For a recent milestone anniversary, my husband and I decided to indulge in a stay at the upscale Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Ga. After all, if John Kennedy Jr. chose it for his wedding, surely it would be perfect for our anniversary.
Cumberland Island is located along the coast and is part of the Georgia Golden Isles. Most of the Island is part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore and owned by the National Parks Service. This includes almost 10,000 acres of protected land in it’s natural state that encroach on grand plantations from another time, in various states of disrepair.
Coupled with some wild horses and the yesteryear elegance of the Greyfield Inn, a trip to Cumberland Island Georgia can be a relaxing beach vacation or an intriguing adventure to uncover island secrets.
GREYFIELD INN, CUMBERLAND ISLAND GA
The Greyfield Inn was a present from Lucy Carnegie, wife of the lesser known steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, to her daughter Margaret Ricketson. It was the smallest of the four homes she built on the island for her children.
Lucy’s home, Dungeness, burned in 1959, supposedly in an act of revenge against the family. It’s broken, ivy covered walls now serve as the backdrop for photos of the islands approximately 150 feral horses, some decedents of a gift to the Carnegies from the King of Arabia (or so the story goes).
The Carnegie decedents are the original and only owners of the The Greyfield Inn. They turned it into a hotel in the early 60’s and still manage it today.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO STAY HERE?
A stay at the Cumberland Island Greyfield Inn feels like a personal invitation from the family, who send their private Greyfield Inn ferry, the Lucy Ferguson, to pick you up at the dock in Fernandina Beach.
After a brief tour of the house and property, you are welcome to make yourself at home – even foraging in the kitchen fridge for a midnight snack if the urge hits.
The bar is open anytime. Guests use the honor system to record what they’ve consumed.
Meals are included, with breakfast being a drop in event; lunch, a picnic you pick up at your leisure; and dinner, a more formal affair where jackets are required and guests are seated at the bell.
If you didn’t bring a jacket, the hotel will provide you with one. Don’t let the jacket requirement deter you, it’s not as formal as it might sound.
GUESTS OF THE CARNEGIE FAMILY
The Greyfield Inn is the only Cumberland Island hotel. The house and its contents are rich in family history. Along the wall in the sitting room are height markers for Carnegie decedents that date back to the 20’s, maybe earlier.
Silver serving bowls are prizes from sailing contests and the like. The vases that hold fresh flowers from the garden could be original to the house, which was built in 1900.
Guests are encouraged to browse in the library, where rumor has it you can find first editions and author signed copies of best-selling titles, including an original printing of Winnie the Pooh. I didn’t find any of those, but did find several children’s books copyrighted 1900 and earlier, as well as an account of THE World War. The only books off limits are the bound editions of Harper’s Weekly.
ROOMS AT THE GREYFIELD INN
We stayed in the large cottage, which offered a bit more privacy. In the main house, guest share bathrooms, which was something we really didn’t want to do.
The cottage was comfortable and period, which means, we didn’t have a huge shower or Jacuzzi tub. That was fine with me, the turn of the century charm was much more interesting.
THINGS TO DO AT THE GREYFIELD INN
Our visit was a short one, but we packed a lot into the roughly 24 hours we had at this unique Cumberland Island Inn. Here are a few of our favorites.
BIKING CUMBERLAND ISLAND
On our first afternoon, we went for a long bike ride exploring the island and the Dungeness grounds. My inner history geek spilled out as I read about the island’s inhabitants in the converted ice house and marveled at the turn-of-the-century laundry.
The naturalist in me was fascinated by the legions of fiddler crabs in the marsh moving like a droid army, and the haunting bare trees among the bright sand, permanently bent and weathered.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND HISTORY
On our second day, we took a Jeep tour to the north end of the island, learning about Robert Stafford and his plantation. Although Stafford saw himself as a father figure to his slaves, after the Civil War, these new freeman disassembled their homes and reassembled them as far north on the island as they could, in a town they called simply, The Settlement.
The tiny white-washed church in The Settlement is where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married.
The real story here though is the spunky unofficial mayor, Ms. Beulah Alberty. Educated on the mainland, she returned to the Settlement with a goal of educating the black children on the island.
We peeked in the windows at Plum Orchard, one of the four homes built by Lucy Carnegie. This one was for her son, George.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND BEACH
In the evening, we recounted our animal sightings – deer, horses, armadillos, lizards, birds — as we walked down to the deserted beach and marveled at the sunset over the water, which was made more beautiful by the lack of noise or light pollution.
AND EVEN MORE….
Because our stay was short, we did not take advantage of the kayaks, fishing equipment or other naturalist-led tours offered by the Greyfield Inn.
On a return trip, I’d like to do that, plus visit GoGo Ferguson’s jewelry shop, where she fashions jewelry from animal penis’ (!!) and other bones. GoGo is a Carnegie relation, as are many of the folks you’ll meet at Greyfield, which is what adds to the charm of this unique Inn.
Greyfield Inn is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for recognizing and celebrating the finest historic hotels across the United States.
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