The Art of Bird Photography

Elma Andrews sifted through the colorful photographs poured over the table. Each image featured a vibrant bird artistically captured by either she or her husband, Lynn Cates.
“It is really in their eyes. They say that ‘eyes are the windows to the soul,’” Andrews noted, picking up a photo of a bright pink spoonbill. “It’s true with humans and animals. It’s their identity.” 
“We’ve always enjoyed wildlife; we’ve always enjoyed the birds. We would drive through farm fields. We’d see hawks and really whole flocks of migrating birds … ducks and snow geese.” – Elma Andrews
Bird photography has long been a shared passion for Andrews and Cates. It started back when they resided in New Jersey, before the couple moved to St. Simons Island. 
“We’ve always enjoyed wildlife; we’ve always enjoyed the birds. We would drive through farm fields. We’d see hawks and really whole flocks of migrating birds … ducks and snow geese,” she listed.  “We’re not hard-core bird watchers,” Cates clarified with a laugh. “We don’t travel around to see them.”
But they are avid bird fans in their own way. Watching their movements proves fascinating for them, so once they relocated to the Georgia coast, they decided to engage their feathered friends by erecting feeders on their back porch.
“Either you go to see the birds or get the birds to come to you,” Andrews said with a laugh. “Lynn did something really wonderful. He set up a branch with some moss on it as a perch, so while one bird was eating at the feeder another would wait on the branch. Then he would be inside in the air conditioned sunroom with his camera, taking pictures.” 
Cates’ set-up ingenuity shouldn’t be surprising. He has had a long history with photography and camera work, professionally filming shows for PBS for 40 years. His skills yielded an impressive seven Emmy Award wins and 27 nominations, among other honors. 
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Andrews was Cate’s boss back then, working as a producer and news anchor. The two made a good team then, and still do today, although Andrews’ entry into photography came a bit later than her hubby’s. 
“Although I spent my professional life as a broadcast journalist, covering and editing stories, I was always aware that the real story was in the pictures. I always was hands-on in directing the camera person but never the camera operator myself,” she said.
“When we moved to St. Simons 14 years ago, Lynn wanted to join the Coastal Photographers Guild, but wanted me to join too and go out and shoot with him. I reluctantly agreed.”
The two have excelled, creating a portfolio of breathtaking work. While they shoot many subjects, their stunning bird photography stands out. Many of the shots have been taken locally, while others have been snapped at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida. 
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“It’s a great place to go, it’s a rookery. The birds nest in the trees, and the alligators keep the predators away. Now, an alligator might eat one every now and then, but otherwise they’re OK,” Cates said with a chuckle. 
“You can go there with a standard camera and get some really beautiful shots,” Andrews added. 
Some of their images taken at the St. Augustine location have even won awards among the stiff competition within the photographers guild. Their experiences have taught them a great deal about creating quality art from bird photos. The equation is part technical and part artistic intuition.
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For starters, the couple stresses the importance of finding the right camera and taking time to really understand it once purchased. While reading the manual cover to cover isn’t always necessary, Cates underscores the importance of general competency. 
“Understanding your camera really helps. Point and shoot cameras can get great shots of birds,” Cates said. “But it comes with the auto focus. That auto focus might be focusing on a leaf rather than the bird. If you can put it in manual and do a manual focus, sometimes you’re better off. Other times, if you’re trying to get a shot of a bird in flight, you want the automatic focus because it will stay with the bird the whole time.”
“Learn how to do the quick shutter, too,” Andrews adds. “Because you can lose a shot in an instant.” 
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“Yes, and these point and shoot cameras can do that. They can do ten frames a second,” Cates added. 
Many would-be photographers feel that good pictures require oodles of money. Not so, says the couple. They stress that investing thousands of dollars into fancy equipment is not necessary for quality photos. 
“If you don’t want to spend major money on a camera, they make ‘bridge cameras.’ Those sell for about $300 to $350. These are ideal for people who want to shoot birds,” Cates said. “You might also want to look into getting a tripod because that can add a lot of stabilization to shots. You wouldn’t use that for a bird in flight, but it’s great for those that are stationary.”
These so-called bridge cameras don’t typically come with fancy lenses which can limit zooming capabilities. Cates doesn’t feel that is a problem, adding images can always be reconfigured after the fact. 
“Sometimes you’re farther away from the bird than you’d like, but you can go in post-processing and crop it,” he said. 
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Of course, distance and vantage points are key to good photography. Andrews suggests seeking out different angles to enhance images. 
“You don’t have to shoot straight on … think about going low or going high,” she said.  
Andrews also advises newbie photogs to be very mindful of backgrounds in pictures. While it may initially escape notice, what is happening behind a subject can make or break a photograph.
“What I find when most people are starting out is that they don’t think about the background. I’ve seen so many shots ruined by a cluttered background. Try to clean that up,” she said. 
Being mindful of what’s going on around the subject is critical. And Andrews notes there are other external factors to consider, as well, such as time of day.
American Goldfinch
“For birds, you have to think about when they’re most active. It’s usually in the early morning or around dusk. The shorebirds are most active at high or low tide when they come to feed. So it’s important to know what the tide is doing,” she said. 
The real secret to good photographs, however, is simply to practice. Like so many things in life, the more shots one takes, the more one’s skills improve. Andrews encourages novices not to be too quick to dismiss or delete work. There can be hidden gems among the dozens of pictures one takes in a day. 
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“I know that a lot of people will look at their photos on their camera or on their phone and delete them. Don’t do that. Wait until you take it home and put it on the computer because it will look different,” she said. “You might have a really great photo, but if you delete it, you will never know.” 
Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island

Cumberland Days Gone By Cumberland’s illustrious past comes to life with ‘Land and Legacies’ Tour

The soft, salty wind blows across the shoreline’s huge ivory dunes, moving through the remnants of former cotton plantations, mansions from the Gilded Age, and old slave settlements and graveyards. Cumberland Island grabs my heart from the first moment my foot steps off the dock, and it never lets go.

Located off the coast of Georgia, the barrier island is a 45-minute drive from the Golden Isles to St. Marys and another 45-minute ferry ride to its shores. On a Thursday in April, day-trippers and campers climb aboard the Cumberland ferry and slowly cruise through golden marshes, lit by the early morning sun, and travel along a winding river to the banks of Sea Camp, the public dock.

After disembarking, a group of us board the “Land and Legacies” van that will take us along the island’s single road that leads from the tropical south side to the island’s wild and unbroken north end. The six-hour tour is advertised as the only practical way to cover the entire island in one day; it is that, and so much more.

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looking down from the second floor to the entrance area of Plum Orchard mansion.

Tour guide Mike Fulford — a born storyteller whose hoarse, gravelly voice is mixed with a Southern drawl and sounds remarkably like Bill Clinton — brings the island’s past to life for those lucky enough to secure a spot in his van.

For years, Fulford split his time working in insurance during the week and spending his weekends on Cumberland Island, where he captained the ferry boat or worked one side job or another. Now retired from the insurance industry, he is a full-time tour guide spinning tales of plantation owner Robert Stafford; Gilded Age heiress Lucy Coleman Carnegie; and the prized island legacy her family turned over to the National Park Service in 1972.

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Tour director Mike Fulford goes over some basic rules before starting the tour.

Like any good storyteller, Fulford may expound, exaggerate, or “take poetic license” here and there, he says; but the gist of his yarns is embedded in history, fact mixed with a little historical gossip. His tales are fascinating, and he rarely comes up for air.

We travel to our first tour stop along a dirt road called Grand Avenue, its grandness evidenced by the lush canopy of live oaks that sculpt the avenue’s landscape. A deep throng of palmettos surrounds the oaks that are smothered in Spanish moss.

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A tour group prepares to enter Plum Orchard.

We stop at the plantation fields, once owned by Robert Stafford, that now stand empty. We are captivated at our first peek of the island’s feral horses, the offspring of equines left on the island by Spanish inhabitants nearly 400 years before. The horses wander the island as they please and live and die in the “circle of life,” Fulford says.

Stafford was an unconventional leader of his time, Fulford explains. He used slaves to power his farm, but he went against the laws of the land — and the recommendations of his peers — by educating his workers.

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Tour director Mike Fulford, center, addresses a tour as they stand in the main entrance of Plum Orchard. 

He allowed them to earn and save money. He also armed each male slave and taught them to hunt, fish, and farm vegetables — skills that helped them become self-sufficient after emancipation.

As we visit Stafford’s gravesite, Fulford says the life enjoyed by Stafford, his family — never married, he raised six children with a slave, Elizabeth Zabette; and two daughters with another slave, Juda — and his workers continued until the end of the Civil War, when the agricultural era on Cumberland abruptly ended. Cumberland then entered into its Gilded Age, a period that lasted from the late 19th through the early 20th century.

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view of the front porch from a window inside Plum Orchard

Lucy Carnegie and her husband, Pittsburgh steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, were snubbed by the millionaires on Jekyll Island “because their blood was not blue enough,” Fulford says. That snub brought them to Cumberland. While riding a horse and buggy down the same Grand Avenue of trees that welcomed us to the island, Lucy came upon the ruins of the Dungeness property and fell in love at first site. As Fulford tells it, she turned to her husband and said, “I must have it … you must buy it for me.”

Even with gobs of money earned from U.S. Steel, it was not an easy purchase. The property was owned by William Davis, first cousin to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and William Davis did not want to sell to a Yankee.

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Tour director Mike Fulford discusses some of the advanced building techniques of Plum Orchard mansion as he leads the group through the basement.

It took Carnegie many months of continual requests before he acquired his wife’s desire. For the next 50 years, from the early 1880s to the early 1930s, the island was dominated by the Carnegies: Lucy, Robert, their nine children, their children’s spouses, their grandchildren, and the 300 or so servants who made sure their lives were enriched with luxury and elegance.

In addition to the 78,000-square-foot rebuilt Dungeness mansion, Lucy added several other “starter” homes for her children — the most prominent being Plum Orchard, built for her fifth son, George Carnegie, and his young wife, Margaret. As Fulford drives his van to the mansion, now owned by the National Park Service, he captivates me with stories of George’s 19-year-old wife, who in taking her first look at Plum Orchard, exclaimed, “This is not big enough for me.” They would go on to add two wings to the home.

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A tour group checks out the indoor pool at Plum Orchard mansion

If you love “Downton Abbey,” you will love Plum Orchard. As we toured the mansion, Fulford shared how Margaret was bathed, dressed, and coiffed each day by her personal servants, similar to the ladies of “Downton.” The house also features a system with servants living in one area of the house and visitors and residents in another. The separate servants’ area was marked with Carnegie gold paint, so if anyone in the house wandered into the servant area, they knew right away they were on the wrong side of the house.

The restored Classical Revival home opens into a beautiful grand hall, featuring an arched alcove, fireplace, and an authentic Tiffany Lamp hanging over a huge center table. The walls are covered in hand-painted burlap wallpaper. The hall flows into a Ladies’ Library, with a huge bookcase (containing a copy of “Sexual Behavior of Human Males,” which may be why Lucy had nine children, observed one tour-goer).

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Plum Orchard mansion, one of the highlights of the tour.

The standout of the house is a 12-foot-deep, heated, white-tiled swimming pool located nearby the mansion’s squash court, which features an observation deck where the women watched the men play. The women did everything the men did outside the home, Fulford says. They rode horses, hunted, fished, played polo and golf, and even “fought in the mud if they wanted.” However, once they entered the house, they assumed their roles as ladies and “not a drop of perspiration” was to show, he adds.

The beautiful grounds of Plum Orchard provide an idyllic backdrop to a bring-your-own picnic lunch. Some of the group sits at the foot of a wide swing that still hangs from the mansion’s porch ceiling. It had been used by servants to gently rock Plum Orchard visitors as they napped and enjoyed the breezes from the nearby river.

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A wild horse grazes outside the entrance to Dungeness.

Once lunch is over, we continue along the most arduous part of the trip, a rugged and uneven thoroughfare leading to the far north end of the island. It’s a bumpy, jerky ride, along a road that is rarely traveled. Fulford warns his tour-goers in the beginning about the difficult journey; however, he makes the ride pleasant by continuing to weave colorful stories about the wild side of the island.

After the Civil War, most of Stafford’s slaves moved to the north end of the island and formed a settlement there, which led to the construction of a small, wooden African American church. The church, beautiful in its simplicity, became famous in 1996, when John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette there in a secret candlelit ceremony.

During our visit to the church, the wedding is brought to life again through a serendipitous experience. A gospel singer, visiting the island for the first time since the famous pair’s wedding, performs an a cappella rendering of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the same tune he sang as Kennedy and his bride exited the one-room church. It was a moving moment for him as well as us. The song brings home the tragedy of the young couple, whose lives started so brightly and ended so tragically.

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The ruins of Dungeness

The church stands in stark contrast to the neighboring cluster of ramshackle, weathered buildings where environmentalist Carol Ruckdeschel lives. Ruckdeschel was absent the day we visit, but Fulford describes her as an island character. Now in her 70s, she rides the island’s beaches and single road on a four-wheeler. Her braids flying in the wind, she is typically dressed in jeans, long-sleeved flannel shirts, and white rubber boots favored by fishermen. She has lived on the island for almost 50 years and is one of its strongest voices against development.

As we leave the encampment and begin the long journey back to the south end of the island, Fulford details how the playground of the Carnegie family became mostly public land. It’s a story as fascinating as the others we hear that day. Fulford tells us of Carnegie family members who fought and argued and tried to find a way the island could retain its beauty, preserve its history, and continue to be their playground.

Once the last of Lucy’s children passed away, it was the grandchildren who were charged with determining the future of the island. Some of them, facing difficult financial times, sold their property to a Hilton Head developer. The developer planned a very different life for Cumberland than what it is today.

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The ruins of Dungeness 

Fulford says the park service wanted to purchase and designate the island as a national seashore, but funding was an issue. Once the property purchase was secured by money provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the family and the developer agreed to sell. Today, almost 10,000 of the island’s 36,000 acres are designated wilderness.

Fulford winds up his spiel on how the island retains its pristine seashore and wild beauty just at the moment the van pulls up to the most achingly beautiful stop on the tour: the ruins of Dungeness. The mansion burned in 1959, according to Fulford, by a fire believed to be deliberately set by a poacher.

Only stone skeleton ruins, giant brick chimneys, and a single dry brick fountain remain. The ruins of Dungeness perfectly reflect the essence that is Cumberland, the island’s rich historical history combined with its wild and natural state.

It’s It’s another favorite spot for the island’s feral horse population, and you are guaranteed to see them dotting the landscape of the uninhabited property.

As the tour comes to an end, it is evident Fulford loves the island. He tells us delivering the same tour five days a week does not tire him. He often returns to the island by personal boat on his days off to wander through the ruins and along the property. The draw, he says, is the fact it still looks the same as it did on his first visit, 30 years before, but he “always manages to find or see something new. What is here today are the ruins of a lifestyle, the elegant lives lived by people we never met,” he says.

It’s these compelling stories that reel me in and leave me wanting more, eager to plan my next trip to Cumberland.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island,

Hooked on Fly Fishing at Village Creek Landing

Here in the Golden Isles, history lives in the centuries-old live oaks, colonial-era structures, rolling streams, and whispering marshlands. On St. Simons Island, the bounty of the sea has been mastered by many cultures — from the precolonial Mocama and Guale tribes to the Gullah-Geechee people, formed by the enslaved during the plantation era. And it is on this cultural foundation, at the water’s edge of South Harrington Road, where the historically significant landmark, Village Creek Landing, continues the traditions established by previous inhabitants.

Village Creek Landing’s legacy began, essentially, as the first bed and breakfast opened by the Sullivan family, a well-known Gullah-Geechee family of the Harrington community. Ben Sullivan and his wife, Carrie, would host guests overnight after a day of fishing and marsh-hen hunting for the men complete with a home-cooked meal of the day’s catch. When Ben became disabled and later passed away in 1950, his son Cusie continued operating the camp and was known as one of the best fishing guides on the Georgia coast. Cusie’s Fish Camp was born, and the traditions of fishing adventures and hospitality continued at the notable site that we now know as Village Creek Landing.

