History of Skidaway Island

 

Skidaway Island has a fascinating background and history that goes back forty thousand years ago!

History of Skidaway Island

When you think of the word history, what comes to mind? Men with powdered white wigs in tricornered hats? Women in ballgowns big enough to take up your home office? Wooden ships battered by waves so towering they seem to have come from a nightmare? If I’ve come anywhere close to naming anything that came to your mind, I’m excited to tell you that the story of Skidaway Island didn’t begin when the first English settlers crossed the Atlantic Ocean or with the Indigenous people who lived here before us- in fact, it starts nearly forty thousand years ago, with the fall of the latest ice age.

Skidaway Island came to be when that ice age began its slow decline, rising as a link in a chain of Pleistocene barrier islands along Georgia’s coast. We all know that, with the fall of the ice age and its megafauna, the vast majority of life on Earth died out almost ten thousand years ago. Archaeologists on Skidaway have managed to recover samples of several species that went extinct, such as giant sloths, mammoths, and mastodons, some of which are now on display for the general public at the Skidaway Island Marine Institute.

Then, over four thousand years ago, Indigenous people of the Timucua tribe used Skidaway for hunting and ceremony before being replaced by the Yemassee tribe and, after them, the Spanish. 56 sites have been found around the island dating back to times when the only hands that had touched the land were Indigenous ones, with three of less than twenty existing shell rings having been discovered on the island itself.

James Oglethorpe, credited with settling the colony of Georgia, assigned five families and six men to Skidaway Island during the settlement. A small fort was built at the northern end of the island. However, by 1740, the island was abandoned due to infertile soil. Then, beginning in 1754, twenty-nine land grants were distributed to colonists in order to attempt to resettle the land. Among them was John Milledge, founder of Modena, which is now home to the Skidaway Institution of Oceanography and the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Center. Milledge’s son, John Jr., would later go on to be the founder of the University of Georgia.

Modena

Skidaway Island saw little action during the Revolutionary War- in fact, the only skirmish on record occurred when a party of British Marines came ashore. The Fourth Georgia Battery was posted on Skidaway during the Civil War- in fact, a battery can be viewed if one takes the Big Ferry trail at Skidaway’s State Park. After slavery was abolished with the end of the Civil War, the many plantations scattered around Skidaway fell into disuse and the island was abandoned for the second time.

After years of lying abandoned on the Georgia Coast, former slaves assisted by the Freedman’s Bureau and Benedictine Monks were the next to attempt to put the island to use. A school for black children was established on the eastern side of the island in the coming years. Farming failed again when a tidal wave ruined the water supply in 1889, leaving Skidaway to be a popular bootlegging area during the Prohibition.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Skidaway was seized by Union Camp- then known as Union Bag and Paper Corporation. Union Camp used the island to produce pulpwood in the 1940s. In 1964, they began to put plans of turning Skidaway into a residential area into use, donating five hundred acres of land to the state of Georgia in exchange for a bridge to the island, which was built in 1971. Those five hundred acres would later become SkidawayIsland State Park. The Landings was developed by Union Camp after the bridge was built.

Present-day Skidaway Island features a bustling community and several gated neighborhoods as well as a shopping center and retirement homes. During the summer, it is an excellent place for fishing, kayaking, and boating out to Wassaw Island, just west of Skidaway.

From its incredible history to its lively population, Skidaway Island should be considered to be rich’ in all aspects.

Skidaway Island is a barrier island and census-designated place (CDP) in Chatham County, Georgia, United States. The population was 9,310 at the 2020 census. An affluent community located south of Savannah, Skidaway Island is known for its waterfront properties and golf courses within The Landings, one of the largest gated communities in the country. A separate area of the island hosts the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, a research institution operated by the University of Georgia. It receives scholars and researchers from several other Georgia universities as well, including Georgia Tech, Savannah State University, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Skidaway Island is part of the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area.

 

It is uncertain why the name “Skidaway” was applied to this island; the name may be derived from a word in Yamacraw or another Native American Creek language. In his 1967 publication How Georgia Got Her Names, Hal E. Brinkley stated that the name might be an Anglicized form of Scenawki, the wife of the Yamacraw chief Tomochichi, for whom Georgia’s founder James Oglethorpe named the island.

 

In a March 2019 referendum, Skidaway Island voters overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have incorporated their community as the City of Skidaway Island. The island remains unincorporated.

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