Historical St. Simons Island
It felt like home. Maybe it was the ocean all around me, serenity in the air, or both. Just before 2pm my car passed Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island greeted us. Another 15 minutes found me standing in line at registration for the King and Prince Hotel. My first tour was in less than ½ hour with the Light House Trolley and 9 other travel writers here for the press trip to the island. Cap Fendig was our tour guide.
As far back as 1870, tourists have “swarmed” to St. Simons with the coming of steam travel. In 1924, the F J Torras Causeway opened to bridge both Brunswick and St Simons Island.
The Georgia coast is 90 miles long. St Simons is the most western island on the eastern seaboard. It is the largest barrier island in a sequence of 13 and said to be the same size as Manhattan (population between 18k and 21k). Producing the most seafood due to the marshlands, this island has over 50 restaurants.
The Echo Lounge is the newest and only restaurant with an ocean view at The King and Prince Hotel.
The tides here, at St. Simons are the highest on the East Coast. It’s typical to have 10 – 12 foot tides. Each tide releases nutrients which wash down from Georgia’s rivers. This gives the ocean a different shade of blue than normal.
“There are two major icons on St. Simons: the St. Simons Lighthouse and The King and Prince Hotel,” says Curt Smith (lighthouse historian). “Both of them have gone under some heavy duty restoration and reconstruction this year. Fortunately the King and Prince have always kept in mind its legacy of architecture and style. The hotel still looks stunning like it did in 1930 when it began. ”
St. Simons Lighthouse
In 1811, James Gould of Massachusetts built St. Simons first lighthouse. It [lighthouse] was later destroyed; by the confederate army. This guaranteed no one could use the lighthouse as an ATON (Aid to Navigation) or blockade. Not even the union navy. They believed it would be better if they took the lens out of the lighthouse and blew it up.
In 1872, Charles Cluskey designed the second lighthouse. Charles died before the lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling were finished. Pierre Fresnel designed the current lighthouse. He designed the lens that not only reflected light but refracted light. When finished, this lighthouse was painted solid white; stands 105 feet tall, and has 129 steps up with 6 landings. It does not have an elevator. Today, the lighthouse is totally automated; comes on at dusk, runs all night long, and produces one beam per minute. The Coast Guard in Jacksonville maintains it. The Coast Guard Auxiliary visits St Simons Island, every Thursday to clean the lens and make sure everything runs as it should be. The Coastal Georgia historical society owns both the lighthouse and the keeper’s dwelling. As of this writing, both were under renovation. In 2012, the lighthouse tower was finished. Heavy rains closed the lighthouse tower to tours.
“We have a ghost,” says Curt, “his name is Fred. The assistant keeper murdered the main keeper in 1886, I believe. He got away with it. Some people say it was over a chicken, but rumor has it it was over a woman. People claim they can still hear the ghost in the lighthouse. We have people who can smell his pipe, hear his dog.”
You can see the light on the lighthouse 23 miles out to sea. The channel is marked and lit 12 miles out; dredged to 40feet deep at low tide. It silts up quickly so they have constant dredging going on. To pass the channel safely just line up the lighthouse in the center of the two range beacons.
The King and Prince
In the 1930’s and 40’s there were few places to stay on St. Simons island. When the war broke out naval personnel used The King and Prince Hotel for their living quarters and radar training school. Then as the navy returned dead sailors they brought the bodies to the port of Jacksonville, FL (70 miles down the coast). Because there weren’t any places for the families to stay in Jacksonville, the King and Prince reserved rooms for the families; of those deceased sailors heading home for burial. “My dad was about 16 when the ships were sunk,” says Cap Fendig, “and rode out to help rescue a few survivors and bring in some of the dead.” Since then the hotel was home to the G8 under George W. Bush.
Today, The King and Prince is both family and pet friendly. Your pet must be well-behaved. Weigh 25 pounds or lighter. Current id tags. And, veterinarian certificate of up-to-date shots. The King and Prince hotel is in the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only beachfront hotel. This is due to a zoning ordinance since 1920 that says no one can build beyond the tree tops or higher than 45 feet.
The now famous Echo Lounge replaced the indoor swimming pool. Here you can have a meal made with the freshest Georgia ingredients and colorful drink from the bar. The Echo Lounge plus three other function rooms all have spectacular ocean views. Each one has its own theme and history dating back to its heyday.
My room was in the Oceanfront Building overlooking the two swimming pools and ocean. In the morning I’d start my day with a cup of tea while I sat on my deck and watched the swimmers, bike riders, those walking the beach, and occasionally a large cargo ship go by. Night time ends with the rhythms of ocean waves slapping against the sea wall.
“An interesting foot note to looking out over the ocean,” began Curt, “when I was a little boy, I used to say we’re looking out at Spain or Portugal or even North Africa. You’re not. You’re looking out at Vero Beach, FL. If you study the map and the way the island sits the State of Florida comes around.”
Last, but not least I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this powerful message from Cap. “Every year no matter the best efforts of the community we have somebody drown and lose their life. The reason is they don’t understand this unique tidal system. So while you’re out walking the beach and exploring the sandbar during low tide remember the tide changes every six hours. That means if you have 12 feet of tide the water comes in at 2 feet an hour. It comes in behind the sandbars and fills in. This traps people and they either panic or can’t swim the fast currents or know how to swim with the current. So, please pay attention to the signs at each beach access.”
Things to Do
There is plenty to do here on the island for all ages. The island has paved sidewalks that take you all over the island. From end to end is 18 miles. You can rent bicycles, kayak, paddle board, sailing, play tennis, or go shrimping. Down at the pier you can go fishing, shop, have picnics, bar-be-cue, and let the young ones loose in the two playgrounds. If you golf, check out the renovations at the King and Prince Golf Course.
By boat –
Hampton River Marina
Chart #11508, Near Mile Marker 664
Hail Hampton River Marina on Channel 16 or call 912-638-1210.
Morningstar Marinas – Golden Isles
Lat/Long – 31°10’8.0004”, -81°24’56.0016”, Mile Marker: 675
Hail Morningstar Marina Golden Isles on Channel 16 or call 912-480-0266
By car –
St. Simons is 60 miles north of Jacksonville Airport, 70 miles south of Savannah/Hilton Head Airport, or a 20 minute ride from Brunswick Golden Isles Airport
St Simons Island and The King and Prince Hotel
201 Arnold Road, St. Simons Island, GA 31522