Discovering Georgia's History on St. Simons Island

Georgia. The place of my birth and frequented travel destination thanks to its neighboring location to my home of Florida. I have discovered much of The Peach State's rich history in the three decades since Georgia was forever branded on my passport, however one important piece has been mostly overlooked. Lost in the shuffle between General Sherman, a peanut farmer former President, and the 1996 Olympic Games is Georgia's place as one of the 13 original colonies. A history which came out of the fourth grade textbook and into reality as we explored St. Simons Island and the Golden Isles of Georgia's coast.
Fort Frederica St Simons
Protecting St. Simons Island since 1742

What started as a weekend of R&R at the King and Prince Resort soon turned into one of E&E - Exploration and Exhaustion - thanks to an innocent question of mine over breakfast. While MJ and I enjoyed the buffet in the hotel's elegant Delegal Room, I took notice of the stained glass which circled the space and told the story of St. Simons Island. Feeling a little ashamed of my unfamiliarity with this history, especially since it is found so close to home, I decided to make a suggestion...

Want to rent bikes and go exploring?

The last time we rented bikes on vacation I labeled the experience 16 miles of torture, so one would think I'd have learned a lesson. Not to mention that MJ is usually the one to keep me out of trouble, but her immediate approval of the suggestion rendered this firewall useless. We took the short stroll to the Ocean Motion bike and surf shop and - ignoring the warnings of deja vu - set off on yet another 16 mile two-wheeled adventure.
St Simons Island
Some of the scenery along the ride.

St. Simons Island is one of the most bicycle friendly destinations in America. There are miles upon miles of dedicated bike paths winding through much of this scenic isle and the flat terrain makes for easy peddling. The hard packed sand also makes it possible to enjoy a bike ride on the beach, something that's rarely seen even in Florida. Of course, the motorists on the island could use an education on not pulling out into the bike lanes.
St Simons Island Biking
John Gilbert Trail St Simons

After a couple miles on our single speed cruisers we came across the first of many historical sites along our ride. The ominously named "Bloody Marsh" was the site of an ambush and massacre of Spanish soldiers by the British in 1742. Prior to the battle the two sides had been locked in an ongoing dispute over control of St. Simons Island and the Frederica River. The defeat sent the Spanish into retreat to Florida, and secured Georgia's future as a British colony once and for all.
Bloody Marsh St Simons
A monument on Bloody Marsh

Thoroughly convinced that the spirits of Spanish soldiers would haunt the rest of our ride, we resumed our peddling and made an impromptu stop at the John Gilbert Nature Trail. This site wasn't on our map, but turned out to be a great example of the unexpected things you can discover when traveling on two wheels instead of four. The trail wound its way through the woods before opening up to reveal one of the biggest - and perhaps the oldest - oak trees I had ever seen.
John Gilbert Trail St Simons
John Gilbert Trail St Simons

We climbed back on the bikes and set off on a five mile stretch of riding to Fort Frederica, which was the turnaround point of our adventure. About three miles in, I started to question the rationale behind this whole idea; or the lack thereof I should say. Sure, it was a mostly flat ride, but even the miniscule rolling hills we encountered caused my legs to turn to rubber. Why we chose to press on instead of taking a nap in the crook of that beautiful oak tree was beyond me, but a few minutes later I was glad we did.
Giant oak trees everywhere...

Before reaching the fort we came across the Christ Church of Frederica, one of the oldest churches in Georgia and arguably the most beautiful as well. The original church was built in 1820 and later destroyed by Union soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, the church was rebuilt on the original cornerstone and today it sits quietly under a blanket of majestic mossy oak trees.
Christ Church Frederica
The Christ Church Frederica

Surrounding the church is their eerily beautiful cemetery, where several luminaries from Georgia's history are laid to rest. I have a somewhat strange fascination with old cemeteries, and could have spent hours in this one exploring the countless family plots. What struck me the most were the number of headstones for Confederate soldiers, many with dates of 1865; the final days of the Civil War.
Christ Church Frederica Cemetery
Christ Church Frederica Cemetery

A short ride from Christ Church we finally arrived at our primary destination: Fort Frederica National Monument. The fort and surrounding village was established by Georgia founder James Oglethorpe to protect the colony's southern boundary from the neighboring Spanish. Today, what remains of the fort is protected by the National Park Service, and offers an interesting glimpse at life during the early years of this fledgling colony.
Fort Frederica National Park
Christ Church Frederica Cemetery

Feeling a bit smarter thanks to the history lesson, we climbed on our bikes for the 8 mile trek back to the King and Prince.  It was one of the more brutal hours of my life, but the pain was soon forgotten when we reached the beautiful Avenue of the Oaks. This row of 160 year old oaks once lined the path leading to Retreat Plantation, and now greets guests checking in to the posh Lodge at Sea Island. The oaks are inspiring and would make the perfect place for a picnic, although I'm sure such activity is frowned upon.
The Avenue of the Oaks

With 15 of the 16 miles under our belt, we made a pit stop for a burger in the somewhat touristy St. Simons Village before heading to the island's historic lighthouse. Like old cemeteries, I have a soft spot for lighthouses, especially when they are nearly as old as the country itself. The St. Simons lighthouse was built in 1810, and was also a casualty of the War Between the States. Confederate soldiers destroyed the original structure so it could not be used by the Union after their invasion of Georgia. The lighthouse was rebuilt in 1872, and today is a prominent and historic symbol of the Golden Isles.

The last time MJ and I took a 16 mile bike ride I was left feeling exhausted and utterly defeated. Granted, that was mostly due to extreme heat and wine consumption, however what truly made this adventure different was the sense of discovery that came along it. For over three decades we have resided just a short drive from a history that I didn't know existed. I may have learned about the colonies and Civil War in elementary school, but no textbook can match the power of seeing that history first hand. In the end, every one of the 16 miles on St. Simons was worthwhile, and I couldn't help but wonder what else there was to discover in this place who's name is forever branded on my passport.

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