Quarantine Station

A 20th century cottage on stilts with a wraparound porch is pictured in black and white with foliage in the left side background
1939 Photo of quarantine building showing southeast side.

NPS Photo

Although historic Fort Pulaski and the Cockspur Island Lighthouse are the better known structures at our park, there is an old white house toward the Northwest side of the island that is a significant part of our history. Currently it serves as our park Headquarters building, but it has served multiple roles throughout the decades since it was built in 1912. Quarantine was used to protect the residents of Savannah, one of America’s busiest ports since the city was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe. The first known quarantine was established in Venice in 1347 to protect its residents from the bubonic plague. Ships were anchored offshore for 40 days, then were allowed to come into port. Quarantine is derived from the Latin word quaresma, meaning 40. Several quarantine stations served Savannah throughout the years. The first Tybee Island quarantine station was established in 1767 to serve slave ships arriving from Africa. It was accessed via Lazaretto creek, which separates McQueen’s Island from Tybee. Lazaretto is a synonym for quarantine.
A 1939 sketched map shows the Cockspur Island Quarantine Complex, consisting of just under a dozen buildings. An arrow points to the building which acts as the current park headquarters on the Southwestern side.
1939 Map of Cockspur Island Quarantine Complex with arrow pointing to current park headquarters

NPS Photo

Other quarantines were established locally at Oyster Island, Fort Greene, and Fort James Jackson. In 1889 the War Department issued a revocable license to the city of Savannah to establish a quarantine station on Cockspur Island. In 1891 the station was open to receive incoming ships from around the world. Several structures were added over the years including a hospital, fumigation building, and quarters for the staff. Our park headquarters building is the only remaining structure from the original Quarantine Complex. It served as the quarantine keeper’s quarters, replacing an older facility from 1889. Both buildings co-existed, side by side, until 1960 when the older structure was demolished.
1942 a U.S. Navy Map shows the Cockspur Island quarantine complex buildings and additional structures erected for CCC camp 460. An arrow marks the building on the western end which serves as the current park headquarters.
1942 U.S. Navy Map showing quarantine station and CCC camp 460.
Current park headquarters indicated by arrow.

NPS Photo

Fort Pulaski was established by the Coolidge administration as a National Monument in 1924. In 1934, Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 460 was established just east of the Quarantine station in order to restore the historic fort and grounds. Quarantine operations on Cockspur Island completely ceased in 1937. That same year the War Department transferred ownership of the entire quarantine complex to the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service. On March 18,1942, shortly after America’s entry into World War II, the Department of Interior issued a special use permit to the Department of the Navy, establishing Navy section base #20 to protect entry into the vitally important port of Savannah. Fort Pulaski National Monument was closed to the public for the next five years and reopened on August 1, 1947.
A white 20th century cottage house with a wraparound porch is pictured in black and white. A path and a few leafless trees can be seen on the left side.
1950 Photo of Park Headquarters building southeast side. Shows Navy alterations from 1942.

NPS Photos

After World War II, when Fort Pulaski was re-opened to visitors, the National Park service slowly demolished all of the dilapidated buildings remaining from the quarantine complex and CCC camp 460. Our park headquarters, which once served as the Superintendent’s and Chief Ranger’s residence, is the only remaining structure from the quarantine station. It is a lovely building. The interior woodwork is beautiful, and there is a fireplace in the conference room. One of the island’s famous fig trees rests in the yard nearby, watching over the north channel of the Savannah river.

Bibliography: Fort Pulaski Historic Structure Report (2004), Fort Pulaski Administrative History (2003), Fort Pulaski Foundation Document (2016)

Last updated: January 14, 2021