The southernmost island of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was inhabited by Indians several hundred years ago; in subsequent years it has been used as a place for settlers and for a Civil War encampment.
Jekyll Island was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families as a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a fine clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months in the winter.
By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Cranes, and Goulds and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth. (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms.)
These vacationers came by train to Brunswick and crossed the river to Jekyll, or arrived in their yachts with family members, servants, and supplies aboard.
The men relaxed and hunted while the ladies had tea, planned parties, and went to the beach.
By 1942 most of these elite vacationers departed the island, never to return. World War II and the economy had taken their toll. Some of the wealthy families left their homes fully furnished, and the buildings fell into disrepair.
In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island for $650,000 and set a provision that 65 percent of it must always remain undeveloped. Some of the wealthy families’ cottages have been restored and are open for tours.
Today, this era of Jekyll Island’s history can be dramatically revisited with a tram tour of the National Historic Landmark District, including many of the opulent mansions their millionaire owners called “cottages”.
Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages.
A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which boasts a small interactive museum as well as access to a fully-functional rehabilitative center where visitors can see live sea turtles in the recovery tanks being treated for their injuries before returning to the wild.
To see more of the island’s eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers guided tours that last for 90 minutes, routing through beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes.
Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel, oceanfront properties, and RV camping at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites.
Amenities include tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.
Rates range from $23 for a primitive tent site to $37 for a fully-serviced RV lot.
The island will boast three new hotels, an all-new beachfront convention center with more than 78,000 square feet of function space, a beautifully redesigned gateway corridor to the island, a beach village shopping and dining district, and many more enhancements.
Twenty miles of flat, mostly paved bike paths encircle the island. You can spend a whole day riding beneath canopies of live oaks, along the beach, and through the historic district.
Bikes can be rented at Jekyll Island Campground, the shopping mall, and various hotels around the island. Restaurants are at these stops, or you may want to tote your own meal and enjoy it at any of the many picnic grounds situated along the way. Tram tours, Victorian carriage history tours, and nature and landscape walks are available from the visitors center, located on the Jekyll Causeway.
A fishing pier is located across from Jekyll Island Campground, and fishing is available along the beaches.
Owned by the State of Georgia and managed by the Jekyll Island Authority, the island’s development is limited to just 35 percent of the available land area to preserve the critical barrier island ecosystem. Great lengths have been taken to honor this ratio while the revitalization of Jekyll Island moves forward.
Jekyll Island, once a haven for America’s elite, now beckons to all.
Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on Brunswick and the Golden Isles of Georgia
The Marshes of Glynn
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,
Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,
Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,
To the terminal blue of the main.
—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)