Historical Vessel is Back Home as New Landmark in Darien
By Anna Ferguson Hall & Laurie Poole
The coastal Georgia heat and summertime humidity embraced a small crowd on Tuesday morning
as they witnessed the culmination of a long-awaited mission. After years of awareness-building,
restoration efforts, and fundraising, the historic vessel, Kit Jones, was finally back at her place of
She is 60 feet long, 17 feet wide, and weighs almost 60,000 lbs. It took two cranes, a 68-foot marine
transport truck, several volunteers, and 6 years + 7 hours to get her relocated, but the Kit Jones is
Sapelo Island owner and heir, R.J. Reynolds, commissioned her in 1938 to be constructed from
plans by the New York yacht designers, Sparkman & Stephens. Reynolds employed Axel Holger
Sparre, a Danish shipwright from Brunswick, GA. The materials used in the construction of the vessel
were harvested and milled right there on Sapelo Island – with heart pine timbers used for the
hull planking and Live Oak for ribs. Sparre was assisted by many Gullah-Geechee descendants and
island residents. The vessel was launched in the spring of 1939 and was named for Katharine "Kit"
Talbot Jones, wife of Alfred W. Jones Sr.; cousin of Howard Coffin, who owned Sapelo prior to
The Kit was built as an island transport vessel – but was also utilized as a mail boat, a supply vessel, a
fuel barge, and delivered the agricultural bounty of the island to the mainland. In her early days, she
was called upon to make twice-daily runs to get schoolchildren to and from the Meridian dock on the
mainland. The young boys attending Camp Sapelo in the 1950s came over on the Kit Jones. Middleof-
the-night emergency runs to the mainland were not unheard of for Kit, especially when babies
were on the way. The lifeline was critical, as there were more than 500 residents of the island in the
The Kit has served additionally as a fireboat for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War I, a research
vessel for the University of Georgia Marine Institute, and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.
Her long and stellar career in the service of coastal scientific research saw her employed by scientists
and students from universities and research institutions worldwide, including Dr. Eugene Odum,
known as the “Father of Modern Ecology”, Dr. Milton (Sam) Gray, for whom Gray’s Reef National
Marine Sanctuary is named, and Dr. Orrin Pilkey, globally renowned for his work on coastline
preservation and protection.
After decades of service off the coast of Georgia, a former UGA researcher at the University of
Mississippi persuaded the institute to purchase her for marine research in the Gulf. Kit Jones
capsized and nearly sank in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina but was saved and was able to continue
research until 2013.
Years of hard work, and new technologies made the wood vessel close to obsolete. Retired and
dry-docked in Biloxi, MS, the Kit faced the danger of the impending threat of salvage – she was to be
dismantled for scrap if a purchaser and a new home for the intact vessel could not be located.
Former crewmembers of the Kit, Dorothy O’Niell and Maxine Woolsey, desperately sought help to
save the vessel from an unfitting end. This threat took on a heightened urgency in November 2016,
when the University of Mississippi finally decided to put the Kit Jones out for auction. McIntosh local,
Aimee Gaddis recruited friends she knew would see this effort through. Davis Poole and his wife,
Laurie were relocating to McIntosh County and could not sit by and let this historical loss happen.
With determination and support, Davis and Laurie formed the 501c-3 Non-Profit, Friends of the
Kit Jones, Inc. FOKJ aspires to build historic recognition of the vessel Kit Jones in order to accomplish
their stated mission: The restoration, preservation, and appreciation of the vessel Kit Jones as a historic,
cultural and educational resource for McIntosh County and other coastal Georgia communities.
Laurie & Davis worked to secure funds to make the relocation possible. Through grants and grassroots
fundraising efforts, they coordinated the herculean effort to get the Kit back to GA. For nearly
six years, and with inevitable setbacks thanks to the COVID pandemic, they persevered to see the
“Getting this boat here, as expected, was no easy task,” Laurie laughed. “But it was worth the
effort! The Kit has and will continue to serve a larger purpose for our community. Especially where
we are, historical tourism is such an essential part of our economy, and this is one more important
piece to the overall landscape.”
