Human activity on Sapelo Island spans over 4000 years. The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indians who used the island to fish and hunt. Their legacy is evident by the numerous shell middens located throughout the island, including a shell ring 15 feet high and 200 feet in diameter. In the early 1800’s, Sapelo Island underwent significant change when Thomas Spalding, the son of a Scottish trader and planter, bought the island and developed it into a plantation.
Today, under the direction of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the island is home to the Sapelo Island National Esturine Research Reserve. The Reserve enables visitors to experience a typical barrier island natural community, from the diversified wildlife of the forested uplands to the vast expanses of Spartina salt marsh and the complex beach and dunes system. Exhibits and displays at the Sapelo Island Visitor Center interpret the island’s natural and cultural history including the Native American builders of the shell rings and the Spanish Indian Missions, while public tours enable the visitor to experience the African-American community of Hog Hammock, the University of Georgia Marine Institute and the Coffin-Reynolds mansion. Private tours to visit the shell ring site are provided by local residents of the island.