Yesterday I wrote about Untamed, the book. Today, I went on the Land and Legacy Tour, given by the rangers at Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Cumberland Island has had a human history for thousands of years. Yet, the Carnegies have left the most recent legacy on the island. The Land and Legacy Tour takes visitors to the top half of the island to see buildings and other historic locations.
You can see these places on your own if you’re willing to backpack from the ferry landing or if you have your own boat. Now the park service takes visitors in a van on an all-day interpretive trip. Better make reservations.
The history of the island can be found on the park website or in Untamed, Will Harlan’s book. The ranger said that visitors ask about three things: horses, the Kennedy wedding and now, Carol R., the subject of Untamed.
Feral horses graze everywhere. See above.
We spent the most time in and around Plum Orchard Manor, a house built for one of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie’s children. Ranger Ron Crawford, took us up and down and all around the house. It had the feel of a poor man’s Biltmore Estate. Hah! Still huge.
I need to remember that the Carnegies and others lived on Cumberland Island, maybe four months out of the year. The temperature is in the 70s now and very comfortable. Not so in the summer.
The live oaks around the house are huge. Here’s Lenny, adding a little scale to a live oak on the property. He’s completey dwarfed by one tree.
The ride to the top of the island is slow. The road is minimally maintained because the land on either side of the road has been declared a Wilderness Area. If the road had also been in the Wilderness, the park couldn’t do these tours. For some reason, the public hasn’t yet caught on that these tours are available. The park also makes the tour sound very rigorous, which scares many people away. Since national parks can’t advertise in the traditional way, it depends on its website and word of mouth.
The last stop is in the Settlement, where African Americans lived from the 1890s. Now the only structure that’s maintained by the park is the First African Baptist Church, which was built in 1893 and rebuilt in 1937.
John Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette were married in the church in 1996. The site was chosen because it was out of the limelight. The church is next to Carol R.’s compound. See yesterday’s blog.
Cumberland island National Seashore may be the only Southeastern national park that interprets the gilded age. The South was so devastated by the Civil War that the only gilded age homes were owned by Northerners. All together, a fascinating place.