They hope this endeavor will identify with heritage tourism travelers by offering the restored Kit
Jones as a distinguished maritime landmark in Darien. “It is a great opportunity to bring the diverse
people in the community together by honoring her Sapelo Island roots as well as some of the families
whose ancestors and relatives served as builders, masters, and strikers on the Kit.” said Davis Poole,
now also the At-Large County Commissioner. “The rich story of this vessel needs to be remembered
and held on to. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for lost causes. When I heard the story of the Kit
Jones and that it may be gone for good, I had to help.”
The historic and current working waterfront of the city, as well as the vessels that made (or make)
their home there, have always been a true draw for Darien. The Kit’s 73 years of service in so many
aspects of maritime history uniquely qualify her as an icon of McIntosh heritage. From the very
hands that crafted her, to those who captained or worked upon her, she has a following far beyond
On July 25, 2023, the Kit Jones finally found her home adjacent to the historic Old Jail Museum on
Highway 17. Davis and Laurie aim to preserve the vessel's rich history and transform it into an
educational and historical marker in a new park for downtown Darien, GA. The plans involve two
phases for the surrounding park area; the first phase is close to completion. Along with the boat
comes an installation of five colossal bollards and heavy chains, along the sidewalk on Highway 99.
The salvaged, cast-iron bollards are circa 1950’s and were previously used at a military installation
on Georgia’s coast. Commemorative benches will also be installed this fall. Phase two (installation of
a splash pad) is dependent on funding.
To further support the project and add a personal touch, engraved commemorative bricks can be
purchased to be placed in the green space surrounding the new park area. “I am thrilled to see the
overwhelming community support,” Laurie said. “This is such a special part of McIntosh’s history,
and it was well worth the effort to make this happen.”
For more information about purchasing brick for the park, to donate to the non-profit, or for more
history about the vessel, visit savethekitjones.com.
The Friends of Kit Jones wish to thank everyone who has come out to support this project! Special
thanks also to McIntosh County, MCIDA, Russell Marine Transport LLC, Boykin Crane, Steve Ellis,
McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy County Manager, Shawn Jordan, the City of Darien, Eric
Howard/3.17 Concrete, Bill Wallace, Ammon’s Fencing, McIntosh Art Association, Kathleen
Russell/The Darien News, and all who were involved!
June 2023 ~ Close to the Finish Line!
May 18, 2022 ~ Kit Jones Is Back!
It has been a long and arduous process. Over 500 miles across four states, and more than 6 years; a dream is being realized. A native, historic watercraft that was almost lost has been revitalized!
84 years ago, this strong, beautiful vessel named Kit Jones was launched from Sapelo Island. She is rich in Georgia history and thankfully, now a remarkable surviving example of the coastal wood-boat building tradition.
The grain in her hull is now deep and textured. Passing a hand along, one feels the strength and structure of the wood. Without saying a word, it speaks of thousands of nautical miles, dozens of captains, hundreds of crews, years of research work, and of both stormy and calm seas. It speaks of eight remarkable decades of adventures.
In 1938, R.J. Reynolds, Jr. commissioned her to be constructed on Sapelo of native heart pine and Live Oak timbers, which were harvested and milled onsite. Under the direction of Danish shipwright Axel Sparre, many island residents who were Gullah-Geechee descendants assisted in the construction. The style of the Kit was directly from plans drawn by yacht and sailboat designers, Sparkman & Stevens of New York.
She was named for Katharine Talbott Jones (Kit), the wife of Alfred W. (Bill) Jones, friends of R.J. Reynolds, Jr. Over the course of her life, the 60-foot, wood-hull vessel has served as a tugboat, a ferry that provided a lifeline to the mainland for the more than 500 residents of Sapelo Island, a freight hauler, and later, fireboat during her military service in World War II. In subsequent years, several McIntosh County residents served as masters and mates as she performed most notably as a research vessel.
Her long and stellar career in the service of coastal scientific research saw her employed by scientists and students from universities and research institutions worldwide, including Dr. Eugene Odum, known as the “Father of Modern Ecology”, Dr. Milton (Sam) Gray, for whom Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary is named, and Dr. Orrin Pilkey, globally renowned for his work on coastline preservation and protection.
