Category Archives: St. Simons Island GA

Hunting on St. Simons, 1925

In the early 20th century, St. Simons Island was a popular destination for hunters from all over the country. Much like Sapelo Island today, it was scarcely developed and was home to numerous Geechee-Gullah people. The island was still a wild place in the winter of 1925 when this series of real photo postcards documenting a hunting trip were made. The first image shows a local African-American guide navigating a skiff through one of the numerous tidal creeks that characterize the island landscape. I don’t recognize the location, but the boat docked at the far right of the image may have the name “Frederica”.
I’m surprised that hunters were interested in raccoons, but the sender of these cards, Mr. Walter Friedlander of Roselle, New Jersey, made special mention of their abundance when writing home to his wife.
This is one of the thousands of Raccoons on this island. May be millions…”

I was unable to reproduce the other cards in this series, but a buck and several hogs were among the other game taken on the trip.

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Village Cemetery, St. Simons Island

The sacred ground on St. Simons known as Village Cemetery is one of the most important African-American burial grounds in Georgia. Closely watched over and maintained by the First African Baptist Church of St. Simons, it is the final resting place of countless souls who worked nearby plantations from the early 19th century to Emancipation, and their descendants. It should be noted that until World War II, and perhaps a bit later, African-Americans were much more numerous on St. Simons, living in various historical communities scattered around the island.

I found the cemetery by accident and was so moved by its beauty that I felt an urgency to document its most important monuments. Though there are countless unmarked and unknown burials, the oldest surviving section of the cemetery contains numerous vernacular headstones. These nationally significant treasures represent the resourcefulness and perhaps shed light on some of the traditions of the first and second generations of freedmen who remained on the island after emancipation. In early 19th century Georgia, slave burials were decorated with the last object used by the deceased. It is likely that the decorated graves in Village Cemetery are a continuation of that tradition. The cemetery is active so modern headstones and markers are also present.

I hope that the church or others with more knowledge of the cemetery’s history will work to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A survey was published by the Golden Isles Archaeology Society in 2000 and the cemetery has been documented on Findagrave. I am unable to share the location of the cemetery but those interested may wish to contact the First African Baptist Church.

Vernacular Monuments of Village Cemetery

Hattie Lee (29 November 1871-6 June 1929)
The Hattie Lee monument features a mosaic of glass and shells in the form of a vase or tree of life. It is the most colorful of all the surviving monuments.
Thomas A. Lee (9 August 1881-10 January 1933)
Aaron Lomon (8 July 1891-19 August 1931)
The Aaron Lomon monument features a hand-sculpted bell, ringing.
Peter Ramsey (17 February 1873-2 April 193?)
The Peter Ramsey monument features a mosaic star and beautiful raised lettering.
John Davis (April 1871-21 September 1927)
The John Davis monument features an encircled star mosaic centered with milk glass.
Albert Hampton (1 April 1897-5 November 1937) The Albert Hampton monument features a garland of pebbles in a design I don’t recognize. In African burial customs, shells and stones represented the boundary to the afterlife. In African cultures, white often represented death, so the light color of the stones is an affirmation of that tradition.
Jim Hightower (30 October 1884-7 June 1934)
The Jim Hightower monument features an interesting placement of letters and a star. The name is spelled phonetically, which was common in an era when African-Americans were often denied a basic education. There is slight damage to the lower right side of the stone.
Louise Hunter Hightower (27 January 1887-24 March 1964)
Mary Floyd, Hunter Baffo. There is no discernible information about the deceased on this simple headstone.
Edward Floyd (March?-May?) Though it appears to be the resting place of Floyd Edward, the presence of other Floyds in the cemetery suggest it is likely Edward Floyd. Unfortunately, this is often encountered and illustrates the difficulties of African-American genealogy.
Phillist White (23 January 1893-4 December 1927) I’m sharing this monument to represent the others of this manufacture bearing the symbol of the Mosaic Templars of America. This was an African-American fraternal organization founded by former slaves in 1882 to provide life and burial insurance to the communities they served. The local chapter was known as the Wesley Oak Chamber 2128.

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Baiting a Crab Trap, St. Simons Island

This gentleman [known on the island as The Original Crabman] was getting his crab trap ready when I was walking out to the end of the pier to photograph the progress on the Golden Ray cleanup effort. As is typical, he was using a chicken neck and fish head as bait. After dropping his trap in the water off the pier for just a few minutes, he brought it back up with several crabs.

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Huie House, 1928, St. Simons Island

This early example of the International Style, designed by Macon architect Fred Stroberg, uniquely employees the local building material known as tabby to make a bold statement about the past and the future. It has also been referred to as “Mediterranean House” and the outline of a shed roof on the side indicates it may have had such a decorative element at one time, but it’s decidedly International in appearance and spirit, making it an even more significant landmark.

The house is primarily associated with the late Mildred Weigle Nix Huie (1907-2000). A native of Augusta, Mrs. Huie received a degree in Classical Education from Florida State University. She and her husband Carl purchased the house in 1967 and it remained Mrs. Huie’s home and studio until her death. Mrs. Huie was an accomplished Impressionist painter, sculptor and historian, and upon establishing the Left Bank Art Gallery in 1962, became an integral part of the St. Simons cultural scene, through the fostering of other artists and the free access she provided to her own collection as well as philanthropic pursuits.

Mrs. Huie’s daughter, Millie Wilcox, maintained the home as the Mildred Huie Museum for more than a decade after her mother’s death.

The property was the first site acquired by the St. Simons Land Trust in 2018 and though the museum itself is closed, the grounds are a welcome respite from the busy commercial area of Frederica Road, open and free to all.

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Bungalow, 1940s, St. Simons Island

The property surrounding this front gable bungalow has recently been cleared, suggesting it’s likely to soon be redeveloped. This is one of just a few surviving vernacular structures in the scattered community known as Jewtown. The community got its name from the Levison brothers, who had a thriving store about a mile east of Gascoigne Bluff. They called it Levisonton but the name didn’t stick and residents referred to the area as Jewtown. Like the other two historic African-American communities on St. Simons, Harrington and South End, Jewtown is largely indistinguishable from the rest of the island today. I believe the cottage dates to circa 1940-1945, making it a relatively late construction for the community.

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Front Gable Cottage, 1930s, St. Simons Island

 

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First African Baptist Church, 1869, St. Simons Island

Though it has been expanded during its history, the original circa 1869 core remains in this venerable church, built by Freedmen. Enslaved men and women established this congregation circa 1859 and when they were able, they built their own house of worship, which still serves their descendants to this day. If you’re driving to Christ Church or Fort Frederica, don’t overlook this important part of the island’s history.

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Vernacular House, St. Simons Island

Thanks to Paul Meacham for bringing this house to my attention. Check out his amazing finds @waywardsoutherner on Instagram.

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Hall and Parlor House, Circa 1930, St. Simons Island

This small house is one of the most intact survivors in the historic African-American community of South End.

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Craftsman Bungalow, 1930s, St. Simons Island

Historic cottages and bungalows on St. Simons Island are such an endangered resource that they can’t be documented fast enough. This one is in the historic African-American community of Harrington.

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