Submitted by Sammy Smith ([email protected])

Standing tabby walls at Elizafield Plantation. This building was an octagon, and housed the mill for processing cane to make sugar, which was exported.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology met on St. Simons Island, east of Brunswick, on a lovely fall weekend, the 16–17th of October, and explored archaeological sites there and in the SSI area. The SGA thanks all who organized the trip, discussed the places we visited, and gave us permission to visit them. Thanks, too, to all non-members who joined our tour of archaeological sites of St. Simons Island and environs.

The group at the orientation meeting.

This year’s Fall Meeting theme was Historic Preservation of Prehistoric, Colonial and Plantation Structures on the Coast. Organizer Kevin Kiernan arranged for a tour of many important “standing” archaeological resources in the St. Simons Island area. Many of these resources remain today in large part due to protection and conservation by preservation-minded private landowners. Preservation and education are important, and fundamental to the SGA’s mission.

The group and guests (the meeting was open to the public) first met at Sea Palms Resort for registration until 9 am, then settled in for an abbreviated SGA business meeting and orientation sessions. The group filled all eighty chairs in the meeting room—and more! (For Friday activities, see the end of this story.)

Newly installed SGA President Catherine Long welcomed the group (look for an upcoming story on the extremely brief business meeting, including two achievement awards—to Archaeologist Fred Cook and Educator Ellen Provenzano).

Dr. David Crass—Director of the Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Natural Resources, State Archaeologist, and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer—gave a short presentation about recent reorganization of his Division. The new structure makes HPD more efficient in the face of a storm of budget cuts. Although Dr. Crass says HPD is now more efficient, a 43% reduction in state funding over only four years (SFY-2008 through SFY-2011) indicates the staff now operates fewer archaeological programs and has fewer hours to allocate to archaeological issues.

Then, 2010 Fall Meeting Chair Kevin Kiernan got carpooling organized and the group set off for our first stop at the Hamilton Slave Tabbies.

Ms. Leslie Carlton welcomed the SGA group on behalf of the Cassina Garden Club to the reconstructed Hamilton Slave Tabbies. Tabby is a building material based on oyster shells, which were sometimes mined from aboriginal shell waste piles.

Our first stop was a demonstration of ground-penetrating radar by SGA member Dan Elliott. Dan explained how his GPR unit works, and then invited members to push the cart on linear transects to record reflective objects to at least 1.3 meters below the ground surface. Members could also wander the lovely two-pen tabbies the Garden Club owns and maintains.

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The group also enjoyed chatting in the cool shade under the live oaks that are decorated with Spanish moss (used by early Native American potters). The Golden Isles Archaeological Society hosted the group and provided cold bottle water (very much appreciated! thanks!).

After lunch, the group adjourned to the Evelyn (say EEE-vuh-lin) mounds site. This aboriginal village is now part of a modern housing development, and the mounds are now features in residential garden/yards. Archaeologists Fred Cook and Keith Stephenson told the group about individual mounds. We visited at least four of the seven-mound group, although not the largest (it’s in a tick- and chigger-infested pine-woods). Not all were built and used at the same time.

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Our guides led us down a short, wooded path to the bank of the long-abandoned hand-dug (by slaves and Irish immigrants), nineteenth-century Brunswick-Altamaha Canal, which was nearly impossible to photograph.

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The group also visited the Evelyn Plantation house ruins, which are on the highest hill (still not high) in the immediate area on an undeveloped lot. And protected by a healthy stand of poison ivy.

We carpooled to the next spot, across the drainage from Evelyn to the west. This was the Elizafield Plantation. For a while this area was owned by the state and called Santo Domingo State Park. We visited tabby ruins from the sugar factory that operated here long before it became a park. Ray Crook was our tour guide, and he drew connections between these ruins and comparable ones on Sapelo Island. The group especially enjoyed walking around the standing walls of the two large tabby buildings that remain from the labor-intensive sugar operation. The building that housed the mill had eight sides, but the walls weren’t of the same length.

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At the end of the scheduled tour of the ruins, we were invited to visit the private cemetery of the Grant family, who owned Elizafield Plantation in the early nineteenth century. Mr. Wells Kilgore, of Morningstar Children and Family Services, was our able guide.

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On Saturday morning, the group reconvened up in Darien at Fort King George State Historic Site. The original fort location is gone, and the reconstruction is on ground that was not archaeologically sensitive. This strategic location had diverse uses over time, including as a Spanish mission called Santo Domingo de Talaje and as an industrial lumber mill operation. British forces built the original fort, then abandoned it. General James Oglethorpe brought Scottish Highlanders to the area in 1736, and they established New Inverness/Darien and built another fort there. They began a lumber operation and Darien remained a lumber center until 1925. Site Manager Steven Smith gave an orientation lecture in the visitor center meeting room, then guided the group around the ground. Reconstructions provide important lessons for historic preservation. (Click here for teacher information about Fort King George State Historic Site.)

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Next, the group drove to Ashantilly Center, which was the mainland home of Thomas Spalding (b. 1774; d. 1851). Spalding is famous for reviving tabby-construction on the Georgia coast. The original Ashantilly house dates to 1820. Ashantilly Center President Bill Merriman led the tour. (The SGA leadership met at Ashantilly in February 2010; read the story and see pictures here.)

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Finally, the group visited The Thicket, with well-preserved tabby slave cabins, an elaborate sugarworks, and the remains of a rum distillery. Kevin Kiernan led the tour at the tabby slave
settlement and the sugarworks and rum distillery, and Fred Cook led the tour of four Native American mounds in the same area.

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On Friday evening, some members visited the Harrington Graded School. This historic wooden structure has just been named one of ten newly named 2011 Places in Peril by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. It was the last African-American school on St. Simons Island, and was used until desegregation in the 1960s.

Harrington Graded School. Photograph by Halston Pittman,, courtesy Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Again, thanks to all who made this wonderful meeting possible.

Thanks to Aidine Kiernan for some of the photographs above. You also may want to visit Kevin’s pre-meeting story here, which has more pictures and information about these places.

Where to find it

Click above to go to a larger Google interactive map of the area.

Posted online on Friday, October 22nd, 2010

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