In recognition of the location’s connection to fishing, the Gowen family, owners of Village Creek Landing, have partnered with On The Fly Outfitters’ Jared DiVincent and Adam Hein for monthly “Fly Casting and Fly Tying at Village Creek Landing” events. Hosted in the evening on the second Tuesday of each month for the remainder of 2019, these events will feature casting demonstrations and clinics as well as fly tying lessons for guests of all ages.

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Patrons can experience this historical recurrence at the Village Creek Landing through these fly fishing events, with activities accessible for both children and adults. “It’s a great way to grow the fly fishing community,” says DiVincent, “and it’s bringing generations together to learn from each other about the art of fly fishing.”

Village Creek Landing visitors enjoy views of Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and other areas of St. Simons Island from the peninsula surrounded by tidal creeks and vast marshland. Combined with the old growth maritime forests, this area is a diverse habitat for birds and marine life that still provides some of the best fishing around. DiVincent and Hein chose this traditional fishing hub as the venue for their events to give the community a chance to learn about professional fly-casting and the local fly patterns that work for our area.

Fly fishing is an angling method using a light-weight lure called an artificial fly that is cast with a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. This technique is significantly different from other forms of casting, due to the delicate weight of the line. Flies are tied to imitate raw food sources of their target species and constructed to represent natural baitfish, invertebrates, or other food organisms.

For a $10 general admission with each session — kids ages 12 and under are admitted for free — attendees will participate in fly rod test casts featuring a different fly rod manufacturer each month. Past fly rod manufacturers include Temple Fork Outfitters and Orvis. A kid’s casting area will introduce the basics of this difficult fishing technique, while adults will receive professional fly-casting instructions and demonstrations from local fly tyers.

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VIP fly tying classes are also available to the first 20 people who register for each month’s event. The $50 cost for this exclusive session includes fly tying materials; one beverage; use of On The Fly Outfitters’ vises, although it is encouraged to bring your own tying vises if possible; and a $20 credit at On The Fly Outfitters. General admission for the remainder of the event’s activities is free with a purchase of the fly tying class.

Sweetwater Brewing Company is featuring a special brew, Guide Beer, during the monthly events. According to the brewery, this lager was made to honor “those men and women who lead us into swift waters, into the shadows of tall trees, and through the unexplored terrain of ourselves.” Eleven percent of the profit from this beer goes to former guides who are unable to continue their work due to injury or hardships.

Fly-fishing gear and swag from On The Fly Outfitters will be raffled during the events, and proceeds from the raffle and beer sales will go to the Coastal Conservation Association Georgia Chapter. A division of the national nonprofit organization of more than 100,000 avid recreational fishermen and women devoted to addressing conservation issues both in Georgia and nationwide, the state chapter is made up of five divisions: Atlanta, Bulloch, Sapelo Island, Savannah, and Skidaway. Members acknowledge the need for continued efforts to save the natural resources of our coastal waters from depletion or destruction; and are dedicated to preventing that devastation through programs of education, legislation, and restoration.

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For more information about upcoming “Fly Casting and Fly Tying at Village Creek Landing” events, call On The Fly Outfitters at 912-342-7086; visit the shop at 1501 Newcastle Street in Downtown Brunswick; or visit or the  company’s Facebook page.

Village Creek Landing is located at 526 South Harrington Road off Frederica Road on St. Simons Island. For more information about this historically significant venue, go to or call 912-506-2301.

Source:  Coastal Illustrated, 

Container gardening 101 with Ace Garden Center

Container gardening 101 with Ace Garden Center

With space at some homes being at a premium, or mobility issues making working in the yard a difficult task, container gardens provide a wonderful alternative. Nearly anything one can grow in a garden can be grown in a container — herbs, vegetables, some fruits, and a multitude of flowers and shrubs all can call a container home.

Dawn Hart, owner of ACE Garden Center on St. Simons Island, said there are several reasons people garden in containers.

“Many gardeners grow strictly for consumption, and are not interested in design,” she said. “For the most part, (they) grow in nursery pots, paint buckets and large tubs with drainage holes.”

Herbs, she said, can be grown in strawberry jars, and especially like terra cotta.

The choices beginners can make are vast — container gardens can be started from seeds and seed starter kits and then those plants can be transplanted into larger pots, or plants can be bought in bedding packs or in 4-inch or gallon pots.

“The Earth Box is a great inclusive planter for small-space gardening, and there are also divided potting tables and stands available on the market,” she said.

Hart encourages the use of good organic potting soil and compost, supplemented with amendments such as lime, which help prevent blossom end rot, and fertilizers, including Mycorrhizae, which helps increase plants’ uptake of nutrients and water.

“Many vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, will need staking, which can include metal cages, bamboo stakes, wooden teepees, etc.,” she said. “Consistent watering practices are encouraged, and for the most part, both herbs and vegetables do best when grown in full sun.”

Herbs, she said, should be allowed to dry completely between waterings.

Hart encourages the planting of marigolds among vegetables, which helps keep critters and mosquitoes away, adds a great pop of color. In the cooler months, she added, parsley (either Italian or curly) makes a great companion for a pot of colorful pansies.

For floral and foliage container gardens, which primarily serve a decorative purpose, there are also some basic principles, no matter what style is chosen.

“In potting up your combination, remember to situate all plants at the same depth so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface,” Hart said. “Flowers, in particular, like a peat-based potting soil, and many are available with some including fertilizers and also a moisture retentive polymer to assist in holding moisture if the gardener feel that adequate irrigation may be an issue.”

Sun exposure and positioning of the container are very important considerations, as the plant selection for each container should have the same sun needs — full sun, shade or filtered sun are the three main choices.

Hart encourages people to look at containers other than flower pots — items such as crates, wheelbarrows, baskets and non-working fountains make delightful homes for flora, as long as drainage can be created.

Watering practices are also key. Hart says the smaller the pot, the more frequently it will need to be watered. Its position in the sun also plays a role. Checking the container for drain clogs is also important.

“The best rule of ‘green’ thumb (is) to allow the container to just begin to dry out between waterings — best indicated by sticking one’s finger down into the soil, and forgetting the manicure,” she said. “Some plants, like ferns and begonias actually turn a lighter shade of green when they are in need of water and some just go into a wilt.”

Source:  Coastal Illustrated, 

The Isles are alive with music

The Isles are alive with music
The Golden Isles is a hotbed of live, local (and sometimes not-so-local) music. Pass by nearly any establishment on certain nights of the week, especially weekends, and the sound of beach music, rock ‘n’ roll, oldies, Motown and country music will delight your ears and set your toes to tappin’.

Tipsy McSway’s — The heart of music in downtown

The epicenter of music in downtown Brunswick is Tipsy McSway’s, as it has been since the popular restaurant, bar and SoGlo hangout opened in March 2012. Owner Susan Bates doesn’t shy away from welcoming entertainment that’s a little different. A case in point is this. During a recent weekend, Tipsy’s welcomed Free Spirit Orchestra, which consists of twin sisters on violin, and a drummer. They hail from Khazakstan. The following night In For a Penny, an Irish-Celtic punk band from Savannah, entertained the crowd. Of course, Tipsy’s also welcomes the area’s favorite bands to entertain guests, but has also invited Klezmer music, rap, soul and R&B groups to grace the Dixie Music Center stage.

It’s a competitive community for bands and other musical acts, Bates said, based purely on the number of bands that are vying to be featured at venues.

“They’re looking for venues,” she said. “The amount of musicians is much greater than the number of venues – it’s disproportionate.”

That, combined with only having 52 weekends (or 104 dates) to book acts, makes for a crowded field. Most venues have set entertainment the other evenings of the week, and don’t usually book someone who doesn’t appear there regularly. Examples include Joey Thigpen at Demere Grill on Wednesdays, and Crawford Perkins at Tipsy’s on Thursday.

“There are 104 opportunities to have live music each year,” Bates said. “There are a lot more bands than 104, just in our region.”

Sometimes bands are traveling the Southeast and make unscheduled stops along the way. That’s how Tipsy’s has been able to welcome Grammy winner Trae Pierce and Jason Rikert of Arrested Development.

Still, she doesn’t have to look far to find professionals.

“The level of musicianship is incredible,” she said. “Because of that, I can be a little picky.”

Bates takes risks by sometimes booking musical acts with which local audiences aren’t familiar, but because of the reputation her establishment has earned, people will give new acts a chance.

“Even if people haven’t heard of a band, they know they’re going to have a great time and hear a wide variety of music,” she said.

