Lumber from trees. Bricks from mud. Roofs of sod. Through the ages, settlers have used what the earth provides for building materials. Here in the coastal areas of Georgia and the southeast, nature provided early inhabitants with unique and remarkably strong building material. Its ingredients, combined in equal measure, are simple: lime (the ash from burned oyster shells), sand, water, and crushed shells. Its name is tabby and it was quite literally the foundation of much that was built along the coast over the centuries.
Tabby was developed in the 13th and 14th centuries on the North African coast and brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 16th Century.
The first tabby used by English-speaking people was in Charleston, SC, around 1690. When Georgia became a colony in 1733, settlers from South Carolina brought the “recipe” for this handy building material with them – building forts, chapels, lighthouses, hospitals, sugar mills, barns, breweries, homes and slave quarters. Native American shell “middens” (prehistoric heaps of discarded shells) were often the source for the quantity of shells needed to make tabby.
The look of this ancient, enduring building material remains quite popular today, but is typically a “false tabby” mix of oyster shells and cement – not the authentic, labor-intensive compound of yesterday.
Historic examples of authentic tabby buildings and ruins can be found in locations throughout the Golden Isles.
Jekyll Island: Horton House ruins on Riverview Drive, Hollybourne Cottage, National Historic Landmark District