Whether you’re just scrolling through Easter posts or turning on the TV, religious sites have been dominating headlines. Universally, places of worship are typically calm, peaceful environments – yet their serenity struggles to survive outside their confines. Their peacefulness often becomes lost in politics, conflicting ideologies, and social media arguments. But, long before the creation of the internet and 24-hour news cycle, the monks at Monastery of the Holy Spirit recognized these limitations. They — like many of us -- have attempted to construct their own world where they can better maintain clarity and peacefulness in their day-to-day lives.
Sitting at the southernmost point of the Arabia Mountain Path, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is not exactly “coastal.” However, it does quietly stand out from the handful of monasteries in the Southeast region. In 1944, a group of 20 Trappist monks left their monastery in Kentucky and founded their own, just southeast of Atlanta. Here, they built a barn to live in while they began work on other structures. For 15 years, they worked on the abbey church, which was finally completed in 1959. The monks built the entire abbey themselves, from the soaring concrete ceilings down to the littlest pieces of stained-glass. The simple, yet ethereal, concrete structure has been heralded by Georgia Contractor Magazine as “Georgia’s Most Remarkable Concrete Building."
Most surprising, however, were the men who call the monastery home. In visiting the site, I learned that they’re just regular guys who traded in lives as a tech professional on Wall Street or a school teacher on Main Street.
Previous monastery abbot, Father Francis Michael, explains to visiting children the concept of a monastery:
“It’s like God draws a big circle,” he begins very simply. “And He wants you to live in that circle. You want to go live in His circle, too. But He’s going to put other people in the circle with you, and you don’t get to choose. He’s going to choose them. All you have to do is learn how to love one another.”
Father Michael's message could easily be applied to the world at large.
In addition to touring the abbey, the 2000+ acre property offers hiking and biking trails. Guests can also visit the stained-glass manufacturing business, a green cemetery, the largest bookstore of its kind in the Southeast, and a renowned bonsai greenhouse. At the visitor center, a film teaches about the history of the area and monasticism through the ages.
“When I was young, my grandparents would travel from Louisville to Charleston (West Virginia) each summer on their way to the coast of Maryland. They would surprise us (though our parents knew) and would come late at night, let us pack, and then we’d leave very early in the morning. (My pappaw didn’t want to catch any traffic crossing the Chesapeake Bay.) We would get to the bay bridge around 6:30am and would be able to see the sun rise over the water before we entered the pine plains on the other side.
We would usually arrive at the beach around 8:00am. We’d put our bags in the house, which was small – just a kitchen, family room, and a hole where a bathroom should be, plus a large, wide sleeping porch. Before my grandparents would let us go, my grandma would say, “Be right sure that y’all sign you’s name in the sand.” Then we’d run down the path through the marsh, out onto the sand with one thing in mind: the ponies.
The fondest memory I have that is taking that same trail through the Maryland ‘low country’ out to the tip of the land, where we would then trek through the waist-high water from one sand bar to another, until we would reach Assateague. The journey out took about 45 minutes, if we were able to catch a time without a high tide.
If we went any time before September we would be able to see the wild mares and colts in the dunes. We’d hide behind sand drifts until a large group of horses would run across the dunes – and then we would try to race them across the beach. We’d name certain horses – specifically the ones that we thought were the prettiest. And when we needed a break from running, we would take a look around and find a big empty spot to write our names. We’d write my name, and they’d write their names, and then we’d write every person’s name we could think of in big long lists. We’d even write the names of the horses we met that day. And when we were done writing we’d go and run some more.
Though we never beat the mighty fast animals we never stopped and never lost hope that we were as wild as the horses – even if we looked like lunatics to other people.
In my young age I never stopped to think how unique it was to be able to interact with creatures so wild, yet so docile.
My grandparents have long since passed away and the house is no longer there. It has been replaced with giant beach houses that tower over the beach. Even most of the long leaf pines trees that towered over the house no longer stand. The sand bars that used to speckle the distance between there and Assateague Island are now much fewer, and the distance seems to have gotten longer – probably due, in part, to the hurricanes that have since come through.
