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Whims of the Carnegies: The Rise and Fall of Cumberland Island

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Welcome to CityScapes, a column in which we explore some of the nation's oft-overlooked cities and towns: their local history and real estate offerings. Have a suggestion? Do let us know.

The largest of Georgia's barrier islands, Cumberland Island has a remarkable history of human habitation that spans more than 4,000 years, starting with early indigenous inhabitants. The Spanish arrived in the 16th century and set up a mission, which is none too surprising considering the close proximity to the famous Spanish outpost at St. Augustine, Fla. After a period of costly battles—including a particularly nasty bout called the Battle of Bloody Marsh—the English took control of the island and a British general established a hunting lodge known as Dungeness. In 1783, with the Brits sent packing, Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene bought much of the island as a private estate. One hundred years later, after the slave-based plantation economy collapsed, the "new money" moved in when Andrew Carnegie's brother purchased a huge swathe of the island and erected a 59-room mansion on the Dungeness site (above).

? At the turn of the century, the Carnegies acquired additional land from the descendants of General Greene and built additional houses for the extended family, including Plum Orchard (above), a Peabody and Stearns design completed in 1898. The mansion is now part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, which has probably saved it from the ravages of time. The Carnegie houses that aren't under federal purview haven't fared quite so well.

? Well the above photo is a bit of a spoiler, but the chief Carnegie mansion came crashing down in 1959 following a devastating fire, allegedly sparked by a revenge-seeking poacher who was previously wounded by one of the caretakers. That was the last straw for the mansion, which the Carnegies had moved out of way back in 1925. Today, all that remains are the so-called "24 chimneys," the towers of brick left behind after the fire.


Nowadays, with much of the island turned over to federal preservation land, the only private homes are those owned by descendants of the original landowners. Eventually, all the land will go to the National Park. That all means that we had to look elsewhere for appropriate area real estate. The city of St. Marys, Ga. is the taking off point for the twice-daily Cumberland Island Ferry and a fine Southern town in its own right. Here are three not-quite-Carnegian houses in St. Marys.

? Built in a plantation-style that affords broad porches, this waterfront four-bedroom has a classic Southern feel on a treed peninsula. The boathouse, situated at the end of a marsh-spanning dock, apparently frames some beautiful Georgia sunsets, but are they worth the $990K price of admission?

? With stacked porches, a half-acre of lawns and flowerbeds, and access to a communal club with swimming pool and tennis courts, this $650K three bedroom would make a charming seaside getaway. Unfortunately, the interiors are a little heavy handed to attract much interest from design-minded buyers.

? For a sweet deal on a towering St. Marys house, this 2009 build is asking just $390K. The four-bedroom manse has huge decks and an outdoor shower, but interested buyers better act fast: the asking price was bumped up by $40K this month.

· 305 Long Point Circle [Trulia]
· 106 Sand Dollar Court [Trulia]
· 307 East Conyers Street [Trulia]