You'll enjoy many diverse experiences on your visit to historic Jekyll Island. But one of the most memorable venues to take in is the famous Jekyll Island Landmark Historic District - the heart and soul of the island, now one of Georgia's registered historic places.
It Started with Mogul Money -
In 1886 the newly formed Jekyll Island Club bought the island from the du Bignon family. The Jekyll Island Club consisted of 100 of the most influential - and richest - financiers, industrialists and politicians in the nation.
You might recognize some of the names. Astor. Vanderbilt. Pulitzer. Morgan. McCormick. Along with many others. This group of men and their families were said to control up to a seventh of the wealth of the United States.
The Jekyll Island club has been called "the most exclusive social club in the U.S.", and was the tycoon's perfect escape from the pressures of business and social life. Here they could come together and relax in "splendid isolation".
It started as a hunting club, and evolved into a more social organization that included women in activities such as hunting, fishing, tennis, golf, croquet, lawn bowling, skeet shooting and horseback riding.
Cottages Within the Millionaires Village -
One of the first structures built on the newly acquired site was the Jekyll Island Club clubhouse, a huge, rambling Victorian structure made of brick and wood, adorned with towers and verandas.
Noted landscape architect H.W.S. Cleveland laid out the grounds. Along with the Clubhouse, the members built their own island get-aways - their "cottages".
Not cottages like you or I might think, these homes were huge edifices, more like mansions than second-home cottages. Indeed, they had all the comforts of home.
Some had more, like Richard Crane's Crane Cottage, the largest and most lavish of the island homes.
Crane was an international plumbing fixture mogul (the first to bring color to plumbing fixtures). The Crane Cottage was built in the Renaissance Revival style, incorporating features of 16th century Italian villas. It had 20 rooms, a courtyard with a fountain, and - get this - 17 bathrooms.
Appropriate for a plumbing fixture tycoon, don't you think?
The Crane Cottage, along with many of the other millionaire cottages on historic Jekyll Island, have been renovated and now serve other uses, like shops, restaurants or offices.
Some of the other cottages you'll see on historic Jekyll Island:
Other Structures Within the Historic District -
There were other cottages, as well as an apartment building for guests (the Clubhouse Annex). And outbuildings for logistic support. There was an Infirmary (now the site of Jekyll Books), with an on-call doctor.
Also, other structures served to house island staff (couldn't run a rich man's club without servants, could you?). Staff maintained the historic Jekyll Island game population, served in the millionaire's homes, kept up the grounds. Chefs used fresh produce from the island's gardens, along with game animals like deer and boar, oysters from island oyster beds, fish from the sea, even diamondback terrapins, for scrumptious culinary creations they served in the Jekyll Island Club.
Island potable water came from an artisan well. An electric power generator supplied electricity.
Another unique building, vital to the island's social life, was Faith Chapel. It was built in 1904. This Gothic structure was used for church services, weddings, and gatherings. It has a stained glass window signed by Tiffany, and its gargoyles were patterned on those of Notre Dame de Paris.
Historic Jekyll Island Makes History -
Several historical events of note occurred at the Jekyll Island Club. In 1910, a group of financiers and economic policymakers met in secret on Jekyll Island to cobble together what eventually became the Federal Reserve System.
And in 1915, AT&T president Theodore Vail placed the first transcontinental telephone call.
Jekyll Island for the People -
During the great depression, the historic Jekyll Island Club fell on hard times, as more and more of its members dropped out. In 1942, due to German submarine activity off the Georgia coast, the Feds evacuated the area. The island was eventually sold to the state of Georgia in 1947, and was designated a state park, for the enjoyment of all Georgians.
Over the years, the Jekyll Island Club clubhouse, the cottages and support buildings fell into disrepair. But in 1972, the Club was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. And by 1979, the National Park Service awarded the 240 acres and 33 historic buildings Landmark status.
Historic Jekyll Island has since been named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "12 Distinctive Destinations". And in 2008, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the Historic District the Marguerite William Award for Preservation.
Present-Day Historic District -
At present, a good portion of the Landmark Historic District has been restored. Visitors can stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, where millionaires schemed years ago. Guests can wander among the limbs of spreading live oak trees, down tabby shell walkways, and stop off at shops or restaurants which once served the Jekyll Island Club elite as support services.
Along Jekyll Island Creek is the historic Jekyll Island Wharf, where the millionaires would tie up their yachts. Latitude 31 Seafood Restaurant is there now, along with the Rah Bar and a small gift shop.
There's lots to do here. Check out the revived cottages from the seat of a bike. Stop off at the Sweet Shoppe for ice cream or fudge. Take lunch at the Club Cafe, on the Jekyll Island Club Hotel veranda. Or visit the J.P. Morgan Historic Tennis Court Meeting Hall. This facility used to be J.P. Morgan's private enclosed tennis court, but now serves as meeting facilities for the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Historic District is through a guided 90 minute Passport to the Century Tram Tour.
Tours run every day except Christmas and New Years day. The tour includes entry into two of the historic cottages.
Tours start on the hour at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. and leave from the Museum Center. The Museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. year round.
Contact Shirley Martin at 912-635-4036 for further info and tour prices.
Historic Jekyll Island has a lot of experiences to offer. And the Landmark Historic District - a unique slice of history - is one of the best.
If you'd like to learn more about the era of the moguls on Jekyll Island: "Splendid Isolation" Book
Curious about the controversy surrounding the Federal Reserve? "The Creature of Jekyll Island" Book