Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 28, 2012

Dunham Farms: Big view of coastal Georgia

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Imagine exquisite dining and restful sleeping on a plantation loved by the same family since 1755.

Dunham Farms in Sunbury, Ga., is the place: 10,000 lush acres of live oaks, long views across riverbanks, marshes feeding seacoast ecosystems – wrapping around a bed and breakfast inn.

The same family now sharing these woods, waters, gardens and Colonial trails started with a Kings’ Grant Apr. 11 and 12, 1755: land grant the first day, marshes the second.

Find official family records from the British Crown in Atlanta; find Laura and Meredith Devendorf walking groomed trails, cooking in the gourmet kitchen, guiding kayakers on the waters.

This passionate, knowledgeable mother-daughter team carries on the family tradition, as they say it, “of preserving this section of Georgia’s coast for perpetuity, and for everyone.”

Undisturbed acres, centuries of family and now weekenders, girlfriend getaways, family vacationers. Destination weddings and retreats too.

They recently donated 2,300 acres called Melon Bluff for public access, scholarly research, conservation and education.

Ever heard of Sunbury? Think Savannah: 30 miles south.

Sleep in the Dunham Farms barn, or choose the 1840 Palmyra Plantation Cottage: heart pine, high ceilings, two bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining rooms.

Nine elegantly furnished rooms with private baths in the barn—some ground floor former stalls, some upstairs in the hayloft.

You’d never know you were in a barn if the Devendorf women didn’t tell growing up tales about their horses.

Hear their passion for undisturbed upland forests, beginnings of life in marsh mud and grasses, vast numbers of birds.

Storytellers supreme, this historian/arborist/culinary-artist, inn-keeping duo.

They also care about the depth of experiences within 15 minutes of their land. Sunbury’s a happening place once you know.

Should you venture:

-- Fort Morris State Historic Site: Revolutionary War and War of 1812

-- Seabrook Village: African American living history community

-- Melon Bluff Nature and Heritage Reserve

-- Colonial Coast birding trail sites

-- Geechee Kunda: Gullah Geechee Center

-- Marinas, fishing pier, small boat launch, boat tours

Fort Morris also tells the tale of Sunbury -- a thriving cultural center 200 years ago. Laid out in city squares, a busy port, rivaling Savannah.

Seabrook Village received one of 12 Cultural Olympiad awards when the Games were in Atlanta in 1996.

Vernacular architecture—intact and furnished buildings from the late 1800s when people leaving plantations formed an enduring community they named Seabrook.

“They had nothing,” says passionate volunteer Florence Tate Roberts, a direct descendent of former slaves who built Seabrook with what she calls “making do” creative problem solving skills.

Geechee Kunda exudes passion too, about a culture within a culture. This former 4,000-acre rice, indigo and cotton plantation is filled with cultural treasures.

Passionate about protecting, researching and accurately sharing the heritage of African people are Jim and Pat Bacote.

“As we teach the true history of the African presence here,” Jim says gently, “healing can come about.”

“We Gullah/Geechees are African people with a distinct culture and language created by our ancestors,” Jim notes.

“We value the importance of gathering and handing down the knowledge.”

Other knowledge seekers? Archeologists examining the Devendorf land.

David Hurst Thomas is curator of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History.

He documents the silver coin found at Dunham Farms to be from the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, predating St. Augustine by 30 years.

That’s big.

Thomas already spent 30 years exploring nearby St. Catherines Island, discovering the Spanish mission Santa Catalina de Guale.

Now he’s also working with Laura and Meredith Devendorf to determine what history awaits discovery under their pristine land.

Spanish missions here before Oglethorpe arrived in Savannah? 1526 it seems.

Fine incentive for more nights and meals at Dunham Farms. Perhaps I could choose from their big list of special events and guided hikes and paddles.

Full moon guided kayaking anyone?


Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the Tifton (Ga.) Gazette.

Follow her at and @TibsTravel

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