Jekyll Island Club Hotel Enchants with Timeless Charm, Gilded Age Splendor

Jekyll Island Club Hotel enchants with timeless charm © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is a hidden jewel.

Sequestered on a small barrier island off of New Brunswick, Georgia, The Jekyll Island Club Hotel enchants you from the moment you come up the long drive under a canopy of trees, the river on one side, and you behold this fairytale-looking structure with turret, circular porches.

I arrive in the late afternoon, when the wooden structure is bathed in golden light.

View slideshow: Jekyll Island Club Hotel enchants with timeless charm

You immediately feel calmed, transported away from the pressures of today, into an aura of timelessness.

A Historic Hotels of America member, Jekyll Island Club is unique in its personality, character, architecture but most importantly because of its a special connection to the place, its people, indeed the history of the state and nation. It Is the centerpiece of a 240-acre Historic District on Jekyll Island, itself designated a state preserve and operated by a special Jekyll Island Authority.

Just as it was originally designed, the Jekyll Island Club remains a place of simple pleasure, albeit in a classy, luxurious environment, providing an extraordinary guest experience – as unique as the property itself.

We come here today for the same reasons the Gilded Age tycoons brought their families 125 years ago, when the Jekyll Island Club first opened: the simple pleasures of the tranquility here, to be immersed in the glorious outdoors and natural splendor – the beach, the forests.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is the fourth chapter in the storied history of the island– after the Indians, the colonial period, the plantation period and the Civil War.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel enchants you from the moment you come up the long drive under a canopy of trees and you behold this fairytale-looking structure with turret and circular porch © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Jekyll Island Club we see today is mostly the creation of the Gilded Age, its founders the mostly uber-wealthy Northerners, the industrialists and bankers who both propelled and prospered in the emergence of the Industrial Age.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel was originally built in 1886 as a hunting retreat for America’s wealthy elite – including JP Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer, the Vanderbilts, Goulds and Astors.

This connection to heritage and history is manifest in the historic photos that decorate the walls – that affirm how faithful to the original the property remains. Just as in the early years when the Club was opened to the general public, you absolutely get a thrill (as the first guests did after the state took over the Club) to sleep in the same rooms as these titans who had so much impact on shaping America.

One photo stands out: Because of the concentration of internationally prominent business leaders, the Jekyll Island Club has been the scene of some important historical events, such as the first transcontinental telephone call placed by AT&T president Theodore Vail on January 25, 1915, with JP Morgan and William Rockefeller standing by.

AT&T president Theodore Vail makes the first transcontinental telephone call from Jekyll Island Club on Jan. 25, 1915, as JP Morgan and William Rockefeller stand by © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Meeting and function rooms are named for these founding members: Pulitzer, Aldrich, Aspinwall and one room named “Federal Reserve.”

A puzzle, which I unravel later – turns out that the outlines for the Federal Reserve were worked out here, at the Jekyll Island Club, by the “first name club” – a small group of literal “movers and shakers” of the banking industry who met here secretly after the economic panic of 1907, to come up with some plan to reform the banking industry.

Using only their first names or nicknames, Nelson Aldrich, Henry Davison, A. Piatt Andrew, Benjamin Strong, Paul Warburg, and Frank Vanderlip left New Jersey by rail in a private train car owned by Aldrich, a US Senator from Rhode Island, on their trip southward in mid-November, 1910.

This history does not seem so long ago, but instead resonates in the headlines today after the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression, followed by an attempt to inject reform into the financial industry, and the present controversy over the role of the Federal Reserve. It is all so juicy and exciting as you feel you have a front-row seat to history unfolding, the connection is so real, especially as you go through the Jekyll Island Museum, with photos and artifacts – even the phone.

One of the cottages at the Jekyll Island Club © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Unlike the summer “cottages” these same families built in Newport, Rhode Island, which were designed as showplaces – or rather to show off – their wealth, success and by extension, their power, the Jekyll Island Club was built to be a place where the elite families could enjoy simple pleasures like the beach, tennis, golf and bicycling. Even so, for years, there was an unofficial competition among the yachting members to see who would arrive in the most impressive and beautifully appointed vessel. There were activities for women and children. As the families grew, they built their own “cottages” – still much more modest than they built in Newport.

Notably, most did not have kitchens because they all dined in the Grand Dining Room, the high point of the day. They also entertained there.

The hotel today seems a living link to those people and those times. It is easy to forget what century you are in.

Stepping into Jekyll Island Club’s Grand Dining Room is like stepping into a photo from the 1920 © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Grand Dining Room is still a focal point of the original hotel. It looks exactly as it did in historic photos, and stepping across the threshold, is like stepping through the portal of time, like that scene in a movie, where you walk from a black-and-white photo into the movie scene.

At the hotel, itself, you can enjoy a traditional afternoon Victorian tea, croquet, massage services, fitness center, putting green, and swim in a magnificently set pool, overlooking the river.

Here, you really do get to sleep where the giants of American industry have stayed. You see what they saw, and walk the paths they did.

There are niceties – such as early morning coffee served until 8 am in the lounge with comfortable chairs and a fireplace; live piano music in the afternoons and weekend evenings, WiFi throughout the hotel, oodles of porches and wicker chairs.

But the atmosphere here isn’t pretentious or formal – it is wonderfully casual and comfortable, a place for families, for couples, for empty-nesters.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel offers 157 elegantly appointed rooms in five distinct settings, ranging from the original Club, itself, which dates from 1886, and the connected annex, built in 1901 for the overflow of guests. Two of the venues, the Crane Cottage and Cherokee Cottage, are historic, recently acquired, restored and added to the hotel’s collection, and are absolutely exquisite, like a fantasy come true for those who have fantasized about having a fabulous mansion (and particularly ideal for destination weddings).

Crane Cottage, with 13 guestrooms a charming dining room, courtyard and gardens, was built in 1917, and is very popular for destination weddings © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Crane Cottage is utterly exquisite. It was built in 1917 by Chicago architects Adler and Dangler, was inspired by an Italian Renaissance villa admired by Richard Teller Crane Jr., the original owner. who was a plumbing magnate. It is the largest, most lavish of the cottages and has a landscaped formal sunken garden with fountains and upper terrace. Not surprisingly, it has 17 bathrooms. Now part of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, it offers 13 guestrooms, plus a charming restaurant dining room. It is especially popular for destination weddings with its outdoor courtyard, fountain and gardens (see story). Even if you are not staying in Crane Cottage, it adds to this stunning ambiance.

Cherokee Cottage was built in 1904 in the Italian Renaissance architectural style by Edwin Gould for his in-laws, the Shrady’s. Dr. George Frederick Shrady of New was an eminent physician, editor of the Medical Record, and Assistant Surgeon, U.S.A., during the War Between the States who attended ex-President U.S. Grant, as consulting surgeon, in his last illness. (Edwin Gould, who owned the cottage “Solterra” on Jekyll, was the son of the famous financier Jay Gould, who left an estate of over $60,000,000.) The three arched, double front doors welcome guests into a light, spacious great room, and its 10 guestrooms accommodations express a life of elegant leisure.

Another cottage, Sans Souci (meaning “without care”) was built in 1896 and owned in part by J.P. Morgan. This six-unit building is considered to be one of the first condominiums built in this country. The floors, leaded art glass, stairway and skylight are all original.

Several other cottages that have been restored, but are not part of the Hotel, are open to the public and visited as part of the historic tours. Among them: The Indian Mound Cottage, built with 25 rooms for the Rockefeller family, and the Goodyear Cottage completed in 1906 by the firm of Carrére and Hastings.

Simple Pleasures – Priceless

At Jekyll Island Club Hotel, relish sitting under live oak © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the island offer a host of simple pleasures: hanging out on the beach (the Jekyll Island Club provides a shuttle to a relatively private section with its own Ice Cream Pavilion); fishing off a pier, golf on the original 100-year old nine-hole course and three other 18-hole courses, tennis, and bicycling (the hotel has bike rentals and there is another rental shop on the island; you can ride 17 miles around the island, and a total of 22 miles of bike paths).

One of many surprises of Jekyll Island is that because it is a state-park, operated by the state’s Jekyll Island Authority, activities such as golf, tennis, horseback riding are actually quite reasonably priced.

This includes horse-drawn carriage rides of the historic district – the best way to fall under Jekyll Island’s spell (45 minutes, offered Tuesday-Saturday, 9-5, $15/adults, $7 3-12; 35-minute evening rides, 5-9 pm, $40/couple).

Besides the Jekyll Island Museum (free to visit), you can also take Historic District Tours – visiting the 240-acre district with entree to some of these magnificent Victorian cottrages surrounding the hotel ($16/adults $7/child).

Tennis: Jekyll Island Tennis Center has 13 outdoor clay courts, resurfaced in 2011 and considered one of 25 best municipal facilities in the country ($6 pp, 912-635-3154).

Golf: 63 holes of golf on the island. Operated by the state-run Jekyll Island Authority, just $45 for 18 holes and half-cart and walking is allowed (hotel concierge can reserve tee times in advance).

Miniature Golf: At a central center for family-oriented activities, there are playgrounds, a bike rental shop and miniature golf (two courses, $6.50 pp, 9-6 Sunday-Thursday and 9-9 Friday and Saturday, 912-635-2648).

Horseback trail rides: Western-style horseback riding from the Clam Creek stables take you along the beach or marsh with a trail guide ($58/hour); a Sunset Ride, 1 1/2 hours, is $78 pp (www.threeoakscarriageandtrail.com, 912-635-9500).

SummerWaves Water Park (open daily in season, evening swims in peak season,210 South Riverview Drive, www.keyllisland.com/summerwaves, 912-635-2074).

There are also charter fishing and dolphin cruises, right from the hotel’s wharf.

Across the causeway, you can go shrimping on a 60-foot steel hull shrimp boat that sails out of Brunswick; or take the Emerald Princess II casino/cruise for buffet, dancing, live entertainment and gambling ($10 pp).

Several important attractions are within the historic district and just beyond on the island. Most notably:

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, located right on the property, opened in 2007 in what was the island’s historic power plant building, is devoted to the rehabilitation of injured sea turtles; you can experience hands on exhibits, witness sea turtle operations. ($7/adults, $6/seniors, $5/child, georgiaseaturtlecenter.org, 912-635-4444).

Jekyll Island Museum was surprisingly fabulous. Also located within the historic district, right at the Club, has wonderful artifacts, exhibits, video. The museum is free to visit, and also hosts daily Passport to the Century Tour, a guided tram tour of the entire historic district including entry into two of the restored cottages ($16/adults, $6, 7-15, offered 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm daily). It also offers an e-guide Self-Guided Tour, a hand-held multi-media tour of the historic districts you can do at your own pace (daily, $8/per unit) open 9 am-5 pm daily, 912-635-4036, jekyllisland.com).

The Wanderer Memorial to an infamous event: on November 28, 1858, the ship, Wanderer, sailed into the St. Andrews Sound south of Jekyll Island. On board were roughly 400 enslaved Africans who were illegally imported to the United States 50 years after an act prohibited importation (it went into effect in 1810) in one of the most sensational and controversial moments in Jekyll Island history. The Wanderer Memorial includes a sculpture by artist Mario Schambon and three text panels describing this event, the sensational trial of the slave runners, and the fate and legacy of many of the enslaved Africans. The Wanderer Memorial is located on the southern end of Jekyll Island in the St. Andrews Picnic area. It was dedicated on the 150th Anniversary of the ships landing in 2008.

Indeed, our visit to Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the island presented many improvements and new activities and attractions in only these past few years.

Dining

Grand Dining Room continues to be the scene of social gatherings and gourmet experiences. Beautifully restored in the Victorian mode, the room is dominated by Ionic columns and gleaming white woodwork, and three handsome fireplaces, complete with intricately carved mantle pieces and marble. The lawns and the river can be seen through expansive windows. The glow of candlelight and piano music create an atmosphere of romance and anticipation of the gourmet meal to come. The last Sunday of most months boasts Sunday Dinner Dance with gourmet dining and ballroom dancing.

The hotel’s full service restaurant, the Grand Dining Room offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and famous Sunday Brunch. The á-la carte menu features continental cuisine specializing in seafood, gourmet specials and authentic Southern fare. The Club pianist complements evening dining and Sunday Brunch. Jackets or collared shirts, slacks or appropriate jeans for gentlemen is requested. (912-635-5155 for reservations)

The Courtyard at Crane, a less formal dining option but absolutely fabulous, is located in the center courtyard and loggia of the historic Crane Cottage. You can dine inside or outside. Cottage Crabcakes, Jumbo Shrimp and Scallop Scampi and Lobster Francais are favorite selections on the menu. The wine menu features a blend of the Mediterranean and Northern California wine country. Dress is casual. (912-635-5200 for reservations).

The wharf at Jekyll Island Club is the place to be at sunset © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The coolest venue is Latitude 31º, located on the historic wharf in the Jekyll Island Historic Landmark District, serving fresh seafood and live entertainment (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday during summer ). There is also a Raw Bar where you can eat on the wharf with the band and watch the sun set over the river.

Café Solterra, is the hotel’s popular bakery-delicatessen, for casual dining throughout the day and late at night. presenting pastries, muffins and sticky buns each morning homemade by our pastry chefs. Other continental style items are also available including fresh fruit and cereal. To complement any breakfast or all day long, this inviting dining spot proudly serves Starbucks Coffee, featuring special flavors daily. Open throughout the day, lunch and dinner offerings include fresh garden salads, a wide variety of sandwiches and wraps, plus homemade soup. Dessert is a treat! Try the famous cafe cookies, Haagen Dazs ice cream or the homemade cakes and pies. The friendly staff will also prepare picnic lunches or assist you in large quantity items for any party or family gathering.

Another snack shop is Doc’s, amid small cottages that are interesting shops.

There is also a casual pub and a Pool Bar.

The hotel has its own Beach Pavilion is located on the Atlantic Ocean. This breezy Jekyll Island dining spot features hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken sandwiches, chips, hand scooped ice cream and an assortment of beverages. Amenities include picnic tables, beach chairs and sun umbrellas, towel service and restrooms.

(A Full American Plan (3 meals daily) is available for $ 96 per person, per day, and Modified American plan (breakfast and dinner) at $ 76 per person, per day including gratuities and tax).

Special Events and Packages

A popular retreat for the Gilded Age moguls, it is no wonder Jekyll Island Club Hotel is so popular for honeymoons, destination weddings, and as a romantic retreat © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Throughout the year, there are events and festivals on Jekyll Island – For example, November-March, Music and Merlot; November-December is Holidays in History, Christmas Tree Lighting Festival, Music and Merlot (877-453-5955, jekyllisland.com).

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel matches these seasonal festivities with packages. For example:

Christmas Package (available Nov. 25-Dec. 27) offers accommodations, breakfast buffet, Christmas stocking, commemorative Christmas ornament, from $199/double occupancy.

New Year’s Eve Celebration package provides three nights accommodations, breakfast buffet for two each morning in the Grand dining Room, New Year’s Eve Dinner for Two, admission to After Dinner Party at the Morgan Center with DJ and dancing and casual dining; Party favors and Champagne toast at midnight, New Year’s Day upgraded breakfast buffet; food and beverage taxes and gratuities, at $849 per couple with early dinner seating, $899 per couple for late dinner seating.

An ongoing mid-week Heritage Tour Package includes accommodations, hotel history tour, tram tour of the historic district, admission to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, afternoon tea one day, breakfast buffet, and taxes and gratuities (from $499).

A Club Cuisine package which includes dinner in the Grand Dining Room or at the Courtyard at Crame, with wine, and breakfast buffet, hotel gift upon arrival (champagne, fruit and cheese plate and glasses), taxes and gratuities, from $759

Check out Romantic getaways, honeymoon packages, golf getaway, tennis getaway, girlfriends getaway. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is also extremely popular for destination weddings and elopements (see story).

High season at Jekyll Island Club is mid-March through August; shoulder is September-November and low season is December-February

Room rates run around $219-$269 weekends, making it one of the best values for a grand historic hotel.

There are no regularly scheduled children’s activity programs, but the hotel can create one for groups.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, GA 31527, 855-598-3640, jekyllclub.com.

There are no regularly scheduled children’s activity programs, but the hotel can create one for groups.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, GA 31527, 855-598-3640, jekyllclub.com.

See also: Jekyll Island, from Gilded Age playground to Georgia’s public park and slideshow

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Jekyll Island, From Colonial Plantation to Gilded Age Playground to Georgia’s Public Park, is as Enthralling as Ever

One of the best ways to explore Jekyll Island and experience it, too, is biking. along its 22 miles of bike paths which takes you goes along the river and sea marshes, through forests of live oak dripping with Spanish moss © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

Most who come to Jekyll Island will luxuriate in its rustic charm, its peaceful splendor. They come to commune with nature, enjoy the beach, bike along its miles of trails. A popular retreat for the Gilded Age moguls, it is no wonder it is so popular for honeymoons, destination weddings, as a romantic retreat and as a family getaway.

For me, though, the delight comes in being immersed in the history of this place – like so many of the Historic Hotels of America members, the Jekyll Island Club is unique, has a special connection to the place, its people, indeed the history of the state and nation.

View slideshow: Exploring Jekyll Island Georgia

History is made: photo in Jekyll Island Museum shows the first transatlantic telephone call, made from the Jekyll Island Club in 1915 by AT&T President, with JP Morgan standing by. Jekyll Island was the playground for the Gilded Age moguls © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Being here at the hotel and then exploring the small island, is like being on a scavenger hunt – the clues are the photos that decorate the walls, the names of rooms and buildings, the historic markers you come upon on the trails, the ruins and the structures so lovingly and faithfully restored. Just across from the Jekyll Island Club, which is within a 240-acre historic district of Victorian cottages and buildings, you find yourself in a splendid museum with fascinating artifacts, in the ruins of a colonial home, a memorial to one of the last slave ships to bring its human cargo to America’s shores. Its beach was used for a battle scene in the Civil-War movie, “Glory,” about an all-Black regiment that so bravely went to its death fighting for freedom; the legacy is a boardwalk constructed for the film.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel was originally built in 1886 as a hunting retreat for America’s wealthy elite – including JP Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer, the Vanderbilts, Goulds and Astors.

The very proximity of these movers and shakers meant that important history was made here: One photo stands out showing the first transcontinental telephone call placed by AT&T president Theodore Vail on January 25, 1915, with JP Morgan and William Rockefeller standing by.

Photos that decorate the walls show that It is remarkably intact from the way it was, and yet, though you would never know it from looking at the pristine, idyllic setting today, it has gone through its own tumult. It was used as a private club – quite literally an “Ol Boy’s Club” and probably, the world’s first time-share, since the members were fractional owners – up until World War II, when U-boats were spotted and the government evacuated the island.

After the war, their island retreat fell out of favor of the members who moved on to newer, posher, trendier resort destinations like Palm Beach, Florida.

The state of Georgia condemned the island, paid $675,000 to take it over as a state park (a controversy that figured into the defeat of Governor Thompson though his opponent after winning completed the transaction), and attempted to continue to operate the hotel up until 1970, when the hotel was closed. “Pirates” who came by boat actually looted the hotel, and it fell into disrepair.

Up until that time, the island could only be visited by boat – the original club members had their yachts that they delighted in showing off.

Then, a group of private investors took it over, on the condition that the state build a causeway. They restored the hotel to its distinctive elegant style, and reopened it in 1986. It is now a National Historic Landmark and a member of Historic Hotels of America, and as such, has that distinctive characteristic of being so much more than a “building” or “structure,” but a unique connection to the people, place, heritage and events that shaped the state of Georgia and the nation.

The Jekyll Island Club hotel is the centerpiece of a 240-acre historic district, dotted with Victorian era buildings that were part of the original Club, and the rest of the island is remarkably and wonderfully unspoiled, uncommercialized, with 65 percent of it preserved from development.

This connection to heritage and history is manifest in the historic photos that decorate the walls – that affirm how faithful to the original the property remains. Just as in the early years when the Club was opened to the general public, you absolutely get a thrill (as the first guests did after the state took over the Club) to sleep in the same rooms as these titans who had so much impact on shaping America.

Meeting and function rooms are named for these founding members: Pulitzer, Aldrich, Aspinwall and one room named “Federal Reserve.”

This strikes me as a puzzle, which I unravel later. It turns out that the outlines for the Federal Reserve were worked out here, at the Jekyll Island Club, by the “first name club” – a small group of literal “movers and shakers” of finance who met here secretly after the economic panic of 1907, to come up with some plan to reform the banking industry.

Using only their first names or nicknames, Nelson Aldrich, Henry Davison, A. Piatt Andrew, Benjamin Strong, Paul Warburg, and Frank Vanderlip left New Jersey by rail in a private car owned by Aldrich, a US Senator from Rhode Island, on their trip southward in mid-November, 1910.

This history does not seem so long ago, but instead resonates in the headlines today after the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression, followed by an attempt to inject reform into the financial industry, and the present controversy over the role of the Federal Reserve. It is all so juicy and exciting as you feel you have a front-row seat to history unfolding, the connection is so real, especially as you go through the Jekyll Island Museum, with photos and artifacts – even the phone.

History unfolds as you travel around Jekyll Island.

Colonial Ruins, a Slave Past

Ruins of Horton House, built by William Horton who was granted the island in 1736. It is one of the oldest buildings in Georgia © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Early on my first morning, I take a drive to explore the island. Everything is engulfed in a dense fog. A vintage 1940s car dramatically emerges out of the fog setting the stage, perfectly, and I come upon the ruins of a colonial-era building.

This was the home of Major William Horton who was one of the top military aides to General James Oglethorpe, the man who was granted the Georgia colony (it was America’s 13th colony) and who named Jekyll Island for his friend, Sir Joseph Jekyll, an English politician who provided him funds (naming rights!)

The colony grew rapidly, and an immediate conflict developed with Spanish colonists in Florida. Oglethorpe quickly dispatched 30 recruits led by William Horton to construct the town and defenses at Frederica on St. Simons Island. After proving himself on St. Simons, Horton was granted 500 acres of land by the Trustees of the colony, and in April 1736 he ventured over to Jekyll Island to stake his claim. Horton died in 1748 and the remains of his house, built of a mixture of lime, sand and oyster shells (tabby), are among the oldest structures in Georgia. Over the next 40 years, Jekyll had a number of different owners, ranging from personal entities to a group of Frenchmen called the Sapelo Company, which included DuBignon, escaping the French Revolution in 1792.

The site also includes the cemetery of the DuBignon Family, which owned Jekyll Island from 1792-1886 and occupied the house as their home from 1794 until the mid-1800s.

The Horton House is one of the oldest buildings in Georgia, and the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jekyll Island’s fortunes are tied to the DuBignon family who followed Horton.

Christophe DuBignon came to Jekyll Island in 1794, established a plantation and brought 16 slaves to work sea island cotton fields.

After Christophe’s death in 1825, the plantation was run by son, Henry Charles, until the Civil War.

Painting of Wanderer in Jekyll Island Museum recalls the island’s most infamous event in 1858 when 409 slaves were brought to the island © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

On November 28, 1858, some 50 years after Congress outlawed the importation of slaves, the ship, Wanderer, sailed into the St. Andrews Sound south of Jekyll Island. On board were roughly 409 enslaved Africans, out of 487 initially boarded, who were illegally imported to the United States in one of the most sensational and controversial moments in Jekyll Island history. Henry and John DuBignon was implicated. Charges were brought against the crew and the ship’s owner, Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar of Savannah. They were all acquitted.

(Clementine Dubignon was the youngest of the enslaved Africans to survive the crossing. She was born aboard the Wanderer during the frightful voyage. Although John and Henry Dubignon were eventually acquitted for their part in the illegal slave trade, Clementine Dubignon’s very name was evidence of the family’s involvement.)

During the American Civil War, the Georgia coast as Union armies occupied much of the region from the early stages of the conflict. Residents fled, and when Union troops landed on Jekyll in 1862 the island was deserted, the DuBignon plantation in ruins. After the war, the DuBignon family returned and Henry, Christopher’s son, divided the island among his four children.

John Eugene duBignon in the late 1870s assumed ownership of part of the island, and subsequently purchased the remainder of Jekyll from his family. Forming a partnership with his brother-in-law and an investor, the three marketed the island as a winter retreat for wealthy businessmen and their families, using the Union Club in New York City as a model. They completed construction of a clubhouse in 1888, selling 53 shares for $600 each.

The Jekyll Island Club flourished during the Gilded Age and survived the Great Depression, which took its toll on the fortunes of many of its members mainly by opening up an “associate membership”. But in 1942, during World War II, the island was evacuated because of threats of of U-boats, and Jekyll Island Club closed its doors.

After the war, the Jekyll Island Club fell out of favor of the members who moved on to newer, posher, trendier retreats like Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1947, Governor Thompson pushed for the state of Georgia to acquire Jekyll Island for public use, and pay $675,000 – 20 cents per person. The proposition generated controversy, at a time when Georgia politics was in an uproar. They called Jekyll’s Island “Thompson’s Folly” and derided the proposal as a waste of money.

Thompson was challenged by State Senator Talmadge who derided the plan and defeated Thompson, but when Talmadge became governor, he supported the development of Jekyll Island by a private developer as “the people’s park”. It made going to island inexpensive, accessible, and preserved historic district.

The Jekyll Island Park Authority was created in 1950, as a self-sustaining entity with a 99 year lease (they charge $6 to come onto the island, and note the many improvements around the island paid for by the fee). Under the Authority, the Georgia beach was opened to black people before segregation was overturned.