By the early 1980s, the Kit Jones had fallen increasingly out of use and further into disrepair. No longer of use to the University System of GA, she was acquired by the University of Mississippi in 1985, refurbished, and moved to her new home port in Biloxi, MS and worked for another 25 years.
Capsized and nearly sunk in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she survived to continue her years of research vessel service. By 2013, the University of MS was no longer able to maintain or operate the vessel, and the Kit Jones was pulled from the water a final time. She was put into drydock in Biloxi, and for many years faced an unknown future that seemed increasingly grim. Former crew and first-mate, Maxine Woolsey, of Oxford, MS, along with another former crewmate/researcher, Dorothy O’Niell, from Athens, GA, spearheaded an effort to prevent the Kit from being lost.
She faced a near-certain future of salvage…she was to be dismantled for scrap if a purchaser could not be located. In November 2016, the Kit Jones was put up for auction. Local McIntoshian, Aimee Gaddis, told Davis Poole and his wife Laurie about the situation to see if they could help in the rescue process. Poole shared “I knew she was absolutely worth saving!” At the time, Davis was President of the McIntosh Rod & Gun Club. They took an interest in her future, and organized a successful last-minute bid, acquiring official title to her in January 2017.
In 2018 Poole submitted application for the Kit Jones to become a Georgia Historic Trust ‘Places In Peril’ designee. She was selected as one of 10 and became not only a P.I.P., but the first and only “V.I.P.” (Vessel In Peril).
The 501c-3 Non-Profit, Friends of the Kit Jones, Inc. was formed to help, and aspire to build historic recognition of the vessel to accomplish their stated mission: The restoration, preservation, and appreciation of the vessel Kit Jones as an historic, cultural and educational resource for McIntosh County and other coastal Georgia communities.
That mission has nearly been completed. Local volunteers Davis & Laurie Poole went to work writing grants to raise money for the project. “We won a GA tourism grant for $10,000, and two Coastal Incentive Grants, administered by McIntosh County for $80,000 each. Private citizens donated the rest for this amazing, historic cause.” said Davis.
Summer of 2019, she made the 544-mile overland trip home from Biloxi, MS. She has since rested in the Tidewater Industrial Development Park awaiting her facelift. COVID certainly caused a long delay in the process, but local volunteers Davis & Laurie Poole never gave up. They both serve on the FOKJ non-profit, and through the whole pandemic event, persevered looking for an experienced carpenter/craftsman who could help with the restoration.
Davis finally found that person in the form of McIntosh resident Steve Ellis. A working waterman from Massachusetts, he has decades of knowledge and craftsmanship to draw from.
When Steve first read about the Kit coming back to Darien, he volunteered to help. Ellis reflected, “I love old wood boats much more than fiberglass boats. Wood boats have a heartbeat that starts when the keel is laid. As the boat is being built, her personality starts to emerge. The curves, the shapes all start to blend together…I'm stopping here because my words won't do the rest justice.”
Ellis started working on fishing boats when he was 14 years old. “I got my Captain’s papers at 18. At 28, I had three businesses-all in fishing industries. All my fishing businesses were seasonal and during the off-season I worked at a local marina doing wood working, electrical and fiberglass. I also did boat surveys.”
The Kit has had many iterations over the years as her workload has changed, but the earliest design is the one to which she will return. The Friends of the Kit Jones steering committee purchased the original Sparkman & Stevens blueprints and agreed that her maiden configuration will be permanent.
“We tried very hard to hire locally as much as possible. Thankfully, we found Steve and he took the lead in the restoration process.” Explained Laurie Poole, Secretary for FOKJ. “Everyone knows how difficult it was to work during the pandemic, and our project was no exception.”
Steve Ellis is no stranger to hard work or wooden vessels. Ellis, Luke Martin and Jamie Pittman rolled up their sleeves and got down to the dirty work. The process began with an incredible amount of deconstruction to get rid of rotten wood, years of patches and repairs, and debris within the hull to get to a point of rebuilding.
“The biggest challenge on the Kit Jones,” said Ellis, “was rot, rot, and more rot. It was difficult to use building lumber on a boat that had originally been built out of select native lumber. Hoping that the Kit Jones might last a few more years is something positive for the county and a salute to the men that originally did such an amazing job builder her on Sapelo Island.”
