Tag Archives: Parks of Coastal Georgia

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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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Harris Neck GA

Historic Baptismal Trail, Riceboro

African-Americans were baptized in this swamp beginning in the 1840s. It’s just downstream from a well-known fishing and swimming spot known as Round Hole and was likely chosen for its proximity to that natural landmark.

Baptisms were first performed on enslaved persons by white members of the nearby North Newport Church. When the white congregation moved to Walthourville in 1854, the slaves renamed the church First African Baptist Church and continued ritual baptisms here until the 1940s. Some of their descendants are the Geechee people who still live nearby.

Today, the Historic Baptismal Trail has been memorialized as a public park with a  boardwalk, including signage identifying plants and trees that were historically important to the community.

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Filed under -LIBERTY COUNTY, Riceboro GA

Columbus Square, 1805, Darien

Darien traces its origins to 1736, though throughout the 18th century, settlement was sporadic and the town was practically abandoned at times. Oglethorpe and later Lachlan McIntosh made plans for the layout of the city but due to its transient nature, these were never fully implemented or were lost to other uses. In 1805, the city was resurveyed by Thomas McCall and a system based on Oglethorpe’s “Savannah Plan” was adopted, incorporating twelve wards anchored by squares. Two of the original wards from that era, Vernon and Columbus, remain, and their squares now serve as green spaces in Darien’s historic residential area.

In 1895, Vernon Square became the terminus of the Tattnall County-based Darien & Western Railroad, who built a passenger depot near the location of the present-day gazebo. The line was purchased by the Georgia Coast & Piedmont Railroad in 1906, who extended service south to Brunswick in 1915, at which point the depot was moved to the waterfront. It burned in 1971.

Vernon Square-Columbus Square Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Darien GA

Hanover Square, 1771, Brunswick

Laid out in 1771 with a modified version of Oglethorpe’s “Savannah Plan”, Brunswick has worked hard in recent  years reclaiming as many of its historic squares as possible. Hanover Square is the jewel in the crown, being the least altered of the original squares. A non-profit preservation group, Signature Squares of Historic Brunswick, actively promotes these public parks and is engaged in ongoing research to restore them.

Of Hanover Square, they note: [It] is one of the two large squares in Old Town Brunswick that retains its original size and shape. It was named to honor Britain’s ruling House of Hanover during the reign of King George II, when the Colony of Georgia was established. Initially, Hanover Square was the hub of official city and county business. The county courthouse, jail and stockyards were located in the square until the late 19th century.

As Brunswick grew and prospered, its citizens began to feel that the muddy, trampled stockyard and shabby wooden buildings did not represent an up-and-coming city properly. In 1882, the Ladies Park Association campaigned for the removal of the courthouse from Hanover Square and raised funds to purchase materials to beautify the area, which was referred to as “Hanover Park.” The city drilled a deep artesian well, topped with an ornate fountain, that yielded water rich with minerals that were thought to be therapeutic for certain diseases. When the projects were completed in 1885, the park’s title was returned to the city.

For decades, Hanover Square was the heart of public gatherings in the city. Church socials and concerts in the bandstand filled the evenings with laughter and music. The gardens were expanded and modified to reflect landscape tastes of each era. Brunswick’s residents stood guard over Hanover Square numerous times when transportation projects threatened the integrity and boundaries of the historic space.

In the mid-20th century, the city’s population growth trended northward and Hanover, like other original squares, fell into decline. As Signature Squares was organized to save the parks and squares within the Historic District of Brunswick, Hanover Square became its first project. The fountain was restored, walkways were replaced and the rose garden was replanted. More work is planned for the future to return the square to its full glory.

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Brunswick Old Town Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Brunswick GA

Mary Ross Waterfront Park Pavilion, Brunswick

Mary Ross (1881-1971) was born in Camden County but grew up in Brunswick. After receiving her teaching certificate from the State Normal School in Athens in 1906, she taught in Brunswick and then in Tuscon, Arizona. Furthering her education at the University of Chicago and the University of California-Berkley, she received a B. A. in History in 1916 and completed her M. A. in History under Professor Herbert Bolton in 1918. She collaborated with Bolton on The Debatable Land: A Sketch of the Anglo-Spanish Conquest of the Georgia Country, . published in 1925. The focus of the scholarship was Spain’s claims on Georgia dating to the 16th century but the misidentification of tabby ruins on the Georgia coast tarnished the reputation of Bolton and lead to Mary Ross’s never publishing again. She moved back to Brunswick in 1953 but continued researching Spain’s presence in Georgia. Despite the controversy related to her early work, she was nonetheless an important early woman historian from Georgia. Her vast archive is now held by the Georgia Department of Archives and History.  More about Mary Ross can be found here.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Brunswick GA

Altamaha River Park, Everett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made this aerial photograph on a recent trip with veteran pilot Frank Lee and photographer Mike McCall.

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Everett GA

Howard Gilman Memorial Park, St. Marys

The riverfront park in St. Marys, named for the late timber magnate and art patron Howard Gilman, is a wonderful public space, rivaling any in Coastal Georgia.

I could have spent hours just watching and photographing the birds in the ornamental fountain. Pictured below: Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major).

 

 

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Filed under -CAMDEN COUNTY, St. Marys GA