Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia

Date added: September 28, 2023 Categories: Georgia House Mansion
Front (east) facade, closer view looking southwest (2000)

Greyfield is one of four major late 19th-century and early 20th-century estates established on Cumberland Island for the children of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and used as seasonal family resorts. They date from the period of time when the Carnegie family owned most of Cumberland Island. The ruins of the parents' estate known as Dungeness still exists at the southern end of the island. Other surviving Carnegie children's estates on Cumberland Island include Stafford and Plum Orchard. The Greyfield estate is remarkably intact with its original main house, several historic outbuildings, and landscaping along with a tract of island land from the river on the west to the ocean on the east.

The main house at Greyfield is a fine example of an early 20th-century resort or second home built in the Colonial Revival style by the newly formed Pittsburgh architectural firm of MacClure and Spahr. MacClure had been the junior member and had run the Pittsburgh branch in the late 1890s for the prestigious Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, who had designed the additions to Dungeness (c.1896) as well as the Plum Orchard (c.1898) house and the Cottage (1899) on Cumberland Island for the Carnegie family. The Greyfield main house is an excellent example of a casual-looking but carefully studied "vernacular" Colonial Revival architecture on scale seen almost nowhere else in Georgia except the early 20th Century suburbs of Atlanta. Character-defining features of the style include its overall form, massing, and symmetry, in particular its long, narrow proportions and raised main level, derived from the rural architecture of farmhouses. Important exterior details include the monumental front porch colonnade, the paneled pilasters, the quarter-round attic windows, and dormers. A Colonial Revival design "conceit" is the use of contrasting exterior surface materials: wood weatherboards for the front and back, and stucco for the sides. Significant interior design features include paneled wainscot, paneled pilasters and columns, fireplace mantels, crown molding, and stairways with multiple returns and partial enclosures. The house retains almost all of its original materials including heart pine floors, cabinets, plaster walls, original mantels and chimneys, as well as room arrangement and full-length front porch. The house also retains most of its original furnishings. A number of original auxiliary buildings also remain to reflect the staffing requirements for such a large home.

The house was built in 1901 to be the seasonal resort home of Lucy and Thomas Carnegie's daughter Margaret Ricketson (1872-1927) and her husband, Oliver G. Ricketson, of Pittsburgh, one of several family homes on Cumberland Island, the southernmost of Georgia's golden isles. By the late 19th century, wealthy northerners had become involved in one way or the other with most of Georgia's coastal islands, most notably in forming the Jekyll Island Club on Jekyll Island, immediately north of Cumberland Island. The family of Thomas Carnegie (who had died 1886), a brother of steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, eventually built several homes on Cumberland Island; those are Stafford and Plum Orchard, as well as the Dungeness house site and ruins. The Ricketsons, who had married in 1891, lived in Pittsburgh and used the Greyfield house on a seasonal basis during four or five months of the winter for visits and entertaining friends and family. The death of Mrs. Lucy Carnegie in 1916 ended the high water mark of Carnegie life on the island. Greyfield has remained in the private ownership of the Ricketson family descendants since the Carnegie's Cumberland Island Trust ended in 1962 down to the present day. The property has always remained occupied and was opened as the Greyfield Inn in 1962.

People have lived on Cumberland Island for thousands of years: Indians living off the riches of the marsh, briefly the French, then Spanish priests in the 1600s, later British soldiers, and plantation owners and the slaves who worked for them from the 1700s through the mid-1860s. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the former slaves, now free, continued to live and work on the island. After the Civil War, many northern industrialists began to cast their eyes on Georgia's coastal islands, and one by one, various families became associated with different ones. Thus it was with the Carnegies. Thomas M. Carnegie and his more famous brother Andrew, amassed millions of dollars manufacturing steel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy Coleman Carnegie, when they decided to seek a second home/winter getaway, chose to purchase land on Georgia's southernmost Golden Isle, Cumberland, rather than other more obvious and popular resorts favored by their contemporaries, such as Newport, Rhode Island, or Palm Beach, Florida. Cumberland Island was then and still is accessible only by boat (or now airplane) and was thus very remote.

In 1881 Thomas Carnegie purchased 4,000 acres on Cumberland Island for $35,000. On this land he built Dungeness, a 40-room late-19th-century Victorian mansion, begun in 1884 and opened in 1885. Carnegie died suddenly in 1886, at age 44. At his death, his widow, Lucy, was made the sole beneficiary of his estate and thus the sole owner of the Cumberland Island property. In 1882, the Stafford tract had been purchased and that included the land on which Greyfield was later built. Following his death, the Thomas Morrison Carnegie, Sr., Estate purchased an additional 12,000 acres on the island. After Andrew Carnegie sold the Carnegie Steel Company in 1901 to J. P. Morgan and partners, Lucy Carnegie was able to increase her children's allowances and purchase more land on Cumberland. At Lucy Carnegie's death in 1916, she owned 16,000 acres, the greatest percentage of the island of any landowner, although there were other landowners on the north end.

The Greyfield tract and house takes the name from a much earlier landowner, John W. Gray, who purchased that portion of the island in 1825.

Greyfield, the house, was built for Lucy's daughter Margaret C. Ricketson (1872-1927) and her husband Oliver G. Ricketson. It was one of four homes on Cumberland owned by the Carnegie children, part of a Carnegie Estate which "at one time resembled a small principality with the merchant prince's house being [Lucy's] home, Dungeness." (Quote from the Carnegie Estate, Cumberland Island Records, Graphic Records.)

The Carnegie homes, like those of other millionaire industrialists who built at Newport, Rhode Island, and Palm Beach, Florida, and at the nearby Jekyll Island Club and cottages on the Georgia island just north of Cumberland, were the scene of much entertaining where the nation's elite enjoyed the gilded times in which they lived. There were horses to ride, pools to swim in, places to hunt, a golf course, croquet lawns, tennis courts, extensive gardens and a dairy farm to wander around.

Lucy Carnegie's role in the building of Greyfield is documented in the book by her great-granddaughter, Mary R. Bullard. When the Stafford House of another child burned, Lucy "directed that the Ricketsons' house should have precedence over the reconstruction of Stafford Place" and "mother and manager worked together to create a harmonious building schedule so that there would be no quarreling within her family."

The architects for Greyfield were Colbert A. MacClure and Albert H. Spahr of the Pittsburgh firm of MacClure and Spahr. MacClure had been first a draftsman and later in the 1890s had been a junior partner of the Boston-based firm of Peabody and Stearns, a nationally known firm. Moving from Boston to Pittsburgh, he had managed the Pittsburgh branch office for Peabody and Stearns, the firm that had done the plans for the additions to Dungeness (c.1896), Plum Orchard (c.1899) and the Cottage (c.1899) on Cumberland for the Carnegies, and whose firm last appeared in the Pittsburgh city directories in 1899. By 1901, they no longer had a presence in Pittsburgh and their former junior partner, who presumably had worked with the Carnegies on the earlier projects, now created his own firm, and contracted to do the plans for Greyfield.

Colbert A. MacClure (1870-1912) graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1894. He worked for Peabody and Stearns in Boston as a draftsman and was sent in the 1890s to open their branch office in Pittsburgh. After that association dissolved, and after a year back in Boston, he returned to Pittsburgh and formed his own firm with Albert H. Spahr (1874-1966). Spahr, who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1896, continued the firm after MacClure's death until 1923 when he moved to Massachusetts and, according to one source, became a portrait painter. Many buildings designed by their firm survive in Pittsburgh.

Letters survive in the Carnegie Estate Records between William Page, Mrs. Carnegie's estate manager, and the architects, starting with April 1901. Mr. Page wrote that "any departure from this simplicity [of design] will ruin the effect of the house in the opinion of the owners." Bullard speculates that her grandfather Oliver Ricketson's "desire for a simple house may have been a reaction to his mother-in-law's pretentious Dungeness."

Greyfield itself is virtually unchanged from the days when Lucy Carnegie oversaw the family estate. For example:

Guests still sit on original Chippendale chairs in the dining room table. A mahogany china cabinet is filled with antique china. A separate china closet holds sets of china and crystal goblets, including separate 24 glass sets of crystal for sherries, ports, and champagne.

Photographs, paintings, artwork and furnishings are original with the house and include such notable heirlooms as two Alfred Eastman watercolors and eight William Morris chairs.

Books in the living room and the library down the hall date back to the early 1800s. A number of volumes are first editions. Some are signed by Lucy Carnegie. Back issues of Harper's Weekly date from the 1860s. In the hallway leading north from the living room, a grandfather clock dated 1889 still chimes.

A 20-foot by 4-foot linen cabinet, with 4-foot deep drawers and closets that extend on either side. Some of the original bed linens and ornate brocade curtains are still stored there.

The lifestyle of the Ricketsons who inhabited Greyfield at the turn of the 19th to 20th Century was much like Lucy Coleman Carnegie's life at Dungeness, though not to the same extent. Nevertheless, Greyfield was part of a vast Carnegie estate that stretched from the southern tip of the island north to Plum Orchard. When the Carnegies wintered on Cumberland, they tried to be self-sufficient, wanting for nothing, attempting to have as few inconveniences as possible. At Greyfield, family and friends partied, ate well from the bounty on the island and its waters, played croquet on the front lawn, rode horses stabled in the barn, took the children on fishing trips, hunted local game, and participated in the goings-on at Dungeness.

With Lucy Carnegie's death in 1916, the grandest era of the Carnegie Estate came to an end. Dungeness, the house were she lived, was closed up, to be reopened only one more time, for a family wedding. It burned in 1959 and the ruins remain on the south end of the island.

Greyfield was used as the winter residence of one of the Carnegie children, Margaret Carnegie Ricketson, for whom it was built, during the fall and winter, a winter retreat. She and her family typically stayed four to five months, with other periodic visits. Family members and friends would be invited to stay at the main residence, Greyfield. Otherwise, the family resided in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Oliver Ricketson was an investor and a "capitalist." At one time there was a staff of ten, including household staff, to run the house. Most were needed for the grounds and household functions. Only two or three of these lived in the main residence. The rest lived in various other structures on the premises.

Margaret Carnegie Ricketson (1872-1927), the mistress of Greyfield, was one of Lucy and Thomas Carnegie's nine children who grew up visiting Dungeness and Cumberland Island during the fall and winter. Once the children were grown and began to marry, there was a need for separate homes for them and their families on the island. Margaret married Oliver Ricketson, of Pittsburgh, in 1891. By the time Greyfield was built, starting in 1901, their two children, Oliver, Jr. (1894-1952), and Lucy (later Mrs. Ferguson, 1899-1989), named for her grandmother, had been born.

The ownership of the Carnegie land on Cumberland Island remained undivided, per the will of Lucy Carnegie, as the Cumberland Island Trust, until the death of her last child. The trust specified that "no physical division of the property could take place until the death of the last surviving child" of Lucy Carnegie and no interest in ownership could be given to a spouse. When the last child died in 1962, Lucy's grandchildren, the descendants of the five children whose parents had land and houses on Cumberland, were then able in 1964 to see the land divided. The details of this division of the land are covered in the book by Mary R. Bullard and resulted in the Ricketson descendants obtaining title/ownership to the Greyfield Tract. Each of the five branches of the Carnegie family got a portion on the south part of Carnegie estate, as well as a portion on the northern part. It is the southern portion, which contained the Greyfield house. The northern portion, consisting of 1,148 acres, was sold to the National Park Service in 1999.

Eventually, with the death of Margaret "Retta" Carnegie Ricketson in 1927, her interest in the Carnegie Estate rights to Greyfield had passed to her two children, and eventually to her daughter, Lucy, who had married Robert Weeks Ferguson. Ferguson was a self-employed farmer and also a state representative for Camden County from 1939 until 1943. He died in 1968.

Lucy Ferguson (1899-1989), when she became the mistress of Greyfield, began to reside there year-round, and was known to many as "Miss Lucy." She continued the tradition of inviting family and friends for visits. lt was Lucy Ferguson who opened the house as an inn in 1962. Lucy had four children, Rick, Retta, Cindy and Robert. Lucy was well-known in Georgia for her protection of Cumberland Island and for retaining ownership of Greyfield when other Carnegie relations transferred property to the National Park Service in the 1970s when the Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972. She died in 1989.

Great-great grandson, Mitty Ferguson, is currently involved in the day-to-day operation of the inn and is one of the two General Partners. Most family members are on committees or participate in the management of the business through periodic meetings.

By virtue of the fact that Greyfield was opened as an inn in March 1962, the Carnegie descendants who own it have been able to preserve it and its rich history.

Greyfield, as Greyfield Inn, has been featured in many national publications and videos, and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The Greyfield house and tract is currently owned by the Greyfield Limited Partnership.

Site Description

Greyfield is an estate consisting of a main house (also called Greyfield), outbuildings, and landscaping on a 200-acre tract of Cumberland Island, near the southern end of the island, stretching from Cumberland Sound on the west to the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost of the barrier islands along Georgia's Atlantic coast.

The main house, also called Greyfield, is a two-story mansion house with a raised basement and a finished attic built beginning in 1901. The house is on the western side of Cumberland Island, along the Intracoastal Waterway and facing east toward the Main Road and the Atlantic Ocean. The main house was built by Margaret Carnegie Ricketson and her husband, Oliver Ricketson, who had married in 1891. The house was one of several built by members of the Carnegie family within the Carnegie family estate on Cumberland and was said to have been completed in 1905. The architects were MacClure and Spahr, of Pittsburgh, where the Carnegies and Ricketsons lived most of the rest of the year when not on Cumberland Island.

Greyfield has been used continuously by four generations of Carnegie descendants. Opened to the public as an inn in 1962, Greyfield remains essentially unchanged.

The house is a large, frame, rectangular-shaped Colonial Revival-style building that is weatherboarded front and back, stuccoed on its exterior ends, and on its original brick footings. The original stuccoed exterior end chimneys survive. The house has a front-facade-length porch on the main floor; the originally open second-floor porch was enclosed in the 1930s. The side-gabled roof is covered with red-painted sheet metal. Exterior architectural details include monumental square columns, paneled pilasters, quarter-round attic windows, and dormers.

The raised basement level contains the dining room, kitchen, and offices. The kitchen retains its heart-pine cabinets, original windows, built-in china cabinets, and original tiled floor. A back kitchen still has the old wood-burning stove, which has been adapted for current use. The original china closet opens off the northeast corner of the back kitchen. A small innkeeper's office off the northwest corner still houses what were the original electrical panels for the house.

The mansion's three chimneys remain intact. All the rooms have fireplaces, except for the original second-floor sleeping porch rooms. The south-end chimney is still in use for fireplaces in the raised basement dining room and main-floor living room. The north end chimney and one central chimney which provided heat to the library, gun room, and two upstairs bedrooms are not used.

At the front of the house, the main floor is reached by a broad sweep of outside stairs leading to the full-length front porch which runs the length of the east side of the house. From this porch one enters the front door and into the main floor stair-hallway. Once entering the house on the main floor, to the left is the pine-paneled living room, originally stained to look like mahogany. To the north of it, is the original gun room, which now serves as a small bar for inn guests. The bar itself is a fireplace mantle rescued from Dungeness on Cumberland Island, the home of the original owner's mother, Lucy Carnegie. Beyond that is the original library and a library suite, which served as the tutor's room when the house was first built. The floors, wainscoting, solid doors, and window frames are all of heart pine. All original fireplaces are intact. Original glass still graces the windows throughout the house. The original plaster remains on the interior walls.

The second floor contains eight original bedrooms, now guest suites and bathrooms, one of which is the original master bedroom suite. The former master bedroom suite still occupies the entire south end of the second floor, with its own private sitting room and bath. The other rooms include the enclosed sleeping porch rooms and the "south marsh room," in which Lucy Carnegie's granddaughter and namesake, Lucy Ricketson (later Ferguson), when given a ring with a diamond in it, and having heard diamonds can cut glass, autographed the window in her room and etched the date, 1915.

The finished attic, as originally conceived, was home for Greyfield's indoor maids and, later, inn employees. Notably, from day one, it had indoor plumbing. In 1998, a second bath was added and the space now serves as two additional guest rooms with baths. There are three dormer windows on each side.

The house is set well back from the historic one-lane unpaved Main Road that runs north-south throughout the middle of the island. Ancient live oaks predominate on the property, along with cabbage palms and low-growing saw palmettos.

There are various outbuildings on the site, including barns and cottages that once served as homes for the staff.

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Front (east) facade looking southwest (2000)
Front (east) facade looking southwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Front (east) facade, closer view looking southwest (2000)
Front (east) facade, closer view looking southwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia South facade on right, west facade on left looking northeast (2000)
South facade on right, west facade on left looking northeast (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia South facade showing chimney and porch looking northwest (2000)
South facade showing chimney and porch looking northwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia West facade entrances and rear porch looking east (2000)
West facade entrances and rear porch looking east (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Raised basement, main dining room in southwest corner looking southwest (2000)
Raised basement, main dining room in southwest corner looking southwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Main floor, covered porch on east side/front facade looking south (2000)
Main floor, covered porch on east side/front facade looking south (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Main floor, foyer and main stair, looking toward living room looking south (2000)
Main floor, foyer and main stair, looking toward living room looking south (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Main floor, living room looking southwest (2000)
Main floor, living room looking southwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Main floor, library looking west (2000)
Main floor, library looking west (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Second floor,
Second floor, "north marsh" bedroom at northwest corner of house looking northeast (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Second floor hall near main stairs, doors on right open to
Second floor hall near main stairs, doors on right open to "south porch room" looking northwest (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Second floor
Second floor "porch twin room" on the floor plan in northeast corner of house looking north (2000)

Greyfield Estate, Cumberland Island St. Marys Georgia Second floor, master bedroom suite showing adjacent room center right with fireplace in the
Second floor, master bedroom suite showing adjacent room center right with fireplace in the "master sitting room" looking southwest (2000)