|The Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Marilyn Turk, here, to tell you about one of my favorite places, the Jekyll Island Historic District, the setting for my book, The Gilded Curse. Although in its prime, it wasn’t open during Christmas, my husband and I just treated ourselves to a short visit there and enjoyed the historic buildings decked out in holiday splendor. So let me tell you how all these buildings came to exist on this little barrier island off the coast of Georgia.
In 1886, 53 of the world’s wealthiest men formed a hunting club and bought Jekyll Island for their private use. Described in the February 1904 issue of Munsey’s Magazine as “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world,” the Jekyll Island Club boasted among its members J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt, to name a few.
Construction began on their “clubhouse,” a Queen Anne-style, four-story building, which opened in 1888. The ornate building boasting 94 individually designed fireplaces, was to house the members and their families during the January-March season when the club was in use. Not to be without the comforts of home, the members brought their own servants and imported chefs from the finest restaurants in New York to cook for them. Many of the members arrived in their own yachts, such as J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer.
|The Sans Souci
Some of the members desired more space. J.P. Morgan helped fund the building of the Sans Souci, the first condominium, its three stories comprising six units. Others desired their own “cottages,” and a neighborhood of splendid homes sprang up around the hotel, twenty-two in all. Although small in comparison to the millionaires’ primary residences back home, they would be considered large residences even by today’s standards.In addition to the members’ housing, the complex also contained dormitories for servants, a laundry, an infirmary, and stables. One of the most unique buildings on the island is Faith Chapel, a gothic-style chapel boasting two magnificent stained-glass windows, one by Tiffany. Worship services were held during the season and performed by visiting clergy.
|Crane Cottage, 1917
While on the island, the members and their families enjoyed a variety of activities besides hunting. Horseback riding, bicycling, tennis, golf, skeet shooting and lawn bowling were among them. The members hosted picnics and tea parties, concerts and guest speakers as well.Of course, the main event of the day was the evening meal served at the clubhouse. Always a formal affair, the guests decked out in their finest attire to enjoy seven-course meals served by waiters in white jackets.
A couple of history-making events happened at the island as well. In 1907, a group of bankers met secretly with Senator Nelson Aldrich and the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury on Jekyll and drew up the Aldrich Plan, which later became the foundation for the Federal Reserve System in 1912. The first transatlantic phone call was placed from the island in 1915.
The decline of the Club era began with the 1929 Depression and continued as most the original members withdrew or died. The beginning of World War II forced the evacuation of the island in early 1942, and the Club never reopened, unable to survive financially. In 1947, the state of Georgia bought the island from the remaining members.
Now a historic landmark, the clubhouse has been carefully restored to its former glory as a hotel, and several of the cottages have also been restored and are available to tour, giving us a glimpse of the Past and the world of the Gilded Age.