History & Heritage

Rich in history, culture, forgotten heroes, and undiscovered towns and hamlets, the Golden Isles’ experience is one of the richest along the Atlantic seaboard. Southern cultural elements—including songs, stories, dances, food, and architecture—and other numerous factors define the area. No matter which historic area you visit first— St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, or Brunswick, —you're sure to uncover more heritage and culture on each trip back to the Golden Isles!

Tracing the paths of the area’s first tourists gives insight into the lure of the coast. Following well-worn paths through the virgin forests or paddling down the waterways, early Native Americans annually enjoyed the area’s bounty of game and shellfish. Today, visible remains of shell rings, both on the mainland and the islands attest to eons of visitation.

Known as the Debatable Land, the area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico later saw hooded Franciscans and Dominicans. Guided by the directive of the sword and cross, they built missions hoping to subjugate their native hosts. With access by the many branches of the Altamaha River, not only Native Americans and the Spanish but also trappers, explorers, and the French passed this way before the arrival of the British.

It is this co-mingling of different nations and people that make the area’s history so rich. Take time to explore it. One of the joys of travel is absorbing the heritage of others and appreciating their cultures. Quite often the memories of a special trip or place are these elements of heritage and culture. Visit the historic sites that enhance the story and let your footprints follow those who came before you.

The World War II Home Front Museum on St. Simons Island, GA provides visitors with a rich history of the area's contribution to local war efforts.
World War II Home Front Museum

Why are We Called the Golden Isles?

The Golden Isles is a place well named. A landscape and a legacy that is, in every way, golden. One needs only to witness a gorgeous sunrise over the ocean or bask in the beauty of the sun setting westward beyond the mainland to know the namesake of this stretch of Georgia’s coast.

How did the Golden Isles get its name?

From a historical perspective, the easy answer lies in the fanciful dreams of the coast’s earliest explorers who traveled from afar and waded ashore in pursuit of glittering treasures and riches.  In fact, these lands came to be known in much of the world as the “Golden Islands.” In 1717, in his promising writings, Sir Robert Montgomery, a Scottish nobleman seeking to draw the support of wealthy Londoners in establishing a coastal colony in this area, gave our coast the “well-deserved denomination of the Golden Islands.”

The color gold prevails here; in the hues of our beautiful sandy beaches in the warmth of the summer’s sun, in the shades that paint the vast marsh grasses in winter and in the rich treasures that are experienced here, year-round, by residents and visitors. 

Choose the story or the reason you wish. We invite you to discover for yourself everything that makes these places so irresistibly wonderful and so indisputably golden.

The Land of Five Flags


 The flag of Spain was first raised over Georgia in 1526 when Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón arrived with 600 Spanish colonists to found the ill-fated settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape.


From 1562 to 1564, the flag of France flew here as Jean Ribault, seeking a haven for French Huguenots, explored the Georgia coast and built fortifications. In 1565, Spanish troops expelled the French and re-established their rule until the early 1700s.


In 1736, General James Edward Oglethorpe established Fort Frederica, the most expensive fort in the American colonies, on St. Simons Island. The flag of Great Britain flew here, signifying an era of British dominance that lasted until the American Revolution in 1776 when our first national flag - with 13 stars and 13 stripes - was flown.


The American flag was taken down in 1861 when Georgia joined its sister southern states in seceding from the union. The "Stars and Bars," the flag of the Confederate States of America, flew over the area until early 1862 when Union forces occupied the Georgia coast.



The end of the War Between the States in 1865 began a series of flags that changed as our country grew and new stars - one for each new state - were added. Today's flag, with 50 stars and 13 stripes, waves proudly over our state and nation.


Historic Stained Glass

Gorgeous works of stained glass, in themes both sacred and historic, can be found throughout the Golden Isles.

Examples include:

King and Prince Beach & Golf ResortSt. Simons Island

Historic island sites are depicted in arched pictorial windows, created in 1940, in the ocean side Delegal Room of the Resort.

Faith ChapelHistoric District, Jekyll Island

This small church, built in 1904, has two inspiring stained glass windows. Most notable is the window bearing the signature of Louis Tiffany.

Lovely Lane ChapelEpworth by the Sea, St. Simons Island

This quaint chapel was built in 1880 by Anson Dodge. In the early 1900s, the windows were removed and stored at Christ Church while the structure was used for non-religious purposes. They were re-installed in the 1940s.

Christ Church, FredericaSt. Simons Island

Built in 1884 by the Dodge family, this historic church possesses numerous stained glass windows of great beauty. The oldest, Confession of St. Peter, was created by Mayer & Company of Munich, Germany in 1899. One window is attributed to Louis Tiffany.

St. Paul's AME Church, Historic Brunswick

Brunswick's oldest black church has a handsome example of stained glass believed to have been commissioned by its members in 1922.

Other examples may be viewed at the following locations:

  • The Cloister Hotel's Spanish Lounge, Sea Island

  • The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island

  • St. Mark's Episcopal Church (including one Tiffany window), Brunswick

  • St. Athanasius Episcopal Church, Brunswick

  • Beth Tefilloh Synagogue, Brunswick

  • First United Methodist Church, Brunswick

For a complete list of places of worship found in the Golden Isles, please click here.

The Enduring Story of Tabby

Lumber from trees. Bricks from the 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 number 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.  

Fort Frederica In The Golden Isles
Fort Frederica National Monument

Find Authentic Tabby in the Golden Isles

Learn more about the Golden Isles' unique heritage and culture, or spend a weekend exploring Southern history on our self-guided, history-filled tour of the region.

Liberty Ships

Liberty Ship In Brunswick, GA

During World War II, Brunswick shipyards bustled with activity critical to America's war efforts. Between 1943 and 1945, the shipyard built 99 of these 447-foot cargo vessels. With no name painted on their bows thus preventing the enemy from detecting the vessels' mission or cargo, these ships sailed the Atlantic and Pacific loaded with equipment and supplies.

The dedication of the men and women of the shipyards was best exemplified during December 1944. Receiving word that the Navy would require six ships during that month, the shipyard workers, instead, guaranteed seven and requested that they not be paid for the extra work required including work done on Christmas Day!

A 23-foot scale replica of a Liberty is displayed on the grounds of the Mary Ross Waterfront Park in downtown Brunswick. The park is located at the western end of Gloucester Street.

[Photograph of the Liberty ship Joseph M. Terrell at the docks of J.A. Jones Construction Company shipyard, Brunswick, Georgia, 1944]


Dating all the way back to 25,000 B.C., the Golden Isles has played a role in the history and development of coastal Georgia. Today, the region is packed with historical markers. Read on to uncover the immersive past of the Golden Isles.

25,000 B.C.

The Golden Isles formed following the Pleistocene Ice Age. Larger islands, such as St. Simons Island, are estimated to be between 35,000 – 40,000 years old. The smaller islands, like Little St. Simons Island, were formed from the larger islands and are believed to be about 5,000 – 7,000 years old.

2500 B.C.

Guale and Mocama Indians made their way to the coast, fishing, hunting and gathering oysters to survive in the area. Middens, large areas of oyster shells and other refuse discarded by Native Americans, still exist today and can be seen in undeveloped areas on St. Simons Island and on Little St. Simons Island.

1566 – 1685

Spanish missions were established along the coast. A prominent mission formed at Fort King George in present-day Darien, about 10 miles north of Brunswick. This mission, called Santo Domingo Talejo, later moved to the northern end of St. Simons Island and was renamed Asao.

Fort Frederica National Monument

Fort Frederica and the town of Frederica was established by British General James Oglethorpe on the west side of St. Simons Island. 44 men and 72 women and children were the first settlers at Frederica. A second fort, Fort St. Simons, was built a few years later near the present day Lighthouse and Pier area.