Jekyll Island Membership in Georgia is a grand revival of bygone glory

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The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, with its stately turret and large bay windows, was built in the late 1880s as a private, secluded hunting club for Golden Age industrialists and financiers whose surnames were Rockefeller, Morgan, Pulitzer and Goodyear. After a turbulent history, it reopened in 1987 as a hotel and resort. (Ralph Daniel for Explore Georgia/Georgia Department of Economic Development/TNS)

Photo credit: TNS

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, with its stately turret and large bay windows, was built in the late 1880s as a private, secluded hunting club for Golden Age industrialists and financiers whose surnames were Rockefeller, Morgan, Pulitzer and Goodyear.  After a turbulent history, it reopened in 1987 as a hotel and resort.  (Ralph Daniel for Explore Georgia/Georgia Department of Economic Development/TNS)

Photo credit: TNS

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The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, with its stately turret and large bay windows, was built in the late 1880s as a private, secluded hunting club for Golden Age industrialists and financiers whose surnames were Rockefeller, Morgan, Pulitzer and Goodyear. After a turbulent history, it reopened in 1987 as a hotel and resort. (Ralph Daniel for Explore Georgia/Georgia Department of Economic Development/TNS)

Photo credit: TNS

Photo credit: TNS

Windswept Island was owned primarily by the duBignon family from 1794 through the 19th century and then during the Civil War until 1886 when the Jekyll Island Club was born from an idea of ​​Newton Finney, a New York merchant. Finney was the brother-in-law of John Eugene duBignon, the last of the duBignons to own the island. Finney had ties to the Union Club in New York, then one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. At the time, the membership list read like a who’s who of business and industry: William Rockefeller, William K. Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, Marshall Field, Frank Henry Goodyear, and countless other financiers and industrialists.

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Finney persuaded them to come to Jekyll Island, and after initial share sales to the wealthy, the club members invested in the construction of an elegant clubhouse with Queen Anne architecture, indoor plumbing, dozens of fireplaces, wraparound porches, and a dramatic tower. It was completed in 1888, with later additions of the Grand Dining Room with its Ionic columns, telephone service and an elevator. The members spent most of their winters on the island.

Members also built lavish “cottages” that reflected their affluent lifestyles at the time. Goodyear Cottage, for example, was an Italian mansion that took four years to build and was completed in 1906. Crane Cottage was built for Richard Teller Crane Jr. in 1917 and Cherokee Cottage for Dr. and Mrs. George Shrady of New York. Mistletoe, a Dutch Colonial style house, was originally built for Henry Kirk Porter and the Villa Ospo, completed in 1927, is a mix of Spanish Eclectic and Italian Renaissance. Some of the houses contained indoor swimming pools and tennis courts – almost unknown at the time.

The Jekyll Island Club thrived into the 1920s and 1930s, but the Great Depression and World War II, including the presence of German submarines off the Georgia coast, changed everything. The club, with its steed of old money, blue-blooded family ties and aging members, faded and practically went bankrupt, leaving little choice but to close it down.

After the end of World War II, efforts were made to revive it, but these too failed. Long story short, the state of Georgia stepped in and took ownership with plans to turn it into a state park. The clubhouse later reopened as a bed-and-breakfast of sorts, but essentially only those who owned boats traveled to Jekyll Island, as the causeway connecting the island to the mainland had not yet been built. So tourists and their dollars were really very few and far between, and Jekyll Island was hard to entertain.

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Despite the addition of a drawbridge in 1954, the clubhouse was eventually closed due to decay and neglect by the 1980s. Then two friends, one a lawyer and the other an architect, climbed through an unlocked window and fell in love with the once magnificent structure. In 1987, the Jekyll Island Club Resort reopened its doors, preserved and renovated to its original glory. From its richly appointed rooms to the intricate adornments to its manicured gardens, the hotel is once again a palatial resort steeped in the best of Southern traditions and experiences. Its Queen Anne style, including that spectacular turret and dozens of bay windows, reminds visitors of the good taste and grace of bygone eras.

Seven dining options define the resort, including the Grand Dining Room, which is currently only open for breakfast. History has it that the original members had to dine in the clubhouse dining room, where they were often served sumptuous 10-course meals.

The award-winning hotel is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and has been designated a Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Spread over 240 acres and made up of 34 buildings, including the hotel, cottages, and other structures like stables and tennis courts, the historic district looks much the same as it did in the island’s halcyon days.

At the end of the day at the Jekyll Island Club, watching and listening to the seagulls chattering in the sea air, tasting the saltiness of the peaceful swamp’s endless mornings and hearing the whispers of the spirits of the Golden Age, I realized this is the historic place captures the heart and soul of romance like no other place.

WHEN YOU GO

The Jekyll Island Club and Cottages are located at 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island. Call the hotel directly at 912-319-4349 or make a reservation at 888-445-3179.

The Jekyll Ocean Club, its sister property, is located at 80 Ocean Way, Jekyll Island. Call directly at 912-319-4348 or make reservations at 866-342-3683.

Bicycle rental is available. Visit www.jekyllclub.com.

Jekyll Island is an hour’s drive north of Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), an hour’s drive south of Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) and a half-hour drive from Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport (BQK).