The Jekyll Island Club – Millionaires’ dream
When a million dollars was a huge sum on money, and there were the ultra-rich and the working class, the haves and the have-nots, a group of investors from industry banded together and formed the Jekyll Island Club on one of Georgia’s outer islands.
Who Were the Jekyll Island Club
The names read like a Who’s Who from the 1880’s through the early 20th century – Rockefeller, Crane, Morgan, Pulitzer, Goodyear, Astor and Vanderbilt. They were the barons of industry and giants of capitalism from New York City and the North.
With a dream to create an exclusive paradise where they could hunt, fish and exchange information, shares were sold to the select few to create a refined, secluded, and rustic (for those who lived in palatial homes) retreat on Jekyll Island.
What Was the Jekyll Island Club
The northern winter is cold, dreary and snowy so the Georgia offshore islands seemed ideal for a three-month sojourn. From January to April, the wealthy men and their families traveled by private yacht or railroad car to the accommodations they designed.
A large hotel with all the comforts the bastions of business expected was built and opened in 1886. As club members, they could stay in the well-appointed building with its comfortable lounges, bar, meeting rooms and dining facility. A wait-staff met their every need and gourmet meals were generous and served three times daily.
When some members desired larger accommodations, the first condo building in the United States was added. Sans Souci provided apartments for six members, giving them additional lodging, work space and room for entertaining.
As time passed, some members wanted even more space and so houses, known as “cottages”, were built around the hotel, eventually 34 in all. These large homes with many bedrooms, servants’ quarters, and places for family activities were not intended for entertaining, which took place at the Club. Interesting to note that few cottages contained a kitchen as meals were taken at the hotel dining room or delivered by staff to the homes. When large families, servants and invited friends came to the island during the winter months, the social season moved to this remote Georgia seacoast island.
Island pastimes included fishing in the surf and bay, hunting in the woodlands and marshes for deer, rabbits, and small game, beach parties, horseback riding, croquet, bowling, bicycling and dancing.
When the Jekyll Island Club Existed
The hotel and a few outbuildings were first built in 1886 and additional construction took place over the next 50 years. By the Second World War, the Club was no longer sustainable due to world events and changes in economic conditions. During its heyday, from the Gilded Age through the Roaring Twenties, it provided a retreat for the well to do.
On the island, support buildings were erected as needed. A dormitory for single servants, livery stable for horse and carriages, a generator building to provide electric power, and shops to house carpenters, gardeners, and other necessary auxiliary workers were added over time.
The resident managers and workers with families had their own homes. A wharf allowed access from the inland waterway for members, visitors and supplies.
Why Was There a Jekyll Island Club
The top businessmen of the Gilded Age controlled the economy, wealth, and industry of the country. By getting together in a social setting, many deals were made, and contracts negotiated.
At the Club, on January 25, 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was placed linking Jekyll Island with New York City, the White House in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The call was placed from the island because AT&T President Theodore Vail was a member of the Club and in residence at the time.
In 1910, a select group of Club members stealthily gathered at Jekyll Island and laid the foundation for what would become the Federal Reserve Bank. The island retreat proved ideal for their need for secrecy and with their power in all areas of commerce, they were able to begin the creation of a monetary institution for the United States. Two of the rooms in the hotel contain papers and artifacts from this meeting.
Jekyll Island Club Today
The Club ceased to exist in 1944 and was deeded to the State of Georgia and is now a National Historic Landmark District. The Jekyll Island Club hotel and dining rooms are open for guests and a museum details the history and story off the Club.
There are self-guided walking tours, a tram tour, or a horse-drawn carriage tour of the property. With a guide, some of the “cottages” can be visited.
In addition, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is housed in the former power plant. A non-denominational chapel with exquisite stained glass windows by Tiffany and Armstrong was built for the year-round residents during the Club’s lifetime and is open for visitors.
Shops, restaurants, and tourist services are available on the island where the sightseer can pretend to be a part of the one-time elite – if only for a day.