Coastal Georgia History



Old Squares of Brunswick

Old Square Photos

Brunswick Census 1860

Historic Photo Slideshow

1953 Brunswick Pirates Class D Baseball

The town of Brunswick, on the mainland opposite St. Simons Island, was founded in 1771 by the Council of the Royal Province of Georgia, meeting in Savannah. The tract of land selected for the new town belonged to Mark Carr, the same Captain Carr who had received large grants in the Midway area and who had deeded land for the port of Sunbury in 1758. His plantation across from St. Simons lay near the Turtle Rivet and was called Plug Point, perhaps because tobacco was one of the principal products. Captain Carr was granted other acreage in exchange for his holdings at Plug Point. and the property was surveyed and laid out in lots, streets, squares, parks, and commons. The new town was named after Brunswick in northern Germany, the seat of the reigning house of Hanover. The names of George Street and Hanover Park honored King George Ill; Kings and Queens Squares and Prince Street honored the royal family. Other streets. squares, and parks were given the names of prominent Englishmen of the day.
Settlement had hardly begun in Brunswick when the coast was deserted during the Revolutionary War. Even in the years alter the war, the town grew slowly, but in 1789 it was made a port of entry, and in 1797 the county seat of Glynn was moved from Frederica to Brunswick.
lt was about this time that Georgia's Revolutionary War heroine, Nancy Hart, with her husband, Benjamin and their family came to live for awhile in Brunswick. Red-haired, cross-eyed six feet tall, Nancy won her place in Georgia history by capturing a group of Tories single handedly when they came to her house in north Georgia when her husband was away at war.
Although Brunswick's first school, Glynn Academy, had been created by the legislature in 1788, the first building, a "neat house for school purposes. at a cost in excess of $10,000" was not completed until 1819. During the next few years the growth of the town seemed to be at a standstill. Tracts of the surrounding land were occupied and cultivated by substantial planters, but most of the town lots were "left to grow up in briars and weeds." In 1826 two residents of the area, Urbanas Dart and William Davis, obtained from the state a headright to all of the lots on which no taxes were being paid. When the former owners protested. Dart and Davis announced that they would not claim the property of bona fide owners. Efforts were made to stimulate interest in the town. The state granted a charter for the Brunswick Canal Company to construct a canal connecting the Turtle River with the Altamaha in order that shipping from the interior might have access to the port of Brunswick. Work on the canal was begun, but the project was abandoned because of mismanagement and labor and financial troubles.
A courthouse and jail had been built, as well as a scattering of houses and a few stores. when between 1814 and 1819 the town experienced a remarkable period of prosperity. A new charter was secured for construction of the canal. this time for the "Brunswick Canal and Railroad Company." Through the efforts of Thomas Butler King of St. Simons Island, capitalists from Boston became interested in the projects and undertook to furnish financial support for both railroad and canal. Loammi Baldwin of Massachusetts, one of the country's most distinguished engineers, was engaged to survey the proposed site of the canal.
The town of Brunswick was incorporated in 1836; a land company was formed, and construction was begun on a fine four storied hotel, the Oglethorpe House. The first newspaper. the Brunswick Advocate, began publication; the Bank of Brunswick opened, and work was underway on railroad and canal. The streets of the town were busy with merchants, traders. sawmill operators, railroad and canal projectors, and the inevitable land speculators.
ln June 1837 the Oglethorpe House. a "new and elegant establishment, having been fitted and furnished in a superb style," was ready for the "reception of company." The hotel announced that its bar would be stocked with the "choicest wines and liquors, and the larder filled with the best the market affords" with a "commodious Stable attached to the establishment, well stocked with hay and grain."
Harrington's Variety Store also opened in _June 1837 with a complete stock of everything from gloves. hosiery. shawls, hats, boots, and shoes to nutmeg, cloves. ginger, brandy, wines. and molasses.
In the panic of 1837, the Boston investors withdrew their support from the railroad and canal enterprises, but the work was carried on with local capital. and Brunswick continued to prosper.
One of the outstanding social events of this period of prosperity was the Regatta of the Aquatic Club of Georgia. held in Brunswick January 16. 1858. on an "extremely fine day which permitted the attendance of a large number of ladies."
In the first race, the Goddess of Liberty, owned by Henry duBignon of Jekyll Island, was defeated by the Devil's Darning Needle, "a blackamoor with a skin as dark as Othello's." owned by Richard Floyd of Camden County. Other boats from Glynn and Camden counties competed, and "Charles Floyd's green Lizard was on the ground but was thought too slippery a customer and was not allowed even to creep over the race course."
Following the races. the "Club with their guests to the number of 50 or 60 sat down to an elegant dinner at the Oglethorpe House and the evening was spent in the due observance of the rites of conviviality and good fellowship."
ln 1838 another general store, Dart. Barren & Co.. opened with a "large and well-selected stock of Foreign and Domestic goods of every description." The Brunswick and Darien Stage announced that a two-horse coach would leave the Oglethorpe House at 7 A. M.. weekdays for Grants Ferry near Darien. leaving for the return trip at 4 P.M. "Fare $2. each way. luggage extra." This made a convenient connection with the regular stagecoaches which came down the coast as far as Darien.
There was great excitement in the county when a deposit of fossil bones of extinct animals was uncovered by laborers working on the canal. James Hamilton Couper of Hopeton Plantation identified the fossils and sent specimens to museums in Charleston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
In 1839 business began to decline in Brunswick. Before the end of the year the bank and newspaper had "suspended operations" and the town's charter of incorporation had been returned to the state. Work on the railroad had come to a halt, and the canal project was abandoned, although it was almost finished.
A new building for Glynn Academy was completed in 1840, but there was no further construction in Brunswick for many years. The 'boom' days were followed by a long depression. Newcomers moved away. and the bustling town dwindled to a quiet village of only four hundred people.
The town began to prosper again in the 1850s. According to a notice in Savannah's Daily Morning News of June 1, 1854, the Brunswick and Altamaha Canal was opened on that date. Construction was resumed on the railroad. The town was reincorporated in 1856: a second newspaper. the Brunswick Herald, started publication; the Bank of Brunswick reopened. The town's first drugstore, Massey and Hillman. was opened in 1857. In that same year the economy of the area was stimulated by the purchase by the United States Government of Blythe Island, near Brunswick, as a proposed site for a Navy depot.
In 1858 the First Methodist and First Baptist churches were built. and St. Marks Episcopal Church was organized. By 1860 Brunswick's population had more than doubled. The town was building on a solid foundation when its growth was interrupted by the War Between the States.
In October 1860 the young men of the area organized the Brunswick Riflemen. The following May they were mustered into the Confederate Army as part of a regiment of Georgia Volunteers stationed at Camp Semmes near the town. The Ladies Sewing Association was organized to make garments for the soldiers, and when an Army hospital was established in Brunswick the ladies lent sheets, blankets, and other necessary items from their own household supplies.
In December 1861, when the coast was blockaded by Federal gunboats, residents of Brunswick were ordered evacuated. Most of the families refugeed to Wayne and Ware counties. Two months later, when Confederate troops guarding Brunswick were ordered withdrawn, the railroad depot and the wharf were destroyed and the Oglethorpe House was burned by accident. On March 10 the town was occupied by Federal troops.
In the years following the war some of the coastal planters moved to Brunswick; former citizens returned; new families established residence, and the town began its permanent growth.
A temporary resident of the town in these postwar years was General John B. Gordon under whom some of the former Brunswick Riflemen had served in the Confederate Army. The general was especially interested in attempting to reorganize the First Baptist Church, but the people were too impoverished to undertake the expense of a church and the support of a minister. However, a Sunday School was organized with General Gordon as superintendant.
In 1874 Georgia's beloved Sidney Lanier visited with relatives in Brunswick as he sought to regain his health. The poet enjoyed long restful hours beneath a great live oak overlooking the sea marshes made immortal in his Marshes of Glynn.
