The Cumberland Island National Seashore museum is dedicated to preserving the island’s primitive character, natural processes and the natural, cultural, historic, and wilderness resources. This feat is accomplished while offering visitors a feeling of isolation and wonder, and an opportunity to understand, learn about, and appreciate the island paradise.
The park's museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and is staffed by Cumberland Island National Seashore volunteers.
Hunting and Gathering (Time of the Timucuans)
The Timucua (Ti-MOO-qua) refers to all the Native Americans in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida who spoke the Timucua language. This society was based on a matrilineal structure, meaning that close relatives were traced through the mother’s family. Timucua referred to their close relatives as a clan.
Agricultural (Plantation Era)
The Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Greene and his wife Catherine (Caty) Greene settled here and built the first Dungeness. Eli Whitney joined them at Cumberland Island, but Eli and Nathaniel tried unsuccessfully to market the cotton gin. After the death of Nathaniel, Caty married Phineas Miller. Much of the island passed from the Greene-Miller descendants in the early 1800s to Robert Stafford. Stafford developed extensive cotton plantations on the island.
The Gilded Age
With the death of Robert Stafford in the latter part of the 19th century, Thomas and Lucy Carnegie bought extensively on the island. The Carnegies built the present Dungeness on the ruins of the Greene-Miller Dungeness. Following the early and untimely death of Thomas in 1886, Lucy remained at Dungeness. She built and acquired homes for the children on an estate that eventually covered 90% of the island. A number of the original Carnegie house furnishings, carriages and photos are on display at the museum.
A separate museum room contains a series of displays about the War of 1812. The last skirmishes of the War of 1812 took place on Cumberland Island, St. Mary’s, and the fortified position of Point Peter. Point Peter guarded the approaches to the city of St. Mary’s. A portrayal of the conditions leading up to the war and a synopsis of the war are found in this room. A video gives a summary of the war as well as many artifacts that have been unearthed recently at Point Peter.
Cumberland Island contains four major historic districts and 87 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the oldest known ceramics in North America and shell middens from early natives.
Revolutionary War Hero General Nathanial Greene purchased land on Cumberland Island in 1783. Following his death, his widow Catherine Greene, constructed a four-story tabby home that she named Dungeness. Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy began building another Dungeness on the original foundation in 1884. The Carnegie’s Dungeness burned in 1959 and today only the ruins remain on the site.
Plum Orchard Mansion
Plum Orchard is an 1898 Georgian Revival mansion building by Lucy Carnegie for her son, George and his wife, Margaret Thaw. The Carnegie family donated this mansion to the National Park Foundation in 1971. The contribution of Plum Orchard helped achieve congressional approval for establishing Cumberland Island National Seashore.
First African Baptist Church in the Settlement
In the 1890s, The Settlement was established for African American workers. The First African Baptist Church was established in 1893 and then rebuilt in the 1930s. It was the site of the September 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette.