Another one of my goals as a newly transplanted wannabe Savannahian is to explore the Georgia coast. Darien was the closest city, and it appealed to me because they have an old jail that they’ve turned into an art center, a fort, and the legend of Altie (a Sea Monster, what else could it be?).
The Old Jail Art Center
The Old Jail Art Center is located at 404 North Way just before historic downtown Darien. The McDonald Brothers Jail Building Company constructed the jail in 1888. Today, it is part local gallery (5 rooms solely dedicated to art exhibits) and part museum. The cells are still intact, and there are plenty of exhibits on display inside them! The museum is free, but donations are accepted. There is even a gift shop downstairs. The McIntosh Art Association offers painting, pottery, and even creative writing classes here. This is a charming and oh so worthwhile venue.
Fort King George
The fort was constructed in 1721 and was abandoned in 1732. What you see here today is a replication from maps and drawings. It’s funny because I called that from the parking lot. I looked at Bob and said: “This is what Disney World thinks a fort is.” It is nicely done, and an enjoyable stop, but just know that you are not walking through buildings from the 1700s. When you go in the visitor center to pay, you need to make a left and walk through the museum. Then, make like you are back in elementary school and watch the film. You’ll actually get a kick out of it. It will give you the cliff’s notes version of the history of Darien becoming a seaport, the Guale Indians, and the Santo Domingo de Talaje mission.
Once inside the block house, climb to the top and look through the window out into the Altamaha River. This is actually one of the most popular spots to try and find Altie.
The buildings may not be authentic, but the grounds are beautiful, and this is where you hear the history if you are listening. Ruins of the sawmill and some tabby ruins are still on the grounds. When you leave the blockhouse, take the nature trail back to your car.
I can’t guarantee this for future guests, but there was a very brazen raccoon out there who really amused me. He trotted out of nowhere and made a direct play for the trashcan right outside the visitor’s center. I was rooting for him, but I guess it was a slow day and he left empty-handed. He was a fast little sucker too. I couldn’t even get a photo.
Altie – Darien, GA
The aquatic cryptid (sea monster) is very serious business. There is an entire pamphlet devoted to Altie that can be picked up from the very sad and empty outlet mall directly off the interstate (Exit 49). The first Altie sightings date back to the 17th century with the Yamasee Indians. The most recent reporting is from a fisherman in 2002. I would love to take a boat down the Altamaha River in search of Altie.