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Mark Carr, a captain in General James Oglethorpe's Marine Boat Company, was this area's first settler. He established his plantation as early as 1738 on 1,000 acres along the Turtle River, an area known as Plug Point. In 1771, the Royal Province of Georgia bought Carr's Fields and laid out the town of Brunswick in the grid style following Oglethorpe's plan for Savannah. In 1797, the General Assembly transferred the county seat from Frederica on St. Simons Island to the town Brunswick.
The town is named after King George II's ancestral home, the Hanoverian duchy of Braunsweig-Lunenburg, Germany. Following the Revolutionary War when many other towns and cities were distancing themselves from their English heritage, Brunswick retained the English names of its streets and squares - Newcastle, Hanover, Gloucester, London, for examples.
For unknown reasons, little development took place in the town during the 30 years after its designation as the county seat. The first public building, Glynn Academy, was built in 1819 and closed four years later due to lack of attendance. However, it reopened, and a second Glynn Academy building was built in 1840. In 1826, the General Assembly of Georgia granted title to much of the undeveloped town to Urbanus Dart and William R. Davis. Brunswick soon had a courthouse, a jail, and about 30 houses and stores. With Thomas Butler King of Retreat Plantation on St. Simons Island, Dart and Davis formed a company to construct a canal north to the Altamaha River, connecting the natural port with interior plantations. Thomas Butler King also founded the Brunswick and Florida Railroad and commissioned a survey of the route.
Boomtimes began but were short-lived. The city was incorporated in 1836, the same year the Oglethorpe House hotel was built. In 1838, a newspaper was started, and a new bank opened. Glynn Academy boasted four teachers with 85 students. The panic of 1837 caused timber and cotton prices to tumble and undermined the progress of the canal and railroad projects. The Cotton Crash of 1839 put them in further jeopardy.
Following a period of depression, the Altamaha-Brunswick Canal opened in 1854, followed by the railroad in 1856. Brunswick received its second charter in the same year. By 1860, it had a population of 468, a bank, a weekly newspaper, and a sawmill which employed nine workers.
During the War Between the States, Confederate troops were withdrawn, burning the St. Simons Lighthouse as they left to keep it from falling into Union hands. In Brunswick, wharves were burned as was the Oglethorpe House which would have made an excellent hospital or headquarters for the Union Army. When the city was ordered to evacuate, most of the citizens fled to Waynesville. The canal and railroad ceased operation, and Brunswick was abandoned for the third time since its founding.
After the Civil War, the area suffered from post-war depression. Later, from 1874-1908, one of the nation's largest lumber mills operated on St. Simons Island, leading to the return of economic prosperity. (photos) Here millions of feet of legendary "heart-pine" lumber were cut, which became timbers, floors and ceilings for buildings all over the world. Canals and rivers gave way to rail traffic as the Macon & Brunswick and Brunswick & Albany railroads connected Georgia to the port of Brunswick.
The December 1888 issue of Harper's Weekly predicted that "Brunswick by the Sea" was destined to become the winter Newport. Jekyll Island had become a posh, ultra-exclusive getaway for some of the era's most influential people. Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Goodyears escaped to Brunswick and the Golden Isles by train or yacht to hunt, fish, and mingle. In 1888, the breathtaking Oglethorpe Hotel opened its elegant doors, and people arrived in droves. Sidney Lanier, Georgia's Poet Laureate, sought relief from tuberculosis in Brunswick's climate and immortalized the area with his world-famous poem, "The Marshes of Glynn."
The last decade of the nineteenth century saw Brunswick build from adversity. In 1893, a yellow fever epidemic compounded the troubles brought by a world-wide depression. Two hurricanes and their resulting shock waves enabled boats to sail down Newcastle Street. The bright side was the ever-expanding port business for lumber, naval stores, oysters, and cotton. These good times allowed Brunswick's fine commercial and residential structures to be built.
For World War I, wooden and concrete ships designed not to attact mines were built in Brunswick. A near-miss for the area was a picric acid plant which was never completed. This highly-explosive chemical was used to produce smokeless gunpowder, and needed cotton for production. The end of World War I stopped construction of the plant. During the Second World War, German U-boats threatened the coast of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Blimps became a common sight as they patrolled the Golden Isles. During the war, blimps from Brunswick's Glynco Base, the largest blimp base in the world, safely escorted 98,000 ships without a single vessel lost to enemy submarines. Naval Air Station Glynco (est. 1943) has the distinction of being the only air station to have housed every type of aircraft in operation; airships, prop-type planes, jets and helicopters. Glynco today is home of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
Brunswick's other contribution to the WWII effort was the construction of Liberty Ships, large transport vessels, at the J.A. Jones Shipyard. Ninety-nine ships were built during the war, and the local population tripled during this time. Local hotels "hot-bedded" the workers, sleeping them in three shifts.
Although the Altamaha Canal never realized its full potential, today Brunswick is home to a thriving port, the deepest natural port in the area. As the western-most harbor on the eastern seaboard, as well as the Shrimp Capitol of the World, Brunswick's waterfront bustles with activity. The city is also home to Hercules, one of the oldest and most important yellow-pine chemical plants in the world. Other wood products, including Georgia-Pacific's fluff pulp, are shipped from Brunswick to worldwide destinations. Rich-SeaPak Corporation and King and Prince Seafood allow the bounty of our oceans to be enjoyed on dinner tables throughout America. The Georgia Ports Authority Mayor's Point and Marine Point Terminals and the Colonel Island Bulk Facility attract business from around the world.
Tourism is a leading industry in Glynn County, attracting 1.53 million visitors annually. The barrier islands of Jekyll, St. Simons, Little St. Simons, and the internationally-acclaimed Sea Island, draw visitors from around the world.
Brunswick's Old Town residential and commercial district is the largest small town, urban National Register of Historic Places district in Georgia. Downtown is undergoing a carefully nurtured revitalization through the National Main Street program, preserving and showcasing its distinctive historic fabric. Annual events like Concerts in the Square, HarborFest, and the Old Town Tour of Homes encourage visitors to discover the charms of Brunswick's oak-lined, moss-draped avenues, parks and gracious homes. (new waterfront park photo) Area visitors will enjoy the beaches, golf and other recreational opportunities Brunswick and the Golden Isles have to offer.
Brunswick continues to build on its past and develop its resources to attract and cultivate people and ideas that will ensure growth and prosperity for its citizens and visitors alike.
Contributed by the Old Town Brunswick Preservation Association.
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