Lighting Up Coastal History
When leaders of Glynn County’s Coastal Georgia Historical Society began casting about for a place to store a few memories, their eyes fell immediately on two sites: the historic St. Simons Lighthouse and the island’s Coast Guard Station, both already tucked safely away in the society’s property portfolio.
When its 20-month fund raising campaign ended in June 2006, the society had reached its $5 million goal and then some. It didn’t take long to break ground on the new A.W. Jones Heritage Center, which will open its doors during the first few months of next year. The 10,000-square-foot facility is part of a construction and renovation project on the grounds of the St. Simons Island Lighthouse, which guided ships through danger from its construction in 1872 until its decommissioning in 1955.
Over the years, the lighthouse, its keeper’s dwelling and the Coast Guard station a mile-and-a-half down the island have been acquired by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. The organization staved off commercial development on the historic sites, which are set to become an educational, cultural and historical attraction for visitors and locals alike.
For Patricia Morris, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, a key part of that attraction will center on a bit of recent history. “The G8 exhibit will be unique because I don’t know of another place that really will tell the story of what the G8 is and how important it is,” she says, referring to the 2004 conference that brought the leaders of eight nations to the Golden Isles for a series of events hosted by President George W. Bush. “This [G8 exhibit] is important because so many schoolchildren today really don’t have an idea how close the world is. This will allow us to reach out globally.”
From a practical point of view, the enhanced exhibit space gives Morris greater options for displaying the center’s more than 12,000 artifacts and documents. At present, only about 10 percent of the permanent collection can be shown due to floor space limitations. The recent acquisition of some 200 fossils, all found in Glynn County, boosted the diversity of the center’s permanent collection and increased the demand for additional space.
“We were really proud and thankful to get that from a local man who has spent years gathering coastal fossils,” Morris says.
The center also has launched an oral history project in partnership with Georgia Southern University. With help from the Coast Guard, oral historians are inviting USCG sailors who served at the St. Simons station from 1936 to 1955 to attend a reunion on the island this summer and share their memories with each other – and the tape recorder. Plans are also under way to book traveling exhibits. The St. Simons Island Lighthouse is one of only three such structures in Georgia open to the public.