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Island Waterway

Wassaw Island, considered to be the most primitive island on Georgia's coast, derived its name from the Creek Indian word "wiso" (weeَ-so), meaning sassafras, a plant indigenous to the island.

The first recorded accounts of the island's history began in the 1800s with the occupation of a black planter, Anthony Odingsell, who owned 11 slaves and Little Wassaw Island. According to records, they all died and were buried somewhere on Wassaw Island but the location of their graves remains a mystery.

During the Civil War the island was occupied first by Confederate troops and then Union troops. Then in 1866, George Parsons, a wealthy English businessman, purchased the island with the intent of making it a holiday retreat for family and friends. Although his attempts to populate the island with hogs, pheasants, turkey and quail failed, he did end up building a home in the center of the island along with approximately 20 miles of interior roads.

In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, a fort was built into the dunes on the north end of the island as part of the Endicott system of coastal forts. Over time, high tides, wind, and rain have eroded away the dunes, and the fort made of oyster tabby, poured concrete, and North Georgia granite continues to deteriorate from its already dilapidated condition.

In 1969, the Parsons, in an effort to keep the island from being developed, sold the island to the Nature Conservancy of Georgia. Today, the island is a national wildlife refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Caretta Research Project, which focuses on learning more about the endangered loggerhead sea turtles, is conducted on the island by volunteers.

Wassaw Island is home to Herons, Egrets and other types of wading birds. Over 204 species of birds have been identified on the island including a number of endangered birds such as the Painted Buntings, Osprey and Bald Eagles that nest there. Aside from the birds, the island is also home to a number of wild and endangered animals, including a population of about 200 alligators.

Deer hunting is permitted two periods during the months of October and November by special permit only. Other island activities include shelling, biking, hiking, fishing, bird-watching, kayaking, and picnicking. Pets, firearms, fires, camping and the collecting of any type of plant, animal or fossil is strictly forbidden.

Wassaw Island - Sea Turtle BabyFor more information about visiting Wassaw Island contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Savannah Coastal Refuges Office at 912-652-4415. If you are interested in working as a volunteer for the loggerhead research project contact: Caretta Research Project, Savannah Science Museum, Inc. 4405 Paulsen Street,Savannah, GA 31405. Phone: 912-355-6705.

 





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