Most of the historic structures on Cumberland Island are located on the south end, outside of the Wilderness area. The most outstanding historic structures on the island are the Chimneys, located south of the Wilderness at Stafford. These chimneys were used by slaves of Robert Stafford and depict the rich African-American history of Cumberland Island. These historic structures should continue to be maintained, owned, and protected by the Park Service, but are currently not accessible to the public.
Plum Orchard Mansion was built for Andrew Carnegie’s brother’s fifth son, George. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has classified the mansion as a class-B structure of limited regional significance. Nonetheless, millions of dollars have been poured into renovating and restoring the mansion, and up to ten daily vehicle tours are permitted. Located along the west edge of Cumberland Island, Plum Orchard is easily accessible by boat, which offers a far more scenic and less intrusive option to the bumpy, noisy vehicle tours through the Wilderness.
The High Point hotel is part of a retained estate of the Candler family of Atlanta, so is off limits to the public at this time.
The First African Baptist Church, built in 1938, was made famous in 1996 by the wedding of John Kennedy, Jr., to Carolyn Bessette. Today, the Park Service promotes it as the Kennedy Church, and virtually all of the visitors come to the church for that reason. Both the Park Service and the Greyfield Inn provide vehicle tours through the Wilderness to the church. In 2004, the Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that these tours were illegal, prompting Congressman Jack Kingston to remove the church and the road from Wilderness so that the tours could continue. The Park Service tours required by the legislation will cost $1.2 million annually to operate.
Both Plum Orchard and the African Baptist Church should be preserved, but the vehicle tours to these structures must end.