AP NEWS

Group’s mission: Save the historic research vessel Kit Jones

December 17, 2017

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A group of people are banding together to save a work boat with a storied past that once traversed the ocean off Georgia’s coast.

The Kit Jones has been named one of Georgia’s most endangered historic structures, The Athens Banner-Herald reported .

For decades, the vessel ferried residents and visitors along with goods and supplies between Georgia’s Sapelo Island and the mainland.

It later was a research vessel for scientists and students of the University of Georgia and then the University of Mississippi.

In World War II, the vessel was drafted into service and served as a fireboat.

Dorothy O’Niell of Athens is among a loosely organized group now working to save the Kit Jones.

They aim to raise enough money to bring the boat from south Mississippi back to Georgia’s McIntosh County, the ship’s home for decades, and then restore it to service again.

Grass grows under the ship now as she lies in dry dock in Mississippi, but their hope is to raise enough money to bring her back to Georgia and McIntosh County, the ship’s home for decades, and then restore the Kit Jones to service again.

The cost to bring the vessel to Georgia would be thousands of dollars. Boats deteriorate in dry dock, and the Kit Jones will have to be stabilized, including removing rigging installed on her deck, before being shipped overland to Darien.

O’Niell hopes that the Kit Jones might become a museum in McIntosh County.

The boat was built on Sapelo Island in the late 1930s with Sapelo pine and oak for tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, who owned the island. It is named for the wife of one of the men who developed Sea Island into a resort where presidents came to vacation.

Designed by a New York firm of maritime architects better known for their yachts, the Kit Jones’ design is that of a tugboat. The man in charge of building her was a Danish immigrant who’d never built a boat, though his sons became boat builders.

After the war, Reynolds got the vessel back and the Kit Jones once again ferried people and cargo from Sapelo to the dock at Meridian, Georgia.

In the 1950s, University of Georgia ecologist Eugene Odum had persuaded Reynolds of the enormous importance of Georgia’s marshes. Reynolds let Odum and other scientists use the boat as a research vessel as Odum launched the UGA Marine Institute.

Later, Reynolds gave the ship to the University of Georgia and transferred the part of Sapelo he owned, which was most of it, to the state.

In the 1980s, the university got more modern vessels and sold the Kit Jones to the University of Mississippi, which also employed the ship as a research vessel.

Hurricane Katrina capsized the Kit Jones, but didn’t destroy her. Righted and restored after Katrina, the tug continued as a research vessel for the University of Mississippi until she went into dry dock in 2013. A group called the McIntosh County Rod and Gun Club now has title to the ship.

AP RADIO
Update hourly