Mullet Bay – Entertaining crowds on its legendary porch

Mullet Bay, on Ocean Boulevard, on St. Simons Island, is one of those places that it’s easy to wander in to, simply because you walked by. The restaurant has live music every week Thursdays through Saturdays. Monique Cothern is the Thursday night artist-in-residence, and other local acts rotate through the remainder of the weekend.

Manager Chad Eason says he’s happy to help bring live music to St. Simons Island.

“It’s important in certain venues,” he said. “We are so dedicated to food and service, music is an added plus.”

Eason said the venue is a favorite local hangout, but gets its share of visitors as well.

“To me, it’s one of the best venues in the village,” he said. “It’s never too loud; we keep it down.”

Live music typically plays from 8:15-11:15 p.m. Popular acts include rock ‘n’ roll bands such as Backbeat Boulevard, Tie Died Sunset (formerly the Flood Brothers), Traveling Riverside Band, 3 Day Weekend, Touch of Grey and others.

“We like to have bands that have a following, that people like to listen to,” Eason said. “We’re fortunate; it’s a partner relationship.”

Gnat’s Landing — Kick back, relax and enjoy the music

Samelia “Sam” King, who recently took over the entertainment booking duties at Gnat’s Landing, says having live music brings a relaxed atmosphere to Redfern Village. Gnat’s has a track record of booking mostly local acts, although some bands touring the Southeast pass through from time to time and stop for a night. Word of mouth also helps bring bands to the Gnat’s stage.

King says the bands booked at the well-known island spot tend to play rock ‘n’ roll, but there is plenty of variety as well.

“Rock covers, some pop, some R&B remix,” she said.

Finding performers no longer requires bands submitting tapes, or the even more labor-intensive work of having a bar representative roam from venue to venue on a “listening tour.” These days, bands typically connect with venues through social media, and send a link to their YouTube channels. That makes auditions easier for everyone involved.

Gnat’s Landing has an advantage over some area venues as it has two spots in which entertainers can comfortably perform. In inclement weather, most acts perform indoors, but during the warm weather months, and on evenings with no rain, the “Gnatio” is the setting for entertainment in Redfern Village. It’s easy for people to gather outdoors, and accessible to passersby.

Still, King knows her patrons like to hear their favorite bands.

“We know which bands have groups of followers,” she said.

Source:  Coastal Illustrated,

Get Your Greens at Barbara Jeans

Get Your Greens at Barbara Jeans
Barbara Jean Barta is a bona fide St. Simons Island celebrity.  Not only has she called the Golden Isles home for more than 20 years, her name is also the moniker of a must-stop spot for tourists and locals alike.   Barbara Jeans Restaurant has been open in the Pier Village since March 1998, serving countless guests looking for down home comfort food with a coastal twist.  She and her husband, Jim, previously operated two sister locations in Florida before selling those to other owners.
From their famed crab cakes to grits and fried catfish, there is plenty to please on their menu.  But for diners looking to go lighter, Barta also provides a fair selection of greens.  There are the popular salad selections including the Kailua Chicken Salad, which features mango and pineapple on a bed of fresh lettuce.  There’s also B.J.’s Blue Salad that pairs fruit with veggies and pecans on a bed of crisp romaine and iceberg.  While salad may come to mind most frequently when thinking of eating light, there are plenty of green vegetables that provide a boost of nutrition without being a calorie bomb.

Greens — as they’re often collectively referred to in the South — can mean a number of things.  They can be a collard, turnip, or mustard.  The term can also include spinach.  Of course, it can also reference your typical salad lettuces like romaine, iceberg, or arugula.  The term can certainly create a lot of gray area, Barta notes. “Arugula is also called rocket,” she notes with a smile.  Regardless of which type of green — salad or vegetable — they all have one thing in common:  They are good for the body.
And Barta appreciates that.  All of the greens provide a broad spectrum that allow her to create a number of recipes and a ton of variety.  For instance, they can be sautéed or roasted.  They can be side items or pooled together for a veggie plate.
Barta is happy to go any way, when it comes to getting in the greens. And preparation is often fairly easy.  “I really like roasting them, but I also sauté them using butter or salt pork for heavier things like turnips,” she says.
The way she prepares greens is often seasonal. “We have spinach and turnips,” she says, standing in the bustling restaurant.  “During the warmer months, I like to do more of the lighter greens.  Winter greens, to me, would be the collards and mustards, the Swiss chard, turnips.  But when we start getting to this part of the season, I go lighter with arugula and spinach.”
Barta’s colorful take on an arugula dish is the perfect way to get in healthy greens during the summer and enjoy something that will also gives back to the body in terms of nutrition.  “I really like this because it’s light and easy.  There’s a lot of color to it and you could always serve it over pasta with cheese if you wanted,” she says.

Recipe: Arugula with peppers and onions


• 5 oz arugula

• 1 red pepper, diced

• 1 yellow pepper, diced

• 1 Tbsp. of garlic, minced

• 1 basket of cherry tomatoes, halved

• 3 Tbsps. olive oil

• 2 tsps. Italian seasoning

• 8 leaves of basil, julienned or     cut into long strips

• 1 tsp. Kosher salt

• 1/2 tsp. coarse ground black    pepper

• 1 pinch of red pepper flakes

Directions:  Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes. Mix in the arugula and basil. This can be enjoyed as it is or served over pasta with Parmesan cheese for something more filling.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island, 

An Ode to Orchids

An Ode to Orchids

A bright array of phalaenopsis, cattleyas, vandas, dendrobiums, and oncidiums stand in pots and hang graciously from stands inside the lobby of Hospice of the Golden Isles. As visitors and staff walk by, one man gently pulls off dead leaves and tends to the plants under his care. Some may need repotting, others periodic fertilizing. Under his careful eye, the plants provide a beautiful landscape inside, where passersby often comment on the curated garden.

Taylor Schoettle has been traveling from Darien once a week to tend to the orchids at the hospice facility for the past six years. Throughout his career, he has been a zoo curator in Puerto Rico, a marine education specialist with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service in Brunswick, and a biology teacher. And now, he is known as the Orchid Man.

“It’s just like people who collect coins or glassware or antiques. For me, it’s orchids,” says Schoettle, who first started displaying his plants at the Nativity of Our Lady Catholic Church in Darien for two decades before moving them to Hospice of the Golden Isles.

“I can’t have a greenhouse with orchids and not have people enjoy them,” he says.

Schoettle’s greenhouse, which he built with the help of his sons, is filled with different types of orchids, from the exotic cattleyas to the classic phalaenopsis. He has been known to travel to Jacksonville for the orchid show in March each year. “You will be fascinated by what you see. Oftentimes, I like the weird ones,” he says.

But Schoettle didn’t immediately jump into growing orchids after he was given one while living in Puerto Rico. His first love was reserved for heliconia, known as the lobster-claw, wild plantain, or false bird-of-paradise. “They are very rich in color … bright, brilliant; My God, they are just amazing. I took some with me, but they kept dying,” he says.


So he shifted his focus to orchids and found the species to be more resilient than most people believe. With the right care and dedication, he says, the plants can thrive. And for those that don’t seem to bloom, don’t give up on them. “I had a vanda that didn’t flower for years. Then, I put it in front of a window and, all of a sudden, it flowers. Last year, of the flowers I had, most were vandas,” Schoettle says.

Dawn Hart of Ace Garden Center on St. Simons Island enjoys vandas, too. “They are smaller, but their blooms are a true blue orchid; not one that has been dyed, which there are some,” she says. “You can get blues and dark, dark purples in the vandas.”

Hart often has a display of orchids at the front of her nursery, with new arrivals every two weeks or so. Classic white phalaenopsis stand in pots next to blossoming cymbidiums. Orchid hanging baskets near the entrance are ready to be filled with cattleyas or dendrobiums.

Hart often sees a spike of orchid purchases during wedding season and before the holidays. At a higher price point among the houseplants, orchids are often given as gifts, Hart says. “Typically, people don’t want to indulge themselves, so that’s why it’s kind of a special gift. It might not be something you think to do yourself,” she says.

In fact, Hart was gifted her first orchid, just like Schoettle was. For both, the plants proved to be more resilient than they first thought. “Don’t be afraid of them. Even though they are delicate looking, they are a pretty great, long-lasting, interior houseplant. There’s not many as refined and elegant looking as an orchid,” Hart says.

Many orchids are ephiphytic, which mean they can live on other plants — such as trees — and derive moisture and nutrients from the air. Because of this, their roots are often exposed. Orchid growers know not to trim the roots that may extend over a pot; it’s actually a sign the plant is healthy, Hart says.

Moisture — but not necessarily water — is critical for orchid care. “Part of the problem is that people hear ‘tropical’ and think they need a lot of water, and they drown them. A lot of times, the roots really need air to breathe more than water,” Schoettle says. Think of the Amazon, he explains. High humidity and a mist that covers everything is hard to mimic inside our dry environments here, which is why many serious orchid enthusiasts have a greenhouse.

Drainage pots are ideal to avoid drowning the plants. For those kept indoors, orchids can stay in the grower pot inside a larger pot; that way the water can flow out of the smaller pot without leaking all over the furniture, Hart suggests.

For those who want to keep orchids inside the home, they need to consider places that avoid direct sunlight but provide a lot of bright, indirect, or filtered light. Hart says orchids tend to do well in bathrooms, where steam from showers and baths can mimic the humidity the plants enjoy.

Watering amounts depend upon the type of orchid medium used — bark uses more than moss, which allows for more aeration. The ice cube philosophy says you can water an orchid with one ice cube, but the trick is divisive in the orchid community. “Our orchid supplier doesn’t like that ice cube philosophy. He says the ice cube kind of shocks it. So he’s not a proponent of it,” Hart explains.

Even under the best conditions, sometimes orchids can be a bit finicky. “It can bloom for three weeks and then you won’t see it at all again. It happens,” Schoettle says. To enhance the chance of respiking, Hart suggests you cut lower down the stalk, not near the bloom, and above a joint.

While tropical conditions are best for the majority of orchids, certain types can grow in northern climates or higher altitudes, including odontoglossums, masdevallias, cymbidiums, and miltonias. Generally, most orchids need to live in environments above 60 degrees. They can handle a brief cold spell but nothing sustained. Think of it this way: Orchids tend to like the same degrees that humans prefer.

“There’s usually a space in any household to accommodate them,” Hart says. “I think they are a special gift for someone who has everything. And they are also long-lasting enjoyment for the homeowner. I don’t think they ever go out of style.”

The Orchid Primer

Phal - light purple.JPG


Phalaenopsis, sometimes called the moth orchid, is a popular choice for orchid lovers today. “They are more popular and some people find them easiest,” says Hart.

While there are a variety of colors, most phals in stores are usually white or purple. And the blooms are long lasting; under the right conditions, they will flower for a few months. “In an ideal world, if you buy one that is both budded and blooming, you should get two to three months,” Hart says.

For Schoettle, phalaenopsis is a personal favorite. “It’s probably one of the most elegant kinds … rows and rows of those faces, so broad, so expressive. It’s also one of the easiest to bloom,” he says. “I don’t want to say they have been cheapened because they are so common. They haven’t; no, they haven’t. And when I was first doing orchids, they weren’t common.”


How to Keep Them Alive

Temps They can handle up to 90 degrees or as low as 60 degrees.

Water Don’t let them dry out. Potting mediums will determine how much water is retained; bark needs watering weekly whereas sphagnum should be watered when the top layer feels dry.

Light Low light or shaded areas are better. A key to look for are the leaves, which should be an olive green color. If they are darker, the plant isn’t getting enough light; if they have a red edge, they are getting too much light.


Cymbidium - mustard yellow.JPG

Cymbidiums, which usually have several blooms on the plant, are a favorite of Hart. “So many different colors; they are beautiful,” says Hart, as she looks over a large display of orchids at Ace Garden Center. On that day, she has cymbidiums in mustard yellow and deep crimson colors that stand out amongst the purple and white phalaenopsis nearby.

Since cymbidiums can be a pricier option of orchid, they are popular choices to celebrate special occasions, found in corsages or bridal bouquets. “You know you are special when you get a cymbidium orchid corsage. Sometimes in bridal bouquets, you will see cymbidium orchids. White cymbidium would be a very classic upgrade,” Hart says.

How to Keep Them Alive

Cymbidium - red2.JPG

Temps Ideal range is 70 to 85 degrees and 55 at night.

Water Keep moist throughout the summer, can lessen to barely moist during winter. Mist the bottom on the plant, not the blooms. “A lot of blooms themselves prefer not to be misted. Just around the foliage,” Hart says.

Light Strong indirect light during summer. The leaves can burn, so check for a medium green color.


Dendro - purple flowers.JPG

Dendrobiums are taller options of orchids, and the smaller blooms aren’t the only eye-catching element. This orchid also has a cascading amount of foliage and roots. They also like to be in smaller pots, which enhance their height.

For Hart, she selects dendrobiums that have a lot of foliage — “that’s just part of it for me,” she says — and will use them in mixed arrangements where the dendrobiums provide the height and ferns can be nestled around the bottom. “If someone has a cachepot for the dining room table, just sitting one orchid in it doesn’t do much; but add plants around the bottom,” she says. “They can be potted in same pot. Some people will change things out and put them in their cachepot and then line the top with moss. That way, they can water everything individually.”

How to Keep Them Alive

Temps They can stand a bit of heat, as high as 95 degrees, and down to 45 degrees at night.

Water Water more during summer months, when the plant is growing. Less so in winter.

Light Dendrobiums like a lot of light, just not direct sun.


Cattleya - twin blooms2.JPG

These exotic orchids have striking blooms with a ruffled fringe on the flower. Like cymbidiums, cattleyas can be found in wedding bouquets and corsages.

The vivid colors of cattleyas create a beautiful spray of flora inside one’s home. Cattleyas tend to do well in pots, and they can even handle the light on a windowsill. But as an epiphytic plant, these species thrive best when air can get to their roots. “You see them in hanging baskets. You can really do some dramatic things with them on tall house plants and on the trunk of the trees, where you have them in little indentations in the trunk and have them in there and spritz them,” Hart says.

Cattleyas come in different sizes, from large to miniature. “I tend to favor the big cattleyas. I love the intricacies of the faces,” Schoettle says.

How to Keep Them Alive

Cattleya - yellow.JPG

Temps Keep between 55 and 85 degrees.

Water The size of the plant matters in how often you water. Minis and seedlings will need to be watered more often, usually five to seven days, because they store less water in their pseudobulbs and roots. Larger ones can be watered every 10 days or so.

Light Light should be strong, but not direct. The leaves should be medium green, and the blooms should look healthy. If you are having difficulty with your plant blooming, it may not have enough light.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island, By:  Bethany Leggett

Sneak Peek: Cassina Garden Club’s Tabby and Tillandsia 13th Annual Garden Walk

Sneak Peek: Cassina Garden Club’s Tabby and Tillandsia 13th Annual Garden Walk

It’s not springtime without the annual Cassina Garden Club’s annual Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk. Seven private gardens have been selected to feature the breathtaking, luscious varieties of native and transplanted flowers and vegetation across St. Simons Island.

In addition to the garden stops, the club will also open the Hamilton Plantation Tabby Slave Cabins at Gascoigne Bluff for a festive marketplace featuring local vendors and artisans, Cassina Garden Club’s Plant Sale, and food trucks. Proceeds from this event help to maintain cabins and gardens on Gascoigne Bluff.

The annual self-guided tour will take place on April 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 the day of the event. For more information, go to

Sneak Peek

A Walk To Remember

Cottage on the Green

Native plantings of hydrangea, agapanthus, and olive trees complement pots overflowing with delightful plantings of seasonal color. The Mediterranean garden features citrus trees and an herb garden all within view from the back terrace.  Find the owners’ children’s garden and potting bench as you exit the property — a true gardener’s delight.

The Family Affair

Enter a garden where kids never run out of things to discover! A play gym, a sandbox, and a pool are tucked into this beautiful garden with stunning views of the Retreat Club Golf Course. The generous terrace provides indoor-outdoor living for this busy young family, and this garden maximizes space and incorporates active areas for play, while creating gardens for reflection and relaxation.

The Aiken House

Built in 1925, this historic oceanfront home and guest house on the St. Simons Sound welcomes visitors into an elegant courtyard of ancient oaks and decades old camellias. Paths of established plantings and palms lead friends to the expansive veranda to enjoy the sprawling lawn and magnificent terra cotta pots of seasonal colors that have adorned the patio since its beginning nearly a century ago.

The Village Bungalow

Home of one of the island’s tree spirits, this tranquil, compact garden captivates visitors with the attention to detail and charming utilization of space. Stroll through this property to find a plethora of whimsical birdhouses created by the homeowner; a potting shed that is both delightful and practical; and an abundant herb garden. A fun little note: This garden and home provided the backdrop to the film “Christmas on the Coast.”


Rescued from the wrecking ball in 2010, this enchanting property features a resort-style retreat that is both gracious and sophisticated. Thoughtfully designed, the garden incorporates an outdoor kitchen and screened lanai, surrounding a lush and inviting pool, resplendent with the soothing murmurs of rippling water. Visible from every room in the house and guest house, the walled design ensures a private oasis and provides a backdrop of seasonal color and iconic sounds of rustling palms, which envelop the property.

The Dream House

Situated under a canopy of live oaks, the 2017 HGTV Dream Home hosts an entertainer’s dream garden. A meandering pathway leads guests from the welcoming and lushly landscaped front entrance to the lakefront lanai. A variety of hardscapes surround the inviting pool and provide for generous seating, whether relaxing by the pool, lake, or firepit. Complemented by colorful pots of blooming flora, the multiple levels of native plantings greet visitors and create outdoor rooms for a variety of uses: cooking, dining, or taking in the expansive lakeside views.

The Beach House

Located just steps from the beach, this oceanfront beach house showcases a garden nestled among the most challenging of Mother Nature’s microclimates: salt air and scorching sun. An enjoyable and whimsical garden, the plantings present visitors who profess not to have a green thumb with numerous ideas of heat/drought tolerant plants.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island, By:  Debbie Williamson

Time Capsules of the Golden Isles

never to forget

The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters perform during the opening ceremony of the new Wanderer Memory Trail on Jekyll Island in November.

The sands of time have layered one historical moment on top of another throughout the centuries here in the Golden Isles. Prehistoric peoples gathered for annual celebrations on the south end of St. Simons Island. The first known audio recording in American history – that of the song, “Kumbaya” – was reportedly recorded not that far from Darien. Even the first trans-Atlantic phone call was received by AT&T’s president Theodore Vall at his summer home on Jekyll Island.

We highlight three locations in the Isles where history is being unearthed for future generations to connect with the past.

Can You Dig It?  

By: Bethany Leggett

Last summer, Fort Frederica National Monument bustled with activity as people marched across the grassy acres alongside the Frederica River on St. Simons Island.  

Fort Frederica.

Echoing the liveliness of centuries before — when the town and fort were constructed as a British military outpost in 1736 — the modern-day inhabitants weren’t soldiers but archaeologists and volunteers, reaching back in time with each shovel of dirt. From seven year olds to 70 year olds, all ages dug trenches, cataloged finds, and discovered shards of history buried deep below the ground as the fort underwent the first major excavation in 40 years.

“The last time we did any work here was in the 1970s with Dr. Nick Honerkamp [who conducted his doctoral research at Fort Frederica]. He’s retiring this year, so we brought him back to bookend it,” says Michael Seibert, Fort Frederica’s integrated resource manager.

They came from near and far. Honerkamp and his students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga were joined by members of the Southeast Archeological Center, the National Park Service’s archaeology unit, during the two-week experience. A student from the University of South Florida came up, and others from Georgia Southern attended. Amateur archaeologists from the Carolinas also came down for three days. In total, there were 20 archaeologists on site, and by the end of the excavation, around 180 volunteers had contributed, too.

“We have a national park in our backyard here on the island. There’s not many places that can say that … and there’s not that many opportunities for you to get your hands in the dirt in a federal archaeological site. Typically, if you do this on your own, you would go to jail for five years,” Seibert says with a laugh.

And get their hands dirty, they did. Screening, taking photographs, drawing maps of findings — after a short informational rundown, anyone visiting the fort during the excavation time had the chance to be their own version of Indiana Jones. “You watch on TV, and you see people moving with brushes and toothpicks; and that’s an aspect of it. There’s a lot of dirt moving. There’s a lot of shovel work. There’s a lot of trowel work. It’s hot. It’s buggy. But it’s rewarding. Hopefully, they saw, too, the importance,” Seibert says.

Even the kids got in on the archaeological action. Two camps — one offered for fourth- through sixth-graders and another for eighth-graders — took place, too. The camp for the 9- to 12-year-olds was similar to those which Glynn County Schools instructor Ellen Provenzano taught from 1994 to 2012 at the fort. She returned last year for the camp, where the children learned how to handle real artifacts under the watchful gaze of volunteers and staff. “So they are digging up real artifacts, but in a controlled setting, to learn all the correct things,” Seibert says.

The older kids in the second camp got to work side-by-side Seibert and the staff; and they “actually got to do something that is probably pretty rare, in the park service at least. I took them into the park, and I said, ‘You are going to dig a hole here, and you are going to do all the work,’” he says. “They laid out the unit, they excavated. They took all the notes and all the photographs, strained it, and bagged it.”

The odds of finding something underneath the ground were in the eighth-graders favor. The same anomaly had popped up on data sets from ground penetrating radar, conductivity, and magnetometer readings. But what could it be?

A trove of discoveries — from a large cooking pot to buckle fragments, food waste, bits of bone, and even a well-preserved peach pit — were discovered as the dirt was carefully moved away. “We have some post-colonial stuff, which we should; but a lot of this stuff that they were finding at the right level was colonial period,” Seibert says. “It’s in this town lot, which we know belonged to at least one individual who leased it out to some soldiers at some point in time. So this is probably related to soldiers living in huts or temporary housing in that area because it is so close to the barracks,” he says.

The excavations were a special experience for Seibert to expose the younger generation to the field of archaeology. For instance, there was one young girl from Atlanta who had visited the fort while on vacation with her mother in April. She had a passion for archaeology and wanted to know more about the fort. Seibert happened to meet her at the visitors center and told her about the camps planned that summer. While she couldn’t attend a week-long camp, the girl did get her first exposure to archaeology when she returned to St. Simons for her birthday, which occurred during the dig. “She came out and spent the entire day excavating with me … and she actually came back on Sunday afternoon to dig some more. So, I thought this was cool. She helped dig and map all kinds of stuff,” Seibert says before pausing to reflect on passing along the passion for discovering ancient cultures. “Hopefully, you get one, you know.”

Seibert, who became the first archaeologist on Fort Frederica’s staff since the late 1940s, has been busy since his arrival at the St. Simons national park in October 2016, and the two-week excavation was the culmination of more than a year of work. In 2017, the park had ground-penetrating radar completed around the town site, with the help of funding awarded through Seibert’s proposals.

“We surveyed a lot of the town using geophysical techniques, which helped us see what was potentially under the ground and guide future research,” Seibert says. This led to a “surgical approach,” where small units could be opened above anomalies discovered in the data sets rather than digging long trenches and hoping for the best, as had been done more than a half a century ago, he explains.

Students gather around an excavated site at Fort Frederica this summer.

This targeted approach of using radar not only saves time but money, too. “Keeping the artifacts, that’s a lifelong process. You could never get rid of them. The more you dig up, the more money you need to have. So if you take a surgical approach, you can get better answers without spending all of your funds,” he says.

Interested by what the data sets were showing, Seibert first did a smaller excavation unit with the help of his family on weekends. “What we are looking for are things not in alignment in the town site … maybe they are in the middle of an alley, or they are tilted sideways or something like that. They don’t jive with the current overall understanding; we want to look at those to see what they are,” Seibert says.

Interested by what the data sets were showing, Seibert first did a smaller excavation unit with the help of his family on weekends. “What we are looking for are things not in alignment in the town site … maybe they are in the middle of an alley, or they are tilted sideways or something like that. They don’t jive with the current overall understanding; we want to look at those to see what they are,” Seibert says.

While the family worked under the tent at the fort, people kept stopping by to ask what was going on. “During that one-week dig, we talked to about 500 people and we found a bunch of stuff. So, clearly there’s really cool things happening here, and there is clearly interest,” he says.

With more to discover, Seibert decided to get the ball rolling on a larger excavation that would incorporate the community’s involvement. Many locals and visitors got involved by just visiting the fort during the excavation time in June. An informational tent was set up where participants were trained on the basics of preservation standards. “We estimate that we talked to more than 2,000 people in 11 days. It’s a peak season, right around the beginning of summer. All of these people here are just visitors that happened to come for the day. We had extra gloves and stuff, if you wanted to come out and spend a couple of hours,” Seibert explains of the 180 people who ended up lending a hand.

“When you dig something up, I like to tell them, ‘You are probably the first person to touch that since it was lost, which could be 200 to 2,000 years old if you go back to prehistoric times.’ That’s a really cool concept … to be the first person to touch this since the last person did,” he says.

Friends of Fort Frederica Board Members Bill Jones, left, Amy Dry, Clint Purser, Lucy Thomas, and park archaeologist Michael Seibert, gather before the fort in November

The colonial period is a well-documented period of time on the island. In fact, the staff are waiting on a report to see if they can conclude the location of General Oglethorpe’s house site. That being said, evidence of human habitation before and after the 18th Century isn’t as well-known. “I feel like we don’t know everything about 1736 to 1758, but we probably know a lot more about those 22 years than we do about the 150 years after or any other times before that. So that’s why we are trying to focus on things outside the norm,” he explains.

Further excavation findings from the summer included items from a plantation-era warehouse, and a shell pit more than six feet deep that has been radio carbon dated between 500 and 900 AD. “That’s a pretty long range, but you can say, this is prehistoric. And the interesting thing is that this was under a historic road, which is pretty cool,” Seibert says. “I think the prehistoric stuff … helps to show that once a good place to live, always a good place to live. You know, we aren’t the first people here. We won’t be the last.”

Artifacts and documents from the summer’s dig are now on display at the visitor center at the park, providing an updated exhibit inside the center that could be rotated to include future findings, too.

And there are plans to bring back the summer camp this year, too, with a little help from some friends — the Friends of Fort Frederica, that is. The nonprofit group, formed in November 2017, branched out from the Fort Frederica Association that got its start from Howard Coffin in 1941. Back then, the association was instrumental in obtaining the additional 80 acres around the site that was required by the National Park Service to designate Fort Frederica as a national monument.

Michael Seibert, archaeologist at Fort Frederica National Monument, looks at radar scans during the dig last summer.

While the historic association continues to support the fort through revenue-producing concessions, such as the bookstore and drink machines, the newly formed Friends group is interested on expanding their assistance. As such, fundraising, community engagement, capital campaigns, monthly events, and more are planned, says Lucy Thomas, one of the founding members of the Friends of Fort Frederica. Other founding members include Bill Jones, Valerie Hepburn, Albert Fendig, Millie Wilcox, and Dewey Benefield.

For Thomas, getting the community involved in the first major excavation in recent history was critical. “The amount of valuable research uncovered was significant. However, the staff’s idea to open the unearthing of history to the public was ingenious,” she says. “The outpouring of volunteers from far and wide speaks for itself. The public clearly understands the significance and fascination of the history here at the fort, and they are interested in being a part the research, preservation, and promotion of Fort Frederica.”

Working with the National Park Service staff — Seibert along with Superintendent Gary Ingram; Manager Steve Theus; and Supervisory Facility Operations Specialist Chad Thomas — has been a thrill, Thomas says. “They are enthusiastic about making the fort a popular destination for visitors to our community as well as for the locals,” she says.

When the Friends turned to the staff and asked what they would like to have funded first, it was the educational camps for the kids that topped the list. “It is a testament to the staff at Fort Frederica that their first request was for educational programs for the kids. The camps were a huge success, and we have already received their request to sponsor the camps again this year,” Thomas says.

Thomas knows how captivating the national monument can be for children. After all, she grew up exploring the island’s historic treasure herself. “I have fond childhood memories of going to the fort with my parents: when the old orange trees lined Broad Street; when there were boxes by each ruin that had a recording of the people reenacting who lived in those ruins, including one scary guy at the moat who screamed ‘Halt, who goes there?!’,” she recalls. When she had kids of her own, the fort was an oft-visited location for picnics.

“Somewhere along the way, our visits were spaced further and further apart. I think a lot of locals have done the same. That is about to change. There are live programs every month at the fort, free to the public. There will be members-only events at the fort, and there will be community-sponsored events at the fort,” Thomas says.

Allied in their future efforts with the staff’s vision, the Friends hope to support further archaeological research on the grounds and exhibits to display the findings; fund benches and educational wayside markers on the 1.5-mile trail, in collaboration with the Colonial Dames, Brunswick Town Committee; and assist in the renovation of the Visitor’s Center. There are plans to build a pavilion to be used as an event venue and outdoor classroom by the Frederica River. There is also talk about building a floating dock for kayakers and canoers. Things may even get futuristic with virtual reality and 3D tours, where visitors could use an app on their phones to see where items had been discovered in the park as they walk underneath

the oaks.

Volunteers Francesca Trinca, left, and Mary Jo Davis sift through dirt in search for artifacts at an archaeological dig last summer at Fort Frederica National Monument.

“Together with the National Park Service team, we have big dreams for our fort,” Thomas says.

Seibert is onboard for future ways to incorporate all ages at Fort Frederica National Monument. Fort Frederica is unique for its history — and how little has actually been explored leaves more to do, he says. “It’s a pristine 18th Century site that’s been protected for most of its history. It was owned by one or two families, and there’s not been a lot of digging here,” Seibert says. “You don’t come across the opportunity to dig these things very often. I’m here, and now there is finally an opportunity to partner with these people. We don’t want to go excessive and dig everything up. But if there are questions we can answer, then we should answer them.”

Keep up with the latest happenings at Fort Frederica National Monument through the group’s Facebook page.

If you are interested in learning more about the Friends of Fort Frederica, go to

Never To Forget

By Bethany Leggett

Visitors experience the new Wanderer Memory Trail and its interactive exhibits during the trail’s opening event in November on Jekyll Island. The trail tells the moving story of the enslaved Africans who, in 1858, survived a harrowing transatlantic voyage on the Wanderer, one of the last known slave ships to arrive in America

One hundred and sixty years ago, the typically serene banks of the Jekyll River on the southern side of the barrier island were disturbingly tumultuous, as hundreds men and women were smuggled ashore after having been captured and transported to America aboard the converted slave vessel, The Wanderer.

The Wanderer — which had been outfitted for the nefarious and illegal purpose despite the U.S. having outlawed the international slave trade half a century earlier — dropped anchor off Jekyll on November 28, 1858, with 400 enslaved aboard. Close to 100 had already perished, their bodies thrown overboard, during the horrendous Middle Passage from West Africa. Once the enslaved were ferried over to the mainland, they were sent to Savannah, Augusta, and ports in Florida and South Carolina to be sold.

Scattered across the South, the Africans formed a new hybrid culture known today as the Gullah Geechee, and their story — one of capture and survival — is detailed extensively in the newly dedicated Wanderer Memory Trail.

And it was along that trail, on a sunny Saturday this past November, where a crowd of all ages gathered together, holding candles as they explored the exhibit that sheds light on the legacy of those captured and their contributions to the communities in which they lived, as well as the lasting impact the survivors had on coastal Georgia and across the United States.

Designed by Curt Bowman of Artaventure, in Richmond, Virginia, a series of interactive exhibits along the path tell the true story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America aboard The Wanderer. Visitors will discover the pieces of Umwalla’s journey — from capture to freedom — as they are unveiled along the memory trail, which was produced and installed by Bowman and Jekyll Island Authority staff and volunteers.

By framing the story from a child’s perspective, the new memorial strikes a chord with many in attendance during the dedication, including Griffin Lotson, a seventh-generation Geechee. “What they are doing at the [Jekyll Island] Authority, they are bringing it from a child’s perspective, a young fella’s perspective. I think everyone loves family, everyone loves children,” he says of being able to connect with the story that unfolds throughout the trail.

Staff members from the Jekyll Island History Department and Jekyll Island Museum were able to enlighten attendees about the new exhibit during the November 17 dedication ceremony. Also present were the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, a troupe of performing artists who themselves are descendants of African slaves.

“This trail is an important and poignant reminder of the conditions these enslaved people suffered through during their journey to the United States, and the unthinkable hardships they faced after they got here,” says Dr. Deborah L. Mack, associate director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, National Museum of African

Raheem Isom, far left, Ocea Lee Barnes, and Patricia Bishop — all descendants of Ward Lee, a survivor of The Wanderer — examine the updated list of known Wanderer survivors with Dr. Deborah L. Mack, far right, an associate director in the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The list, stationed at the entrance to Jekyll Island’s new Wanderer Memory Trail, so far includes 67 ship survivors who have been identified by name.

American History & Culture. “It also references their path to freedom and it vividly reminds us that despite the circumstances of their arrival, the dynamic culture these brave people brought to America continues to influence Coastal Georgia and countless places beyond.”

The reimagined exhibit replaces a previous statue that had honored the survivors of The Wanderer. In 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority dedicated the first Wanderer Memorial, a large, metal sculpture honoring the ship’s survivors. When the sculpture began to deteriorate from exposure to the salt air and had to be removed, the opportunity to design a new type of memorial emerged. This led to the creation of the Wanderer Memory Trail, situated in the same general location as the original memorial, in the St. Andrews Picnic Area on Jekyll Island.


places in peril

Sketch of The Wanderer.

The reimagined exhibit replaces a previous statue that had honored the survivors of The Wanderer. In 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority dedicated the first Wanderer Memorial, a large, metal sculpture honoring the ship’s survivors. When the sculpture began to deteriorate from exposure to the salt air and had to be removed, the opportunity to design a new type of memorial emerged. This led to the creation of the Wanderer Memory Trail, situated in the same general location as the original memorial, in the St. Andrews Picnic Area on Jekyll Island.

“This updated, larger exhibit tells the story much-more comprehensively than before. In adding to that legacy, the Wanderer Memory Trail and the lessons it provides also enhance the educational experience that comes with a visit to Jekyll Island,” says Cheltsey Vann, Jekyll Island Museum Educator. “We are very proud of this new island landmark and anticipate that families and various groups most of all will want to add this trail — and the journey of Umwalla — to their Jekyll itineraries.”

The Wanderer Memory Trail has been a collaborative project by Jekyll Island Authority along with The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture; the State of Georgia Historic Preservation Division; the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission; the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina; and various descendants of known Wanderer survivors.

The trail is designed to be easily toured by all ages and group sizes. Though visits normally are self-guided, tours also can be included as part of special programming. For more information, visit

Places in Peril: Glynn Landmark

Provided by Traci Clark

Needood Baptist Church

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has released its 2019 list of 10 Places in Peril, and Needwood Baptist Church and School in Brunswick has been included in this year’s selections.

“This is the Trust’s 14th annual Places in Peril list,” says Mark C. McDonald, president of the trust. “We hope the list will continue to bring preservation solutions to Georgia’s imperiled historic resources by highlighting 10 representative sites.”

 The list is designed to raise awareness about Georgia’s history. Selections include buildings, structures, districts, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes that are threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy.

Founded in 1866 by freed people raised in the Gullah Geechee tradition, Needwood Baptist Church is one of the oldest African-American churches in the state. The church building dates to the 1870s and likely sits on land that was once part of Needwood Plantation. The adjacent school, built in 1907, remained in use for the children of the congregation until the 1950s, when Georgia created equalization schools. The Needwood Baptist Church and School are threatened by their current state of disrepair, including failing roofs and increased water damage after recent storms, despite many families, descendants, and church members working to save them.

Other sites on the 2019 Places in Peril include: Huston House at Butler Plantation in Darien; Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Garden in Savannah; Colquitt County Arts Center in Moultrie; Glennwanis Hotel in Glennville; Madison Theatre and Rhodes Center South, both in Atlanta; Springfield Log Cabin School in Union Point; Stark Mill Community Building in Hogansville; and The Cedars in Washington.

Through the list, the trust will encourage owners, individuals, organizations, and communities to employ proven preservation tools, financial resources, and partnerships in order to reuse, reinvest, and revitalize historic properties that are in peril.

Founded in 1973, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is now one of the country’s leading statewide, nonprofit preservation organizations. The trust generates community revitalization by finding buyers for endangered properties acquired by its Revolving Fund and raises awareness of other endangered historic resources. The Trust offers a variety of educational programs for adults and children; provides technical assistance to property owners and historic communities; advocates for funding, tax incentives and other laws aiding preservation efforts; and manages two house museums in Atlanta and Macon.

History Lesson: The Wanderer

In 1808, Congress abolished the slave trade and even made it a crime punishable by death in 1820.

That didn’t stop Charles Lamar, a member of a prominent Savannah family, from approaching New York Yacht Club member William Corrie to purchase a luxury racing yacht, The Wanderer, and begin to repurpose the vessel for a run across the Atlantic.

The Wanderer departed Charleston on July 4, 1858, with plans to make it to the Congo River near present-day Angola. There, the crew continued to make rudimentary modifications in order to fit the 500 purchased slaves, who had been bought for the rate of $50 per person, aboard. Conditions were horrendous for the enslaved onboard and close to 100 died before the ship landed off the shores of Jekyll, which was owned by Henry DuBignon Jr., who had conspired with Corrie to unload the illegal cargo of slaves.

Despite the attempt at secrecy, news of The Wanderer’s brazen journey began to spread. The conspirators, including Lamar and Corrie, were charged with slave trading and piracy in a federal court in Savannah, only to have the jury acquit the men on all charges.

The Wanderer and the lack of punishment for those involved strained tensions between the South and the North further, when then-president James Buchanan proposed the federal government be more aggressive against the slave trade.

The following year, the Civil War broke out. The Wanderer was captured in 1861 in Key West by Union troops and used by the North for a variety of wartime purposes. After the war, the boat returned to private ownership before it sunk off the coast of Cuba in 1870.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. Jekyll, & Sea Island 

Muhly Grass Sews Nature Together

Muhly Grass Sews Nature Together

What is that pink plant growing in the dunes? In October and November, I hear that question a lot at the Jekyll Island Guest Information Center. Muhly grass is a unique plant here on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. It grows in the back dunes. For most of the year, people tend to ignore the soft grass right behind the beach. Well, they do until it blooms, and then its beautiful pink seeds catch our attention.

This Muhly grass, or Muhlenbergia sericea, has an intriguing nature connection. In the early 1800s along our coast, we had large rice plantations. The people who worked these fields were enslaved people brought from the rice fields of West Africa. These people brought their culture of basket sewing with them. They made their fanner baskets to help separate the rice from the chaff. They also made other types of baskets for all kinds household chores.

Basketmaking is a tedious business. Gathering just the right kind of grass, wrapping it in strips of palmetto leaves, then weaving and sewing these ropes into different shaped baskets takes patience and skill. It is an art form mastered by these West African people.

After the Civil War, these freed people had a craft which gave them an income. For years, they lived by making these unique baskets that could be sold for hundreds of dollars.

But as the years passed, more people discovered the coast. They began building in the areas where Muhly grass grows. Areas which were once wide open now were closed behind gates from the basketmakers.

In 1988, a group gathered to discuss the problem facing the sweetgrass basketmakers. Some horticulturists joined the meeting. These farmers felt sure they could grow the grass on farmland or in backyard plots. The grass thrived under the farmers’ eyes. Then, it was time to harvest the grass. The excited basketmakers came to try this grass out; but it turned out that although the grass looked good, it was brittle and not suitable for basketmaking. Wild Muhly grass left to grow in the arid dune field were easily bent into the shapes for baskets, but the cultivated grass was just too brittle to use.

The Muhly grass needed the dunes, and the basketmakers needed the grass. So, they made agreements with gated communities to come in and harvest the sweet grass. Little St. Simons Island played a part in bringing the Muhly grass back. They invited the basketmakers onto the island to get the grass they need.

Since the 1990s, Muhly grass is coming back to the Georgia coast. Jekyll Island’s Cliff Gawron plants it all over the barrier island. There is a beautiful field of Muhly grass growing behind the primary dunes on St. Simons Island, too.

Now back to the first question I asked. What is that pink grass on the island? It is Muhly grass. It saved a culture, and the culture saved it. Now that is sewing together nature and people of the coast — and is a great Nature Connection.

To learn more about Muhly grass, read the book “Stalking the Wild Sweetgrass,” by Robert J Dufault.