Jekyll Island: Sign of the Times
History buffs will know the name. Many will not.
"The richest, most exclusive, most inaccessible club in the world."
You may have never heard of this little island, the smallest of the islands off the Georgia coast known as “The Golden Isles of Georgia.” But for a little more than 50 years it was known as the “playground for the rich and powerful.”
Most will roll their eyes at that claim.
Some may think that statement is hyperbole.
After all, many places claim to be host to the rich and elite.
But they aren't host quite the same way this place was.
This island was a private club that was only accessible by boat.
It was purchased in 1886 for $125,000.
It was said that while the club was open, “no unwanted foot ever set foot on Jekyll.”
This place was host to some of the most recognizable names in American industry and history.
Carnegie, Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Morgan to name a few.
And it wasn’t host to these families individually.
They all gathered here to winter together at the club.
As stated before, this little island was privately held from 1886 until the year 1947, when the state of Georgia purchased it from the club.
In February 1904 Munsey’s Magazine called Jekyll Island “the richest, most exclusive, most inaccessible club in the world.”
That seems like quite a statement. But when you consider that while the members were present during the “season” from January through Easter each year, one sixth of the world’s wealth was represented on the tiny island.
Munsey's Magazine wasn't kidding.
This is where the first draft of the Federal Reserve Act was written. And while this is not an endorsement of the Fed, it is a fascinating piece of history. If you haven't read the book "Creature from Jekyll Island," then I recommend it. I read it years ago and found it fascinating. I feel compelled to say here that the museum guide I was speaking with at the island museum said he found the book to be a little dry. So not everyone finds the book as compelling as I did. But then again, I'm also known as a nerd among my girlfriends, so there's that. :-)
While this little island was known for its elite visitors in the early part of the 20th century, after the state of Georgia purchased it, it's now available to everyone.
From the “Most Exclusive Club in the World,” to State Park
Here’s the super short version of how Jekyll Island came to be open to the public.
With WWII raging, Germans torpedoed a tanker nearby Saint Simons Sound.
( I had no idea that Germans got this close to our coast, but I digress.)
The club was closed for the duration of the war fearing that such an aggregation of wealth and power put a target on the island.
The members who left the club in 1942 did not return due to the changing social preferences of the younger generations who had grown to prefer the entertaining atmosphere of Palm Beach to the isolation of Jekyll.
The state bought this island from the club in 1947.
(And the story of the negotiation is also very interesting but I want get too far off track with that story here.)
A few short years later the connector was built and the rest is history.
“The spell of the island lingers and it is often said that once you visit Jekyll you always have the compulsion-“I must return.”
- Tallu Fish Scott “Once Upon an Island; The Story of Fabulous Jekyll."
I can confirm the above sentiment as it wasn’t the history that drew me in.
I came to this island as a child with my family once or twice for vacation and was in love.
Not the normal course of things for a 12 year old to be completely taken by a small island with no amusement park, no flashing lights, no “entertainment” in the popular sense of the word, but even as a child I was completely captured by this place.
It was the trees.
Seems an unlikely reason… until you see them for yourself.
Even those who didn’t grow up under the canopies of majestic mossy oaks will immediately recognize the regal beauty of this island.
As Tallu Fish Scott wrote in 1959 “If you have visited Jekyll you’ll never be quite the same. It possesses you; it intrigues you. You feel that life is cadenced to the slow sweep of the surf breaking on the fringing marsh. You feel as Carlyle McKinley has expressed it:
And the same enchantment is here today.”
And it remains in 2021.
But what is there to do?
Guy and I stayed at the Jekyll Island Clubhouse along with another couple who went with us for this getaway.
The accommodations were nice even though there were a few signs of age that I suspect will be remedied once the new owners, Pebblebrook Hotels, take over.
This is something you’ll never see anywhere else. A long strand of beach where there is nothing but driftwood for as far as the eye can see. If it weren’t a beach, you could call it Driftwood Forest. That’s how dense and large the driftwood is.
Have your breath taken away on a bike ride through one of the most beautiful paths you'll ever ride. Warning: If you ride the whole path, its long. And August is hot. But there are "refreshment stands" along the way for a weary traveler to grab a drink. Our group stopped at a gift shop in a condo village and then again at a restaurant. After our two pit stops we were well fueled to race back to the clubhouse and beat the storm that was chasing us.
-Bring a game
...grab a table in the library and a couple of drinks from the bar and see how much you know. Like this one that we brought with us, "I should have known that!"
-Eat some good food.
Zachry’s Riverhouse was simple, fresh, and amazing seafood but get there early. Or make a reservation if you can get them to answer the phone. With a line out the door and more than an hour wait, answering the phone wasn't a top priority as we witnessed from our spot at the bar. And that brings me back to "get there early" as the best advice I can give.
Indigo Coast Shack -speaking of things I should have known, I wonder why I didn’t think of plantains with guacamole. But even though I’ve missed this until now, I’m so glad that the good people here figured it out. Good stuff. Even though this is a little ride over to Brunswick (so technically isn't on Jekyll), it's well worth the effort.
Another good seafood joint that I thoroughly enjoyed. I won't say that the amazing views from this place aren't part of the reason I loved it but I did think the food was great too. :-)
And while the scenery is truly breathtaking, I have to admit that the dining room at the Clubhouse was a little disappointing but the coffee from the “Pantry” on site was off-the-charts good.
(Special thanks to Guy here, he does all the leg work on knowing where to eat. Thanks babe!)
-Hang out by the pool.
The pool would have a breathtaking view of the river if the club would consider cutting back some of the hedges. But overall hanging out at a pool with bar service isn’t really something I feel I can complain about.
Other things as listed by the Jekyll Island Clubhouse website
Other things to do according to Trip Advisor
Sign of the Times?
As alluded to in the title, I see the story of Jekyll as a sign of things to come, what once was only for the rich and elite is now available to everyone who wants to visit. This is the direction I see the world (and especially this country) headed. While it may seem the opposite at times, I believe places, opportunities and experiences once only available to the elite are opening up to everyone.
As I mentioned before, I went with my family as a child and have always wanted to get back there.
Finally, 30 years later, I get back and its everything I remembered.