“We collected dozens of artifacts all along the way and documented the entire process for educational and historical purposes.” said Laurie, “Sandblasting came next and that revealed an amazing hull underneath! The grain that was uncovered gave insight to massive timbers harvested from Sapelo. Watching them peel away decades of paint down to the structure was amazing to see!”
Once the sandblasting was finished and the Kit was clean and ready for restoration, Ellis and his crew went to work repairing the soft wood, patching and filling gaps, replacing large section of boards that could not be simply repaired, and reconstructing sections inside to strengthen the structure.
“We broke drill bits everywhere, but the stem, which is live oak, was like granite.” explained Ellis. “We treated a lot of the yellow pine with an acrylic stabilizer that binds to the fibers and helps prevent further rot. As far as I could tell, the hull planking had been refastened at least three times and the outside face of the ribs had gotten pretty ‘nail sick.’ A lot of the original work was in better shape than repairs that had been done over the years -- a testament to the craftsmanship of the original builders.”
They then went to work to reconstruct the upper part of the hull, re-build the deck and re-create the railing according to the original plans.
Davis details the final section of construction; “Steve and Jamie built the pilot house so that it can actually be removed during transportation of the Kit to her site in Darien. There are too many low power lines to clear with it up there, so this was an additional challenge for him. Once she is in place, he will install it again permanently.”
Local painter John Stamey of Southern Custom Painting & Design was hired to put a final layer of protection on the Kit. A great deal of sealing and priming was necessary before the last step of painting.
Her current color combination reflects back to when she was launched in 1939. “Bottom paint at that time was the deep red you will see on her now. We couldn’t bear to cover up all the grain and wanted visitors to be able to admire the history before their eyes, so we left the keel unpainted. We unfortunately had to cover all the rest of the beautiful wood just to keep her protected from the elements for years to come.” said Poole.
“It’s been a long process and a whole lot of work.” Explained Davis. “Laurie and I spent many weekends out at the restoration site with our tractor cleaning up the mounds of debris so that Steve could continue his work on Mondays. It’s very exciting that we can see the finish line now!” Once again, she will be moved by semi-truck to downtown Darien, where she will then be hoisted with cranes and set into place. McIntosh businessman, Bill Wallace, initially removed the massive brass prop for safekeeping, and will reinstall once the Kit is settled. He will also assist in placing the pilings that will aid in displaying the vessel.
The newly restored Kit Jones will be a distinguished maritime resident & landmark, proudly displayed in historic Darien at the intersection of GA Hwy. 99 & Hwy. 17 to highlight the working waterfront and seafaring people of McIntosh County. The county designated the site to be her final location next to the historic Old Jail & Art Center. Her destination will be turned into a park for everyone to enjoy.
While the group, ‘Friends of Kit Jones’ has raised enough money to bring her home and restore her, their next phase of fundraising for her final placement will allow fans & followers to play a unique part. Personalized, stamped bricks will be available to pave the ground around her prominent site. Commemorative benches will also be offered to build out the park for all to enjoy! Tax deductible contributions may be made at www.savethekitjones.com, mailed to Friends of the Kit Jones at P.O. Box 1968 Darien, GA 31305, or contact Laurie Poole at email@example.com.
From the very hands that crafted her, to those who captained or worked upon her, she has a following far beyond McIntosh County. Her rescue and restoration is a great opportunity to bring the diverse people in the community together by honoring her Sapelo Island roots as well as the families whose ancestors and relatives served as builders, masters, and strikers on the Kit.
Further information and photos, can be found on the website, or follow on Facebook.
June 21, 2019 ~ It's Almost Time!
She won’t have the familiar look she’s had for the last several decades. There will be no steel outriggers, railings or anchor, no pilothouse or helm that guided her way through southern waters for 75 years. Her mantle is chipped and worn and rust stains stream down her hull. But her unmistakable lines will make her recognizable to those who know her. And in honor of her 80th birthday, the historic vessel Kit Jones is finally coming home.
Intensive preparations have been made over the past several months to get her ready for the 544-mile overland trip home. Through coordinated efforts on two different coasts, June 27th-28th, she will return to McIntosh.
Kit Jones Steering Committee member, Maxine Woolsey, has been overseeing the details of the Kit’s de-construction in Biloxi, MS in order to be ready for the trip. Maxine’s late husband (and former Captain of the Kit), Bob Woolsey, was the last person to pilot her fromGeorgia to Biloxi, Mississippi. As fate would have it, Maxine will be escorting Kit backhome to Georgia.
Paul Bodin of Bay Marine in Biloxi has tended the maintenance of the Kit Jones for the past several decades and was also hired to manage her disassembly and prep work. The pilothouse and handrails had to be carefully removed to meet the height requirements for transportation; also taking into consideration the attachment of a new cabin and pilothouse in the future. Keeping the integrity of the hull and stabilizing it were of the upmost importance. Prior to removing the pilothouse, Bodin and his crew removed the interior panel lights, electrical boxes and electronics. Ms. Woolsey packed these in watertight boxes for transport. Winches and hydraulic cylinders were removed from the aft deck.
Once the pilothouse was lifted, the engine and generators were removed; which, due to their decrepit condition, can only be scrapped. All of the carefully detailed work is focused on the goal of safely transporting the vessel intact. She will be moved by a travel lift with four straps and placed on a marine transport trailer.
“It requires major coordination to lift all straps and both ends of the boat at the same time to prevent splitting the hull”, said Ms. Woolsey. Mr. Bodin will mark the hull exterior so that all lifting straps are placed on the ‘ribs’ of the hull - which are the strongest supporting points.
Two escorted tractor-trailers will be used to bring the Kit, her pilothouse, and additional parts back to Darien. Her cross-country trek will temporarily end in the Tidewaters Industrial Park off Commissioners Way. A site has been prepared to accommodate the 60-foot long vessel, the tractor-trailers bringing her, and the crane that will unload her. Once there, she will be placed on keel boards and supported by stands for restoration work.
Following a ‘face-lift’ and transformation back to her original design, the Kit will be relocated to the grounds beside the Old Jail Art Center at 404 North Way in historic Darien. She will be displayed as a landmark attraction to highlight the working waterfront of McIntosh County.
The Kit Jones is a 2018 Georgia Historic Trust ‘Places In Peril’designee, but is no longer in danger of a tragic demise.
Page 2 The Darien News - June 22, 2023
April 2nd, 2019 ~ BIG UPDATE!
We FINALLY have news to convey! As so often happens with historic preservation of this magnitude, progress has been a bit slow, and it has only been in the last few months that we’ve had anything solid to report. In February 2018, on behalf of McIntosh County, we applied for a GA Department of Natural Resources Coastal Incentive Grant. The Kit Jones Project won this $80K grant in October, and it has now been funded, enabling us to move forward with plans to bring the Kit back home in coming months.
We are currently making arrangements for the vessel’s overland return to McIntosh County from her present location in Biloxi, Mississippi. Further exciting news is that the final destination of the Kit Jones will be in a highly visible location right in the heart of downtown Darien, at the intersection of U.S. 17 and Highway 99. In the meantime, she will reside in a temporary location on Highway 251 near the Sheriff’s Department while restoration takes place. Once the restoration phase is complete, we will have a big celebration for her final move to downtown Darien.
We are so proud that this grassroots effort is just about to pay off, and by working together we are able to return home this one-of-a-kind wood-hull vessel with such rich history and endless possibilities for our community. After 80 years of service, the Kit Jones is going to be one of those stories of “WE DID IT!” thanks to your continued encouragement and support.
If you are receiving this email, it is because you showed interest in the Kit or provided funding to aid her return home. If you do not wish to continue to receive these emails, please let us know and you will be unsubscribed. We plan to keep you updated as the next stages of restoration and education develop. We will keep you apprised of any new developments for her move too!
We look forward to seeing many of you at the Blessing of the Fleet 2019 in Darien, and invite you to stop by the Friends of the Kit Jones booth!
Thank you again, please keep in touch.
Friends of the Kit Jones
ATLANTA, Nov. 15, 2017— The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation released today its 2018 list of ten Places in Peril in the state.
Sites on the list include: A.J. Gillen Department Store in Maxeys (Oglethorpe County); Bibb City Elementary School in Columbus (Muscogee County); Cuthbert Water Tower in Cuthbert (Randolph County); Fire Station No. 2 in Rome (Floyd County); Fort Valley Freight Depot in Fort Valley (Peach County); Foster-Thomason-Miller House in Madison (Morgan County); Kit Jones Vessel constructed on Sapelo Island (McIntosh County); National Library Bindery Company in Atlanta (Fulton County); Olmsted Linear Park Properties in Atlanta (DeKalb County); and Underground Savannah (Chatham County).
"This is the Trust's thirteenth annual Places in Peril list," said Mark C. McDonald, president and CEO of the Trust. "We hope the list will continue to bring preservation solutions to Georgia's imperiled historic resources by highlighting ten representative sites."
The Friends of the Kit Jones Steering Committee, including author & historian, Buddy Sullivan, attended the Georgia Historic Trust Places In Peril Unveiling Reception on November 15th at Rhodes Hall in Atlanta and were honored to receive the designation for the historic vessel Kit Jones as a “2018 Place In Peril”.
Places in Peril is designed to raise awareness about Georgia's significant historic, archaeological and cultural resources, including buildings, structures, districts, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes that are threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.
Through Places in Peril, the Trust encourages owners and individuals, organizations and communities to employ proven preservation tools, financial resources and partnerships in order to reclaim, restore and revitalize historic properties that are in peril.
The Unveiling Reception was preceded by an informational session for the ten “Class of '18“ Places In Peril designees. The session was the first of its kind as the Georgia Trust hopes to become more engaged in assisting the nominees with their projects. “This year is a year when we are going to work even more intensively with people to preserve these places,” said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust. “We are signing a memo of understanding with each group outlining our shared expectations and understandings.”
Neale Nickels presided over the gathering and presented a slideshow highlighting each site. Representatives of each location were invited to speak about their particular projects. A ‘point person’ was assigned to each project, and in the near future, the Georgia Trust will meet with each group, develop a work plan and schedule on-site meetings.
September 2017 ~ Historic Vessel Kit Jones Receives State Grant for Restoration Project
The effort to bring the Kit Jones from Biloxi, MS back home to McIntosh County for restoration and final placement just got one step closer.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Tourism division announced September 21st that it awarded more than $111,624 in product development resource team grants to 14 new and expanding tourism projects across the state. $10,000 of that funding will be applied towards transporting Kit Jones back to GA so that repairs and restoration may begin.
“One of our main obstacles in spurring new tourism product is funding in the communities that receive a Tourism Product Development Resource Team,” said Cindy Eidson, Director of Tourism Product Development for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “By providing grants for projects that we recommend, we help to jump-start tourism development, not only expanding Georgia’s tourism offerings, but also creating jobs and sustainable economic development in these communities.”
The excitement is growing now that we’re gaining traction; but our biggest hurdle is getting help for the over-the-road hauling of this 70 foot vessel. All options have been considered; even water transport via tow or barge, but the integrity of The Kit’s hull will simply not warrant that method.
Being awarded the maximum we could get from this grant is a fantastic start! $10,000 will certainly help as we get the Kit stabilized for transport, but we have a long way to go. Any one wishing to help with this project please contact us!
Ongoing ~ Phase 1 ~ Bringing the Kit back home
Together with the McIntosh Rod & Gun Club and private contributions, we have successfully acquired title to the Kit Jones, paid current her rent in a secured Biloxi boat yard, and begun preparations to bring her back to GA.
Her steel rigging and platform have been removed; thankfully prior to Hurricane Nate, which struck Biloxi directly. She weathered this storm well, as she has many others.
Copies of the original plans have been purchased from the Kit's designer, Sparkman & Stephens of New York to start the planning phase of restoration.
We are currently trying to raise funds for the remaining preparations needed for her to sustain the long road home, as well as the subsequent transportation costs to bring her the 543 miles back to GA.
Once she is back in Darien, we begin Phase 2 ~ Restoration
Kit Jones Park Planning
Phase 1 ~ Install concrete foundation & pad; relocate the vessel to the site. Install bollards & chain, walk paths & benches
Phase 2 ~ add peripheral site improvements and Compass Rose splash pad as funding allows