Tybee Island – A History Buff’s Favorite Beach
When thinking of historic Southern destinations to visit all the usual suspects come to mind. With history leading back to the original 13 colonies, Southern states hail some of the country’s most beautiful and historic cities. There is one historic destination in Dixie, however, that many people often overlook.
Tybee Island, with its picturesque beaches, long ocean pier, swaying sea grasses and sand dunes is more than a great destination for a value vacation. It is also steeped in history stemming back over 400 years. Tybee is home to several historic landmarks and is rich in heritage. An added perk? Tybee’s history is affordable to admire. Named one of Budget Travel’s 16 Best (Affordable!) Winter Vacations in America, this destination is perfect for the history buff looking for value both with their history and their wallet.
Tybee’s history has been beautifully preserved. Now, let’s go back to when Tybee’s recorded history begins.
Like many areas of the South, Native Americans inhabited Tybee Island before Europeans laid claim to the land. The Euchee tribe lived on Tybee before Spanish explorers staked their claim on the island in 1520. The Spanish occupied Tybee Island for nearly 200 years before they were forced out and retreated to Florida. This retreat allowed the English to establish settlements that would become the colony of Georgia in 1733.
From the Revolutionary War to World War II, Tybee has long been the gateway and first line of defense for Savannah.
In the Revolutionary War, Tybee was the staging area for French Admiral D’Estaing’s unsuccessful 1779 “Siege of Savannah,” an ill-fated attempt to defeat British held Savannah. On the western end of the island, a “Lazaretto” (a variation of an Italian word meaning ‘hospital for the contagious’) was established to quarantine enslaved persons and other ship passengers who might have been carrying diseases.
Tybee did not escape the ravages of The Civil War either. Fort Pulaski played an active role, being commissioned by Robert E. Lee and initially held by Confederate forces. It was the target for the first use of rifled cannons in the Union Army’s assault on Fort Pulaski, which after sustaining considerable damage surrendered to the Union. Tybee has maintained a peaceful existence since the end of the Civil War. U.S. troops have not been stationed on the island since the end of WWII, with their quarters and buildings now being used as B&Bs, private residences and community centers.
With a history this long and varied, it is no surprise that remnants of times before us remain. Listed below are Tybee’s most prominent historic attractions.
Commissioned by James Oglethorpe in 1732, the Tybee Island Light Station has endured hurricanes, shoreline erosion, earthquakes and wars. Though the original structure was destroyed by a storm in 1741, the existing lighthouse and complex remain the oldest (and tallest) in the state. Visitors can climb the 178 stairs to the top for incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean while on their tour of the complex. The light still functions, sending beams 18 miles offshore.
A remnant of the American Civil War, Fort Pulaski now stands a quiet watch over the Savannah River, welcoming in container ships from around the world as they enter the Port of Savannah. Daily cannon firing demonstration, tours and a museum full of Civil War history serve as attractions for visitors.
This late 19th century fort has been out of service since the end of WWII and now serves mostly as private residences. From 1897 to 1947 the fort was an integral part of America’s Coastal Defense system. Troops stood guard on Tybee through the Spanish-American War of 1898, World War I and World War II. In 1947, the Fort was closed and sold to the City of Tybee Island. The Tybee Post Theater, formerly the theater used by servicemen stationed at Fort Screven, now serves as a venue for the arts, comedy shows, weddings and more. Fort Screven is also the home of the Tybee Island Museum. Completed in 1961, the museum features collections of historical items, pictures and relics that chronicle nearly 400 years of the island’s history.
Built in 1855, the Cockspur Lighthouse is maintained by the National Park Service as a part of Fort Pulaski National Monument. The beacon survived the bombardment of Fort Pulaski in 1862, despite being directly in the line of fire. It was heavily damaged by a storm in 1881 that destroyed the keeper’s residence, but kept shining until 1909 when it was finally extinguished due to the less frequent use of the Savannah River’s south channel. In 2000, the restoration of the upper portions of the lighthouse was completed. The lighthouse can be viewed from Fort Pulaski’s walking trails and dolphin tours as they cruise by.
Don’t miss the chance to visit these beautiful landmarks that are so rich in history the next time you visit Tybee Island. For more information on Tybee Island’s attractions, click here.