Cumberland Island National Seashore | PLUM ORCHARD MANSION

Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Free, 45-minute guided tours of Plum Orchard Mansion are given each day that the ferry operates, except when the area is closed during managed hunts that take place on select weekends from October through January. Tour times are currently at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 2 PM, but times can change due to the season and staff availability. Before heading to the mansion, be sure to stop at the Sea Camp Ranger Station and ask if tours are being given. The current schedule is on the National Park Service’s Guided Tours web page for Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Plum Orchard Mansion is about 7.5 miles north of the Sea Camp dock, making a visit feasible only for day trippers with a bike, for those on the Lands and Legacies Tour (tour of the mansion is included), or for those who are camping on the island—or for those who either walk really fast or plan to jog to the mansion. A typical bicyclists can make the trip in about hour, so figure two hours for round-trip travel and an hour for the tour at a minimum. Add an hour if you stop at a few places along the way and maybe have a picnic at the mansion, and don’t discount the time you might need to spend if you miss the start of a tour and must wait an hour for the next one to begin.

There are three picnic tables on the grounds for you to enjoy a lunch before moving on to your next adventure, be that farther north or back to Sea Camp. If you are on the Lands and Legacies Tour, time for lunch is built into the tour time; you must bring your own food.

Picnicking at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Picnicking at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Plum Orchard is the home built by Lucy Carnegie in 1898 for her son George and his new bride Margaret Thaw. All of the Carnegie children were given homes on the island when they married, if they chose to live there, and this was the first to be built. Some of the homes still exist, while others have burned or fallen down.

Historic photo of Plum Orchard Mansion

Historical photo of Plum Orchard Mansion

The original home had a budget of $10,000 and was much smaller than the one standing today, but it still a mansion in just about anybody’s book. Margaret Thaw was from a very wealthy family, and she wanted a bigger house so she financed the additional two wings that were built on either side of the original structure, expanding the home to 22,000 square feet. When viewing the house from the front you can clearly differentiate the original structure from the additional wings—the original is that between the two chimneys on either side of the main entrance.

Original Plum Orchard house sits between two additional wings (Cumberland Island National Seashore)

Original Plum Orchard house sits between two additional wings (Cumberland Island National Seashore)

In the photo below you can see that at the end of each wing is what is essentially another mansion. The wings more than doubled the square footage of the original house.

One of the additional wings added to Plumb Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

One of the additional wings added to Plumb Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

After George died in 1921, Margaret lived at Plum Orchard for a few years before remarrying and moving to Paris. Its next occupants were Nancy and Marius Johnston, and the story of how they came to live at Plum Orchard is quite interesting. Nancy was the youngest of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie’s nine children, and one of three daughters. In 1904 she married the Carnegie’s stableman, an Irishman named James Hever. This was a huge scandal that made news is New York and Pittsburgh, and she was somewhat shunned from the family and sent to England (Uncle Andrew Carnegie gave them $20,000 and was one of the only family members not ashamed of the ordeal). After having one child, the couple returned to live on Long Island, New York, and had three more children.

Hever was a drunk and was known to beat Nancy, and she often traveled to Cumberland Island to stay with her mother. During these visits she met the island’s doctor, Marius Johnston (often incorrectly referenced as Johnson), and the two fell in love. At the time, Hever was dying of cancer. Lucy sent Johnston to Africa to avoid another scandal, but when Hever died in 1912, he returned and he and Nancy were married. An interesting side note is that he missed his return trip through England on the Titanic due to being ill.

Lucy Carnegie died in 1916, and her will forbade the siblings from selling the property. Within a decade the children were struggling to finance the maintenance of the island and its buildings. When Margaret moved out of Plum Orchard, the Trust set up by Lucy’s will chose the Johnstons to occupy the house because Marius had the income to pay for its upkeep—he came from a wealthy Kentucky “horse” family. Their heirs remained in the house until donating it to the U. S. Government in the early 1970s with the stipulation that the government would maintain the home, which it did not. It lay empty and falling apart for thirty years until legislation was passed to fund its restoration. It wasn’t until 2005 that $3 million worth of repairs began, taking until late 2007 to finish. Of course the mansion needs ongoing maintenance to keep it from reverting to its previous condition.

View from the front porch of Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

View from the front porch of Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Below are photos of the mansion’s interior. The furnishings are original to the Carnegie family, though they come from various sources, one being Dungeness Mansion. The children closed the mansion in the mid-1920s to save money, and over the years striped it of valuables such as marble fixtures, fireplace mantels, and furnishings, much of which ended up in their homes on Cumberland Island.

Main entrance foyer of Plum Orchard Mansion with Tiffany lamp and inglenook fireplace

Main entrance foyer of Plum Orchard Mansion with Tiffany lamp and inglenook fireplace

Main dining room of Plum Orchard Mansion with a portrait of Lucy Carnegie on the wall

Main dining room of Plum Orchard Mansion with a portrait of Lucy Carnegie on the wall

Plum Orchard Mansion Library (Cumberland Island National Seashore)

Plum Orchard Mansion Library (Cumberland Island National Seashore)

Gun Room of Plum Orchard Mansion with tortoise shell patterned Tiffany lamp

Gun Room of Plum Orchard Mansion with tortoise shell patterned Tiffany lamp

Woman's dressing room with fainting couch at Plum Orchard Mansion

Woman’s dressing room with fainting couch at Plum Orchard Mansion

Bathroom in one of the upstairs bedrooms at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Bathroom in one of the upstairs bedrooms at Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Child's bedroom, Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Child’s bedroom, Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Plum Orchard Mansion indoor swimming pool

Plum Orchard Mansion indoor swimming pool

DC Power panel in the basement of Plum Orchard Mansion

DC Power panel in the basement of Plum Orchard Mansion

Basement of Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Basement of Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Plum Orchard Mansion's coal-fired heater

Plum Orchard Mansion’s coal-fired heater

Coal-fired boiler of Plum Orchard Mansion

Coal-fired boiler of Plum Orchard Mansion

The grounds of the mansion are also open for exploration. As mentioned earlier, there are a few picnic tables on the property. There is also a pond located near the back of the mansion.

Grounds of Plum Orchard Mansion at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Grounds of Plum Orchard Mansion at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Pond behind Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

Pond behind Plum Orchard Mansion on Cumberland Island

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Last updated on April 13, 2022
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