by Denise Weimer
The February 1904 issue of Munsey’s Magazine described The Jekyl [early spelling] Island Club as “the richest, most exclusive club in the world.” And no wonder, with members such as J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt. Where was this mysterious club located? Two miles off the coast near Brunswick, Georgia.
1983 map of Jekyll
In 1856, Newton Finney of Wisconsin was hired to help chart the topography of Saint Simons Sound and Brunswick Harbor. On this trip, he met his bride, Josephine de Bignon. In 1792, Josephine’s great-grandfather had purchased Jekyl Island and raised sea island cotton there until the Civil War. The family lived in the Major William Horton house. A top aide to General James Oglethorpe, Horton had farmed and ran a brewery to help supply troops at nearby Ft. Frederica. The house burned during the war, and the du Bignon cottage was built in 1884.
After serving the Confederacy, Finney partnered with important political and social figures, including Olive Kane King, a wealthy broker and railroad supplier. Finney moved his family to New York in 1873 and rubbed shoulders with the post-Civil War movers and shakers at the prestigious Union Club. Finney likely suggested to his brother-in-law, John Eugene du Bignon, that he should sell Jekyl to Northern businessmen as a winter retreat. Finney and King advised du Bignon he could profit more by selling the island to a club. He agreed and began to stock the island with game.
Tabby remains of the Horton house
By 1885, Finney and King were prepared to incorporate under “The Jekyl Island Club” with the intention of offering hunting, fishing, yachting, maintaining a race course, erecting a clubhouse, and operating trains as deemed necessary. One hundred shares would be issued to fifty individuals owning two shares at $600 a share. Invitations were issued to many members of the Union Club with strong business and social ties. Other members hailed from the Chicago Club and, to a lesser degree, cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.
Floyd Aspinwall, a former brigadier general, served as the first president. When he died after only five months, his vice president, Judge Henry Elias Howland, followed. The new “association of wealthy gentlemen” was announced on April 4, 1886, in the New York Times. “It is predicted that the Jekyl Island Club is going to be the ‘swell’ club … inasmuch as many of the members are intending to erect cottages and make it their Winter Newport.” Ladies would enjoy all the privileges of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. They would fish, shoot, ride, and camp out. Family participation was encouraged as well. But first, a landscape architect had to be hired to turn the tangle of wilderness into a resort, and a building architect had to be hired to erect a grand Queen Anne club house. Learn more in next month’s post on The Development of the Jekyll Island Club.
du Bignon Cottage
For more information: The Jekyll Island Club: Southern Haven for America's Millionaires by William Barton McCash and June Hall McCash
Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!
Connect with Denise here:
Monthly Newsletter Sign-up