Jekyll Island Club Hotel is located on Jekyll Island, the smallest of the populated barrier islands off the coast of Georgia. The entire island is managed by Jekyll Island Authority, a state agency responsible for stewardship of the island as Jekyll Island State Park.
Jekyll Island, from Gilded Age Country Club to Georgia State Park
The entire island was purchased in 1886 by the Jekyll Island Club, aka ‘The Millionaires Club’, as a winter retreat and became one of the most exclusive country clubs in the U.S. Founding members included recognizable names from the power brokers of finance, industry and retail with J.P Morgan, Marshall Field, Joseph Pulitzer and William K. Vanderbilt among the 53 original members. This might seem like irrelevant ‘Gilded Age’ American history for a 21st century traveler to the Barrier Islands of Georgia today, except for the fact that Jekyll Island Club was purchased by the state of Georgia in the 1940s, buildings were maintained and currently Jekyll Island Club Historic District operates as a Georgia State Park and is one of about 2,500 designated National Historic Landmarks in the U.S. The former Jekyll Island Clubhouse now houses Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a resort hotel. Many of the cottage winter residences of the rich and famous are today a museum to the lifestyle of the Gilded Age in America.
Jekyll Island was evacuated during World War II due to German U-boat activities and the Jekyll Island Club never resumed following the war. The State of Georgia moved to acquire the island for a public park. The Jekyll Island Club stated the island was not for sale and the issue became a hot election topic after Governor Ellis Arnall had stated his intention for the State to buy Jekyll island in September 1946 and then reversed his decision. When Melvin Thompson became Governor og Georgia in the November 1946 election, he continued proceedings to buy Jekyll Island for a public park. The state acquired Jekyll Island in October 1947 and created Jekyll Island State Park. The playground for millionaires for more than half a century had become a public park.
Several other name brand hotels including Westin, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Resort operate on the sparsely developed island. 65% of Jekyll Island is protected by the state with restricted development.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
When I arrived on a Thursday evening in early June, the public parking lot by the Jekyll Island Club pier was filled with about 30 cars. Latitude 31, the restaurant on the pier was packed and noisy with voices and laughter. On the quieter side was a game of croquet, a popular activity on the lawn in front of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.
American history happened here on tiny Jekyll Island with events like the first transatlantic telephone call by AT&T President Theodore Vail on January 25, 1915. A secret meeting at Jekyll Island between J.P Morgan and other prominent bankers during the financial panic of 1907 led to plans for the creation of the Federal Reserve Act under President Woodrow Wilson to create Federal Reserve Banks.
From 1886 to 1942 Jekyll Island Club was a winter retreat for the powerbrokers of America. The island functioned in large part as a hunting club. Membership included many of America’s wealthiest and most prominent families like banker J.P Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Macys, McCormick. Other names might be ones you never heard.
Henry B. Hyde, so-called ‘Czar of Jekyll’ founded the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States in 1859, which was the largest life insurance company in the world at the time of his death in 1899. Hyde is credited with creating the first condominium on Jekyll Island when he desired a place near the Jekyll Island Clubhouse, but with more privacy.
Sans Souci, Jekyll Island Historic District was called the House of Power. It’s six apartments were owned by J.P Morgan – banker (3rd floor north); James A. Scrimser – Central and South American Telegraph Company (3rd floor south); William Rockefeller – Standard Oil Company (2nd floor north); Henry B. Hyde – Equitable Life Assurance (2nd floor south); William P. Anderson – American Cotton Oil Company (1st floor north); Joseph Stickney – Stickney, Conynham and Company (coal brokers) (1st Floor South).
Sans Souci is part of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel with suites for rent in the $339 to $379 per night range.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel retains much of the splendid interior décor from a century ago with its staircases and grand dining room.
The Grand Dining Room still requests male guests wear a coat and women wear dresses for dinner. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops are not permitted.
The hotel and grounds gave me a relaxing vibe, even as a vagabond in the country club setting.
Activities to do at the hotel include an outdoor pool, spa, guided nature and wildlife hikes, bicycle paths and horse carriage rides.
Jekyll Island is the smallest of the Golden Isles of Georgia; four islands consisting of Jekyll Island, St. Simon’s Island, Little St. Simons Island and Sea Island.
St. Simon’s to the north of Jekyll Island is the most populated of the Golden Isles with more than 12,000 residents. I visited St. Simon’s last year and the immense oak trees there captivated me and inspired me to return to the area this year to see Jekyll Island.
Privately owned Little St. Simons Island is accessible only by boat and maintained in its natural state with small all-inclusive lodges at $450 to $650 per night. The entire island can be rented for 32 guests at rates of $6,400 to $9,200 per night.
Sea Island also has exclusive resorts including The Cloister, ranked among the top ten resorts in the U.S. and the island sounds like it is somewhat of a millionaires community today with private residences.
Jekyll Island, Georgia’s public park retreat
I had not read anything about Jekyll Island before my arrival. My prior knowledge base was news in the past year that a new Westin Jekyll Island Hotel opened and I was aware of a Holiday Inn Resort due to some brand specific offers in the past year from IHG Rewards Club. Jekyll Island Club and the island’s history as a millionaires winter retreat were details I learned after paying the $6 daily toll road fee on the Jekyll Island Causeway.
