Surf Song's history begins, perhaps, with a military era known as the Endicott period. The Endicott period followed the civil war from 1885 to 1905, when the war department was concerned about the state of America's coastal defenses. The administration agreed to invest $127 million in new and existing coastal forts. Improvements generally consisted of state-of-the-art concrete batteries and new "disappearing" rifled canons. Many existing forts were updated, such as Fort Sumter. However, many new forts were created as well, including Tybee's Fort Screven, or Florida's Fort Dade.
Construction along the coasts began in earnest in the last half of the 1890s. Along with the strategic construction of the actual batteries and guns, the Army also had the responsibility of building all the things to support a fort: mess halls, enlisted men's quarters, jails, bowling alleys, and -yes- Officers' quarters. This responsibility fell to a group within the army known as the Quartermasters. The Quartermasters developed plans for several new forts, many with their own Officer's Row. Plans were developed for each building, and reused as the army saw fit. Ironically, the US war machine normally dedicated to destruction, was also now tasked with building beautiful, comfortable coastal homes for its important officers.
One of a kind?
While it is possible, or even likely, that a duplicate Surf Song was built, we are not aware of one (not even on Tybee). Surf Song was originally affectionately known as Quartermaster Plan No. 136-A. Our next door neighbor is a very similar 136-B. The primary difference between the two, is that 136-B includes 2nd and 3rd story rooms above the kitchen. In 136-A, the kitchen is vaulted, with no stories above it. The two duplex quarters are plan 122, and the remaining houses are plan 145. In total, there were 8 officers quarters houses on the Fort Screven officers row and all remain. Other buildings such as the officers club and officers mess have been demolished.
Most other Endicott forts have been demolished. Fort Screven and Fort Moultrie in SC can lay claim to having the only in-tact officers' rows.
How old is it?
It is our belief that the Officer's Quarters building that became Surf Song, was actually constructed in the year 1900 or as late as 1904. QM plan 136-A was dated April 1900, well after Fort Screven construction started. We know that officers row was completed by 1907, as there is a picture in Tybee Historical Society archives to prove as much. Many buildings in Fort Screven are labeled as being built circa 1898, including our own (check our logo)!
There is a legend that the Army had to install tin ceilings at the behest of the officers wives, after mortar fire shook the houses so roughly that plaster fell from the ceilings. While a great story, that we ourselves are guilty of indulging, the truth is that the tin ceilings are likely original. The Quartermasters routinely used pressed-tin ceilings in their officers quarters designs. However, there is some historical evidence for the tale in James Mack Adams, "Images of America, Tybee Island". Adams states that Fort Screven's 8inch guns, "often rattled windows and knocked items off shelves in nearby buildings".
From Army to Civilian ownership
The military's $127 million dollar plan for coastal fortification was rendered obsolete, by an unsuspecting pair of brothers from North Carolina. In 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright first took to the sky in Kitty Hawk. Only 8 years later, the technology of flight had been commandeered for military use, and the first aerial bomb was dropped. Traditional concrete embankments were virtually useless against aircraft, which could simply fly over batteries. Virtually all the forts manufactured during the Endicott period were eventually closed and abandoned, including Fort Screven.
After World War I, Fort Screven's canons were dismantled and sent to France to fight the NAZIs. After World War II, the fort was closed altogether. The Army sold the land and structures to the city of Tybee for $200,000. Tybee later auctioned off parcels of land to private ownership. The building that would become Surf Song was used as private family home for several years. In 2001, it was first converted to a bed and breakfast and was rechristened "Savannah Beach Inn", by Cathleen Moore. Cathleen operated Savannah Beach Inn for 2 years before selling to Ann Last. Ann Last proceed to operate Savannah Beach Inn for the next 9 years.
In 2013, the Inn was sold to Sherry Stipp, who performed extensive renovations including the addition of the pool, complete kitchen and suite remodel, and exterior repainting. It was Sherry's business acumen and sister Cindy Sukal's knack for hospitality that transformed 21 Officers Row into the top rated bed and breakfast, Surf Song.
After 6 years of wowing and delighting guests, Sherry and Cindy were ready to spend more time with grandchildren. The inn was turned over to current owners, Megan and Jeremy Gonyou.