Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Jekyll Island getaway

Jekyll Island, GA — This patch of land springing out between the ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway is referred to as “Georgia’s Jewel.”  In its history it has been a colonial outpost, a plantation for an expatriot French nobleman, home of the most exclusive club in the world, an abandoned millionaire ghost town, and now a unique tourist destination.

Horton2 Jekyll Island is only nine miles from end to end and these days it is easily accessible from the mainland via a modern causeway.  There are reminders on the island of each of the periods in it’s history.  On the north end of the island are the ruins of the Horton House, named after it’s first owner, Major William Horton, successor to James Oglethorpe as the leader of the Georgia colony.  Horton built the house around 1740 out of tabby, a local construction material made of sea shells, lime, sand and water.  After Horton died in 1748, the house was vacant until it came into the possession of the DuBignon family. Christophe Poulain DuBignon had amassed a fortune and retired to his country estate in Brittany, only to be flee to America during the French Revolution.  DuBignon came into possession of “Jekyl” Island (the second “L” wasn’t added until the early 1900s). 

Dubignon_cemetery2_1 For the next 100 years, Jekyll was in the hands of five generations of the DuBignon family.  Just 50 yards or so from the house ruins is the DuBignon cemetery, where three of the family members (and two people unrelated to the family) are buried.

In 1896, John DuBignon sold Jekyll Island for $125,000 to a group of 53 investors that included Marshall Field, Henry Hyde, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pultizer and William K. Vanderbilt.

Jekyll_2 This group wanted to create a winter retreat for themselves and their families that would combine utter seclusion with every luxury and amenity imaginable.  The result was the Jekyll Island Club, which for a half a century was the most exclusive club in the world. It’s membership list was a who’s who of America’s wealthy elite at the turn of the century: Morgan, Rockefeller, Astor, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, Macy, Kellogg, Goodyear, Sears, Whitney, Hunt and Heinz.

In 1907, the club hosted a secret meeting of the country’s most influential banking leaders.  That meeting laid the groundwork for the Federal Reserve System which was put into place five years later.

The Great Depression even touched the very rich, and membership declined throughout the 1930s.  In the early 1940s, World War II brought not only a change in how wealth was perceived in America, but also the very real threat of German U-boats off the coast.  The club never reopened after the 1942 season. 

In 1947, in a move that rivals the acquisition of Manhattan Island for $24, the state of Georgia condemned Jekyll Island and bought it for $675,000.  It was at first slated to become a state park, but in 1950, an Association was formed to preserve the Island and run it less like a state park and more like a business venture. In the years since, the magnificent clubhouse and many of the “cottages” that were home to the Goodyear, Crane and Rockefeller families have been restored.  There are several that are yet to be restored – The Jekyll restoration project is one of the largest and most successful public/private partnerships ever.

Jekyll_sunset2_1 Jekyll Island has just about everything I desire in a getaway location. It is uncrowded (you can walk for hundreds of yards on the beach in June without encountering another person), underdeveloped and rich with history. You can spend a day on a bike and explore the entire island (there’s some 20 miles of bike paths).  The pace is slow, the people are incredibly friendly, the seafood is fabulous and the sunsets are magnificent.

Not to be missed: Dinner at Latitude 31 on the Jekyll Wharf, walk along the seawall in front of the clubhouse at sunset, biking around the island, walking on the beach, especially among the driftwood on the North Beach, the Art Gallery in the Goodyear Cottage, and Faith Chapel with it’s signed Tiffany stained glass window.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes