Tybee Island | Tybee Island, Georgia
Tybee Island GA 31328
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There are miles of beach; forts and museums and a great old lighthouse; endangered birds and other animal species; kayaks and bikes to rent (along with all kinds of hotels, motels, cottage and condo rentals too).
Tybee Island is an island and city in Chatham County, Georgia, near the city of Savannah in the southeastern United States. It is the easternmost point in the state of Georgia. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 3,392. The island, which includes the city of the same name, had a population of 3,713. It is part of the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Officially renamed “Savannah Beach” in a publicity move at the end of the 1950s, the city of Tybee Island has since reverted to its original name (although maps show the use of the name “Savannah Beach” as far back as 1952 and as recently as the mid-1970s on official state maps). The small island, which has long been a quiet getaway for the residents of Savannah, has become a popular vacation spot with tourists from outside the Savannah metropolitan area. Tybee Island is also home to the first of what became the Days Inn chain of hotels, the oft-photographed Tybee Island Light Station, and the Fort Screven Historic District.
Native Americans, using dugout canoes to navigate the waterways, hunted and camped in Georgia’s coastal islands for thousands of years. The Euchee tribe likely inhabited the island in the years preceding the arrival of the first Spanish explorers in the area in the 1500s. “Tybee” is the Euchee word for “salt.”
In 1520, the Spanish laid claim to what is now Tybee Island and named it Los Bajos. It was at the northern end of the Guale missionary province of Spanish Florida. During that time, the island was frequented by pirates who used the island to hide from those who pursued them. Pirates later used the island’s inland waterways for a fresh water source. After the founding of South Carolina in 1670, warfare increased between the English and their pirate allies and the Spanish and their Native American. In 1702, James Moore of South Carolina led an invasion of Spanish Florida with an Indian army and a fleet of pirates. The invasion failed to take the capital of Florida, St. Augustine, but did destroy the Guale and Mocama missionary provinces. After another invasion of Spanish Florida by South Carolina in 1704, the Spanish retreated to St. Augustine and Pensacola; the Sea Islands were depopulated, allowing the establishment of new English settlements, such as the colony of Georgia. In 1733, English settlers led by James Oglethorpe settled on Tybee Island before moving on to settle eventually in Savannah.
Tybee Island’s strategic position near the mouth of the Savannah River has made the island’s northern tip the ideal location for a lighthouse since Georgia’s early settlement period. First built in the year 1736, the lighthouse was made of brick and wood, and stood 90 feet tall, making it the highest structure in America at that time. The original lighthouse has been replaced several times. The second lighthouse was built in 1742 when beach erosion threatened the first. Part of the third lighthouse at the site, built in 1773, still stands as the bottom 60 feet of the present lighthouse. The top 94 feet of the current lighthouse were added in 1867.
Today, the Tybee Lighthouse is a popular tourist destination, having all of its support buildings on the five-acre site historically preserved. The current black and white tower markings are a reversion to its fourth day mark, first used in 1916. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of just a handful of 18th century lighthouses still in operation in North America.
Tybee Island in the Civil War
During the American Civil War, the Union Army placed siege batteries along the north coast of Tybee Island that aided in their successful bombardment and capture of Fort Pulaski on April 10-11, 1862. This was the first significant use of rifled cannons against masonry fortifications and demonstrated that masonry fortifications were obsolete. Recently, the City of Tybee Island has taken action to commemorate Tybee’s historic significance in the Civil War. In 2005, the city obtained a federal grant to acquire two tracts of land where Union soldiers launched their attack against Fort Pulaski.
Fort Screven Historic District
Fort Screven was first commissioned in 1899 and was named for General Joseph Screven, a Revolutionary War hero who was killed in action near Midway, Georgia, in 1778. The Fort served as a valuable part of coastal defense until it was decommissioned in 1947. Fort Screven is most notable for one of its former commanding officers, General of the Army George C. Marshall, later the architect of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Very little remains of the original fort due to redevelopment of the area for housing. One of the most important remaining structures is the Tybee Post Theater, which was constructed in 1930. It was one of the first theaters in Georgia to have sound features and was the highlight of recreational activities for the fort. Other remaining buildings include the recently restored guard house, the bakery (now a private home), and barracks (now apartments). The ruins of the beach fortifications are also extant, and of the six original batteries, Battery Garland (built in 1899) is accessible to the public. Battery Garland houses the Tybee Museum and several cannons and other military hardware are on display. Another remaining area is Officer’s Row, an impressive group of original homes that had a sweeping ocean view. One of these homes is now a bed and breakfast.
The Resort Period
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, residents in large, polluted cities frequently sought out remote beaches for summertime getaways. Clear, saltwater breezes were believed to be remedies for various ailments, including asthma and certain allergies. Steamships began carrying patients and tourists to Tybee Island just after the Civil War. In 1887, the Central of Georgia Railroad completed a line to Tybee Island, opening the island to a wave of summer tourists. The railroad built the Tybrisa Pavilion in 1891, and by the end of the decade, several hundred summer cottages dotted the island.
In the 1920s, U.S. Route 80 was completed, connecting Tybee Island via road with the mainland. The Tybrisa Pavilion became a popular stop for Big Band tours, and development pushed toward the island’s southern tip. By 1940, the island had four hotels, including the Desoto Hotel and Hotel Tybee, and numerous smaller lodges. The Tybrisa Pavilion burned in 1967, and was replaced by the Tybee Pier and Pavilion in 1996.
The Tybee Bomb
On February 5, 1958, a U.S. Air Force B-47 Stratojet from Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, jettisoned a nuclear weapon (specifically, a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb) off the coast of Tybee Island while conducting training exercises with a USAF F-86 Sabrejet. The two aircraft collided, with the pilot of the fighter ejecting and the crew of the bomber making an emergency landing at nearby Hunter Air Force Base. The lost weapon, known popularly as the “Tybee Bomb”, remained a security concern for several years, although the Air Force claims the bomb lacks a nuclear capsule and doesn’t pose a serious threat.
Tybee Island is the northeastern-most of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, which comprise the outer section of the state’s Lower Coastal Plain region. Like the other Barrier Islands, Tybee consists of a sandy beach on its eastern shore and a tidal salt marsh on its western shore. The interior consists of a maritime forest (the density of which has been reduced by development) and freshwater sloughs.
The Savannah River empties into the Atlantic Ocean just north of Tybee Island, placing the island in a historically strategic location. To the west, the marsh-lined Lazaretto Creek splits the island off from McQueens Island (the two-mile stretch between the main western shore of Tybee Island and Lazaretto Creek is mostly marshland). Tybee Creek flows along the south shore of Tybee Island and joins the Atlantic at the island’s southeastern tip. Little Tybee Island, which consists mostly of protected wetlands, lies across Tybee Creek to the southwest. The size of the sandy beach at the southern tip of Tybee Island varies considerably in response to tidal changes.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.674 miles. Of this, 2.5575 miles is land and 0.1161 miles, or 4.344%, is water. The entire island (as distinguished from the city of the same name) has a land area of 21.871 square miles.
Tybee Island Lighthouse
Tybee Museum at Fort Screven
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Tybee Island Marine Science Center
Tybee Island Pier & Pavilion
Camp Burton, Georgia 4-H center
Tybrisa Street (formerly 16th Street)
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.