I fell under the spell of Cumberland Island the moment I caught a glimpse of the wild horses grazing on the beach.   We approached by boat and as we grew closer to the dock more of them came into view.  Later, I came to find out that there are more horses than permanent residents on this isolated Georgia barrier island.

We were greeted by Gabriel and led to the inn as he told us a brief history of this captivating place.  Greyfield Inn was built by Lucy Carnegie, widow of industrialist, Thomas Carnegie (brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie) as a wedding present for their daughter, Margaret.  It is the smallest of the mansions on the island built by the Carnegie family, the largest being Dungeness, the famed gilded age retreat constructed from Scottish stone.

Greyfield Inn welcomed us with its wide door wreathed in glossy, Southern Magnolia leaves and porch with an array of inviting rocking chairs.  Entering, we found that not much has changed in the last century.  Antiques collected on the family’s world tours were brought back to the island to grace the parlor and library.  Portraits and photographs of the family charmed us from walls and tabletops.  You feel as if you have stepped back in time and are now the house guest of a gracious Victorian family…and you are!  Descendants of the Carnegie family still own and run the inn.

At one time,  the Carnegie family owned 90% of Cumberland Island before deeding most of it to the National Park Service in the early 1970’s. It’s now designated as “Cumberland Island National Seashore.”   A  small portion of the island, including Greyfield Inn, is still owned and maintained by the family.  Lucy Ferguson (Lucy Carnegie’s granddaughter) was instrumental in the transfer so that the beauty and wilderness of the island would be protected.

Lucy Ferguson was a very colorful character.  Her love of the island and the island’s wildlife that call it home is legendary.  She always wore a bandana and carried a Bowie knife (even to dinner parties!).  She surrounded her family with the creatures of the island including deer, wild boar and birds and instilled in her family a sense of responsibility to love and protect the environment.

After the tour of the inn, we were eager to start exploring.  We first set off by foot to find the sandy path to the sea, meandering under the canopy of live oaks doted with resurrection ferns and their mantle of Spanish moss and lush, tropical underbrush of exotic palmetto palms.

Arriving at the dune meadow we were greeted by a band of wild horses.  Heeding the warning not to get too close, we still managed to experience being in their presence on the dunes.


We enjoyed walking the beach with no other humans in sight.  We weren’t alone though, sea creatures were burrowing in the sand and we spied the first of many of the birds on the island: great blue herons, bald eagles and egrets.

We would have liked to stay on the beach for hours, but it was time to head back to the inn to get ready for a special oyster roast and an elegant, candlelit dinner.

This was not your average oyster roast.  Fresh from the salt marshes, pails and pails of briny, fresh oysters were being shoveled onto a blazing, open pit cedar fire, soon to be joined by fat,  juicy clams that had just been delivered straight from the shore.    A variety of condiments were available, but we didn’t want anything to mask the woodsy, salty flavor.  Later, large, silver trays of luscious, peeky toe crab were brought out to our ravenous group.  We knew that we were having dinner soon, so it was all we could do not to fill up on these glorious gifts from the sea.

Candles were lit, and the dinner bell was rung, twice…uh-oh, better get to the table.  The food at Greyfield is everything that you would want to serve to your guests.  Fresh and local (much of it comes from their large, well maintained garden), accented with produce and dairy from local farms and the highest quality ingredients.  Even though I didn’t have much room left, I managed to savor the clean, unpretentious tastes and preparation of the kabocha squash soup with cinnamon roasted apples and beef tenderloin that had been grilled over the cedar fire and still have room for the homemade donut with Valrhona chocolate and marshmallow ice cream that we enjoyed with coffee in the library.

The next morning the island was shrouded in dense, grey fog which made our surroundings even more mystical.

We had gotten up early…very early…for the first of the daily tours offered by the inn’s naturalist guide was at daybreak.   We visited the ghost of what was Dungeness, which sadly burned to the ground in 1959,  and the surrounding dunes and salt marshes.  The birders with us were ecstatic to see the wood ducks and a red-cockaded woodpecker.  The rest of us enjoyed being part of this unique and beautiful landscape.  The island is teeming with wildlife, some of which  I was glad that we didn’t come across (like the alligators), but I would have loved to have seen the elusive white deer.

The next tour we took was to the Northern part of the island including the Plum Orchard mansion, Stafford Plantation and the First African Baptist Church.  Many of you might remember that John Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in this tiny, sparse church in 1996.  That day the church was decorated with just one candle glowing from this container.  John, Jr. was good friends with a member of the Carnegie/Ferguson family, the charismatic GoGo Ferguson, who suggested that Cumberland Island and the Greyfield Inn  would be the perfect place to get married privately…and she was right.

The vivacious GoGo is a world renowned jewelry designer and artist.  Her work was just exhibited at the High Museum in Atlanta and is admired by collectors,  as well as the rich and famous.  We made it a point to visit her studio, a portion of which is crafted out of material salvaged from Dungeness.  Nothing is wasted on the island, everything is recycled, reused and repurposed…just like GoGo’s jewelry.  GoGo is fascinating.  She was inspired by her grandmother, Lucy Ferguson, to love the island fiercely, to investigate and treasure every part…and she has.  She has walked this captivating island always looking down, looking for treasures.  For GoGo, treasure is not diamonds and sapphires, but sun bleached bones of rattlesnakes, armadillos and all manner of sea creatures.  Her cottage next to Greyfield looks more like an anthropologist’s lair than an artist’s studio, but this is where GoGo gets the inspiration for her designs.  Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings and house ware items all reflecting her love of nature and of Cumberland Island.  If you’d like to peak at some of her work, here’s a link.

Our last activity was everyone’s favorite.  Our family chased the waves  while riding bikes on the pristine beach at sunset.  As the shells crunched beneath the wide tires and the salt air blew through our hair we were all smiles and laughter.  We felt like kids again, especially when we had to race back so we weren’t late for dinner.

Our stay was too short.  We vowed to come back…there is so much more we need to see and do.  There is a large, leather guest book in the parlor and you are invited to share your reason for coming to the island.  On almost every page, someone had written “bucket list.”  You might just want to put this magical place on your list as well.

While touring Plum Orchard’s vast kitchen, I found this recipe displayed for Icebox Cookies.  I’ve adapted it for you so that you can share a bit of the island with your family and friends for the holiday season.  I love icebox cookies because you can pull them out of the “icebox” and pop them in the oven when guests arrive and serve them a warm cookie, fresh from the oven.

I want to wish you and your family and friends a wonderful holiday!

Holiday Icebox Cookie Recipe

Yield: 6 - 9 dozen

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

If you want fresh from the oven cookies any time, then this is the recipe for you. Rich, buttery and easy to make, perfect for when guests drop by during the holidays.


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


Since this is a holiday cookie, I decided to use granulated and confectioner's sugar to replace the dark brown sugar called for in the original recipe, circa 1910. I also added pure vanilla, lowered the amount of baking powder and added holiday sprinkles. For one batch, I added nuts as suggested by the original recipe.

You can be very creative with this recipe. You might add candied fruit to the batter, or possibly lemon or orange zest. Instead of vanilla, you could use almond, or hazelnut extract...the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

If you are not going to make this by hand, I'd suggest using a standing mixer because this is a very stiff dough.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, granulated sugar, beaten eggs and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, confectioner's sugar, baking powder and salt, making sure they are well blended.

Beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture one cup at a time.

Divide the dough onto 3 separate pieces of wax paper. Form the dough into long squares, approximately 2 1/2 by 2 1/2.

Press sprinkles into the dough on all sides and seal the wax paper.

Chill dough for at least 1 to 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease cookie sheet.

Remove dough from the "icebox" and cut into thin, 1/4 inch slices.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes or till slightly golden brown.

Place on cooling rack. The cookies may be stored in air tight containers for several weeks and dough may be stored in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to 3 months. If using frozen dough, you may need to increase the baking time.