Coasting: That “old money” feel of Jekyll Island

The Jekyll Island Club, Jekyll Island, Georgia

The Jekyll Island Club, Jekyll Island, Georgia

Our Coasting series continues with a short one-day trip to Jekyll Island, one of four barrier islands in Georgia. Although Jekyll can boast of lovely marshes, moss-draped live oaks, and quiet beaches, it was the historically lavish lifestyle of the rich and famous that drew us to the historic district where several of the buildings of the Jekyll Island Club still stand.

Wing of the Jekyll Island Club

One wing of the Jekyll Island Club facing the croquet lawn.

It was Newton Finney (served briefly as captain of engineers on Robert E. Lee’s staff during the Civil War) and his brother-in-law, John Eugene DuBignon, who dreamed of developing a hunt club for wealthy northerners.  Between 1879 and 1885, the men acquired the land and convinced investors to create the exclusive Jekyll Island Club. Finney and DuBignon then sold the newly incorporated club to the 53 member investors among whom were “Men of Means” (as the plaque on the grounds dubbed them) such as J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Henry Hyde, and Marshall Field.

The iconic turret of the Jekyll Island Club.

The iconic turret of the Jekyll Island Club.

Officially opened in 1888, the Queen Anne style Clubhouse, designed by Charles Alexander of Chicago, was hailed for its notable details — a signature turret, bay windows, leaded art glass, and sizable rooms with tall ceilings.  Club members and their families engaged in leisure activities that even today sound sumptuous — yachting, hunting, lawn parties, carriage rides, and formal dining in the evenings.  And yes, we were there on a day when white-clad players of croquet took to the front lawn much as we imagine the club members might have done.  Ah, the good ol’ days!

A game of croquet on the lawn of the Jekyll Island Club

A game of croquet on the lawn of the Jekyll Island Club

Some of the cottages are open for tours; some can be rented.  Sans Souci (“without care”) was one of the first condominiums built in America with its original six units, owned in part by J. P. Morgan. Still in tact are the original floors, skylight, and stairway.(jekyllclub.com/accommodations)

Sans Souci, Jekyll Island, Georgia

America’s first condominium? Sans Souci on Jekyll Island

Other cottages are open only for tours.  Like Indian Mound Cottage, home of William and Almira Rockefeller, built in the early 1900s, subject of this video posted on YouTube.

Indian Mound Cottage, Jekyll Island

Indian Mound Cottage, home of William and Almira Rockefeller

It’s a good idea to take a trolley ride complete with talkative driver elaborating on the history, architecture, and social life. Or just sit back and relax to the clop-clop of horses’ hooves as you tour by horse-drawn carriage.

Horse-drawn carriage, Jekyll Island

Touring Jekyll by horse-drawn carriage.

And, if you’re wondering, you can (YES!!!) be a guest yourself at the elegant Jekyll Island Club where the interior is as interesting and luxurious as the exterior.

Sitting room, Jekyll Island Club

Sitting room, Jekyll Island Club

We sauntered out to the Jekyll Island Wharf for a leisure lunch and watched sea birds fly by, all the while pretending that we could be one of the Astors or Rockefellers or Morgans enjoying a picnic beside the sea.

Jekyll Island Wharf

Jekyll Island Wharf

Pulling away from the lap of luxury wasn’t easy, but we were interested in what else the island had to offer.  A lot, as it turned out.  Like Horton House Historic Site located on North Riverview Drive.

Needing a residence for his family still residing in England in the 1730s, Major William Horton (who served as second in command of General James Oglethorpe’s regiment) cleared a tract of land and built the sturdy structure now known as Horton House.

Horton House Historic Site

What remains of Horton House, built by Major William Horton around 1740.

Horton House was built of tabby, a building material introduced to us during our tour of Fort Frederica.  Tabby is created by mixing water, lime, sand, and oyster shells. But Horton had to first burn oyster shells to create lime, then mix the tabby, and finally pour it all into the forms that still remain today.  The house has been burned, rebuilt, and abandoned, but is now preserved as a designated historic site, open daily to the public.

Horton House, Jekyll Island

Horton House, Jekyll Island

No matter what you choose to do on Jekyll Island — from looking at historic markers to roaming the beaches to pretending you, too, are a descendant of the Astors or Vanderbilts — you can’t escape the elegance and history of an “old money” world gone by.

No more cycling

No more cycling. We’re at the beach!

For more information, resources:

Explore Southern History: Horton House: http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hortonhouse.html

Jekyll Island, Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jekyll_Island

Jekyll Island Club Hotel: A Historic Landmark Experience: http://www.jekyllclub.com

Jekyll Island Club – Haunted Houseshttp://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/ga/jekyll_island.htm

Jekyll Island, Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/JekyllIsland

For more posts in the Coasting series: 

About Oh, the Places We See

Met at University of Tennessee, been married for 47 years, and still passionate about travel whether we're volunteering with Habitat Global Village, combining work at Discovery with pleasure, or just seeing the world. Hope you'll join us as we try to see it all while we can!
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14 Responses to Coasting: That “old money” feel of Jekyll Island

  1. krithya G says:

    Nice post! It reminded me of a recent trip we made to Newport, Rhode Island, which is also a coastal town with lovely mansions. The Vanderbilts built a mansion there as well.
    And for a minute I thought the sport you were referring to in the fourth picture is cricket, but turns out croquet is a different game altogether.

    • We’ve actually been to Newport but not for an extended period of time. Would love to return and tour as many houses as they would let me into! OMG! So very lovely — the area and the homes! Thanks for taking a look!

  2. Whenever I come in to contact with the million dollar views the wealthy spent their fortunes on, I reach around and pat myself on the back that I can enjoy the same views, for next to nothing— as you are doing. Good blog. Thanks. 🙂 –Curt

    • You’re right. We do get some pretty terrific views, but it’s mostly one or two nights at a time. I wonder how it would be to have a second or third home complete with help. But I don’t wonder too long. We love traveling and spending snippets of time in various places. It’s a patchwork life, but a rich one! Thanks for reading!

  3. Amy says:

    Enjoyed reading the history of this special island. Beautiful place for vacation… 🙂

  4. yprior1 says:

    really cool – and old money feel and such a historical and southern feel 🙂

  5. Oh do I want to go Coasting with you! Another great post, Rusha. 🙂

  6. cindy knoke says:

    Did you read, “The Wildest Woman In America?” She lives on Cumberland island, next to Amelia Island. She is a remarkable woman. Jim and I are discussing when we would like to visit, so this great post was very timely. Love it~

    • Cindy, I haven’t read the book nor seen Cumberland Island, although I would love to do both. I believe you have to take a ferry over to Cumberland, but pictures I’ve seen on the Internet look great — mansions, first African Baptist Church, etc. Hope you get to go and take great pictures. May have to live through your visit!

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