George III of England granted 2,000 acres along the south bank of the Altamaha River to William Hopeton in 1763 and Hopeton soon set about creating the rice plantation which bore his name. So began the long modern history of this property, first known as Hopeton and now known more widely known as Altama. In 1805, the property was sold to two Scottish immigrants, John Couper and James Hamilton, who grew Sea Island cotton with hundreds of slave laborers. Couper’s son, James Hamilton Couper, vastly improved the property after he acquired it in 1827. He built the original Altama plantation house in the Georgian style circa 1858 (its ruins may remain, per a Glynn County historic resources survey). After visiting Holland he introduced a system of dikes, canals and rails to move his rice and sugar efficiently to the river for transport into nearby Darien. Couper was perhaps Georgia’s greatest “Renaisance Man” and it’s unfortunate that he isn’t better known today outside a small group of historians. He led the survey party which mapped the Georgia-Florida border, built Christ Church in Savannah, and was the first to describe the Indigo Snake to science. He is honored eternally in its Latin name, Drymarchon couperi.
The Civil War was the death knell for Hopeton-Altama as a working plantation. In 1898 a small colony of Shakers attempted to tame the property, which was long neglected and dotted with ruins of its former glory. Their efforts to grow rice and raise cattle were unsuccessful and they abandoned the project in 1902. William Dupont bought the adjacent Hopeton and Altama properties in 1914 and renamed the expanse Altama. Dupont wintered and trained racehorses here and built the main house (pictured in this post) based on the original plantation house. Cator Woolford bought the plantation in 1930 and built the swimming pool and “Play House”. In 1944, Alfred W. Jones scion of the Sea Island Company, acquired Altama, primarily for use as a hunting reserve. Cabins and structures supporting the sporting life were constructed in the ensuing years. With the Sea Island bankruptcy in 2010, Altama was bought by a private equity firm who planned to develop the property as homes and shops. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the Marine Corps and private donors, the property was acquired by the state of Georgia in 2015 for future protection and management and will now serve as a publicly accessible Wildlife Management Area, part of a 120-mile corridor of protected lands stretching from Florida through the Okefenokee Swamp to Fort Stewart. It’s a real conservation success story and the cooperation of state and private entities is commendable.
The photos that follow are placed in relative order to where you will see them walking over the property from the main entrance, at Highway 99 just off Interstate 95. Though not particularly historic in terms of age, most of the outbuildings have a cultural value as part of a grand 20th-century hunting plantation. The Playhouse and swimming pool, built by Cator Willford, are important in their own right, as earlier examples in the evolution of Altama.