Now, my family comes up from Memphis and drives through Kentucky to get to West Virginia. We cut through Annapolis and meet my sister and her husband, round up their children, and we all make the long journey across the bay. And then the short journey to the beach. I’ve tried to present to my children the same exact path that I used to take to get to the ponies, but now it requires a boat.
So many things have changed. We have to stay in a big house that is disproportionate to the land. And, as they’ve grown up, my children have begun to prefer to go to Ocean City to visit their friends during the summer. But once I get them away from the new, we can take the journey to see the ponies.
And once we get to the island, you can hardly see any of the built-up mainland across the wide sound. And the ponies are still there running just as they used to do. And chasing them is still just as fun. And before we go back, we make sure to write our names in the sand.”
Big thanks to Chuck, who sent us this email sharing his favorite Coastal South memory. Photo via SkydiveOC.
When we think of the first European explorers who discovered the New World, we often think of Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth Rock. However, we forget that much of the “discovering” originally took place in the Coastal South. Ask any true coastal historian and they will tell you about the elusive Fort Caroline – a European settlement that predates all of these…. If only we could “find” it.
(Please excuse the blurry photos.)
Jacksonville’s Fort Caroline Fraud
Jacksonville, FL has always "claimed" the historical notoriety of being home to the site of Fort Caroline. In Jacksonville, you can even visit the "Fort Caroline National Memorial," which has been “recreated” so that visitors can learn about the first European settlement in the New World. Most history books and online encyclopedia sources have followed suit and stated that Fort Caroline was built on the St. Johns River in present day Jacksonville.
C. 1718. Map via The Fort Caroline Archaeology Project: http://www.tfcap.org
Records indicate that the original Fort Caroline housed ~300 French explorers and colonists. Records also state that the fort predated St. Augustine (the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States). This means that Fort Caroline also predated the Lost Colony of Roanoke by 21 years, the 1607 fort of Jamestown by 45 years, and the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620 by 56 years.
When we think of original colonists, we typically think of these aforementioned Protestant settlements. However, Fort Caroline is known as the first Protestant settlement in the New World.
Led by French naval officer Jean Ribault, the French exploratory group were Protestant Huguenots who came to America for religious freedom. They tried to find refuge from the anti-Protestant rage that swept their homeland.
Several years ago, retired professors Anita Spring and Fletcher Crowe put forth a theory that the true location of Fort Caroline was on the banks of Georgia's Altamaha River. However, since releasing this theory, Spring and Crowe ran into a few issues – primarily that archaeological digs on the Altamaha have been unable to prove the theory true. Also, many historians strongly contradicted the theory with their own research.
However, Spring and Crowe (along with much of the historical community) still knew at least one thing to be true: there is no valid evidence that aligns Fort Caroline with Jacksonville or the St. Johns River. The Jacksonville fort is still a known tourist ploy.
St. Marys River
Rather than insist that the fort was on the Altamaha, Crowe and Spring were open to suggestions and begin to consider alternative areas. That's when they met another archaeologist from Brunswick, Fred Cook. Cook had a compelling argument that Fort Caroline was not on the St. Johns River nor the Altamaha – but actually the St. Marys River.
Now, together, these three historians have “combined forces” and taken a new stance: Fort Caroline may have been on the southern banks/bluffs of the St. Marys River.
I was lucky enough to attend one of their presentations in-person, where I learned of their new development. They explained that many historical maps have mislabeled these rivers -- sometimes even combining them into one large river.
However, the historical/archaeological community was willing to entertain his new theory, due to some of the geographic features of the St. Marys River.
These historical descriptions of Fort Caroline commonly share:
- Fort Caroline was built on an island positioned in the River Mai (French - River May)
- You could access Fort Caroline by sailing into the mouth of River Mai – not too far inland from the Atlantic
- This island had tall bluffs (sometimes called mountains), which gave the fort added security and visibility
- In fact, the height was so high that Fort Caroline had clear visibility of the Atlantic. (Neither the Altamaha nor the St. Johns currently has bluffs that are high enough to see the Atlantic.)
- There was a many-mile-wide body of freshwater further inland, called the “Great Lake"
- The River Mai connected/flowed to this “Great Lake”
- The Okefenokee Swamp is the only many-mile-wide body of freshwater in the area that matches the descriptions, which also connects to the Atlantic Ocean via a river (St. Marys)
- Menendez’s men wrote that it took two days to march from St. Augustine to Fort Caroline when they attacked. It would be impossible to reach the Altamaha River in that time – BUT possible to reach St. Marys.
The Buck Stops Here
The unfortunate problem with the theory that Fort Caroline was on the banks of the St. Marys River is that it cannot be confirmed by archaeologists, as these bluffs/banks belong to a private land owner who will not cooperate to allow archaeological digs.
The reasons for this are obvious – primarily that the discovery of the fort would cause the land to most likely be established as a national historical site and/or have limitations established for its future use.
Historians hope that one day, they may be given the opportunity to perform some digs in the area, but until then, they continue to survey the Coastal South and consider any other locations that might have archaeological evidence of Fort Caroline.
Personally, I have paddled and boated on the St. Marys River many times. When you pass the steep bluffs on the south/Florida side, you can’t help but imagine the possibility of discovering historical artifacts buried beneath the untouched woods.
Photo via Instagram @raleigh9kitch
When I was little, I was told some Coastal South folkore about the creation of Spanish Moss. The story is set several centuries ago, before the invasive moss covered our coastal trees and the native tribes still reigned throughout the region.
As the European explorers settled the Coastal South, a Spanish man met a young native woman. He liked her, but she refused him. The much older Spaniard did not take the rejection very well, so one day he attempted to corner her alone.
The indian girl ran and ran, and eventually found an oak tree that she could scurry up. The Spaniard followed her up the tree, so she went out on a limb -- as far as she could manage. Just when she thought the Spaniard had trapped her, he lost his balance and slipped out of the tree. However, his long gray beard got caught in the branches and ripped from his skin.
After this nasty fall, the Spaniard died. However, the story claims that his beard continued to grow on the tree, and with it, his spirit continued to search for the girl. Spreading from tree to tree until it covered the entire Coastal South.
St. Marys, GA has changed roles many times over recent centuries – having been described as a bustling colonial seaport, a sleepy city by the sea, an ethically questionable company town, and a strategic military location.
The city sits in the far southeast corner of the state of Georgia. Many Florida-bound vacationers have stumbled upon St. Marys while making a pitstop at Exit 1 on I-95. Here, people can learn about the local attractions, like Cumberland Island (the largest of Georgia’s barrier islands), the nuclear submarine base, and the quaint, historic waterfront.
Drone shot by St. Marys local, Ashley Alexander
Prior to European discovery, the southeastern region of Georgia was home to numerous American Indian tribes – the Guales, Timucuans, Creeks, and Yamacraws. Historians estimate that as early as 200 B.C., the tribes inhabited the vast maritime forests of live oaks and palmettos. They hunted deer, turkey, and wild game, while also catching fish, shrimp, and harvesting shellfish.
These diverse tribes lived independently of each other. They had never “united” under one body or banded together with any formal organization, so when the French and Spanish explorers arrived, the indians were unprepared to take a stand or resist the European conquest.
French River Mai (May). Original drawn by Jacques Le Moyne, c. 1562 (Recreation)
The known history of St. Marys begins in 1562, when French Huguenot Jean Ribault is said to have sailed into the river and landed on the south bank – now known as Amelia Island. Here, Ribault erected a stone monument and claimed the land for France. He also named the river "River May" – after the date of his arrival
Original drawn by Jacques Le Moyne, c. 1562 (Recreation)
Ribault column located on the St. Johns River tourist site. Photo via FloridaHikes.com
For the next 200 years, the land extending from the St. Marys River up to the Charleston Bay would belong to France. This was essentially all of present day Georgia. The French wrote that it was “a countrie full of havens, rivers, and islands of such fruitfulness as cannot with toungue be expressed.”
Shortly after the French expedition landed in the Amelia Island area, the Spanish settlers landed in St. Augustine. Now, both the French and Spanish began to “duke it out” while staking claims throughout “La Florida.”
As the Spaniards trekked through Florida, they headed north – pushing into French territory. When they reached the St. Marys area, they encountered an Indian encampment ruled by Queen Hiacia. Queen Hiacia was described as being the most beautiful of the native women.
The Spaniards settled and worked alongside the Indians peacefully, until an Indian uprising almost 40 years later (~1597). After this uprising, tensions between settlers and Indians continued to wax and wane for almost a century. In 1686, the French and Spanish settlers eventually retreated below the St. Marys River – back into Florida.
Timucuan warriors with weapons and tattoo regalia.
Original drawn by Jacques Le Moyne, c. 1562 (Recreation)
In the 1600s, the indian attacks on the French and Spanish settlers in the Coastal South had increased – and many historians believe that the English settlers encouraged and incentivized the natives to attack the French/Spanish competition. Once the French and Spanish retreated back into Florida, England jumped on the opportunity to stake a claim on the Carolinas. The new "Carolinas" territory would extend from today's Carolinas all the way down into Spanish Florida.
The English and their Indian allies ravaged today's South Georgia area – utterly destroying the local Timucuan tribe.
This land grab resulted in years and years of fighting between the English, Spanish, and French -- and due to close proximity -- native tribes were also heavily affected by these continuous battles. Though the English had originally used some indian tribes as their allies, many natives unexpectedly caught foreign diseases, which proceeded to weaken their populations.
If you’ve ever watched a historical drama (or maybe just Pirates of the Caribbean), it’s easy to imagine being transported back to the “prime” of Charleston’s Old City Jail. The building itself has hardly changed since its original construction in 1802 – and is claimed to have one of the darkest histories in the Charleston area. By some accounts, 10,000 people have died in the jail from either execution, injury, or illness.
In maps dating all the way back to Charleston’s earliest settlement, you can clearly see that the four acres of property under the Old City Jail were always “public use.” Starting in 1680, the land served as a hospital, poor house, workhouse for runaway slaves, and jail. Over time, the emphasis on the jail-part grew. Ultimately, the jail came to house some of Charleston’s most notorious criminals, including some of the last famous high-sea pirates and even America’s first female serial killer.
One of the most notorious historical characters in Charleston history is Lavinia Fisher – a femme fatale who is believed to be the first convicted female serial killer in the US – and also the first woman to be executed for such crimes.
Lavinia and her husband, John, ran a small inn called the Six Mile Wayfarer House, which was set six miles north of Charleston. The local authorities began to investigate the inn and its owners after receiving many complaints from locals that men who were expected to be staying there had suddenly vanished.
Legend says that Lavinia would lure wealthy men to the inn. Once at the inn, Lavinia would set them up with a room and make them a cup of oleander tea, which would cause them to lose consciousness.
There are two different accounts of what happened next – one being that her husband, John, would then enter the room and murder the drugged man. The other rumor was that the bed served as a trap door to the cellar, where John would stash their bodies.
Regardless of the story, the outcome was that these men would be stripped of their belongings and disappear. And while none of these murders were ever proven, two men did manage to escape the Fishers and then report the incident to authorities. Afterwards, authorities discovered that the Fishers were connected to a local gang who had been known to beat and rob travelers. The gang frequently used the Fishers’ inn as a hideout.
After police made this discovery, the Fishers and the gang members were arrested. However, immediately after their arrest the inn was burnt to the ground, destroying any evidence. The Fishers were later found guilty of highway robbery, a capital offense.
While awaiting their sentencing, officers allowed John and Lavinia to share a cell in this prison. During this time, they hatched a plan to escape by rope through a window. However, the rope they managed to get their hands on ended up breaking during the escape act, leaving Lavinia trapped inside the cell. Though John had successfully escaped, rather than leave Lavinia entrapped in the prison, he chose to be re-imprisoned.
The Old City Jail was most recently bought by Landmark Enterprises, with the intention of renovating the building and using the space for offices. To read more about their plans, see below:
Boone Hall Plantation claims to be “America’s Most Photographed Plantation.” I was extremely impressed while visiting the plantation, not only by the scenery, but also by their thorough commitment to maintaining and teaching its history.
From the moment you drive onto the property, you can turn the car radio to Boone Hall’s very own station, which gives you an overview of the site while you drive down the long, long path lined by live oak trees.
While you sit back and take in the scenery, to your right, you’ll see a variety of crops planted. The plantation has been producing crops for over 320 years, making it one of the oldest continually working farms in the nation. “Boone Hall Farms” still produces peaches, strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins, in addition to other seasonal fruits and vegetables. You can actually purchase your own fresh produce from the Boone Hall Farms Market, which sits off the main highway. (The market also offers a full line of locally grown South Carolina seafood, meats, spices, and canned preserves. While there, you can even grab lunch at the cafe.)
As you continue to drive, on your left, you will see a row of nine preserved slave cabins. These are typically your first stop. Each cabin has been set up to display a different stage of slave life – even using life-sized mannequins and furniture to help illustrate the recorded narratives and photos. These cabins are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and in the African American Historic Places in South Carolina. The cabins, along with various other sites throughout the Charleston area, are part of an on-going effort of the historical community to delve into “African-American heritage tourism.” Frequently, period actors will do special presentations at the site.
Why African American heritage tourism? When African Americans attempt to trace their ancestry, it has been found that nearly half end up tracing ancestors back to Charleston. Learning about Charleston’s roll as a hub of the slave trade and southern agricultural industry is a critical part of understanding the history of the city and South.
History of Boone Hall Plantation
The Pioneer - Major John Boone
There are several different theories as to how John Boone came to own the plantation during the 1600s. Some claim that the land was a wedding gift, while others claim that he got a series of land grants. Regardless of the truth, my research tells me that Major John Boone was a rough character – a pioneer who wasn’t afraid the break the rules for personal gain.
On the Boone family web page, there are claims that John Boone was the son of a butcher and barber in Devonshire. He emigrated initially as “a servant . . . an ambitious man” who “became a successful merchant (if by some unsavory businesses) and married into another monied Carolina family.”
It’s pretty bad when your own family recalls your business as “unsavory.” However, this didn’t deter John. Once established, he was elected to the Grand Council during the 1680s. Yet, even at this stage of life, he was discovered as being involved in the illegal trade of Indians, association with pirates, and stolen goods. He was removed from his post – not once – but twice!
John and Elizabeth’s descendants would eventually become the founding fathers known as Edward Rutledge and John Rutledge. When John died, his oldest son, Thomas, made the Plantation his home. It stayed in the Boone family until 1811.
The Brickmakers –Henry & John Horlbeck
After the Boones, the plantation switched hands several times until being purchased by the brothers Henry and John Horlbeck, who owned a brick business. The brothers built many houses and public spaces in downtown Charleston using the brick from their plantations, of which by 1850, Boone Hall was producing 4,000,000 bricks per year using 85 slaves. In addition to the brick business, the Horlbeck family made several changes to the plantation. They completed the avenue of oaks that lead up to the plantation house, and they also planted pecan trees. By end of the century, Boone Hall was one of the leading producers of pecans in the United States. Shortly after Henry Horlbeck died, his children sold their interests in the plantation, which is described as only having a wooden dwelling house (along with a few buildings for the business).
The Diplomats – Thomas & Alexandra Stone
Ambassador Stone, Queen Elizabeth, and Prince Philip
The Racing Prince – Dimitri & Audrey Jorjadze
He also liked to race thoroughbreds – which led him to Boone Hall. Most notable of his horses was Princequillo, who in 1943 was the fastest distance runner in the United States. Princequillo is still considered to be the best long-distance runner, with the exception of Kelso, in American racing history. In today’s world, you might be more familiar with Princequillo’s granddaughters – Triple Crown winner Secretariat and her chief rival – Sham.
