Skidaway Island | Savannah, Georgia
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Skidaway Island, an interior barrier island fronted by Wassaw Island, is home to Skidaway Island State Park, the world-renowned Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the University of Georgia's Marine Extension Center, and the largest coastal residential development in the Savannah area called The Landings. Though extensively developed by the Union Camp Corporation, the island today has one of the best state parks in Georgia, with two breathtakingly beautiful nature trails and a full complement of facilities. The Marine Extension Center has the best aquariums in the Savannah area and an excellent nature trail that follows Skidaway Narrows.
The 6,300-acre Pleistocene island is defined by the Wilmington River to the north, Skidaway Narrows to the west, the Vernon River to the south, and Romerly Marsh and Wassaw Island to the east. High ground on the island is roughly 8 miles long by 3 miles wide. Skidaway has had many different spellings throughout history. Some believe Oglethorpe named Skidaway in honor of his Indian friend Tomochichi's wife, who was called Scenawh
Older than Wassaw, Skidaway is one link in Georgia's Pleistocene barrier island chain that would have been oceanfront property at some stage approximately 40,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. With the melting of the glacial ice and the rise in sea level, Skidaway's younger sister Wassaw came into being approximately 5,000 years ago. The older, Pleistocene islands like Skidaway tend to be flatter with well-developed soils, whereas the younger, Holocene islands like Wassaw have many dune ridges and poor soils.
Skidaway, with its rich marsh filled with oysters, mussels, clams, and whelks, had long been a hunting and ceremonial ground for Timucua Indians that lived in the area. Archaeologists have found 56 sites on the island with evidence that Indians used the island at least 4,000 years before General Oglethorpe sailed up the Savannah River. Three ceremonial shell rings, dating back to 1750 B.C., have been found on the island. These rings are a type of New World pyramid and fewer than 20 of them have been discovered, all in the southeastern United States except for one in Ecuador. The shell rings are perfectly symmetrical and uniform in height and thickness of wall. The interior centers of the rings were kept very clean and any debris found in them were left behind by later groups. The Timucua were targets of mission activities by the Spanish in the 1630s, and became extinct by the 1760s from European plagues and English-sponsored slaving. Paleontologists have also found on the island the fossils of Georgia's megafauna, such as mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths, and native horses, which became extinct five to ten thousand years ago for reasons unclear today.
Oglethorpe assigned five families and six single men to Skidaway Island, and they built a small fort at the northern end of the island (later a fort would be built at the southern end of the island as well). The fort commanded the river, with one carriage gun and four swivel guns. Methodist founder John Wesley visited the area in 1736. Despite attempts to gain a foothold, by 1740, the island was abandoned when the pioneers were unsuccessful in farming the infertile soil. The next period of settlement was from 1754 to 1771, when 29 grants of land on Skidaway were issued to settlers who were to be more successful. An early grantee was John Milledge, who established the plantation Modena, which is believed to be named for the Italian town that was the seat of the silk culture, an early industry on the Georgia coast. His son, John Jr., became a U.S. representative and senator, governor of Georgia, and founder of the University of Georgia, then called Franklin College. Modena Plantation survived until the mid -18005, and today is the site of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and University of Georgia's Marine Extension Center. The Roebling family, whose great great grandfather engineered and built the Brooklyn Bridge, was one of the last owners of property. Locals still call the area Modena.
During the Revolutionary War, Skidaway saw a small skirmish when Patriots attacked and drove off a forage party of British Marines. Between the War for Independence and the Civil War, the area saw relative prosperity, with approximately 2,000 inhabitants and plantations producing cotton, indigo, corn, cattle, and hogs. During the Civil War, earthen batteries were established on the island to defend the southerners from northern attacks and the 4th Georgia Battery was posted here. (A battery can be toured on the Big Ferry Interpretive Trail at Skidaway Island State Park). With the success of the Union blockade in 1862, Skidaway was abandoned, and when the South lost the war and slavery was abolished, the plantations fell into ruin.
Black freedmen were the next to try their luck on Skidaway. These former slaves were assisted by the Freedman's Bureau and Benedictine monks, the latter who established a monastery and school for black children near Priest's Landing on the eastern side of the island. (Priest's Landing is located at the end of Osca Road off of McWhorter Road.) A tidal wave in 1889 ruined the freshwater supply and farming failed from infertile soil and Skidaway was abandoned again. During Prohibition of the early 19005, Skidaway became a prime bootlegging site because of its isolation. An abandoned still from this era is founded at Skidaway State Park on the Big Ferry Interpretive Trail.
In the war-torn, defeated rebel states, southerners had only their property and natural resources to climb out of poverty. The industrialized North had the financial and political advantage over its impoverished southern neighbors and used it across the South. Skidaway was no exception, and various northern interests gained control of the island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The largest of these, Union Camp (then called Union Bag and Paper Corporation) consolidated its holdings and used Skidavvay for pulpwood production in the I940s. By 1964, Union Camp had designs to develop residential property on the island, but Skidaway lacked a bridge that would provide easy access for cars. Union Camp offered to donate 500 acres to the state if Georgia would build a bridge to the island. Nothing came of this offer until 1967, when Union Camp donated 500 acres that became the site of the University of Georgia's Marine Extension Center and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The bridge was built in 1971, and Union Camp subsequently developed the gated, residential golf community called The Landings, which today features six 18-hole golf courses.
Tagged with: Barrier Islands in Georgia
Georgia Barrier Islands Photos
Photographs of 16 major barrier islands along the Georgia Coast with brief descriptions. Photos are arranged in geographical order north to south. For more detailed information on each island see Barrier Islands In Georgia and the Georgia Barrier Islands Map.