Tag Archives: Georgia National Wildlife Refuges

Thomas Landing, McIntosh County

Thomas Landing, on the South Newport River, has been occupied since the early days of Colonial Georgia and its history is indelibly linked to the hundreds of African-Americans who resided here. They first landed here against their will but after Emancipation chose to remain, only to have their land taken from them by the United States government in the 1930s.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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Lorillard Fountain & Pool, Harris Neck

Fountain at Lorillard Estate

The following history of the site is taken from the interpretive panel at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge: Various plantations occupied this site from the 1740s through the 1870s. One of the earliest Harris Neck landowners was a man named Dickinson, and his property was known as Dickinson’s Neck. John Rutledge owned fifty acres on neighboring Bethany Plantation. He sold the tract to Ann Harris, who married Daniel Demetre in 1752. Her son, William Thomas Harris (Demetre’s stepson), acquired 350 acres on Dickinson’s Neck in 1758, and in 1759 he inherited an additional 750 acres on the “Neck” from his stepfather. Demetre’s will identified Williams’s residence as Bethany. This reference is the first documentation of a white landowner’s dwelling on the “Neck”.

Ruins of wading pool at Lorillard Estate

Early in the 1830s, another family gained prominence on Harris Neck. Jonathan Thomas acquired most of the Demetre-Harris holdings. Thomas’s 3000-acre Peru Plantation covered the eastern half of the present Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. The plantation produced sizeable cotton crops.

Ruins of wading pool at Lorillard Estate

The Civil War ended the plantation era on Harris Neck. The Thomas family subdivided Peru Plantation. Many small tracts were sold to former slaves or their descendants. From the 1870s through the 1930s, a community of primarily African-American developed on and near the current refuge land. By the 1940s, 171 tracts existed in the area now managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Details of a painting of the Lorillard Lodge: Courtesy Leftwich D. Kimbrough

 

During the 1880s, several large tracts bordering the South Newport River (the site of one Peru Plantation home) were acquired by Pierre Lorillard, the tobacco magnate, Eleanor Van Brunt Clapp, and Lily Livingston. Lorillard’s estate featured a lavish lodge, an indoor swimming pool filled from an artesian well, and formal gardens with reflecting pools and fountains.

Fountain at Lorillard Estate

The lodge was used during World War II as the officers’ club for Harris Neck Army Airfield. The deteriorated building was sold at auction, when Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1962.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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Harris Neck Army Airfield Bunker, 1942

This structure served as the munitions bunker for Harris Neck Army Airfield. Earthworks surround three sides. A review of contemporary U. S. Geological Survey maps indicates that this was likely the only one ever built on site. It’s a fascinating relic of World War II.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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Harris Neck Army Air Field, 1942

Today, it’s nothing more than weed-choked concrete and asphalt, but these barren strips within Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge played a part in civilian and military aeronautical history. Before its association with the military, Harris Neck was the site of an emergency landing strip featuring two sod runways and an 81′ beacon. It was built in 1930 and leased by the Department of Commerce. Serving the Richmond-Jacksonville air route, it was officially known as Harris Neck Intermediate Field Site #8. On 7 December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, guardsmen from Hunter Field in Savannah took over operations of the property. The site was already being used for aerial gunnery training. In 1943, Harris Neck became an auxiliary-base of Dale Mabry Field in Tallahassee and was assigned to the III Fighter Command.

Pilots at Harris Neck were trained on two types of fighter craft: the P-39 “Airacobra” and the P-40. The P-40 was known as the “Kitty Hawk” and was associated with Chenault’s “Flying Tigers” in China. In 1944, a hangar, warehouses, repair shops, barracks for 125 men, and a non-commisioned officers club were constructed from pre-fabricated material on site.

In September 1944, there were 575 enlisted personnel at Harris Neck, along with 129 officers, but by November, the number was greatly reduced, leading to its deactivation on 31 December 1944. The property was given to McIntosh County after the war for potential use as an airport, but this was never realized and mismanagement by the county led to its reversion to the federal government. It was acquired by the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (now the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service)  in 1962 for use as a refuge. It’s now known as Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and the federal government has had a contentious presence ever since*.

*When the government expropriated the site in World War II, landowners were given two weeks to leave their properties. African-Americans owned 1102 acres of the original property while whites owned 1532. Families of both races felt their land was stolen, though token compensation was given. Many descendants believe the forced removal was mishandled and have mounted legal challenges for years.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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Winter Ramble at Harris Neck

Woody Pond prime waterfowl habitat rookery Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph COpyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Woody Pond is perhaps the most popular spot for birding at Harris Neck, though there are many other places to ramble in this place that I consider one of the best-kept secrets of the Georgia Coast. Whether a birder, hiker, bicyclist or just plain nature aficionado, there is much to be seen.

Woody Pond Habitat with Palm Tree Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Walk along the dam for a sure encounter with some natives!

Woody Pond Dam Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph COpyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Very soon, the rookeries of the pond will be abuzz with new life. Wood Storks (Mcyteria americana) are a big presence here though not as commonly seen in winter. On that last day I visited, American Coots and Common Gallinules were the most populous residents.

Common Gallinule gallinula galeata Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata), Woody Pond.

The gallinules can be easily distinguished from the coots by their bright orange and yellow bills.

American Coot Woody Pond Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Birding Hotspot Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

American Coot (Fulica americana)

Of course, the other big attraction at Woody Pond is the alligator population. But remember, don’t harass them!

Federal State Alligator Protection Sign no feeding or harassing Photograph harris neck national wildlife refuge mcintosh county ga photograph copyright brian brown vanishing coastal georgia usa 2014

You’ll generally see smaller ones in winter, but they live here year round!

American Alligator Young mississippiensis Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

American Alligator Swimming Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Take nothing but pictures, and lots of good memories. You’ll want to return in the spring.

Oak Limb Spanish Moss in Woody Pond Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris_Neck_National_Wildlife_Refuge

 

 

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American Alligator, Harris Neck

american-alligator-mississippiensis-at-harris-neck-national-wildlife-refuge-mcintosh-county-ga-picture-image-photograph-brian-brown-vanishing-coastal-georgia-usa-2013

American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are abundant (though generally not aggressive) in the ponds and wetland areas of Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. There were over a dozen young alligators within the first 300 yards or so, posing for my camera then slipping off into the water.

 

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Wood Storks Building Nests, Harris Neck

Wood Storks Mycteria americana Building Nests Rookery Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge NWR McIntosh County GA Picture Image Photograph © Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia 2013

Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) were once a symbol of the diminishing wetland habitat necessary for their survival in the swamps of the Southeast.  For a time one of the most endangered species in America, recent years have seen gains in their population, enough so that the Fish & Wildlife Service is considering removing them from the endangered list. They would still have a threatened status. A friend of mine recently suggested I not place them on a “vanishing” site; in honor of her positive outlook, I offer them as an evocation of how far we’ve come in protecting Georgia’s wetlands but a reminder in how much we still need to fight to protect them. Anyone who has been around Coastal Georgia in the past few years knows that population and development race forward, nearly unfettered.

Visiting Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in late winter and early spring when the Wood Storks, along with myriad other waterfowl and waders are abundant, is a must-do when in McIntosh County.

 

 

 

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Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

 

 

 

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