As Georgia's second-oldest city, history runs deep in Darien. Just 50-miles south of Savannah, the stunning beauty of the iconic coastal setting stays with visitors long after their stay.
A Bit of History
Scottish Highlanders established Darien as a port in 1736 after the English abandoned Fort King George, the southern outpost of the British Empire in North America from 1721-1736. Visitors today can explore a reconstructed blockhouse, officers' quarters, barracks, a guardhouse, moat and palisades. A museum and film cover the Guale Indians, the Santo Domingo de Talaje mission, Fort King George, the Scots of Darien and 19th century sawmilling when Darien became a major seaport.
By 1863, Darien was one of the Eastern Seaboard’s great ports, making it a target for Union forces during the Civil War. As time passed, the port gradually became a haven for shrimp harvesters, an industry whose importance is celebrated annually with Darien’s Blessing of the Fleet festival.
In 1720, 13 years before Savannah and the colony of Georgia were founded, John Barnwell, a successful planter from the Carolina colony, persuaded the British government to allow building of a fort on the Altamaha River to defend Charles Town (Charleston) from the Spanish in Florida. Building began one year later and the fort became Fort King George, the southernmost outpost of the British empire in North America at the time. After seven years, the garrison of the fort was withdrawn to Port Royal, more than 140 soldiers died of sickness, and the fort was abandoned. Its remains constitute the oldest fort on the Georgia coast.
The Spanish threat to British colonies continued on the Southern coast, and in 1733 James Oglethorpe founded the town of Savannah and the colony of Georgia. Three years later, 177 Scottish Highlanders arrived at Barnwell's Bluff on the Prince of Wales and the town of Darien (originally known as New Inverness) was born. Named for the Darien Scheme, a former Scottish colony in Panama, Darien was laid out in accordance with the now-famous Oglethorpe Plan. Recruited by Oglethorpe, the Scottish settler-soldiers of Darien protected the frontiers of Georgia not only from the Spanish in Florida, but also from the French in the Alabama basin and the Indian allies of each colonial enterprise.
The Caledonia Oak
Darien is known for its iconic sprawling oaks adorned with Spanish moss. Many are noteworthy, but at 250 years old, the signature oak tree at Oaks on the River Luxury Boutique Resort has seen some of the most historically significant moments of Darien and of Colonial Georgia.
This tree witnessed the founding of Darien, then called New Inverness, when Gen. James Oglethorpe recruited Scottish Highlanders to settle here to protect Georgia from Spanish occupation.
As this tree reached its centennial years in the early 1800s, it saw the port of Darien flourish with the export of rice from Butler Island Plantation and cotton from Sea Island Plantation, among others. It also stood through the Civil War. The first official African American units to serve the United States during the Civil War landed on the docks of Darien and passed by the then 100-year-old oak as they went on to burn Darien.
After the war, Darien became one of the largest ports in the Southeast for shipping lumber. The 55-foot-tall tree remained untouched as Darien depleted its timber and turned to another natural resource: commercial fishing. This mighty oak has since towered beside the Darien River as commercial fishermen harvest shrimp, fish, oysters, and cannonball jellyfish.
In more recent years, this tree has been in the center of the Annual Blessing of the Fleet to celebrate and bless the fishermen of this community. Much like this city and its inhabitants, this “Great American” tree has survived and grown to symbolize our heritage-rich and close knit community.
An Outdoor Paradise
Possibly the best thing about Darien is the unspoiled natural beauty that surrounds it. From your room’s balcony, enjoy sunrises and sunsets on the river and over the marshes that once were part of large rice and indigo plantations. Just a short stroll from our boutique hotel, guests can enjoy the pavilion, fishing dock, playground, and picnic tables shaded by cabbage palms and live oaks at Darien’s Waterfront Park.
Bike paths and routes established throughout the city and into the countryside will take you along sparsely traveled roadways to such places as Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Altamaha and Townsend wildlife management areas, the ferry access to Sapelo Island, the Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area, and other spots along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
Guests can also explore the area around Darien by water. Our staff can arrange kayak and boat tours and fishing excursions along the Darien and Altamaha rivers and the many tidal creeks and estuaries.
Shopping & Dining
Shopping in Darien is the kind you usually find only in small towns. Our local retailers sell limited production wines and gourmet treats, coastal home décor, local produce and edibles, gifts, antiques, hardware and marine items. You won’t find mass produced, same old shopping here.
Dining opportunities are similarly local, with much of it centered around our freshly harvested wild Georgia shrimp and oysters, combined with local produce direct from nearby farms. When we say “fresh,” we mean it came off the boat this morning to be on your plate tonight.
Of course, no need to leave Oaks on the River Luxury Boutique Resort for shopping or dining. On the property, you can browse the wares at the Spa Shop, Chocolate Shop, Sundries Shop and Mercantile Shop. And for an exquisite dining experience, celebrate coastal Georgia cuisine at the restaurant, The Cedar Bar, the poolside bistro, or through our extensive room service menu.
The Old Jail
Darien’s 1888 Old Jail took on a new and very different life when it stopped being the McIntosh County jail in 2002. In 2007, the restored building reopened as the cultural center for the city. It includes art exhibits by local artists, art classes, a history museum in the old jail cells, and is host to a variety of events
Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays
404 North Way
Darien, GA 31305
Another Darien treasure worth checking out is the Ashantilly Center, known as “Old Tabby,” the 1820s home of Thomas Spalding, early Georgia planter, legislator, and McIntosh County landowner, which was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1937. Today, the Ashantilly Center is a non-profit educational and cultural historic site, organized and founded by artist, small letterpress printer (The Ashantilly Press), and environmentalist William G. Haynes, Jr. As his legacy, the Ashantilly Center hosts cultural and historic events and workshops.
15591 Ga. Highway 99
Darien, GA 31305
Fort King George
Fort King George is the oldest English fort remaining on Georgia’s coast. The reconstructed site transports visitors back to when the British Empire was colonizing America and includes a cypress blockhouse, barracks, and a palisaded earthen fort. Originally constructed in 1721 by scoutmen led by Col. John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell, the fort was garrisoned by His Majesty’s Independent Company, who endured incredible hardships from disease, threats of Spanish and Indian attacks as well as from the harsh and unfamiliar coastal environment. The reconstructed fort now stands as a present-day picture into the rich history of Darien.
Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays to Sundays
302 McIntosh Road SE
Darien, GA 31305
Butler Island Plantation
This former rice plantation on Butler Island, a marsh hammock bisected by U.S. Highway 17 just south of Darien and now managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Originally owned by Pierce Butler, the plantation eventually came into the possession of Butler’s grandson, Pierce Mease Butler and his wife, Frances Anne “Fanny” Kemble, who made their permanent home in Philadelphia. Kemble was opposed to slavery and published Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839, a memoir of her time there thought to have influenced the British against supporting the Confederacy in the Civil War. The plantation later went on to be owned by tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds Jr. in the 20th century. Today the rice fields and ditches are still visible, as is the Huston House, a residence built by then owner Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston in 1926. A chimney from the original plantation house still stands and is visible from the road. A historical marker also stands on the property. A state managed waterfowl management area also surrounds the home as well as several wildlife viewing platforms.
2613 U.S. Highway 17
Darien, GA 31305
Sapelo Island Visitors Center
Sapelo Island is a natural wonder of Coastal Georgia. One of the most undisturbed barrier islands on Georgia’s coast, Sapelo is rich with history and wild with nature. The R.J. Reynolds mansion, once owned by R.J. Reynolds Sr., founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, still stands as a reminder of the Gilded Age when millionaires discovered the beauty of Coastal Georgia. Sapelo is also home to Hog Hammock, the last known Gullah-Geechee community where nearly 100 descendants of freed slaves still live and practice many of the traditions brought by their ancestors from western Africa. The island is accessible only by ferry and is managed by the state.
Sapelo Island Visitors Center/Ferry Access
Open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays to Saturdays
1766 Landing Road SE
Darien, GA 31305
DARIEN, GEORGIA HIGHLIGHTS:
- Just minutes to the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean
- Convenient proximity to Glynn County, area beaches of St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island, and Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport
- Quick access to multiple exits along I-95
- Local restaurants and shopping within walking or biking distance
- Endless boating, fishing and nature-based recreational opportunities
- Rich cultural heritage and historic sites dating back to early settlers
- Brunswick, GA (11.5 miles)
- St. Simons Island, GA (20 miles)
- Savannah, GA (50.8 miles).
- Jacksonville, FL (74.0 miles)
- Brunswick-Golden Isles International Airport (BQK) Public Airport / 10.6 miles from Darien
- Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) Public Airport / 58.5 miles from Darien
- Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) Public Airport / 69.6 miles from Darien
- Patterson Island Airport (GA21) Private Airport / 9.6 miles from Darien
- Sapelo Island Airport (08GA) Private Airport / 15.5 miles from Darien
- St. Simons Island Airport at McKinnon Field (SSI) Public Airport / 20 miles from Darien