Jekyll Island has about 4,400 acres of land and another 1,300 acres of tidal marshes. There are only a few roads. 65% of the island is protected from development. There is a new convention center and shopping area near the Westin Hotel on the sea facing side of the island. Shops were completed, but not yet open for business when I walked through the complex in June 2015.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center is located near the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the historic park area around the hotel has a few craft and boutique shops, Jekyll Island Museum and historic residential cottages restored from the Jekyll Island Club days are available as guided tours at a fee. Summer Waves is a water park on the island.
My six or seven hours on the island enchanted me, in large part due to the quiet laid-back surroundings I found. Summer Waves water park on the island is a place I only saw from a distance. My time on Jekyll Island during a Thursday evening and Friday morning in early June revealed more people on bicycles than in cars. I found the sea island environment relaxing after days in crowded Orlando, Florida and an afternoon near the pier in Daytona Beach.
Georgia Oak Trees
One of the features of the south I only became acquainted with last year on my first road trip from Jacksonville, Florida to Norfolk, hugging the coast most of that trip, is the area has beautiful large oak trees in many places. Monterey County, California where I live is populated with large California live oak trees in the dry and hot valleys inland from the sea. I stare at oak trees out my living room window on the cool Monterey coast. Jekyll Island has many enormous old oak trees around the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.
Plantation Oak, the largest tree on Jekyll Island, is a southern oak 7’3” in diameter, 23’ girth, 112 ft. high and 128 ft. limb to limb and estimated to be more than 350 years old. I missed that tree in the Historic District, but saw other impressive oak trees.
So attractive and harder to describe in words are the colors and views from the waterfront near Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This is the feature of the property that I found most endearing as the sun was sinking on a clear late spring evening, around 78 degrees, and no mosquitoes attacking me, even though I was without bug spray. This is the second year in a row when I was dazzled by the evening sun colors in spring on the marshland grasses around Brunswick, Georgia. Of course, bird songs were playing all around the grounds.
A restaurant and bar on the pier were hopping on a Thursday evening. Boats at the dock offer fishing and dolphin sightseeing excursions.
Sidney Lanier Bridge over the Brunswick River is a landmark for the area. In the Jekyll Island Club days, members arrived by boat from Brunswick, a historic town north of the bridge. There are very few services on Jekyll Island and Brunswick, 20 miles away is the primary shopping and business area for the region.
I spoke to a couple in Asheville, North Carolina who found Jekyll Island to be boring. The quiet tranquility of the outdoors I experienced might be broken with the crowds of summer, but the island was certainly peaceful in evening and early morning, outside peak visitor times.
Many people visit Jekyll Island as day only visitors. There are several brand name hotels on the island with Westin Jekyll Island, Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island, Quality Inn Jekyll Island, Days Inn & Suites Jekyll Island and Hampton Inn Jekyll Island, the only hotel with a higher TripAdvisor rating than Jekyll Island Club Hotel. I stopped by the Westin, Holiday Inn and Quality Inn and I’ll write about those hotels on the beach side of the island in a separate post. Unfortunately, I did not get to Hampton Inn Jekyll Island.
Wildlife was a big part of my experience on Jekyll Island. Georgia Sea Turtle Center is in the Jekyll Island Club Historic District and literally offers a window view into the world of sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation. More on that educational attraction an another article.
Walking around the hotel grounds were a small herd of deer grazing in the grass beneath the oaks with a pint-size Bambi in the group.
The marshlands are loaded with songbirds and large birds like great white egrets, blue herons and black vultures.
Jekyll Island was a place I enjoyed hanging out and I look forward to getting back there again to experience Georgia’s Golden Isles and Jekyll Island State Park. Compared to the more luxurious and exclusive resorts of St. Simon’s Island, Sea Island and Little St. Simon’s Island, Jekyll Island is a destination for everyone, from the country club history buff to the family beach goers filling rooms at the Days Inn and Quality Inn. Westin, Hampton and Holiday Inn provide many places for travelers to use points as reward stay alternatives to high weekend room rates.
Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015
- Orlando to Knoxville road trip in 1,100 miles–my outline of destination articles.
- Daytona Beach, Florida – Babes, Bikes and Speed at Daytona Beach
- Jekyll Island, Georgia from historic country club to State Park. This article was accidentally published when I had only described the Jekyll Island Causeway. Rather than delete it, I left it posted and the story of the transformation of Jekyll Island from historic country club to Georgia State park continues in the post below.
- Jekyll Island, Georgia History and Jekyll Island Club Hotel
- Best Western paid me $11 for my Georgia hotel night
- Westin Jekyll Island sea turtle night lights
- Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island, Georgia
- Holiday Inn Resort and Quality Inn Jekyll Island
- Savannah, Georgia Historic Downtown and Riverfront
- The Brice, Savannah, a Kimpton Hotel
- Tybee Island, Georgia beach and lighthouse
- Fort Pulaski National Monument and Civil War history in Savannah region
- Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
- Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
- The Inn at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina
- Asheville Vibrant Craft Beer Scene
- Waterfalls trails in DuPont State Forest, North Carolina
- Brevard, North Carolina – white squirrels and Pisgah National Forest
- Blue Ridge Parkway Motor Road, North Carolina
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee