2004 World Monuments Watch
Among the coastal islands of Georgia, Cumberland Island is a natural paradise of forests dripping with Spanish moss, marshes teeming with wildlife, and expansive beaches untouched by development. Once the private preserve of the Carnegie family, the island boasts several great late nineteenth-century mansions that were built on former plantations, among them Plum Orchard, the residence of Andrew Carnegie’s nephew George Lauder Carnegie. With 30 rooms spread over 22,000 square feet, Plum Orchard, the centerpiece of a 600-acre estate, was designed in the Classical Revival style by Boston architectural firm Peabody and Stearns. In 1972, the Carnegie family donated their island property to the National Park Service to be incorporated into a newly established Cumberland Island National Seashore. In the decades that followed, however, the house fell into decline due to neglect, bureaucratic conflicts over its management, and exposure to the region’s heavy rains, hurricanes, and humidity. Although the Park Service carried out an exterior restoration of the house in 2001, its future remains uncertain. A Cumberland Island Wilderness Management Plan, currently being drafted, has put forth a plan to lease island properties to groups dedicated to their preservation – a notion that is attracting financial commitments. However, the Park Service has yet to find an appropriate lessee for Plum Orchard to ensure its preservation and maintenance.
Since the Watch
With the lifting of wilderness designation from some of Cumberland Island’s major roads in 2004 a major step was taken towards facilitating public access to Plum Orchard. This also allowed for restoration work to take place, which would have been impossible without the use of motor vehicles for transportation of equipment and materials. Substantial repairs and upgrades were accomplished in 2007 after a $3 million restoration. Nevertheless, a transportation plan is still being developed by the National Park Service. Currently, Plum Orchard may be accessed by ferry from the public ferry dock, when a guided tour takes place. The site may also be reached by bicycle. January 2011