By Charlene S. Mixa
The Jewel of Georgia’s Golden Isles
A little island off the coast of Georgia captured the attention of a group of wealthy families for a hunting retreat from the cold northern winters. With the purchase of the island, the group created the Jekyll Island Club in 1886 which became known as the “richest, the most exclusive, and most inaccessible club in the world”. Jekyll Island, the southern most of the Golden Isles, now welcomes visitors to this remarkable island retreat. Explore miles of barrier island beaches with miles of bike trails along marshlands, woodlands and coastlines. Learn the fascinating history of the infamous Jekyll Island Club. Tee it up! Discover the natural wonders of Jekyll Island that charmed the wealthy so many years ago.
Off to explore Jekyll Island, my husband and I are ready to experience its uniqueness and its gilded history. A six-mile causeway through marshlands and across the Intracoastal Waterway takes us to the Island. Exiting on Riverview Drive, along a moss-draped tree lined road we pass the winter “cottages” that represent the gilded area of the island’s wealthy owners. The road opens to a spectacular view of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This multi-story Victorian building, the former grand clubhouse of the Jekyll Island Club, has been beautifully restored to its glorious splendor. The doorman and bellman greet us immediately as we arrive. Walking into the hotel we “sense” the history of the Club and admire the décor that blends the old and the new.
Our spacious river side two room suite is well appointed with Victorian furnishings, a full living room, a bedroom with king bed and the oversized garden tub in the bathroom. The bedroom and sitting room have elegant fireplaces bringing an extra charm to the rooms and their history. Modern conveniences are close at hand including HDTV’s. We roam the hotel admiring the rich wood of the staircase, the elegant dining room, the inviting courtyard, the croquette lawn and the pool with its view of the river and marshlands. Many photographs showcase the hotel in its heyday giving a sense of what life was like then.
The Hotel is the perfect point from which to explore the Island’s history. Walking along the sidewalks among the large “live” oak trees we see shops that were the former buildings of the many workers of the Club. The Jekyll Island Museum is the gateway for the Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District. At the museum we learn the early history of the island through the video and exhibit including the settlers who arrived with James Oglethorpe’s colonization of Georgia, the purchase by the men who formed the Jekyll Island Club, the Island’s purchase by the State of Georgia and the ongoing historic district restoration.
On 3:00 PM Historic Tram Tour our driver and guide, Phyllis, explains this is 240-acre riverfront compound and is one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States. The Jekyll Island Club with their grand clubhouse and “cottages” membership represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth. The Rockefellers, Morgans, Pulitzers, Vanderbilts, Cranes and Goulds were all members of this exclusive club. Serving only as a winter retreat, the “cottages” were to be simple without the extravagance in architecture or décor of their other homes. The “cottages” were 5,000 to 9,000 square feet, a small house for these wealthy families. We tour three homes, walking through the rooms with their period décor reflective of the family. The ladies sitting rooms were light and airy, while the men’s parlors were dark and rich. The architects, to keep with the theme of “cottage”, used various techniques such as painting the floors to look like parquet instead having actual parquet. No kitchens are in these “cottages” as meals were eaten at the Jekyll Island Club or the Club would cater for functions at the cottages. Ah, yes, this was the gilded era!
Our final stop is Faith Chapel, the second interdenominational chapel built by the Jekyll Island Club. This small, Gothic style chapel features two superb stained glass windows. At the chapel’s east end, behind the altar, is the beautiful stained glass window – Adoration of the Christ Child- created by Maitland Armstrong and his daughter, Helen. Made of several layers of glass, giving the illusion of depth, it is one of the most outstanding pieces of stained glass in the nation. The window at the west end – David Sets Singers Unto the Lord – is as a signed example of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
On Phyllis’ recommendation, we go to dinner at Crane Cottage. Built by Richard T. Crane, heir to the Crane plumbing fortune, the cottage is Italianate villa architecture. In 1924 the Architectural Recordstated it was “the most expensive and elegant winter home ever built on Jekyll Island.” The cottage is now part of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel featuring the Courtyard at Crane restaurant and several guest rooms. We have an excellent three course meal from the early bird special. It’s a moonlit night on our return walk to the Hotel. It has been a grand day of experiencing the “rich” history of Jekyll Island.
Jekyll Island is touted as “A world-class golf destination!” Grabbing our sticks we head out to play one of Jekyll’s four golf courses. Golf has been a part of Jekyll Island since the early years of the Jekyll Island Club. Pine Lakes is the newest and longest course on the Island. The day we play it is cart path only, but we are off early as a twosome, allowing us time to enjoy the course. Meandering through ocean forests and quiet hammocks, the course is very enjoyable. It provides enough challenge but is not overly demanding for the average golfer.
After golf we stop by the wharf where we enjoy the views of the waterway and partake in some local seafood at the Rah Bar. At the Georgia Sea Turtle Museum we explore the interactive exhibits on the sea turtle encompassing its biology, conservation, rehabilitation and the sea turtle’s fascinating journey from egg to adulthood. At the viewing window of the treatment area and rehabilitation area, we watch as injured and ill turtles receive veterinary care.
Driving the perimeter roads of the island, we admire the lush woodlands, marshlands and sand dune beaches. We note the well marked bike paths and walking trails, plus the lack of congestion. Owned by the State of Georgia, 65% of the island will remain undeveloped preserving its natural setting. Jekyll Island is an excellent destination for enchanting history, outdoor sport activities and experiencing nature.
If you go:
Brunswick and the Golden Isles of Georgia, 4 Glynn Avenue, Brunswick, GA 31520; 1.800.933.2627; www.comecoastawhile.com
Jekyll Island Welcome Center, 901 Downing Musgrove Causeway, Jekyll Island, GA 31527; 912.635.3636;www.jekyllisland.com
The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, GA 31527; 800.535.9537; www.jekyllclub.com
Jekyll Island Museum, 100 Stable Road, Jekyll Island, GA 31527; 912.635.4036; www.jekyllisland.com
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, www.georigaseaturtlecenter.org