Flooding Susie’s Inbox

June 25, 2009

Current Obsession

Filed under: Houses, Southern Stuff — sashyjane @ 9:18 am

When I was in middle school, the entire 8th grade took a field trip to Cumberland Island as part of our Georgia History curriculum.  It was one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to and I can’t believe that I’ve never been back.

In addition to the wild horses roaming free, one of the most captivating parts of the island is the Dungeness ruins.  0406_GA_3375CumberlandIsland_S

Here’s what Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt) has to say about the ruins:

Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene purchased land on the island in 1783 to harvest live oaks for ship building. Wood from the island was used to build the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”. Greene died in 1786. His wife, Catherine, remarried Phineas Miller ten years later, and they built a huge, four-story tabby mansion on top of an Indian shell mound. She named it Dungeness after Oglethorpe’s hunting lodge. The mansion, with 6-foot (1.8 m) thick walls at the base, featured four chimneys and 16 fireplaces, and was surround by 12 acres (49,000 m2) of gardens. Dungeness was the scene of many special social galas where statesmen and military leaders enjoyed the Millers’ hospitality. When the island was briefly occupied during the War of 1812, the British used Dungeness as their headquarters.

Records show that in 1846, there were 36 white people and 400 enslaved people. The plantation economy was dealt a deathblow with the U.S. Civil War, and Dungeness deteriorated and the family moved away. Dungeness burned down in 1866.

In the 1880s Thomas M. Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie,and his wife bought land on Cumberland for a winter retreat, and in 1884, began building a mansion on the site of Dungeness, though he never lived to see its completion. His wife, Lucy, and 9 children, however, continued to live on the island, and named their mansion Dungeness after the Greene’s. Dungeness was a 59 room Scottish castle. They also built pools, a golf course, and 40 smaller buildings to house the 200 servants that worked at the mansion. The last time Dungeness was used before it burned in 1959 was for the 1929 wedding of a Carnegie daughter. It is thought that the 1959 fire was started by a disgruntled poacher who had been shot in the leg by a caretaker weeks before. Today, the ruins of the mansion remain on the southern end of the island. The Carnegies owned 90% of the island.

Have you ever seen Great Expectations (the one with Gweneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke)? The once grand home that sits in disrepair reminds me so much of Dungeness.


It’s easy to see why the magical and tragic look of the ruins was so fascinating to an imaginative 8th grader and I think my love for Dungeness may have sparked my ongoing interest in all things tragically beautiful.  I’ve since been drawn to Eudora Welty books, deteriorating barns and buildings and most recently, Grey Gardens.


What about you? Are you fascinated by the tragically beautiful?



  1. It is fascinating! It’s so hard to imagine how something can be thriving and decadent and then it’s gone in an instant to just ruins. But sometimes I think the ruins are more beautiful and poetic than the fancy interiors.

    Comment by Susie Mae — June 25, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  2. I want to go here! Would you like to go again?

    Comment by Nance — June 29, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

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