Missy, our daughter’s roommate, has traveled to many places – New York City, London, all over Europe – but she always tells us that one of her most favorite places to visit is Jekyll Island. We tell her, No way. There’s nothing to do there, and there are no good restaurants. She tells us there is plenty to do and eat on Jekyll Island.
When I was a young girl, I remember going to Jekyll with my family, but I do not remember where we stayed or what we ate. I only remember sand dollars. My brother, sister, and I found what must have been hundreds of them in the water while we played there. That’s my only memory of the island. So one afternoon while my husband and I were on St. Simons, we decided to make a trip over to Jekyll. We headed off the island, into the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia and then over that BIG bridge to Jekyll.
The island is only 7 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide. By law 65% of the land must remain undeveloped. So it looked pretty undeveloped (and unoccupied) to me. As we entered the island, we were greeted by these twin towers.
And then we had to pay the toll to go any further. I’ll explain the reason for the toll in a bit.
More bridges to cross …and the view of boats out my window.
We turned and headed over to the historic Jekyll Island wharf. I want to show you where we ate dinner that evening.
The old wharf has a small gift shop, a place to sign up for dolphin tours, a bar with outdoor dining, and …
Latitude 31 – the restaurant we enjoyed.
The building was once a warehouse that provided supplies and ice to the hotel on the island. They did a beautiful job renovating the interior.
It is a long, narrow room, and they smartly put mirrors down one side to visually expand the space and reflect the water view from the windows on the other wall.
This was my view out the window by our table.
And this was my husband’s view.
(I think his was better!.Don’t you?)
The menu offered quite a variety of dishes with an emphasis on seafood (naturally!)
Look how they served our drinks!
(You know I loved those mason jars.)
And once again my husband selected fried shrimp. He said it was equally as good as his shrimp from Iguana’s on St. Simons (and that is quite a compliment!)
I really really wanted to try some of their tacos….but the chicken romano called me again, and I couldn’t resist. It had more sun dried tomatoes (which I love) than the dish from Mallery Street Cafe, but I think Mallery Street’s had more basil, so this basil-loving girl gives Mallery Street the win on this dish (although both were very tasty!)
We finished our meal with a shared slice of authentic Key Lime pie.
After our meal, we took a walk around the area. Now don’t think I am crazy, but this next photo is of the public restrooms on Jekyll. I am showing you this because I want you to realize how important historical buildings are to the island. They will even house their restrooms in them!
Okay, now to a history lesson and an explanation of the toll.
Jekyll has a very interesting history. In 1886, 53 members of an exclusive club purchased shares for $600 each to buy most of the island as a winter retreat for the club members and their families. These weren’t just your average club members. Not at all. Among them were J.P. Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, Joseph Pulitzer, and some Rockefellers…all wanting an exclusive place where they could hunt, fish, and relax.
Some of these millionaires in the club wanted to have a little more privacy and space for themselves, their families, and their servants when they came for their hunting retreat in the winter, so they built themselves “cottages.” This green one is Moss Cottage – once owned by Valentine Everit Macy.
This white one was owned by the Goodyear family.
The Sans Souci building (below) was built by J. P. Morgan and 2 other families in 1896. It had 6 apartment units and is considered to be the very first condominium building in the United States.And now we come to the crown jewel. This was the Jekyll Island Clubhouse, a Queen Anne style structure with its signature turret, designed by Charles Alexander from Chicago. It opened its doors to club members in January, 1888.
The front lawn was (and still is) used for games of croquet. Horace William Shaler Cleveland did the landscape design.
The Jekyll Island Club was apparently one of the most sought after places to be for a number of decades. It started as a men’s hunting club, but also offered many other sports – eventually including golf. It was also more family oriented than many of the other social clubs for this clientele at the time. There were even activities for the women – riding, hunting, and camping. (Seriously!) Tennis, bicycling, and carriage driving were all also available. The number of members grew, and they built an annex in 1902 to help keep up with the wealthy crowds that wanted to stay there.
Not only was it a place for recreation and relaxation, but it was also a place where historic events occurred. (With that many powerful and wealthy men there in one location, it is not surprising.) In November, 1910 a secret meeting was held at the Jekyll Island Club between Senator Nelson Aldrich, chairman of the National Monetary Commission, and 3 major bank partners (all representing 1/4 of the world’s total wealth at the time) and together they drew up a plan that would be the basis for the U.S. Federal Reserve.
In January, 1915, Thomas Newton Vail, president of AT&T, was vacationing at the Jekyll Island Club. He had intended to return home to New York for a very important phone call, but he injured his leg and had to stay longer. This important call was to be the very first coast-to-coast telephone call.
He had his staff install 1,100 more miles of line, and on January 25, 1915, that very first transcontinental call was made between Vail on Jekyll Island and Thomas Watson in San Francisco. It set a long distance record.
The success of the Jekyll Island Club continued into the 1920’s, and then the Great Depression hit. Half of the members dropped out. In 1933 with funding dwindling, the executive committee created a more affordable level of membership – hoping to pull in younger people. It helped for only a few years.
And then came World War II. There was fear that enemy submarines might locate themselves off the coast of Jekyll, so the federal government ordered a complete evacuation of the island until the war was over. The Club’s last season ended in 1942.
With no revenue coming in, the buildings could not be kept up. The State of Georgia stepped in and purchased the island from the last shareholders for $675,000. The entire island became a state park (the reason for the toll now), and the club was then turned into a public resort by the state. Unfortunately, it was not profitable, and the state closed it in 1971. The buildings became dilapidated. So sad…
But then the good news starts.Somehow in 1978, the area became designated as a historic landmark. The former club grounds make up 240 acres, and there are 34 historic buildings in the historic district. Then in the 1980’s a group of investors became interested in restoring the whole property. After an investment of $22 million into the restoration of the buildings and even more spent on improving the land and decorating the interior, the clubhouse reopened in 1985 as the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This is how the lobby looks today.
And here is the check in desk.
This room in the hotel is typical of those that are available for overnight stays.
After walking around the hotel, we followed this sign to see more buildings in the historic district.
This cottage belonged to the original owner of the land that was sold to the club members.
Near the duBignon cottage was this little skeet house.
There are a few shops in the renovated area of the historic district.
The hotel is not on the beach, but they have purchased a piece of land there for their beach pavilion. Hotel guests can park there, change clothes, pick up beach chairs and umbrellas, and even purchase light lunches and snacks while enjoying the Jekyll Island beach.
Because we were not guests of the hotel, we did not access the beach there. Instead, we drove to the other end of the island to see what the beach was like at that location. We parked…walked down this pretty path…
Wave erosion is taking away the beach from this end of the island and depositing it on the other end. Rocks have been brought in to help protect the land from being washed away.
We figured there had to be a better beach somewhere on the island, so we drove to the other end. There we found the newly built Westin (opened in April, 2015.)
And a new convention center.
And a courtyard between a series of new shops.
And back of the Westin we found this beach walk.
And a beach with no rocks,
but also no waves?
(That seemed very strange for the Atlantic to me.)
We enjoyed the peace and quiet there for a bit and then hopped back in the car, took the bridge back to Brunswick and then back to St. Simons.
I did not show you all the beautiful mansions and a lovely old chapel there at the historic district nor all the restaurants on the island. I also did not tell you about Summer Waves, a water park for the entire family. I hope you can check all of these out when you make a trip to Jekyll Island. And say “hello” to Missy when you go.
Until next time…