The 2,824 acres comprising Harris Neck NWR have had a long, and at times, controversial history. Distinguished as one of the oldest intensively farmed areas along the Georgia coast, Harris Neck was among the first land grants given to early English and Scottish settlers in 1750. While staple crops were produced, it was the high quality Sea Island Cotton which brought European fame to the coastal agricultural industry. Unfortunately, poor farming practices soon exhausted the fragile sandy loan soils, and large scale farming was abandoned in 1860.
The Civil War brought an end to the "Old South" plantation era, and Harris Neck was divided into smaller farms. The community, thus established, thrived until the advent of World War II, when the U.S. Government condemned the property for use as an air base. Twelve hundred acres were converted into a triangular landing strip for use as a training facility by the War Department. The P-40 "Kittyhawk" (pictured right), used at Harris Neck Army Airfield, later gained fame from missions with the legendary Flying Tigers, who shot down 286 Japanese aircraft during WWII.
After World War II, the property was given to McIntosh County for guardianship and use as a municipal airport. Due to county mismanagement of the land resources, Harris Neck was transferred to the Federal Aviation Agency. On May 25, 1962, the U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (forerunner of the USFWS) acquired the property and established the area as a migratory bird refuge.