In 1876 Brunswick suffered a yellow-fever epidemic that took the lives of a number of citizens, but by 1878 the town had recovered and had become a busy shipping center. A visitor at the time wrote that there were two railroads and a fine harbor and that the "ships, barks, brigs and schooners in port give a marine atmosphere to the town" which had a population of "upwards of 3,000 to which every day was adding."
In the decade of the 1880s Brunswick's population tripled, and a number of substantial business and residential buildings were erected. New stores were opened and there were drydocks, lumber mills, a barrel factory, a foundry, a plant to manufacture turpentine stills. and the beginning of a seafood industry. Shipping of lumber and naval stores increased enormously, and steamship companies operated out of Brunswick to New York, Boston, Havana, England, and Europe.
The pleasant climate and proximity tn the sea drew visitors to the coast town as a year-round resort. The Oglethorpe Hotel, built on the site of the old Oglethorpe House, was the center of social life for townspeople and vacationers. and the L'Arioso Opera House, seating eight hundred, added to the cultural life of the city. In I889 a large brick building was completed to accommodate the growing student body of Glynn Academy and construction was begun on a handsome city hall.
Also in 1889, the Brunswick Harbor and Land Company was organized to develop nearby Colonels Island into a residential, industrial, and shipping community. Docks, wharves. warehouses, and at cotton compress were built, and lots were sold for a settlement to be called South Brunswick.
A second epidemic of yellow fever and the panic of 1893 not only halted business in Brunswick temporarily, hut put an end to the Colonels Island development. Brunswick recovered, and the early 1900s were some of the port's busiest shipping years and a time of continued prosperity for the city. A fine brick Post Officc, reminiscent of Independence Hall, was completed in 1902, and an impressive new Glynn County Court House was built in 1907.
In World War l shipyards along the Brunswick waterfront constructed ships and barges and attracted a number of new comers to the region. With the increased population, a larger plant was necessary for Glynn Academy: therefore a new building was constructed in 1923, with an auditorium dedicated to Glynn County men who had lost their lives in the war.
As the long-leaf pines were cut out, lumbering and shipping declined, but the wealth of other forest products available in the region brought industrial plants and mills into the city and county. A growing seafood industry also added to the region's economy.
In I924 Brunswick and St. Simons Island were connected by the Torras Causeway, named in honor of its engineer, Fernando Torras of Brunswick.
In the Second World War, shipbuilding again brought new residents to the port city. since many families who came for the duration of the war stayed or returned to live permanently. The Glynco Naval Air Station. commissioned in 1943, expanded in the postwar years. and its personnel became part of the civic and social life of the area.
As the city's population continued to increase, Brunswick Junior College, a unit of the University System of Georgia, was opened in 1964, its enrollment growing steadily over the years.
As time passed, the Naval Air Station grew into a large complex known as the Naval Air Technical Training Center; to be followed in 1975 by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center which meets the training requirements of thirty-four United States Government Organizations.
In spite of its growth, Brunswick retains much of the charm of earlier days. Reluctant to part with its ancestral live oaks. the city has left many of the venerable trees to spread their shade over the streets with their English names. its parks, squares, and gardens bloom with azalea, poinsettia and hibiscus, with camellia, dogwood and roses, with redbud, wisteria, clematis and coral vine. The Court House lawn, known for a beauty unsurpassed by any public grounds in the country, is a spacious garden of almost every true, shrub, and flower indigenous to the region.
To the regret of older residents, the gabled. turreted and porticoed Oglethorpe Hotel, at landmark since the 1880s, was razed to make way for more modern structures, but still standing arc the old City Hall and the columned Court House; a new Federal Building has replaced the 1901 Post Office, which serves as the 'new' City Hall. A number of residences constructed around the turn of the century still grace the wide streets of "Old Town Brunswick," now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brunswick celebrated its two-hundredth anniversary in 1971, a progressive modem city with an indefinable atmosphere of yesterday.