St. Simons Island is a part of the Golden Isles, or Georgia’s Atlantic Coast between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. The area comprises the city of Brunswick and the barrier islands of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. While the areas are vastly known for their beautiful beaches and salt marshes, they have also become quite popular for their legendary tree spirits located all throughout the island.
While, some may catch you off guard when you realize what you thought was a normal oak tree, to be staring back at you, and others will be a more defined, body length carved out sculpture. No matter which one you find, you will be amazed at the imagery and beauty that each tree spirit holds. You can find them high or low, men and women, mermaids and men.
History Of The Carvings
The carvings started popping up around St. Simons Island in the early 1980’s. The artist Keith Jennings, began to leave his mark on the island by carving 20 unique faces into the island’s famous oak trees. Each and every one features a unique face, and is hand carved. The carvings would take anywhere from 2-4 days to complete. Each tree spirit looks as if it has its own personality and style as well. Since the 80’s they have continued this tradition, and new ones are beginning to pop up throughout the island.
Tree Spirit Mythology
The idea behind the tree spirits stems from honoring the sailors who lost their lives at sea. Ships were previously made from the St. Simons Island oak that consisted of the sailing ships the sailors were on when they passed away. The author made the tree spirits as a memorial to each sailor and his family.
Not only does the artist represent the sailor in the carving, he also includes the soul of the three. He believes that each tree has its own soul and the tree’s spirit represents the soul in the carving. The artist invites you to view these tree spirit carvings and come up with your own legends and mythology, allowing it to represent whatever you want it too.
Locating The Tree Spirits
While there are currently 20 tree spirits in and around the island, there are constantly being made. Many of the tree spirits are located on private property, but there is still the option to go on a hunt for the ones located on public property. Enjoy a family bike ride around the island looking for the tree spirits, or embark on a scavenger hunt to see who can find them all first. If you do choose to go the scavenger hunt route, make sure to stop and take a couple of minutes to admire the beautiful carvings before moving onto the next.
There is a St. Simons Tree Spirit Treasure Hunt that maps a full day of tree spirit hunting starting at 8 am and hitting your last spot at 2pm. Seven of the tree spirits are located on public property and are free to visit. Here is the order we like to go in when seeing all of the tree spirits.
Golden Isles Welcome Center
Head towards the infamous St. Simons Lighthouse to find your very first tree spirit treasure. Though it would be cool if the carving was located inside of the lighthouse, since it is a part of a tree it is actually located in the Golden Isles Welcome Center. Once you are inside of the Welcome Center you can actually request a tree spirit map to learn all of the legends and tales of the tree spirits.
Just north of Pier Village is where you can find the next two tree spirits. Exploring the park and the area close to it and you will find two beautiful tree spirits with very different stories. A hint to locating the spirits; one prefers home runs and the other prefers shooting threes. Once you have found the tree spirits, it is time to get a little more familiar with the Saint Simons Island area.
St. Simons Island Trail System
Head to the local bike shop, find tons of bike shop rentals on google, and go on a scavenger hunt bike ride. Once you have found the perfect bike, ride alongside Frederica Road located in the middle of the island. Make sure to keep your eyes open while biking down the road to locate two more tree spirits. One will be located on the Magnolia Manor Retirement Home property, and the other is located in Redfern Village.
Anderson Fine Art Gallery
The next tree spirits of St. Simons Island can be found around 10 minutes down the road on Frederica Road. Once you see the Anderson fine Art Gallery and Delaney’s Bistro, you’re in the right spot. The tree spirit will greet you right out front of the art gallery
Gascoigne Bluff Park
Search amongst many beautiful live oak trees to find the tree spirit hidden in the park. Enjoy the beautiful Georgia coast during your favorite time of year. Look for a weathered face hanging around to find the seventh tree spirit. After you bask in its beauty consider taking a drive to see from afar the other majestic oak tree spirits.
While many of the tree spirits are located on private property, you may still drive around the area and see them from afar. A few other stops to make is Village Inn, Murphy’s Tavern, Cannon’s Point, Driftwood beach or even Demere Road. No matter which ones you are able to find, the St. Simons Island tree spirits are one of the greatest reminders of an area’s history in the United States. If you find yourself in the area or close by the tree spirits, it is certainly worth a road trip or day trip.