Tag Archives: World War II in 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

King and Prince Hotel, 1941, St. Simons Island

This landmark hotel traces its origins to Morgan T. Wynne and Franklin J. Horne, who first opened it as a seaside dance club in 1935. On 2 July 1941, the King and Prince Hotel, designed by Laurence Miller and Felton Davis in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, opened to rave reviews. It immediately became the hotel of record on St. Simons.

It was occupied by the Navy as a coast-watching and training facility during World War II, reopening in 1947.

Renovations in the 1970s and 1980s modernized rooms and infrastructure, but retained the historical integrity of the property. An expansion doubled the number of rooms in 2003, again, with a focus on maintaining its iconic appearance. Now known as the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, it remains as nostalgic and popular as ever. And with the loss of the DeSoto Beach Hotel on Tybee Island in 1999, the King and Prince is the last of Georgia’s grand old oceanfront hotels.

National Register of Historic Places

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Fire House, 1884, & Masonic Lodge, 1895, Darien

Best known as City Hall today, this was originally built as a single-story engine house for the Board of Fire Commissioners in 1884. A second floor was added in 1895 for use by the McIntosh Dragoons and the Masons. Remodeled as a service center by Mrs. Talbot Smith in 1944, it was home to the USO during World War II. Since then it has been used by the police and fire departments and the second floor was used as the public library until the construction of a more modern facility on U. S. 17.

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

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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Darien GA

U. S. Coast Guard Station, 1936, St. Simons Island

US Coast Guard Station East Beach St Simons Island GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Coast Guard Station at East Beach was one of 45 authorized by President Roosevelt and one of just three still believed to be in existence. It’s one of the most architecturally interesting structures on the island. When the station was first opened in 1937, the beach front was located just a few feet from the front door. Sands have filled in the area over time and today this is the most popular beach on St. Simons.  Though it originated as a life-saving station, the Coast Guard Station took on new importance with the coming of World War II. On 8 April 1942, the German submarine U-123 sank two merchant ships off St. Simons. In all, twenty-two sailors on the SS Oklahoma and the Esso Baton Rouge lost their lives. Surviving members were brought to the station to await further orders. Several of the dead were unidentified and buried in a plot in Brunswick’s Palmetto Cemetery beneath the marker “Unknown Seamen – 1942”. They have since been identified. After years of diminishing use, the station was decommissioned in 1995. Today, it’s operated by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society as the Maritime Center.

National Register of Historic Places

 

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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA