Glade Lobelia (Lobelia glandulosa), though not overly common in this area, can be found along the Altamaha River.
Tag Archives: Natural History of Coastal Georgia
Acquisition of the Cannon’s Point property (608 acres) by the St. Simons Land Trust (SSLT) in 2013 has affected the preservation of the last contiguous wild maritime forest on the island. The peninsula, at the northeast end of the island, features over six miles of salt marsh, tidal creek, and river shoreline. Ancient shell middens, essentially the trash piles of Native American settlers, are also present. At the dock just beyond the parking lot is this idyllic view of a small tributary of the Hampton River, located at the former site of Taylor’s Fish Camp.
Free and open to the public Saturday-Monday 9AM-3PM, Cannon’s Point Preserve is staffed by volunteers who will give you a bit of history and information when you arrive. Be aware that the walk down Cannon’s Point Road, the main trail in the preserve, is 4.4 miles roundtrip. Bring water, bug spray, and good shoes.
The old camp store remains and has recently been restored.
The first structure you’ll likely notice as you begin the hike to the Couper house ruins is this tabby barn. Built circa 1925 by Charles, Archibald, Arthur, and Reginald Taylor as a storage shed, it’s a great example of tabby architecture. The Taylor brothers established a business in 1919, farming, raising livestock, and operating as fishing guides. This part of the Cannon’s Point Preserve was known as the Lawrence Plantation and the brothers purchased it from Anna Gould Dodge, widow of Christ Church rector Anson Gates Dodge, in 1921. The Taylors were the largest producers of beef and pork in the area until the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the barn was used as a set location in the movie Conrack.
The road to the north end is characterized by palmetto and live oak, dominant species of the Atlantic maritime forest.
There are numerous “ancient oaks” throughout the preserve, some well over two hundred years old.
Holly (Ilex) is also found throughout.
Cannon’s Point is known to be a haven for the curious Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), a widely cultivated edible and medicinal variety.
The first site along the trail is the ruins of a slave cabin. All that remains is this hearth. From the establishment of the plantation in the 1790s until 1861, the cotton plantation at Cannon’s Point was wholly dependant on the labor of enslaved Africans. Archaeological excavations undertaken here in the 19790s suggest that the slave cabins were built as 40×20 duplexes, with each family living in a 20×20 section. At this particular location, four cabins housing eight families surrounded a central well.
The site of the overseer’s house is beyond the slave cabin ruins. Research has indicated that overseers were very transient at Cannon’s Point, staying on average just a year and a half. They were paid between $200-$400 per year. The ruins confirm that it was unusually large when compared to other such structures on the coast. Most were two-room affairs, similar to slave cabins. The Cannon’s Point example was comparable to the owner’s house on small plantations. It’s thought to have been built in the 1820s.
Upon their acquisition of the property, the SSLT determined that the chimney was in danger of collapsing. They stabilized it using loose bricks found at the site.
The hearth remains, as well.
At the end of the long walk over the peninsula are the extensive ruins of John Couper’s Cannon’s Point House (built circa 1804). The human history of the area dates back at least 4500 years, when the first native people are thought to have been present. In the 1660s Spanish missionaries established Santo Domingo de Asajo to minister to the Guale Indians. Pirates drove missionaries and the Guale from the island by 1684, but the Guale returned over time. Daniel Cannon, a carpenter at Fort Frederica, was the first English owner, having been granted property here by the Trustees of the Georgia Colony in 1738. He didn’t stay long, though, and was in South Carolina by 1741.
John Couper, who came from Scotland to America prior to the Revolution, acquired Cannon’s Point in 1793 and with James Hamilton made Sea Island cotton the dominant crop of St. Simons Island. Couper served as a representative to the Georgia constitutional convention of 1798 and in 1804 gave the land known as Couper’s Point for construction of a lighthouse on St. Simons Island.
John Couper built this house by 1804 and lived here with his wife Rebecca and their five children throughout the antebellum era. Vice President Aaron Burr was among the first visitors. The labor of over 100 slaves kept the plantation running. (This image is from a painting by Couper’s grandson, John Lord Couper, circa 1850). Rebecca died in 1845 and John in 1850, at the age of 91. They’re buried in the cemetery at Christ Church, Frederica. Couper’s oldest son, James Hamilton Couper, managed Cannon’s Point until 1861 and it passed out of family hands in 1866. Several owners attemptd to maintain it over the next few decades with little success. The house burned in 1890.
A chimney with ovens and its tabby foundation are all that remain of the detached kitchen, which was built in the late 1790s. The slave cook Sans Foix produced wonderful meals for the Coupers and their guests, drawing acclaim from far and wide.
Beyond the kitchen are these ruins, which are presently unidentified.
Beautiful views of the Hampton River and Little St. Simons Island abound at Cannon’s Point.
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 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 (pictured below) 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.
This is the view at the Tivoli River Fishing Pier & Kayak Launch, on Belfast-Keller Road, and it’s the first public “kayak/canoe-only launch” in Coastal Georgia. The Tivoli is an 8.9 mile-long tidal river that flows into the Belfast River, just north of that river’s terminus at the Medway River. The fishing is generally good, too, with redfish, trout, and flounder being abundant much of the year.