We're working our way north from Florida to Pennsylvania and, having just spent time at Okefenokee Swamp, toward the center of southern Georgia, we moved over to Darien, on the Atlantic Coast. Today was our day to get familiar with the area, so we took a relaxed tour around Darien.
Our first order of business was to scout places to paddle our kayaks. We had to look at two, because the estuaries around Darien are tidal, and, unfortunately, low tides dominate the days we will be here. With low tide, most of the estuaries are shallow or even just mud, so it was important to assess whether they would be navigable at the hours we can paddle. We were disappointed to find that, with low water, we needed to paddle in pretty big water, which offers fewer opportunities to see wildlife and exposes us to higher winds and some wave action. So, regrettably, we decided to pass on using the kayaks this stay.
Our next stop was at the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve's Visitor Center, to see if we could take the ferry over to Sapelo Island, which has a rich history that is central to this area. As it turns out, the ferry runs only on Wednesday and Saturday. Since today was Thursday, we contented ourselves with making reservations for a trip on the ferry to Sapelo Island this Saturday. Stay tuned to our next blog entry for how that goes!
By this time, it was the lunch hour, and we found an excellent seafood house, Skipper's Fish Camp, which, contrary to the rustic import of its name, was a wonderful waterside restaurant with most excellent seafood dishes. Let's just say we loaded up on shrimp, the best hush puppies we've ever eaten, sweet potato mush, and, of course, Kathy had her traditional raw oysters. It was so delicious, it was beyond description, so we won't try to describe it more.
Finally, it was time to walk to digest our lunch, and we found that we could walk to our first in-town destination, so we wandered out along the Darien waterfront, which is very attractive, with public boat slips in a park-like setting:
The waterfront of Darien originally was bustling with warehouses, commercial buildings, wharves, docks and so on, but all this was destroyed when Union troops looted the city and burned down most of the buildings in 1863 during the Civil War. Few antebellum buildings remain. All we saw on the waterfront were these Tabby Ruins, in the foreground in the photo below, and the rose-colored Adam-Strain Building above them in the background. The tabby walls in Darien, GA are the remnants of the town’s cotton exchange warehouses and naval stores built 1815-1830. The Adam-Strain Building, built circa 1813, was a mercantile store and ship chandlery.
Our walk led us through the center of town toward the Old Jail Art Center, which hosts a community art museum and gallery, a history museum and a gift shop. The Art Center is housed in one of Darien's three oldest buildings -- a restored and repurposed limestone jail built in 1877-1878 by Scottish stonemasons, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places:
Much of the original jail structure remains, including these cell doors on the second floor!
Some of the history in the Art Center focuses on the cultural history of the area around Darien. The photo below was taken of the McIntosh Shouters in 1989. They embody the traditional southeast "ring shout," which is considered the oldest surviving African American performance tradition in North America. It is a mixture of counterclockwise dancelike movement, call-and-response singing, and percussion of hand clapping and a stick beating a drum-like rhythm on a wooden floor.
The Art Center also houses the Linda Tucker Reading Room, a reference library for the arts that emphasizes support of youth artists:
We could have stayed longer and enjoyed the artwork further, but the afternoon was waning and we still wanted to visit Fort King George State Historic Site. From 1721 until 1736, Fort King George was the southern outpost of the British Empire in North America. After the fort was abandoned, General James Oglethorpe brought Scottish Highlanders to the site in 1736. The settlement, called Darien, eventually became a foremost export center of lumber until 1925. The Scotch settlers built cozy houses such as the reproduction we encountered as we walked out to the fort from the Visitor Center:
The fort itself was not large -- below is the blockhouse, which dominates the interior of the fort. It is 26 feet by 26 feet:
Structures include a blockhouse, officers' quarters, barracks, a guardhouse, baking and brewing house, blacksmith shop, moat, and palisades:
The gabled blockhouse had three stories: a powder, ammunition and supply magazine on the first floor, a gun room on the second floor with cannon ports for shooting at enemy boats, and a third floor gun room with a look-out post on an open catwalk above. Here was the view from the look-out post:
The fort was a hardship post for troops assigned there. A total of 140 officers and soldiers died, mostly from camp diseases such as dysentery and malaria, due to poor sanitation (none from battle). You can see how disease might have spread easily with the crowded conditions in the bunkrooms:
A reproduction of a period boat such as might have been used at the fort sits near the water at one end of the stockade. It doesn't look like the reproduction has itself been cared for too well, and we're not sure it has been put in the water recently:
Among the other buildings within the stockade is an open-air blacksmith shop, where re-enactors actually do iron work. Products of the blacksmith shop are available to purchase in the Visitor Center.
We were sorry that we won't be in Darien just a little over a week from now for the Scottish Heritage Days in Darien, which will be held at Fort King George. We have a feeling it will be as high-spirited as some of the stories we heard of the Scottish soldiers and settlers who first lived here.
Since the era of the fort, Darien and its surroundings moved on to have greater cultural and commercial influence. The earliest days were shameful with the large slaveholding plantations, but later years produced more diverse cultural achievements, and we hope to see examples of some of that when we visit nearby Sapelo Island on Saturday.