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History of

The Cassina Garden Club


 

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Cassina Garden Club, Glynn County’s first garden club, was organized in 1928 with nine charter members: Mrs. Martha Baker, Mrs. D.C. McCaskill, Mrs. Bernice Cain, Mrs. James Shadman, Mrs. Hoyt Cain, Mrs. William Shadman, Miss Betty Curry, Mrs. N.C. Young, and Miss Madge Merritt.

 In 1932, the Glynn County Commissioners were persuaded to renovate the two crumbling tabby houses on Gascoigne Bluff that had formerly been Hamilton Plantation slave cabins and to allow the Cassina Garden Club to use them for their meetings.  In 1934, after the Club had furnished the cabins and landscaped the grounds, the entire project was entered in a national “More Beautiful America” contest where it won an Award of Merit.

Over the years Cassina has sponsored many civic beautification projects. From 1933 until 1970 the Club planted azaleas in Christ Church cemetery to beautify the grounds.  In 1937, Cassina sponsored the first Garden Club of Georgia pilgrimage. That same year the Club organized the Boy Scout movement on St. Simons Island and helped build a scout hut. Cassina continued as sponsor of this troop until 1940 when another civic organization assumed leadership.

In 1937, the Club sponsored and organized the St. Simons Public Library in the old County Casino.   Also in 1937, the Club conceived the idea of a cookbook, Coastal Cookery, containing hand-written recipes and hand-drawn sketches typical of the coastal area of Georgia. Proceeds were used to construct a kitchen for the tea cabin.  These funds continue to provide for major repairs to the cabins.  A 65th Anniversary edition of the cookbook was published in 2002 and received a National Garden Club award. A copy of the first edition is now on display in the cabins.

The Club sponsored its first Junior Garden Club in 1937. The Little Cassina Berries, a club for educationally challenged first and second graders, was organized in 1991.  For these programs, the Club received a first place award from the National Council of State Garden Clubs in 1992.

Cassina members sponsored their first Camellia Show in January 1947 and made this an annual event until 1972.

Through the efforts of the Wildlife and Conservation Committee of the Club, Gascoigne Bluff was declared a bird sanctuary in 1957 and in 1995, the Club had the entire island declared a Bird Sanctuary.

The Club has adopted the State Champion Southern Red Cedar Tree (Juniperus virginiana) located adjacent to the cabins. The site has a marker identifying this special tree.  Among plantings on the grounds of the cabins is a memorial garden where azaleas are planted to honor the memory of deceased members.

Another project, a Tour of Homes, was first held as a Christmas time fund raising effort in 1985.  The slave cabins and five island homes were decorated for the holidays and opened to the public.  This effort has become so successful that it continues annually, thus allowing the Club to support a number of other community projects in addition to maintaining the cabins and their grounds.  In the spring of 2007, the Club held its first Garden Walk to benefit the historic preservation of its cabins and grounds.  This three-day event included eight private gardens and a renowned landscape designer speaker. This highly successful event has now become an annual activity of the Club.

Wednesday mornings during June, July and August, members of the Club who serve as docents, welcome visitors to the cabins. The local Elderhostel regularly includes a tour of the cabins as part of its program on local historic landmarks.

Because of its strong commitment to the care and preservation of the cabins, in 1950 Cassina Garden Club was presented with the deed to its historic slave cabins on Gascoigne Bluff.  On June 30, 1988, these cabins were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2001, members of the club produced a video as a documentary to depict the history of the club and to describe its long-standing dedication to preservation and to civic beautification. In 2002, the National Garden Club honored Cassina with its Video Program Award.

Recognizing its obligation to assure the structural stability of the cabins and to maintain the surrounding grounds, in 2001 Cassina members approved an ambitious project to restore the deteriorating tabby and wood trim on the exterior of the cabins.  The cabin restoration effort was funded by a Georgia Heritage grant from the Historic Preservation Division of the DNR, matched by Cassina cookbook and Tour of Homes funds, plus a donation from the Friends of Coastal Georgia History.  In 2005, the club received the prestigious Excellence in Stewardship Award from The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Cassina celebrated its 75th Anniversary in February 2003 with a special commemorative luncheon. One hundred members, including 10 past presidents, enjoyed a reflective review of the club’s history.  Sea Island Company, also observing its 75th  anniversary, planted a live oak tree on Cassina cabin grounds.

In recent years Cassina has received numerous top awards from the National Garden Club and the Garden Club of Georgia for its newsletter and its yearbook, which includes the written history of the club’s founding more than 75 years ago.

Cassina is proud of its role as caretaker of the historically significant Gascoigne Bluff site, which represents a part of the island’s cultural heritage.  The club maintains its commitment to garden club goals of beautification, conservation and education in its many works of community service.


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