The Millionaire’s Island: Jekyll Island Historic Tour
On a recent girl’s trip to the Golden Isles area of Georgia, three of us left our luxurious Sea Island enclave to explore what’s known as Millionaire’s Island. About a 30-minute drive, through the marsh and over bridges, brought us to Jekyll Island.
From 1879, the island was home to a hunting club and by 1886, it had become one of the world’s most exclusive enclaves. The clubhouse with its now-famous turret opened in 1888, followed in 1896, by the six-unit Sans Souci building (which still has many of its original features). Eight suites were added as an annex to the clubhouse in 1901, and members built 18 “cottages” along the coastal setting in the early part of the 20th century. Famous family names included Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Field, and Pulitzer. Not as large or opulent as their New York, Chicago, or Newport homes, these cottages were meant to be “rustic” with the largest having only 13 bedrooms. None had kitchens, because, of course, they took meals at the clubhouse where women wore a different gown to dinner for each night of the 3-month season from January through March.
Getting a break from the clothing rituals, women also embraced the resort’s sporting activities, some even winning sporting trophies, much to the dismay of the male members.
We took the 90-minute historic tram tour and it was a real treat. It was a beautiful February day and you could easily imagine what the scene would’ve been like more than 100 years prior. Our guide was excellent and the commentary was jam-packed with interesting information about every detail of island history and the member-families. We loved the tour and also went inside a couple of the “cottages” where there was great attention to furnishings and restoration details.
We learned in 1910, The Federal Reserve was born here when a group of financial leaders held a secret meeting and in 1915, the first transcontinental call took place. Connecting to the AT&T President from Jekyll Island were President Woodrow Wilson in Washington DC, Alexander Graham Bell In New York, and others in San Francisco and Boston. After World War II, the State of Georgia purchased the Club and opened it as a State Park in 1948. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark District and anyone can visit and/or spend the night. You can arrive by car or boat/yacht. The original Clubhouse and hotel were restored in 1987, with several cottages also available to rent and more hotels have opened outside the historic district on other parts of the island.
The setting is tranquil, shady, and very relaxing with beautiful paths and water views. In fact, we had trouble distinguishing between roads and sidewalks. Tours leave from Mosaic, the Jekyll Island Museum, and the $20 tickets include entrance to their small exhibit space and interactive displays.
All the touring and walking around worked up an appetite, so we headed over to the Jekyll Island Club Resort for a tasty lunch. The original building was much smaller than I imagined but still resplendent in its Victorian charm. If only ghosts could talk.