TO PRESERVE HISTORY ON ST. SIMONS . . . Group Seeks $700,000 in Public Donations Coastal Georgia Historical Society Plans a New Heritage Center and a Maritime Museum

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ST. SIMONS ISLAND -- The Coastal Georgia Historical Society needs $700,000 to collect $2.5 million and it needs it by the end of December.

That's what remains to be raised to obtain a dollar-for-dollar match from a combined grant from the G-8 Host Committee and the Woodruff Foundation.

The total of $5 million would be used to build a new Heritage Center next door to the island's lighthouse on a vacant lot once occupied by a post office. The rest would be used to establish a maritime museum at the former U.S. Coast Guard Station at East Beach and for an endowment.

With only three months left to collect the money, Pat Morris, executive director of the Historical Society, said she's not worried.

"We're confident the community will step up when they realize what needs to be done,'' Morris said.

The community already has stepped up with $1.8 million in donations. In fact, on the day Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the G-8 Host Committee and Woodruff Foundation grant nearly two years ago, the Historical Society had $400,000 in donations.

"Those funds were literally dropped in our lap,'' Morris said of the grant.

Once the total of $5 million is in hand, the landscape will begin to change at the Historical Society's headquarters overlooking St. Simons Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Sitting in her small second-floor office, Morris said that the headquarters will be demolished.

"The Davis House will go away,'' she said of the headquarters building. "It's a little beach house that isn't historic and is really in bad shape.''

The house was a godsend when it was moved across the road in the 1980s to serve as the society's office and archives, she said.

Part of the grant will be used to interpret history at the former U.S. Coast Guard station at East Beach. The building was one of 45 built around the nation on the same design. Morris said she knows of only two others, but more may be standing. The St. Simons version looks new after a $500,000 restoration paid for with a federal grant.


The maritime museum planned for the station will include some donated items, such as a big whale vertebra and disk and other fossils donated by amateur paleontologist Chet Kirby. The museum will also have an exhibit on the dramatic rescue of mariners who were aboard two merchant ships sunk by German U-boats in St. Simons Sound during World War II.

The Historical Society will also develop an outdoor classroom at the Coast Guard station with tanks where children can touch marine life and with environmental programming for adults and children, Morris said.

The Heritage Center will have the look of an old-fashioned village

and will preserve and display coastal history. The historical artifacts now crammed into what was once the upstairs bedrooms of the Davis House will finally be safely stored, and one exhibit room will house a G-8 Summit legacy display. …


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