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by Valerie Evans Goddard - American Roads Travel Magazine

Early morning shrimp boats off Jekyll Island beach
Photo by Martin Walls

Six coastal Georgia counties encompass 119 miles of perhaps the most beautiful and diverse landscape to be found. Something for everyone is offered on the Georgia coast from extensive history to pristine beaches, ancient forests of live oak to whispering marshes and quaint fishing villages to a major metropolitan city. Every exit of Interstate 95 is a passport into the impressive history of coastal Georgia.

More than two hundred and seventy-five large bronze historical markers tell the of the six coastal Georgia counties, depicting the cultures and people who defined the past and influence the future. The markers can be found along much traveled highways, city streets, county roads, dirt paths, grassy medians and woodland trails revealing history hidden amidst the scenic landscape and marking the legacy of America's thirteenth colony. The following is a sampling of the stories that can be found on the large bronze historical markers. We'll begin our journey at where else, exit 1, Camden County. Let's "Get Off the Interstate" and explore.

Orange Hall
Photo by Valerie Evans Goddard

Imagine yourself in the early days of the 1800's when the dusty dirt streets of St. Marys were alive with sea faring men. The city was a bustling place with as many as twelve ships bobbing at anchor in the St. Marys inlet. It was during those days that the First Presbyterian Church was completed, though at the time it was called the Union Church and provided a place of worship, a school as well as the St. Marys meeting hall. Orange Hall was built just across the street as the home of the first pastor, Horace Pratt and his family.

Much to the dismay of Reverend Pratt, the constant nautical traffic attracted a not so savory element to St. Marys. Smugglers arrived one bright sunny day at St. Marys with plans to trade with a merchant who was known for buying ill-gotten gains without question. Unfortunately for the smugglers, a very astute Customs Officer carefully guarded the St. Marys port. Under a cover of darkness, the men stole the pastor's horse and hoisted the terrified animal into the church's belfry high above the ground. The next morning the entire population of St. Mary's gathered to gaze up at the distressed animal as he cried in fear. While the town folk were busily trying to figure out how to get the poor horse down, the smugglers boldly delivered their illegal goods in broad daylight and sold them to the shady merchant. By the time the horse was safely on the ground, the smugglers were off to sea on the ebb tide.

Reverend Pratt soon left his St. Marys home at Orange Hall after the tragic death of his young wife. He accepted a position at the University of Alabama, but sadly his seven-year-old daughter, Jane, also died quite suddenly after their arrival. Legend has it that Jane returned in death to the home she knew best, Orange Hall. Tales of her antics as her spirit plays in the rooms of the elegant Greek revival mansion abound.

Glynn County is filled with wonderfully historic areas such as Jekyll Island, Brunswick and St. Simons Island. Exit 29 will lead the adventuresome traveler to the picturesque "Marshes of Glynn" made popular by poet Sidney Lanier. Beautiful beaches, lush surroundings and interesting stories abound especially on the outlying islands.

Whale sculpture in Neptune Park
Photo by Kathleen Walls

St. Simons lays claim to a small park dedicated to a slave of the Retreat Plantation. Neptune Park was named for a slave owned by the King family known as Neptune Small. He used the Small name in reference to his petite stature but his courage and dedication to the King family was enormous. When the King's eldest son Henry marched off to join the ranks of officers during the Civil War, Neptune Small felt it was his duty and responsibility to go as well. Small served as Henry's manservant until the battle of Fredericksburg with Henry King was killed. The faithful servant braved the battlefield as artillery flew through the air to retrieve Henry's body and return him to St. Simons to lay in death beside his beloved mother.

Neptune Small was given his freedom and under no obligation to return to the war. But when the King's younger son joined the Confederacy, the loyal family caretaker marched away as well. Neptune Small was given a tract of land by the King family on St. Simons for his years loyal service and there he remained for the rest of his life. Neptune Small died in 1907, he rests on the grounds of Retreat Plantation. The park dedicated to his memory is located in the Village on St. Simons Island near the pier overlooking the ocean forever to be used as a park as was Neptune’s dying wish.

Further north is McIntosh County, which can be accessed from exit 49. The county was named for the famed McIntosh Family when brothers John McIntosh Mohr and Benjamin McIntosh, proud Scottish Highlanders, joined General James Edward Oglethorpe to establish and defend the English colony of Georgia. The Highlanders were known for bravery and perseverance in battle, making them valued members of General Oglethorpe's colony. A member of this family has distinguished himself in every war this country has ever fought, up to and including the one in which the United States is now involved. They were pioneers, soldiers, sailors, Native American chiefs, lawyers, elected officials, doctors, planters, bankers, authors, the list goes on and on, but most importantly they were colonists. The family, like most, has suffered a great many tragedies along the way and celebrated each other's triumphs. One line summed up the meaning of family to the McIntosh's: "when one McIntosh prospered the entire family benefited." A rogue or two in the mix proved to keep the family interesting. This story has passed through their lineage and takes place as the Highlanders first encounter the Roman legion during the ancient Scottish wars.

A great big hairy kilted Scotsman jumps up on a hillock and cries, "Aye so you're Romans, eh? - Gie me yer ten best men then." Ten Roman legionnaires were dispatched. Bang, crash, wallop!, could be heard in the distance and no Roman returned over the hill. A hundred soldiers are sent up. Five minutes later a lone survivor struggles back, but drops dead before he can utter a dying word. Risking all, the commander sent his whole legion up the hill. Screams, sounds of the struggle and the commotion of battle followed. Then on the skyline a lone Roman officer approaches, "Sir, Sir," he cries, "They've cheated. They've lied! There were two of them all the time...." Thus was the brave Scottish Highlander.

