of shore and sea birds nest in large colonies directly on the ground and require remote, isolated nesting sites such as Pelican Spit. Royal and Caspian terns, avocets, pelicans, cormorants, and many other birds can be observed on this island. On Pelican Spit, the southwestern beach, Hampton River Beach, northeastern spit, and ocean-facing beach are open for recreational use. The restricted area, which is marked with signs, includes the interior dunes and the southeastern spit.

Little St. Simons Island's Indian middens testify to its importance as a hunting and fishing site for Mocama Indians. The first European owner was Samuel Ougspourger, a Swiss colonist from South Carolina, who purchased the island from King George II, in 1760, and eight years later sold it to his grandson Gabriel Maniqualt. The next owner of the island was Major Pierce Butler, the most successful and famous plantation owner on the Georgia coast (see Butler Island). He owned Butler Island near Darien, Hampton Plantation at Butler's Point, St. Simons Island, as well as Little St. Simons Island. The sea island plantations on Little St. Simons Island and St. Simons grew cotton, and Butler Island grew rice. Eventually, the island passed into the hands of Butler's grandson, Pierce Butler II, who was married to English actress and writer Fanny Kemble. Her book, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-39, described visits to Little St. Simons Island and the cotton plantation called Five Pound, which she described as "a fearful-looking stretch of dismal, trackless sand" and "the swamp Botany Bay of the plantation" where misbehaving slaves would be banished, whipped, and raped. (Five Pound is located at the westernmost portion of the island.) Kemble wrote about visiting slave Quash's house, the remains of which can be seen on the northwestern end of the island today.

The plantation had to cope with many natural disasters such as hurricanes, yellow fever epidemics, and wars. The island was invaded during the War of 1812, and Butler's slaves were seized and released into freedom. After the Civil War, the plantation culture went into decline, and the island reverted to a more natural state. In the early 1900s, O.F. Chichester of the Eagle Pencil Company visited the island and bought it from Fanny Kemble's daughter Francis Butler Leigh for the cedar stocks, used to make pencils. After cutting the cedars and shipping them to sawmills in St. Simons, the deed was transferred to Emil, then Philip Berolzheimer in 1908. The New York family used the island as a private vacation home and hunting plantation, and built the beautiful hunting lodge in the middle of the island at Mosquito Creek. After 40 years of service in the family pencil business, Philip Berolzheimer retired to work in New York politics. He served as city park commissioner and held other city posts, and became a member of the Tammany Society. In the 1920s, Philip and seven other city bosses visited the island, calling themselves "the bandits," and made a flag to represent their backroom political group: an arc of eight ducks with a running stag in the middle. Today, this serves as the island's logo.

Ownership and control of the island passed to the Berolzheimers' children, Charles and Helen, in the 1940s. In 1979, the Berolzheimers decided to open the island to the general public as a private nature preserve/resort. Today, travelers are treated to the same sea island rustic luxury that has welcomed many famous persons, at this one-of-a-kind treasure among resorts.

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