Over a century of leaving well enough alone.
In 1839, Fanny Kemble, wife of Little St. Simons Island’s then-owner, Pierce Butler II, visited the Island and called it “a forest in the sea” and a “tangled wilderness.” Were she to visit today she might well be pleased to discover just how little things have changed on Little St. Simons Island and how apt her characterizations– made some 169 years ago–remain.
In 2008, the Island observed its 100th Anniversary–a celebration of one remarkable family’s abiding devotion to letting nature reign and to simply leaving well enough wonderfully alone. Yet this most recent century of the Island’s history is but a sliver of the stories, sagas and adventures that have swept across its 10,000 acres.
FROM NATIVE AMERICANS
TO PLANTATION DAYS
Around 700 A.D., Native Americans, known as Guale Indians, populated the coast of Georgia. Along with its abundant fish and game, Little St. Simons Island’s bountiful oyster beds drew the Guale to the Island seasonally. Large piles of discarded oyster shells, called middens, can be found near the northern end of Little St. Simons Island and are among the Island’s most historic sites.
As he sails up the Georgia coast in 1562, French explorer Jean Ribeaut encounters two islands, one smaller than the other, and (according to some historians) names them after St. Simeon, a small town east of Paris. The two islands, Great St. Simon’s Island and Little St. Simon’s Island (with apostrophes that have long since vanished) first appear with these names on maps in the 18th century.
In 1760, Samuel Augspourger, a Swiss colonist living in South Carolina, became Little St. Simons Island’s first private owner of record. In 1768, he sold the Island to his grandson, Gabriel Manigault.
Along with sizable parts of coastal Georgia, Major Pierce Butler acquired Little St. Simons Island in 1774. The Island became part of Butler’s vast, coastal rice and cotton cultivation operations centered just across the Hampton River at Hampton Plantation on St. Simons Island. A stretch of 500 acres of marshlands at Little St. Simons Island’s northwestern tip was drained, placed under cultivation with sea island cotton and called Five Pound Plantation.
Major Butler’s grandson, Pierce Butler II, assumed ownership of Little St. Simons Island in 1836. Butler’s
wife, Fanny Kemble, was an English actress and the author of several published journals including the famous Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation that vividly recounted the often harsh realities of life on the antebellum coast.
CEDARS ARE SIGHTED
AND AN ISLAND IS SAVED
While on a fishing trip to the Georgia coast in 1907, O.F. Chichester, of the Eagle Pencil Company of New York City, spied the Island’s abundance of red cedar trees–ideal for pencil making. He reported his find to Company owner, Philip Berolzheimer.
On January 16, 1908, Little St. Simons Island was purchased by the Company from Pierce Butler’s descendant, Frances Butler Leigh. Though the cedar trees were found to generally be too wind-bent for pencil making, Philip Berolzheimer fell in love with the Island’s beauty and purchased it from his Company as a private retreat for family and friends. Mr. Berolzheimer’s devotion to the Island’s preservation founded a century of environmental stewardship and protective practices that continues today and in perpetuity.
In 1921, Philip Berolzheimer, along with seven friends that included some of New York City’s most prominent policy-makers, journeyed from New York to his beloved Little St. Simons Island. Known affectionately as the “Eight Bandits,” the group would make many such sojourns, spending weeks here fishing, hunting, playing parlor games and enjoying each other’s company. The flag they created to commemorate their group depicted eight ducks in flight above a running deer. A slightly modified version of this flag serves as the Island’s present-day logo.
DOWN THROUGH THE YEARS
Upon Philip Berolzheimer’s death in 1942, ownership of the Island passed to his children, Charles and Helen Berolzheimer. In turn, their children–Philip, Michael, Helen and Ransom– steadfastly continued the family’s legacy of love for and preservation of Little St. Simons Island.