Jekyll Island attracted tourists from around the country – guests were delighted at the chance to sleep where Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans had slept. Rooms went for $1.50-$3 per person; for an extra $5, you could rent a living room, furnished with luxurious antiques. (Being “the people’s park,” there are still excellent values and a range of accommodations, even a campground, and even the Jekyll Island Club, the most luxurious on the island, has rates that are relatively good value for a grand resort.)

By legislative mandate, 65 percent of the island is and will remain in a mostly natural state.

Private developers returned to operate the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and develop the island, but only after the state promised to build a causeway.

Exploring Jekyll Island

Early on my first morning, I take a drive to explore the island. Everything is engulfed in a dense fog. I come upon a deer, a reminder that Jekyll Island was created as a private hunting camp © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Though a small island, it is remarkable how Jekyll Island is a microcosm of the state and nation’s history, and how it is a visible and living history today and how much there is to do.

The park is actually self-sufficient, operated by the Jekyll Island Authority: you pay $6/ day when you come on the island, but all around the island – from the fishing piers to the boardwalk, to the bike trails, you see how the fees are used.

One of the best ways to explore Jekyll Island and experience it, too, is biking, and is clearly one of the popular activities on the island – I borrow a bike from the hotel (all are one-speed beach bikes, even at the rental shop) and bike leisurely around the– from about 11 to 4:30 pm, a beautiful ride almost entirely on bike paths. The island has some 22 miles of bike paths (it takes about 17 to ring the island).

My path goes along the river, alongside sea marshes, through forests of live oak dripping with Spanish moss. When I return in the late afternoon, a deer crosses my path at this point of the trail.

I pass a small private airport, then the Horton House and DuBignon Cemetery, and the campground.

Horseback riding along the beach at Clam Creek © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

At one tip of the island I come to Clam Creek picnic area – a lovely area with fishing pier, beach, horseback riding.

I pass neighborhoods, churches, a fishing lake, a selection of hotels and motels, the largest stretch of beach.

I come to a section of beach shops, including a very modest grocery store, wine shop, and a short distance away is a place where there are wonderful playgrounds, mini golf, bike rentals, and a pizza/ice cream snack shop.

Continuing on, I come to the new convention center, with a magnificent setting right on the beach – new hotels are going up (one is the Westin, which is owned by partners from the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, and the other is Hyatt Place; Jekyll Island Club will have transportation to the convention center).

They also own the Jekyll Island Hampton Inn and Suites, which I come to, which is close to the South Dunes Picnic Area, also known as “Glory Beach,” because a battle sequence from the Civil War-era film, “Glory” was filmed there and the legacy is a boardwalk.

Not too much further along, along the southern end of the island in the St. Andrews picnic area is The Wanderer Memorial to one of the last slave ships to come to the United States, in 1858. The Wanderer Memorial includes a sculpture by artist Mario Schambon and three text panels describing this event, the sensational trial of the slave runners, and the fate and legacy of many of the enslaved Africans. It was dedicated as recently as 2008, on the 150th Anniversary of the ships landing. (There is a certain irony to the memorial to the end of slavery being next door to a beach used as the set to bring honor to the black Civil War regiment).

Still continuing around the island, I come to Summer Waves, a waterpark, and finally back to Jekyll Island Club hotel and the historic Jekyll Wharf.

What strikes you is how uncommercialized, unpretentious, ungaudy or overdone the island is because two-thirds is preserved from development. And yet, our visit to Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the island presented many improvements and new activities and attractions in only these past few years.

There are several lodging choices on the island – including a wonderful campground; Villas by the Sea (1-3 bedroom condominiums, more of a time-share (www.villasbythesearesort.com); Beachview Club (beachviewclub.com), Days Inn and Suites (daysinnjekyll.com), Hampton Inn and Suites (jekyllislandhamptoninn.com); Oceanside Inn and Suites (oceansideinnandsuites.com), and Quality Inn and Suites (jekyllislandquality.com)

But for elegant, albeit casual/understated elegance, for that quiet charm, that sense of place and connection to not just the history of this place, but America’s history, you cannot beat the Jekyll Island Club (jekyllclub.com). (See Jekyll Island Club Hotel enchants with timeless charm and slideshow)

For more information, contact the Jekyll Island Authority, 877-453-5955, jekyllisland.com.

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