Liberty County produced more historical leaders during the formation of our country than any other place in America. It is obvious as one visits the county that history and preservation of the historical facets of the community are a priority. The Liberty Trail, which winds it's way throughout the county's noted sites, is evidence of the county's desire to maintain their amazing history. Midway, Sunbury and Fort Morris are not to be missed; take exit 76 and travel back in time.

The western portion of Liberty County is the location of Hinesville, home of Army base Fort Stuart. Flemington, once lying on the outskirts of Hinesville, was founded when seventy members separated from the Midway Church and moved inland in 1866. Flemington had a post office in 1869, but by 1886 they had flourished. Numerous farms, naval stores (goods required in shipbuilding), general store, wheelwright, and a railroad depot were all established along the iron tracks. The depot was an unmanned station, you couldn't buy a ticket there but passengers could disembark and board. Rumor passed in late March 1908 that on April 1 Georgia Governor Hoke Smith would be aboard the train. The town bustled in preparation. The Mayor dressed in his Sunday best, the school band was spit polished and shined, and the local citizens gathered in droves to catch a glimpse of the Governor. Excitement was at a fever pitch which when the Georgia Coast & Piedmont Railroad Engine sounded her whistle trumpeting the imminent arrival. When the great engine finally came to a stop, the conductor ceremoniously announced to the waiting crowd; clearing his throat, "Uhm," he said, "the Governor will be unable to appear because today is the first of April." As the train pulled away from the depot and chugged into the distance, the town realized they had been duped, someone had staged an elaborate April Fools joke on the entire town. Flemington no longer exists; the settlement has been incorporated into the city of Hinesville.

Trekking northward to exit 90 is the city of Richmond Hill in Bryan County. Richmond Hill is home to Fort McAllister. The fort was attacked six times by Union ironclads, gunboats and mortars, during the Civil War; however, each time the enemy was repelled. Damage to the fort was never more than minimal, with repairs completed during the night. Injuries were few and mortality much less. One particular fatality was deeply mourned by all the officers and soldiers of the camp, a mainstay by the name of Tom. His full name was indeed, Tom Cat and he was the fort's tabby mascot. He was gently laid to rest with full military honors in the common area of Fort McAllister.

Though the fort had withstood numerous attacks, General William Tecumseh Sherman had a keen military eye. Unfortunately he recognized the fort's weakness was a ground assault from the rear. Fort McAllister fell December 13, 1864 and the road to Savannah was cleared for Sherman and the Union Army. Sherman's diary describes the scene as he marched the prisoners of Fort McAllister along the road to Savannah: "I ordered the prisoners, armed with picks and spades to march forward of the Union troops. The captured were to discover and remove their own planted eight-inch shells along the road or explode them as they walked. They begged hard, but I reiterated the order, and could hardly help laughing at their stepping so gingerly along the road, where it was supposed sunken torpedoes might explode at each step." More soldiers died on the march toward Savannah than in the battle of Fort McAllister.

Savannah's Custom House on River Street
Photo by Kathleen Walls

Speaking of marching toward Savannah, exit 99 will take you there. Savannah is a metropolitan city with quiet southern manners. During the city's youth, what today is known as River Street was one of the wealthiest sea ports in the American colonies. Cotton was king in Savannah and great mountains of white towered high waiting to be loaded on ships bound for foreign ports.

As ships were loaded with cargo their weighted ballast stones were cast aside in large piles on the riverfront. Soon these massive heaps of stone began to impede to progress of wagon traffic. The city fathers were concerned, something had to done. An enterprising Irish immigrant proposed that, for a price, he would remove the stones. The officials gladly accepted the offer and paid the Irishman handsomely. Later, or so the story goes, the Irishman noted that when it rained the wharf lane became sodden with mud and soon the wagons with their cumbersome loads were bogged in the quagmire. The Irishman approached the city fathers a second time, for a price he would pave the street and eliminate the muddy problem. Of course, again his offer was accepted and he was paid. What materials did he use? The very same ballast stones he had only recently removed. The Irishman was rich and Savannah's River Street was paved. The ballast stones remain to this day as you walk among the wonderful shops, restaurants and novelty establishments.

Whatever diversion, Coastal Georgia welcomes you with open arms and warm southern hospitality. Enjoy your journey through the saw grass marshland stirring in the breeze as the voices of history introduce you to the Georgia coast. Remember, to find the really amazing sights and places when you travel, you've got to "Get Off the Interstate."

This article was written with excerpts from Get Off the Interstate: A Guide to the Historical Markers of Coastal Georgia, by author Valerie Evans Goddard. The book contains nearly three hundred historical markers from the six Coastal Georgia counties. Each marker has been meticulously researched and expounded on to provide enthralling family stories, ghost tales, famous battles, historical triumphs and tragedies. Each story reveals little known facts that represent the people, places and events of yesteryear. Get Off the Interstate is entertaining to read, can be used as a wonderful historical travel guide or as a source of magnetic tourist information. Utilizing the detailed directions and/or GPS Coordinates provided makes searching for each of the Coastal Georgia historical markers an easy and informative adventure. The book may be purchased through most local bookstores or personally signed by contacting the author directly at .

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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