Last Updated on February 16, 2023
To be completely honest, I didn’t know very much about the novelist Eugenia Price before my visit to St. Simon’s Island several years ago. This charming destination is one of five Golden Isles nestled along Georgia’s southeast Atlantic Coast.
But while there, I happened to visit Christ Church Frederica. It was on this very site where John and Charles Wesley preached a sermon before returning to England to found the Methodist Church. Though the original structure built in 1820 was destroyed in the Civil War, the Gothic-style church was rebuilt in 1886—now serving as the third oldest Episcopal parish in the country.
Its stained-glass windows depict biblical stories. The church’s cemetery, a resting place for the island’s earliest and most notable residents, serenely carpets the ground under ancient moss-draped oaks. While waiting for my docent to arrive, I felt compelled to slip out the back door and head to the cemetery. Through the drizzle, I pulled up the hood on my rain jacket and began exploring the grounds.
I walked past gravestones of early island settlers, plantation owners, and Christ Church builder-deacon Anson Greene Phelps Dodge along with his two wives and child. There are also unmarked graves dating back to 1796.
Then I came across the Eugenia Price St. Simon’s Island gravesite. It’s not as though there was anything special about the site. A flat stone engraved with her name and the dates of her birth and death. I couldn’t make out all the words below her name, however I did read, “Light and eternity and love and all are mine at last.”
Next to her was the gravestone of Joyce Knight Blackstone.
I’m not sure what drew me in or continued piquing my interest, but on the trip, I asked questions, and when I returned home, I started researching the intriguing life of Eugenia Price.
A Charleston, West Virginia native, Eugenia Price spent most of her career in the northeast. She was living in Chicago at the time of her visit to St. Simon’s Island with her lifelong friend and colleague, children’s book author Joyce Blackburn.
On a whim, Eugenia Price and Blackburn decided to visit St. Simon’s Island after Price finished a book signing in Florida. It would seem the four-mile drive over the bridge from the mainland to the stunning barrier isle was about to change their lives forever.
The writers fell head over heels in love with St. Simon’s, its moss-draped oaks, shimmering beaches, and rippled-grass marshes. They were drawn in with its history, especially after discovering the graves of James Gould, the builder of the original St. Simon’s Lighthouse and those of the Dodge families.
In the mid-1960s, Price and Blackburn permanently moved to St. Simon’s Island. Three years after meticulously researching the area, including the Dodge and Gould families and their descendants, Price published her popular St. Simon’s romance trilogy: “Lighthouse, “New Moon Rising” and “The Beloved Invader.” She became the South’s most popular writer of antebellum romantic fiction.
Over the years, her spiritual and geographic journeys inspired her writing. She also brought renewed interested in the history and beauty of the Golden Isles of St. Simons, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Cumberland Island and Little St. Simons Island. It is often said that it was because of her writing that more visitors became interested in traveling to this breathtaking region.
A substantial number of tourists visiting the island each year come specifically to scout out the houses, marshes, and other haunts of Eugenia Price that she historically and compellingly described in her novels.
Price demonstrated steadfast commitment to the community. A truly liberated woman of the sixties, she worked tirelessly to ensure the island’s precious treasures—its marshes, beaches, indigenous flora and wildlife–would not be harmed by growing industry or development. She supported the preservation of its renowned historical sites like Fort Frederica National Monument and the Lighthouse Museum.
But a social creature she was not, and therefore did not have a highly visible presence in St. Simon’s Island society. She preferred a quiet evening at home surrounded by her close circle of friends.
Learning more about Price’s life gave me a deeper appreciation of the island. As a matter of fact, on a return visit, I made it a point–like many other visitors–to spend time in the places she so beautifully described in her novels. These included St. Simon’s Island Lighthouse Museum, Christ Church Frederica, Cannon’s Point Preserve and Gasgoigne Bluff. They had a richer meaning to me after reading her novels and the story of her well-lived life.
At the time of her death in 1996, Price had written 14 novels, 22 inspirational books and three autobiographies. She sold more than 40 million books in 18 languages. True to her dedication, she finished her last book, “The Waiting Time,” only a few short weeks before she died on May 28th. When she was laid to rest in Christ Church Frederica cemetery, it was of no surprise, a private ceremony. She was never married and never had children.
While at Christ Church Frederica, I stopped in the cemetery once again to pay respect to a woman who followed her heart and her dreams. I wanted to show gratitude for the life she dedicated to preservation and conservation, and for inspiring others to fall in love with this resplendent isle she captured so beautifully with her words.
“Light and eternity and love and all are mine at last.”