Although situated roughly 20 miles from downtown Savannah, Ossabaw Island might as well exist on another dimensional plane. In stark contrast to the mainland’s neatly manicured lawns and golf courses, Georgia’s third-largest barrier island remains defiantly wild. Enormous white oaks, some of them estimated to be more than 600 years old, draped in Spanish moss dominate the forests, along with magnolias, pine, wax myrtle, and sawtooth palmetto. By law, Ossabaw’s 13 miles of beaches are open to anyone able to access them by boat, but the entire island is protected from development indefinitely.
Save for the dock and a limited number of dirt roads, one of the only signs of human civilization is a pastel-pink Spanish Colonial Revival mansion. For the better part of a century, the sprawling 20,000-foot, 15-bedroom abode was the home of Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West, the heiress who lived on the island until a few years before her death at the age of 108 in 2021.
When the West family built the mansion in 1924, it was almost impossibly luxurious for its day. The Wests, who inherited a fortune from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, acquired the island shortly after moving from a suburb of Detroit to Savannah. A local property dealer agreed to sell them the entire 26,000-acre island of Ossabaw for $150,000—a steal, even at the time—and the family wanted to create accommodations befitting their status.
They often entertained guests in the Great Room, a palatial space decorated with taxidermied animal heads from their hunting trips in Africa and a 16-person dining table. At the time, the room’s 12-by-14-foot plate-glass window was the largest in North America.
Although the Ossabaw Island Foundation eventually hopes to raise funds to restore the mansion to its former glory, for the time being, it lies abandoned and looks much the way West left it. Visiting the island typically requires a special permit, but a few times a year, the foundation opens it up to visitors for cultural events. Visitors can admire the crumbling stucco walls and statues of the feral Ossabaw hogs that Sandy kept as pets, along with Sicilian donkeys, and several peacocks.
Know Before You Go
The Ossabaw Island Foundation hosts several cultural events each year, which are open to the public. Keep an eye on the schedule for opportunities to visit the island.