Current Owners–The McRaes
The prince and his wife sold the plantation to Dr. Henry Deas in 1945, who in turn sold to Harris M. McRae and his wife Nancy in 1955. The McRaes continued to farm the land with a focus on growing peach trees, and eventually opened the plantation to public tours in 1956.
While the house itself is not original to the plantation, it is stunning – and is still used by the modern-day owners. For this reason, you cannot go upstairs.
The Colonial Revival style house is approximately 10,000 sq. feet with 7 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms. It’s cantilevered staircase is one of three surviving in Charleston – and therefore, the owners don’t use it. While the entry rooms are impressive, it’s the loggia that grabs most people’s attention. The room’s vaulted ceilings of exposed brick and cement, combined with the brick herringbone floors, give a stark contrast to the rest of the house. Additionally, the attached game room and wine cellar are walled with cypress panels, which some believe were repurposed from the original house.
Photos are not permitted inside the house, so I've pulled the below from an online slideshow. Follow the link to see more pictures of the inside:
The current owners have a variety of events throughout the year. The upcoming pumpkin patch is a great opportunity to visit the site and pick your own pumpkin – pay by the pound!
Pumpkin patch via Country Living
What is Rainbow Row?
Rainbow Row is a series of 13 brightly-colored houses along the waterfront, located on East Bay Street next to the Battery. It’s a popular site for photographers and tourists.
The houses on Rainbow Row are not only eye-catching, but also historic. They were first constructed in 1740 and were not originally painted in bright colors. They were just your average row house – used by ship merchants who would run their businesses out of the bottom portion of the house and use the top for their family to live in. During this period, the houses received little attention and eventually became somewhat run-down.
However, in the early 1930s, Dorothy Porcher Legge and her husband Judge Lionel Legge purchased a section of the houses. In an attempt to brighten up the houses and make them more appealing, Dorothy had them painted in various pastel colors. Over time, nearby home owners also began painting their houses in pastel. Once the theme was established, city ordinances were put in place to ensure that the pastel colors were preserved.
While some believe the Legge’s original intention was just to perk up some drab houses, others have more elaborate theories. One story is that the homes were painted various hues so that drunk sailors might find their way home easier. Meanwhile, others believe that the pastels were the merchants’ way of indicating what types of items they sold in each business. Another theory is that the homes were painted lighter colors to keep them cooler during the hot Charleston summers.
Photo via FreeToursByFoot.com
For a more thorough breakdown of the history of each individual house, I found this excerpt on Charleston.com:
Local dolphins in the St. Johns River have been spotted with severe cases of skin lesions, indicating their immune systems are compromised. In these photos, a newborn calf is covered in lesions and also appears to have an orange algal-type mat growing on its rostrum (face) and dorsal fin. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for his/her survival. A similar algal-type mat was observed on resident adult dolphins at death.
There have been several recent reports on the east coast (in addition to the Gulf) of people spotting dolphins, manatees, and other marine wildlife with growths and fungi on them. These growths are attributed to red tide, which is an algal bloom that produces toxins that can kill marine organisms, taint shellfish, cause skin irritations, and even foul air. They can also cause respiratory issues in children and elderly.
Algal blooms naturally occur, however, scientists, fishermen, and outdoors-people have noticed that they have been increasing in size, intensity, and persistence in recent decades. This is attributed to the increase of foreign nutrients in coastal waters – which causes the algae to grow at an unnaturally fast rate.
I wanted to share some simple tips on identifying the algae and what you can do to help!
If you spot an algae bloom (like the one pictured), you can quickly report it by dropping a pin on the App “Water Rangers” https://app.waterrangers.ca/
Create a River Friendly Yard.
Whether you are in your car or boat or on foot, pay close attention to what is going on around you. Is dirt running off a construction site into a creek? Did you spot a fish kill or a broken pipe? Is someone illegally-dumping trash or pollution into a storm drain or directly into a river? Report these issues to your city works or state environmental agency (they should have a hotline).
Most importantly, keep children and pets away from blooms. Wash thoroughly if you have come into contact. And do not eat fish caught in bloom areas.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!