A Bygone Era Comes to Life at the Jekyll Island Club


Had we tethered our yacht in the wharf, I imagine our view would have been the same as it was 100 years ago when the 19th century captains of industry sailed down the coast to their private retreat. We arrived on Jekyll Island in far less style, however, having driven south on Interstate-95 in our minivan. Still, we felt transported to days gone by as we drove along the causeway and turned onto the wide lane lined with the gracious “cottages” of the gilded era. The grand turret of the historic Jekyll Island Club rose up through moss-covered live oaks welcoming us to what would be our home for the night.


The Richest History

Called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world,” by Munsey’s Magazine in 1904, the Jekyll Island Club was once the stomping grounds of the likes of Joseph Pulitzer, J.P. Morgan, and William Rockefeller. These early members, once thought to control one-sixth of the country’s wealth, spent summers enjoying lawn parties, carriage rides, hunting trips, and lavish black tie dinners in the club’s Grand Dining Room, eventually building the elaborate winter residences that still grace the club grounds today.

Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club

Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club

Club membership began to dwindle with the advent of WWI when many members donated their private yachts to the war effort and the club itself finally closed in in 1942 when the U.S. Government evacuated the island due to the threat of enemy submarines lurking off Georgia’s coast. Bought by state of GA as a state park in 1947.  Despite the state of Georgia’s attempts to run it as a hotel following the war’s end, the club fell into disrepair for many years. In 1979, the Club and surrounding property and buildings were designated a National Historic Landmark. The Club itself was completely renovated in 1986 and is now a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

Historic Elegance

In its restoration, the Jekyll Island Club retained the charm and grandeur of its heyday. Elegant moldings and period fixtures line the common areas, weighty brass keys unlock thick, wooden doors, and gracious stairways with polished wood balustrades sweep guests throughout. Some features are original to the club—the heart pine floors, carved wood, and mirrors throughout main rooms, for instance. Wide, covered porches are home to inviting rocking chairs where one can sit a spell and look out over the lawns with a glass of cold, sweet tea.

eleganceAs with most historic properties, the Jekyll Island Club offers myriad accommodation styles. We were in the Club’s annex section, which was added on to the main clubhouse in 1901 in order to create private apartments for members and their guests.  Our room was spacious and pretty with a small balcony overlooking the grounds and a pair of chairs flanking the fireplace. We found the room to be quiet and comfortable and the only thing lacking was sufficient storage as there was no closet and it was furnished with only one small wardrobe—not a big deal as it was only my daughter and myself, however, if I’d been traveling with my husband and all three of our girls, unpacking would have been a struggle.


Besides the main clubhouse, rooms are located in other historic buildings on the property. San Souci, where J.P. Morgan once had a private apartment, was built in 1906 and features original architectural details and 24 rooms. Built in 1917, the elegant Crane Cottage offers 13 rooms while the 1904 riverside Cherokee Cottage is home to ten more.

Abundant Amenities

It’s quite easy to simply stay put at the Club as there is plenty to do around the 240-acre historic district. Play a game of croquet on the lawns, relax by the pool, rock on the porch, or stroll through the grounds. Club history tours are offered several afternoons each week at two o’clock. Because we’re always looking for adventure, we arranged to rent a couple of bicycles at the front desk, which we collected right out front, and spent the afternoon pedaling along some of the island’s 20-miles of bike paths.


The island’s historic district, where you can tour restored buildings and browse in a variety of quaint shops, is a stone’s throw away. A short walk down Pier Road will take you to the Jekyll Island Museum where you can learn all about the island’s history and take a narrated tram tour or carriage ride. The fabulous Georgia Sea Turtle Center is also nearby and is a must-do for everyone.


And when the beach beckons, getting there is a breeze. The Club provides a shuttle right to their beachfront pavilion where you can get towels, umbrellas, and chairs for an afternoon of sun and surf. Casual dining on the deck is another perk. If you’d prefer to get there on your own, the beach is a short bike ride from the Club along the path that runs parallel to Shell Road.  The path can be reached by riding down Pier Road and through the parking lot of the Jekyll Island Museum.


Despite its history of affluence and luxury, the Jekyll Island Club boasts a relaxed, welcoming ambience and my young daughter and I felt quite at home. We both loved the feeling of being in an enclave of yesteryear as we rode our bikes beneath the massive live oaks that grace the Club’s grounds and pedaled past the refined mansions along the river. Jekyll is a perfect place to slow down, relaxing into the island’s mellow rhythm. Perhaps next time we’ll come by yacht.



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