In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive Winter retreat for America’s most elite families. Known as the Jekyll Island Club, it soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.”
For more than half a century, the nation’s leading families, including the legendary Rockefellers, Morgans and Pulitzers, came to Jekyll Island “to secure an escape.” Members prized the island for its “sense of splendid isolation,” beautiful landscape and moderate climate.
Jekyll Island, with its cottage colony and clubhouse, was viewed as a little paradise, where members and guests pursued a life of elegant leisure and enjoyed a variety of outdoor pursuits such as hunting, horseback riding, skeet shooting, golf, tennis, biking, croquet, lawn bowling, picnics and carriage rides.
The former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures and makes up the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District – one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States, attracting curious guests from around the world.
Jekyll Island was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1947, and became the Jekyll Island State Park. Today, the historic island is experiencing rapid and radical changes, with hundreds of millions in public-private dollars being invested in the park.
Historically, Georgia law requires developers adhere to a “65/35 rule,” with a minimum of 65 percent of total island area left undeveloped and in its natural state. An estimated $280 million in revitalization projects have been completed or begun since 2007 and the Jekyll Island Authority is careful to build new structures only on the “footprint” of the old facilities, thereby sticking close to total area developed over the past 50 years.
Throughout its history, the Jekyll Island Club has been a place where people have imagined an alternative. People came to Jekyll to escape, to be creative and to dream, and they still do. From Native Americans, to English colonists, to French privateers, to the members of the Jekyll Island Club – people have imagined Jekyll Island as a place where dreams begin.
As soon as this issue hits the newsstands, I am keeping a family tradition alive and escaping to one my favorite destinations on this planet – the Jekyll Island Club Hotel – for the 2016 Georgia Press Association Convention.
Seriously! And, it is not just my favorite because this place has been special to my family and me for more than two decades. If you were to mention Jekyll Island to either one of my daughters, their eyes would light up and the broad smiles on their faces would tell you that Jekyll Island, to them, is a special place, and a lifetime of special memories have been made there.
From the time Kaylee was three years old and Caroline less than a year, and for eighteen of the next twenty years, going to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the GPA convention was an annual beginning of Summer ritual for my family. I have always loved everything to do with history and Jekyll Island is overflowing with it. I do believe that the annual trek to the island and the daily exposure to its storied history is the underlying reason for my girls’ love of history and their fascination for the people who lived it.
Each year, in addition to attending GPA functions, we would ride bikes, horses, boats, ferries, tour Sapelo and Cumberland Islands, play golf, play croquet, pretend to be a sold out audience as Caroline sang her heart out on the stage of the Jekyll amphitheater, tour every historical site on the island and have quality, morning, noon and night, daddy-daughter moments in the courtyard cafe.
I have photos of Kaylee navigating and driving the horse drawn carriage and talking to the horse named Sam who was pulling it; I have a photo of three-year-old Caroline, asleep and slumped over in the safety seat of the bicycle and photos of each of them in or at every historical sight on the island and in every shop in the village. To my girls, the most popular shop in the village was every shop in the village, but their true favorite, and the one most visited, was the Ice Cream, Fudge and Everything Else Sweet Shop.
One year I had to attend a board meeting on St. Simons Island. As part of her birthday gift that year, seven-year-old Caroline made the trip with me. Because I knew how much she loved the historic hotel – ever since she was two she had called the tower section of the hotel, Cinderella’s Castle – I reserved the tower suite at the Jekyll Island Club. For that entire weekend, thanks to the tower suite, multiple room service calls and gift shop visits, Caroline truly felt like the princess I always knew she was. To this day she will tell you that one trip is her fondest childhood memory.
We have so many special memories about this place. To my daughters, and to me, there is something special, almost magical about Jekyll Island. It is a place where time seems to slow down and worries seem to disappear. It is a place where we have grown up and older, and because of everything I have shared there with my family and my GPA friends, going there always seems like going home.
And now that this column is written and this edition finished, I am headed east . . . for a homecoming!
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