On Monday, May 15, 2023, the Education and Visitor Center at Oatland Island Wildlife Center was dedicated to the memory of former SCCPSS teacher Tony Cope, without whom, the Center may never have come to be. From the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, Oatland Island was part of a cotton plantation, and the entire island was cleared and used as farmland. The plantation home was not on the island, but the owners - the McQueen family - were made famous in Eugenia Price's 1993 novel, Don Juan McQueen.
The island was privately held until 1927, when it was purchased by the Order of Railway Conductors (ORC), as the location of a new retirement center for the union's members. The Conductors Home opened in November of 1927 and had enough room to house 66 residents. Sadly, it was never filled to capacity, and the dwindling numbers of residents forced the retirement home to close in 1940.
The ORC sold the property to the US Public Health Service in 1941. In 1945, the ownership of the property transferred to a different branch of the Public Health Service, who converted the building into their Technical Development Laboratory. In 1973, the CDC moved the Technical Development Laboratory to its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and the property at Oatland Island was declared government surplus. Soon afterward, a local public school teacher, Mr. Tony Cope, petitioned the government to allow the Savannah-Chatham County school system to use the property as an environmental education center. The federal government agreed, on the condition that the property be held jointly with the public-school system for 30 years. If the educational mission was still alive after the 30-year period, the property would be fully transferred to the school system. In August of 1974, Oatland Island Education Center opened to the public.
The Welcome Center at Oatland Island is housed in the original Conductor's Home built in 1927, and many of the smaller buildings throughout the property were built during the CDC days in the 50's and 60's. In 2004, the property was transferred to the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Then in 2007 the Center's name was changed to Oatland Island Wildlife Center. Starting in 2009, the Welcome Center was completely renovated, creating more offices, classrooms and a veterinary clinic and was reopened to the public in 2011.
On May, 15, 2023, family and friends gathered to unveil a plaque at the Center dedicating the facility to his memory. See more photos from the event here.
See video from the dedication ceremony here.