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Sapelo Island is the fourth largest coastal Georgia barrier island between the Savannah and St. Marys rivers, Sapelo Island is a natural habitat of pine and hardwood forests, salt marsh, and over two miles of wide, sandy beaches managed by the Department of Natural Resources. In addition to managing the 16,006-acre island, the DNR operates the passenger ferry service that provides the only access to Sapelo, the R.J. Reynolds Mansion and Cabretta Pioneer Campground where overnight stays for groups are permitted. They also serve as state liaison for the 6,110-acre Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of Georgia Marine Institute, and the Gullah community of Hog Hammock, the permanent home of approximately 70 full-time residents, many of whom are descendants of the enslaved workers on Sapelo’s antebellum plantations.

The original Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo was yet another tabby structure designed and built by Thomas Spalding, the architect, statesman and plantation owner who purchased the south end of the island in 1802. It was the manor house for Spalding Plantation from 1810 until the Civil War, when it was damaged by Union attack and fell into ruin. Detroit automotive pioneer and eventual Sea Island founder Howard Coffin purchased and rebuilt the mansion in 1912. The mansion changed hands again in 1934 when tobacco heir Richard Reynolds purchased the property and allowed the University of Georgia to use the facilities for marine research. Reynolds died in 1964 and the Georgia DNR obtained the mansion and most of the island in 1975. The unusual mansion features marble sculptures, murals by Athos Menaboni, an ornately decorated Circus Room, Game Room with billiards and table tennis, bowling lane, a library that houses volumes from Reynolds’ private collection, and other interesting and memorable architectural details. There are multiple options for guided tours offered that highlight these points of interest on Sapelo, as well as Nanny Goat Beach and the iconic restored 1920 lighthouse.

To visit this pristine 12-mile-long barrier island, you must make advance reservations for the ferry from the dock at the Mainland Visitors Center in Meridian by calling 912.437.3224. The Visitors Center is open from 7:30-5:30 Tuesday through Saturday and is closed Sunday and Monday.

Sapelo Island originally posted on by Elegant Island Living magazine.

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