Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: Jekyll Island Club (1886), Jekyll Island, Georgia*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The 240-acre Jekyll Island Club Historic District is located in the midsection of the river side of the island. The centerpiece of the grounds is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a four-star resort and National Historic Landmark. At 5,700 acres and a 33% limit on business development, Jekyll Island is the smallest of Georgia's barrier islands with moss-draped live oaks, marshes, and remote beaches with natural sand dunes and indigenous wildlife. Jekyll Island is one of four barrier sea islands off the coast of Georgia. The island measures 7 miles by 1.5 miles and has 8 miles of wide, flat beaches with sand parked hard enough for easy walking or biking.
At the end of the 18th century, the entire island became the property of Christopher du Bignon. With cotton as its main crop and slaves as its main manpower, the plantation prospered until the Civil War. On November 28, 1858, fifty years after the importation of slaves was made illegal, the slave ship Wanderer reached Jekyll Island with approximately 409 of 465 slaves who survived the brutal Atlantic Ocean passage. This was the last documented ship to bring a cargo of slaves from Africa.
After the Civil War, the du Bignon family marketed the island as a winter retreat for wealthy businessmen and their families. They completed construction of the Clubhouse in 1888. Charles A. Alexander of Chicago was the architect and William Shaler Cleveland, a famous landscape architect, was chosen to lay out the grounds. The Club was designed in the American Queen Anne architectural style with turrets, verandas, bay windows, extended chimneys, and overall asymmetrical design. Interior details included Ionic columns, twelve and fifteen-foot ceilings, oak wainscoting, leaded-art glass, and distinctive fireplaces. The Annex was added in 1901 to provide eight additional private apartments.
Between 1888 and 1928, wealthy Club members built "cottages" of 6,000 square feet or more designed to house entire families with staff. Today, many of these Club cottages remain, some in excellent condition after restoration. In the 1920s, a spectacular oceanside golf course was built, and, with swimming, tennis and bicycling, was one of the most popular guest activities. Despite a new more affordable associates membership instituted in 1933, the Great Depression and the start of World War II caused the Club to close in 1942.
In 1947, the state of Georgia bought the island for $675,000 and turned it into a public state park. The Club was closed in 1971, a financial failure. It was named a historic landmark in 1978 and restored and reopened as the Radisson Jekyll Island Club Hotel in 1985. Radisson ceased managing the hotel some years later. It currently operates as the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, no longer a private club only for millionaires, with elegant surroundings, miles of beach, bicycling, 63 holes of golf, tennis, historic tours, horseback riding, and much more.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.