The Jekyll Island Club: The Cottages
The Founding Of The Legendary Club
It’s hard to describe the feeling one gets when walking along the street in front of the historical cottages adjacent to the Jekyll Island Clubhouse. From Christmas to Easter, during the coldest months of the year in the northern states, these homes were used as winter havens by the families of America's richest and most famous men.
As one walks along the riverside street, the ancient moss laden live oaks give an almost eerie backdrop to the now uninhabited cottages. While some of them now house museums or other related historical artifacts, others seem only filled with the ghosts of the most famous of America’s tycoons and industrialists.
Once called “Ospo” by the Guale tribe of Native Americans who hunted and lived on the Island, Jekyll Island's first colonist was William Horton. At only 20 years of age, he established a plantation which furnished grain and hops for Georgia’s first brewery. The ruins of Horton House are on display not far from the cottages..
In the late 1790’s the island was bought by a French family surnamed du Bignon who grew long staple “Sea Island” cotton on the cleared plantation land. After almost 100 years of ownership, John Eugene du Bignon sold the island to a group of wealthy northerners for a reputed $125,000. Six years later the Jekyll Island Club was formerly established.
The Clubhouse Of The Elite
Fifty Six Seasons Of Wonder
For over half a century this Golden Isle was host to America’s wealthiest families. From shortly after Christmas until the end of Easter, the island was home to the J.P. Morgan’s, the Pulitzer’s, the Macy’s, the Goodyear’s, the Vanderbilt’s, and the list goes on and on, including U.S. Presidents and many other noted people of the day.
Originally started as a hunting club for the elite, it became a family retreat during the cold northern winters. The docks were once lined with luxurious yachts owned by the members. Some of the guests arrived in Brunswick aboard a special railroad car from up north.
There never has been, nor ever will be, a more exclusive club than the Jekyll Island Club. I cannot imagine today's richest people getting along as these families did.
The members of the Jekyll Island Club sold the island to the State of Georgia in 1947 when air travel became common. More exotic locales, such as Europe and Asia, beckoned the younger generation. The club was disbanded and this wonderful and powerful alliance of industry and fame was history.
For the sum of $625,000--the Crane Cottage alone was estimated to have cost $500,000 to build--the island suddenly became the property of the State of Georgia.
The Cottages and Lodgings
Island Life And Amenities
The Jekyll Island Clubhouse still remains as awe inspiring today as it did over 100 years ago. Completed in 1888 it later was added to as the membership rose and more lodging was needed for families and guests. The club had its own electrical plant built on the island in 1902. This plant furnished electricity to all of the houses and buildings included in the clubhouse membership.
Shell roads were built to connect the areas of travel and recreation and 46 stables constructed for the horses of the members. Artesian wells provided all of the necessary water needs while vegetable gardens added to the fresh food supplies imported onto the island. The members lacked for nothing on this subtropical isle.
During the three month season the members played golf on their own private course, with a golf pro brought in, of course. The island had gamekeepers to maintain the quail, turkey, and pheasant populations for the avid hunters, as most members were. The beaches were a favorite spot for picnicking and fishing during the mild winters of the Georgia coast.
Casinos, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, swimming pools, bicycle paths, horseback riding, all of these pastimes and more, were available for any member or guest. The island superintendent made sure everything ran smoothly as the members expected.
The clubhouse lodged over 100 members, family, or guests for the season. Up to a dozen private homes, called cottages by the members, were built over the 56 year reign of the Jekyll island club. The Sans Souci, meaning “without care” is considered one of the forerunners of today’s condominiums. J. P. Morgan and William Rockefeller owned apartments in the complex completed in 1899. The Clubhouse annex was added in 1901 containing eight apartments with rooms for staff and guests.
A Variety of Architectural Tastes
Peaceful and Lonely
Some members preferred building their own residences for housing their families, guests, and staff. The members referred to these lodgings as “cottages” as indeed they were, compared to the lavish and often palatial residences they were accustomed to.
But to the average American citizen of the day, they would have seemed quite grand, and some were. The Crane Cottage raised a few eyebrows when built in !916 because it was considered by some to be too lavish for the island’s ambiance.
The variety of architectural designs and styles of these vacation homes make each a delight to admire. The personality of each owner seems to be projected by the chosen building design itself. Whether bold, lavish,or unassuming, each one seems to hold varied mysteries and secrets, as some surely do. Many important events took place on this island, some with world wide implications.
Some of these homes are still quite wonderful to see. To stroll among them on a quiet day can be slightly unnerving, especially when no one else is in sight. Even when there are people present they seem to talk quietly, as if they are merely guests and the former proprietors are still in residence.
But there is a certain sadness to these unique structures as they stand among the ancient trees. They gaze out toward the river, as if waiting for the return of the families who once filled them with light and sound. One can almost sense the longing.
More Southern Historical Articles
Georgia Historical Articles
- St. Simons Island : Christ Church
There are some historical sites which barely manage to interest the visitors long enough to appreciate their worth during Americas founding. But there are also those special places which seem to exude a...