We spent eight days in Tampa but for the first time since we’ve hit the road, we did very little sightseeing at our destination. Even though we are retired and enjoying our dream, life does go on – in other words, we’re not immune to coming down with colds and flus. Lucille was slightly under the weather while we were in Tampa, putting a damper on our plans. (For those wondering how we handle medical needs while on the road…. For wellness visits, we get those done every November in Alabama. For the few times we’ve needed medical care away from our regular physicians, we find walk-in clinics near our current destination, relying on recommendations when possible.)
Our main reason for being in Tampa, though, was to visit with friends, which we still managed, although for shorter visits than originally planned. First, we met Ron and Donna for lunch at Lakeland, a halfway point between Tampa and Davenport, where they were staying while working for Disney World. We spent the summer of 2005 with them in Alaska and have seen each other a few times since then.
Lucille worked with JoAnn way back when they were both single, so one day we drove to Ron and JoAnn’s hometown of Zephyr Hills and met for lunch at the Village Inn there. It’s been over ten years since we saw them last, so we had a lot of catching up to do in the short time we visited. We’ll spend more time with them we are in the area again, hopefully next year—no more ten years between visits!
One Sunday afternoon, we met Mauvis for lunch at the nearby Ranch House Restaurant. Mauvis was a fellow Workamper from Lone Oak last summer. It was good seeing her again, hearing about her current job at Busch Gardens and her plans to work and play in Kentucky for the summer.
Over the years, we’ve heard about Lazydays RV SuperCenter, in nearby Seffner, Florida. We visited one afternoon to see what all the hoopla was about. After seeing the place, we know why people talk about Lazydays. It’s like a small city within a city. Located virtually within walking distance of each other is a Cracker Barrel, a Flying J truck stop, and a Camping World – one stop shopping! We stopped at the reception desk at Lazydays for a map of the area, walking through the sales department to get to the RVs outdoors. Not one person approached us to sell us an RV while we were there – very low pressure. Feedback we got from a satisfied customer told us the salespeople are very helpful and will help you when asked. Usually at RV salesrooms and car lots, there’s a mad rush for a sales person to greet you as soon as you step out of your vehicle! We enjoyed strolling through the different RVs but nothing grabbed us enough to change what we currently own. Lazydays has complimentary coffee and beverages during the day and free lunch and breakfast to anyone there, not just people getting service on their RVs or customers. Wotta deal! We’ll keep them in mind when we are ready for a change.
Our next destination was Crooked River State Park in St. Mary’s, Georgia. Our drive north that day was quite pleasant, with just a small portion spent on I-75 and the majority on US 301, mainly four-lane, through a couple of old and small Florida towns, like Waldo. US 301 is a great road to bypass Jacksonville when you’re coming from the west coast of Florida.
The sites at Crooked River State Park are quite large, some with a view of the river. Yvette and Pat joined us there for a long weekend. We biked around the park, walked a few of the trails, enjoying a beautiful stay there. The sand gnats (no see-ums) were out in force though – a small price to pay for a scenic campground.
While we were in the area, we checked out the military campground at nearby King’s Bay Submarine Base. We’ll be staying there in July and wanted to see the facilities – looks like a nice destination. We got in a commissary and BX fix while we were there, stocking up on groceries.
One afternoon, we drove to St. Mary’s, an historic fishing village, from which tours to Cumberland Island National Seashore depart. We walked along the waterfront a bit, stopped for an ice cream break, and checked out some of the old buildings on one of the streets. We’ll visit St. Mary’s more in depth when we return to the area.
Longtime Escapee friends Art and Suzan stopped in for a visit that Sunday afternoon, staying for an impromptu chicken cookout. They were on their way back to Quebec, after having spent the winter working in Florida. What a great lifestyle to be able to connect with friends when our paths cross during our travels!
Next stop was Jekyll Island, Georgia. We stayed at Jekyll for a few short days Easter 2006 and knew we wanted to come back and spend more time. We’ll be at Jekyll for a month this year, leaving shortly after Easter this year.
There is a daily fee for parking when you first cross the bridge to the island. We opted to get an annual pass, figuring we’d be going on and off often enough to make the cost worthwhile. Little did we know how often we’d be coming and going across that bridge during the month—details in a bit!
To avoid backing up traffic while we applied for the annual pass, the gate attendant gave us forms to complete after we were set up at the campground, coming back to the gate for our pass. We proceeded to the one and only campground on Jekyll Island and got quickly set up on a corner site near the park entrance, with little room behind us but lots of real estate on either side. There was space on one side to park the truck and on the other, we staked down the large awning, with enough room to put up the screen tent, our outdoor getaway from the sand gnats.
When we returned from checking mail and picking up our pass, we backed the truck into the site and heard a horn blow. Our neighbors were backing up at the same time and thought we didn’t see them. Lucille went over to introduce herself and noticed that Mary had an RV Care-A-Vanners badge on, mentioning that we were also Care-A-Vanners. (RV Care-A-Vanners is the RVing arm of Habitat for Humanity and the group with which we’ve done Habitat builds.)
She and her husband Dave were wintering in Jekyll Island and learned that the local Habitat affiliate needed volunteers. They weren’t helping as official RV Care-A-Vanners but were the driving force behind getting a couple of the homes finished quicker by working several days each week since the beginning of December and recruiting volunteers within the park to help. Mary is quite persuasive…she recruited us--we were on the jobsite the following morning. We were glad to help because we didn’t have any Habitat builds scheduled this year – build dates and our itinerary weren’t matching up. Brunswick satisfied our Habitat fix.
Mary and Dave also made our volunteering fun – not only are they both great to know, they are extremely knowledgeable on building Habitat houses, having helped to complete several over the years. Dave told us that with his former careers, he’d get bored after about five years in a job; after over seven years with Habitat, the passion is still there. We look forward to working with them in the future, whether in Brunswick or other Habitat builds.
The house we were helping to build will be owned by Miss Alberta, a 74 years young mother of six, grandmother of 20, and great-grandmother of 26. She came by the site often, helping out while she was there. One day, she spent the entire day helping because we were just six volunteers that day – she kept up with us every step of the way till it was quitting time. Our first week, we worked with 18 students from Carroll College (Waukesha, Wisconsin.) Week Two we worked with 12 college students from Hamline University (St. Paul, Minnesota.) Week Three was RVers and local volunteers; Week Four had 21 middle-school students from Atlanta, Georgia, and their chaperones, helping build and paint shelves at the Habitat warehouse to be used at the Habitat Home Store. It is amazing that all these students gave up their spring breaks to help build houses for Habitat – a lot was accomplished with their help.
The house we’ve been working on was at our favorite stage – from the floor decking on up--building the exterior and interior walls, putting up the roof trusses and roof sheeting. At this stage, you see lots of progress, especially when an interior wall goes up and you can picture the kitchen. One Saturday, we helped lay sod at a house that was about completed – dirty work but not many skills needed. Another Saturday, the Brunswick Habitat affiliate had a Women’s Build at the house we’ve been building. Thanks to word of mouth and newspaper coverage ahead of time, over 25 women showed up to help that day. Lots of fun!
When a home is completed and ready for the new family to occupy, it is formally dedicated. We’ve never had the opportunity to attend a dedication before – usually we’ve moved on by the time the houses we’ve worked on were completed. What luck we had this time - here in Brunswick, we went to two! And true to what we’ve heard, the dedication is a very moving ceremony – bring Kleenex! There is usually a short introduction by a Habitat board member, as well as the affiliate’s executive director. Someone special to the family presents the house keys to the homeowners. A family Bible is then presented to the owners, at which time the owners may have a few words for the guests. Lila and her daughter Samantha both spoke from their hearts thanking all those that made it possible for them to be in their home. Lastly is the Unison Prayer of Dedication, at which time everyone is invited to participate with his or her hands on the house during the prayer. An Open House follows, at which time we can all see what homeowners and volunteers have accomplished. If you are ever in an area where there will be a dedication, please try to attend. You’ll walk away knowing that all the bruises and achy muscles and time spent volunteering were worth it to see the joy on the homeowners’ faces.
During March, in between helping with Habitat, we visited St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum, located on the south end of St. Simons Island. This is the 2nd lighthouse built there. The first one, a 75-foot tower built in 1810 of tabby (oyster shell, lime, sand and water), was destroyed by Confederate troops in 1862 to prevent Federal forces using it as a navigational aid. For the next ten years, a nearby cotton barn served as a navigational reference for ships entering Brunswick Harbor.
The current lighthouse was built in 1872 and is a 104-foot tower with 129 cast-iron steps to the top. The connected lighthouse keeper’s dwelling, also built in 1872, is a unique Victorian design. Window moldings are of cast iron; the structure is built of Savannah ‘gray’ brick and the walls twelve inches thick.
The lighthouse continues to be under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard, who routinely check the light and lens. The last lighthouse keeper retired in 1953 when the lighthouse was fully automated by the Coast Guard. Since 1984, visitors have been allowed to climb to the top--what a view! The historic Coast Guard Station, located a few miles way, is now the Maritime Center. Our visit there continued our learning more about the Coast Guard’s role, past and current, on St. Simons Sound.
Also located on St. Simons Island is the Fort Frederica National Monument. Built by James Oglethorpe (famous for developing Savannah and its squares) in 1736, Fort Frederica’s purpose was as defense against the Spanish. With 44 men, mostly skilled workers, and 72 women and children, he laid out a military town on a bluff overlooking the sharp bend on the inland passage up the coast. Behind the fort, he staked out 84 lots with each family receiving a lot for building and 50 acres in the country for crops. Population reached around 500; trades people and skilled workers prospered. Sadly, Frederica was born of war and died when peace prevailed. When the soldiers left, so did the dollars they were spending with the local shopkeepers and trades people – the town could no longer prosper. By 1758, it had outlived its purpose and fell into ruin. Little remains of the fort, except for some building foundations, portions of the barracks used to house the soldiers, part of the battery, and the cemetery. What we saw of the fort appeared to have been beautifully laid out. The weather was ideal the day we visited as we explored the grounds.
Nearby is Christ Church, Frederica, the second church on this site, built and consecrated in 1886. The first Christ Church, built in 1820, was destroyed during the Civil War. A table and the inset in the present altar are from the original church. We followed a tour group into the church and listened to a docent talk of its history, pointing out various features. The interior architecture was beautiful – all wood, with several stained glass windows, two of which were made by Tiffany; some of the windows depicted religious scenes as well as historical events of the island. This is still an active church – services there must be special because history and tradition surround you. We walked around the church cemetery looking at the old gravestones – the oldest dates from 1803.
Interestingly, one of the ministers that performed services on that site was John Wesley, who was later to play a principle role in the origin of the Methodist Church.
One afternoon, we walked around downtown Brunswick, ending up at Liberty Park on the waterfront. During World War II, Brunswick’s shipyards were responsible for building 99 Liberty ships (85 according to another source), employing 16,000 people. In December 1944, a record number of ships were built (seven) in a single month, with 1,300 workers giving up their Christmas Day that year for the war effort.
When we were at Jekyll Island spring of 2006, we walked through the historic village and saw several of the buildings constructed by the original members of the prestigious Jekyll Island Club in the late 1800s. This year, we took a trolley tour and learned from Wes, our tour guide, that at one time, members of this club represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth – amazing!
There was very little transportation on the island back then. Cars were only allowed to operate during very limited hours during the daytime and only at 6 mph. Most of the cottages had warming kitchens, not regular kitchens. Members were required to eat at the clubhouse or get take out to warm up at home. Those that had kitchens were probably people that stayed on the island either before or after the regular season.
William Rockefeller owned the house called Indian Mounds. He was John D. Rockefeller’s younger brother. John D. was going to put his name on the list to be a member but William had already signed up. Rather than have to pay the membership cost and annual dues and build a home there, he came as William’s guest for free – amazing when you think that at one point he was the richest man in the world. Hmmm…perhaps this is the secret to his wealth?
What we thought was a sunken wading/swimming pool was actually a place where clothes were hung to dry. People weren’t supposed to go by and see your unmentionables hanging to dry so a fence surrounded this sunken area.
We visited Moss Cottage (the smallest on the island at 8,300 square feet) and Indian Mounds, originally around 9,500 sq feet when it was owned by the MacKays but enlarged to about 12,000 sq feet by the Rockefellers. It’s hard to picture a ‘cottage’ at any of those sizes!
Did you know that the first transcontinental phone call across the U.S. occurred in 1915 and was made between New York City, San Francisco, with two additional hook-ups in Washington, D.C. and Jekyll Island? From Washington, President Woodrow Wilson spoke with Theodore Vail, president of AT & T, on the Jekyll Island connection, conveying congratulations, saying, “it appeals to the imagination to speak across the continent.” Have we come a long way since then – not just the continent, but worldwide and even in space! An historical marker notes the 50th anniversary of this call near the Indian Mounds cottage.
Our last tourist destination while in the Jekyll Island area was a day visit to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established in 1937 to preserve the rare and beautiful Okefenokee Swamp, covering close to 396,000 acres. It extends 38 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west, and we saw just a fraction of that. Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth.” Peat deposits up to 15 feet thick cover much of the swamp floor and is so unstable in spots that you can cause trees and surrounding bushes to tremble by stomping the surface. Tannic acid released from decaying plants causes the water to be tea-colored. Islands, lakes, cypress forests, scrub-shrub areas, and open wet prairies form a mosaic of habitats on which wildlife depends.
Native tribes lived in the swamp as early as 2500 BC. The Seminoles were the last tribe to seek sanctuary in the swamp, conducting raids on settlers in the surrounding areas. Armed militia led by General Charles Floyd drove them into Florida by 1850. The Suwannee Canal Company purchased most of the Okefenokee Swamp from Georgia in 1891 with plans to drain the land for logging and to grow crops. They spent three years digging the Suwannee Canal 11.5 miles into the swamp. The canal company went bankrupt and the land then sold to the Hebard Cypress Company in 1899. Hebard built a railroad into the west edge of the swamp and logging operations began. Over 431 million board feet of timber, mainly cypress, were removed from Okefenokee by 1927, when logging ceased.
We entered the refuge through the East Entrance, stopping at the Visitor Center to see the displays, some of which are interactive, as well as view a short movie about the area. While there, we listened to a park ranger give a talk about alligators. Several ‘gators were sunning themselves not too far from the center’s observation deck. Boat tours through the swamp are available, both at this entrance and another. Tours are conducted when enough people have signed up – the next scheduled tour was later that afternoon. We opted to pass on the tour this time but that’s on the agenda next time we are in the area.
The Swamp Island Drive’s entrance is near the Visitor Center and is a 9-mile driving, biking and walking loop. We stopped at the first marker, the Canal Digger’s Trail, and walked the ½ mile interpretive loop. The canal was never completed – the diggers never cut down through the water level of the swamp. As they dug, they exposed several small springs that created water flow running back into the swamp. The plan was to make millions of dollars from the sale of timber and from fertile croplands that would be exposed once the swamp was drained. Construction began in 1891 and was abandoned a few years later. “Progress” almost led to the extinction of the Okefenokee Swamp – nature prevailed and covered up many of the scars from the canal. At another stop, we saw a Mama ‘gator and her young ‘uns. Mama was floating around the small island in the pond where 4 of her 5 babies were sunning themselves. #5 was enjoying a piggyback, or is it ‘gator’back ride on his mother.
Another stop is the Chesser Island Homestead, where W. T. Chesser and his family settled in the late 1800s. Despite harsh conditions of the area, they carved out a life there. They ate what they could shoot, trap, catch and grow on the sandy soil. For the cash they needed, they grew sugar cane and turpentine. The home is built of yellow pine and is surrounded by a smokehouse, syrup shed, chicken coop, corncrib and hog pen. The yard is free of all vegetation to reduce fire danger and increase visibility of snakes.
Our last stop was the Swamp Walk, a .75-mile wooden boardwalk trail that leads to a 50-foot high observation tower overlooking Seagrove Lake and Chesser Prairie. From the tower, we saw several large wading birds and one large alligator.
What a cool place the refuge is to visit! We need to go back – we ran out of time.
And speaking of time, March was over with already! Coming up in April – still in Jekyll Island; a few days at Pat and Yvette’s place in Rincon, Georgia, while we look for a future home for Lucille’s parents; and finally back to Mountain View, Arkansas.