Over two centuries ago, before there was a United States, there was a Dutch Island. In records dating back to 1759, King George II granted 30 acres of land to Peter Radick, a planter. This is the first grant actually referred to what is now known as Dutch Island. This is also the first indication of a plantation name that we are able to show for the island.
On a crown dated June 5, 1759, the crown granted 50 acres on an island between Skidaway River and Thunderbolt Bluff to Michael Radick. The grant states that the Island is now called and known by the name of “Providence.” This is the second plantation named on the island and eventually consisted of approximately 100 acres.
The third name associated with a plantation on the Island appears in a grant from the crown to Henry Denzler. This grant conveys 50 acres of the Island which according to records was located north of vacant lands known by the name of Point Hope. The name “Point Hope” also appears in a warranty deed recorded and dated 1806 from Philip Denzler to Frederick and George Herb.
Dutch Island was once also referred to as Liberty Island. In a local newspaper clipping dated April 5, 1806, an ad was place by Mr. George Herb, who was offering a $5 reward for the return of a runaway slave named Sam.
Another family often recognized with a plantation on the island was the Gnann family. In 1827 there is was an ad placed offering a reward for the man who murdered a slave belonging to Mr. Gnann on Dutch Island.
The purpose of these grants was for stimulating agricultural production. The King was successful and both corn, cotton and potatoes grew in abundance. Later forests were allowed to reclaim the land and timber became the main crop. You can still see some of the remnants of plantation life in the form of grave sites. Many of the circular medians located throughout the island actually contain the graves of former plantation families. One such median, located on Mulberry Bluff Drive, still contains the actual tombstones.
It wasn’t until 1912 that Dutch Island really made a name for itself. Captain Matthew Batson, a visionary aviationist from Illinois, selected Dutch Island as the site for an airplane factory, lie planned to build a plane which would fly across the Atlantic Ocean. He constructed two airplanes, but both were failures, even though some documentation stated that one did fly for some few feet.
Reasons for choosing the Savannah area are sketchy, but Batson was probably influenced by the mild climate, good weather, and because Savannah had been the departure point of the first Trans-Atlantic Steamship voyage back in 1819. Batson announced that the first Trans-Atlantic aircraft would depart from Savannah, too. Captain Batson spoke too soon.
What seemed like a certain success ended up in a cloudy series of disasters. On November 7, 1913, the Aero Yacht was rolled into the Herb River. However, due to mechanical error, one of the propellers-was accidentally engaged, seriously damaging the plane. All activities were suspended. Then a smaller “air boat” called the Dragonfly was built by Batson in 1914. One eyewitness report claimed the Dragonfly did indeed take off for 30 minutes at an altitude of about 15 feet. The story was never substantiated.
Captain Matthew Batson’s dream ended with the final blow of a lawsuit and a sheriffs gavel. He eventually reentered the Army and died in West Virginia in 1917. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His factory and the Aero Yacht were mysteriously set ablaze sometime later.
After its brief moment in the limelight, Dutch Island returned to virtual anonymity. Bootleggers roamed and poachers plundered at will. In 1928 order was restored when the Wessels family purchased Dutch Island and tended to it for almost six decades. In 1969 on application by Charles Wessels, Articles of Incorporation were granted to Dutch Island Corporation for the purpose of real estate development.
The Wessels family intended to spend $3 million dollars for a premier residential and recreational development. Early newspaper clippings said it was to be as “the finest residential location in the Golden Isles.” Developers envisioned establishing a residential community of waterfront lots which would incorporate the “natural landscape” and preserve the “existing ecology”. The preliminary plans called for a plush marina and an 18-hole golf course. You can still see a portion of this planned course located on Herb River Drive adjacent to the pool area.
Today, the caretakers of Dutch Island have changed, but that’s about the only thing. It is still a natural environment of superb quality. The approximate 500 acres still allow both residents and nature to live together harmoniously. The unique combination of ecological balance and comfortable architectural style creates the perfect atmosphere for families looking for a well-balanced community lifestyle.