Cumberland Island National Seashore | DUNGENESS MANSION GROUNDS

Dungeness Mansion Ruins at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Dungeness Mansion Ruins at Cumberland Island National Seashore

A tour of the grounds on the backside of Dungeness Mansion at Cumberland Island National Seashore is not part of the Cell Phone Audio Tour, but anyone interested in history will certainly want to explore the area. You should be near the statue of Mercury at this point on the tour, so head over and take a look at the rear of the mansion ruins.

By the 1950s, much of the Dungeness area was in a dilapidated state. The remaining Carnegie children had been prevented from selling the land by their mother’s will, and their dwindling incomes made it impossible for them to maintain the many buildings on the island. Weather, termites, and general age all contributed to the problem, and as a result, today the land around Dungeness mansion is full of structural ruins.

Back side of Dungeness Mansion

Back side of Dungeness Mansion

View from the backside of the ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

View from the backside of the ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

The backyard of Dungeness is made up of two terraces. The upper level was used as a typical yard, and here, in addition to the mansion itself, you will find an old fountain built in 1896. An information panel next to it describes the extravagant lifestyle the Carnegies had while living on Cumberland Island.

Fountain and view of the Dungeness Manion's backyard, Cumberland Island National Seashore

Fountain and view of the Dungeness Manion’s backyard, Cumberland Island National Seashore

Ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Ruins of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Directly behind you are steps that lead down to the next level. The upper terrace is held in place by a retaining wall that runs the length of the yard, and it is a good ten foot difference in height between the upper and lower levels. The wall was originally built by the Millers in 1827 for their garden, and the Carnegies expanded upon the idea, filling in marshland and building a dike system to create a massive fruit and vegetable garden that would help Lucy Carnegie fulfill her goal of making the island self-sufficient. In the 1950s the gardens were abandoned, and much of the land has been reclaimed by the marsh, leaving only the lower yard that you see today.

Garden at Dungeness

Garden at Dungeness

Stairs to the lower terrace of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Stairs to the lower terrace of Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Just stick to exploring the upper terrace for now, as the tour of the ruins will bring you down below and to the edge of the marsh. At either level, horses love to graze in the fields, so this is a prime location to see them.

Wild horses of Cumberland Island on the lower terrace behind Dungeness Mansion

Wild horses of Cumberland Island on the lower terrace behind Dungeness Mansion

When done exploring the ruins and the upper yard of Dungeness, head back towards the Mercury statue and take the path into the woods. The first structure you will come to is a tabby building with a tin roof and two chimneys. It is open, but there is nothing inside other than a dirt floor. This was the Garden House built in 1843 by the heirs of Louisa Shaw, the daughter of Catherine and Phineas Miller. The Carnegies used it to grow gourmet mushrooms.

Garden House used to grow mushrooms, Cumberland Island National Seashore

Garden House used to grow mushrooms, Cumberland Island National Seashore

The next building is a former greenhouse and a seed and equipment storage facility built by the Carnegies around 1900. The triangular roof is made of wood, but the rest of both buildings is made of tabby.

Greenhouse at Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Greenhouse at Dungeness Mansion on Cumberland Island

Outer wall of the Dungeness seed and equipment storage building on Cumberland Island

Outer wall of the Dungeness seed and equipment storage building on Cumberland Island

Interior of the Dungeness seed and equipment storage building on Cumberland Island

Interior of the Dungeness seed and equipment storage building on Cumberland Island

The gravel path leads farther into the woods and to the shore of Cumberland Sound, but there are no buildings to see, so don’t go that way. Instead, walk to your left towards a ruin that has two large, rusted wheels in it. This is the remains of a water wheel built by Louisa Shaw’s heirs in 1843 and modified and modernized by the Carnegies. I’m not sure what its original purpose was, but the Carnegies used it not only for decorative purposes, but also to provided water to the fountain in the upper yard. I am guessing that the metal wheels were the hubs on which a large, wooden water wheel was attached, the same type of water wheel used on a mill.

Water wheel provided water for the Dungeness Mansion fountain on Cumberland Island

Water wheel provided water for the Dungeness Mansion fountain on Cumberland Island

Dungeness Mansion's water wheel building on Cumberland Island

Dungeness Mansion’s water wheel building on Cumberland Island

Unidentified metal hubs used at the Dungeness water wheel building on Cumberland Island

Unidentified metal hubs used at the Dungeness water wheel building on Cumberland Island

Entrance side of the Water Wheel Building at Dungeness on Cumberland Island

Entrance side of the Water Wheel Building at Dungeness on Cumberland Island

From the Water Wheel Building, continue down a well worn path to the next structure, a boat dock and small boat house. You can see from the following photo that you are not far from the actual mansion when down by the marsh.

Path to the Dungeness boat house, Cumberland Island National Seashore

Path to the Dungeness boat house, Cumberland Island National Seashore

View of Dungeness Mansion from the marsh, Cumberland Island National Seashore

View of Dungeness Mansion from the marsh, Cumberland Island National Seashore

The water in the marsh is only four feet deep during high tide, so no large vessels brought guests to the house using this route (guests arrived at the Dungeness Dock, located in the same place as the current dock). The structure you see today, known as the Beach Creek Dock House, was built in 1890 and used by the Carnegie men and their guests to launch their small boats for an afternoon of fishing, or perhaps waterfowl hunting, in the marsh. This location served as a boat launch even when Nathanael Greene owned the property.

Boat House ruins at Dungeness Mansion, Cumberland Island National Seashore

Boat House ruins at Dungeness Mansion, Cumberland Island National Seashore

View of the Cumberland Island marsh near Dungeness Mansion

View of the Cumberland Island marsh near Dungeness Mansion

From the boat dock, head back towards Dungeness mansion by following the tree line. You will see another mansion off to your right behind the trees: this is Stop #7 on the Cell Phone Audio Tour, The Grange. Skip this for now because the front entrance is on the road up ahead. Instead, as soon as you get back to the upper yard of the mansion, head to your left towards a large ruin. This is Stop #6 on the Cell Phone Audio Tour, the Recreation Building, though the sign for the tour is along the road on the other side from where you are. At this point you will have walked about a mile since leaving the ferry dock.

Path from the Dungeness boat house to the Recreation Building on Cumberland Island

Path from the Dungeness boat house to the Recreation Building on Cumberland Island


NEXT STOP: The Recreation Building | PREVIOUS STOP: The Tabby House


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Last updated on April 12, 2022
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