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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
For more information, resources:
Explore Southern History: Horton House: http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hortonhouse.html
Jekyll Island, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jekyll_Island
Jekyll Island Club Hotel: A Historic Landmark Experience: http://www.jekyllclub.com
Jekyll Island Club – Haunted Houses: http://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/ga/jekyll_island.htm
Jekyll Island, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JekyllIsland