Jekyll Island Club Resort

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Discover the Jekyll Island Club Resort founded by the elites of American Gilded Age society and providing luxury for the discerning 21st-century traveler.

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Jekyll Island Club Resort, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1994, dates back to 1887.


Jekyll Island Club Resort: John Newkirk Audio Interview

Audio of John Newkirk's recollections of his time as Bellhop at the Jekyll Island Club during the 1940s.


A member of Historic Hotels of America since 1994, the Jekyll Island Club Resort is one of the few holiday destinations in the United States that the U.S. Department of the Interior had decreed a National Historic Landmark. Its history goes back to the beginnings of Gilded Age America, in which Newton Finney and his brother-in-law, John Eugene DuBignon, decided to create a seclusive hunting club for the era’s prosperous businessmen. The two men decided to establish the club on the DuBignon family estate on Jekyll Island, which John’s descendants had inhabited since the early 18th century. In order to finance the construction of the club’s main facilities, Finney pitched stock ownership in the new venture to prospective members. Some of the most influential Americans quickly became owners, including financier John P. Morgan, journalist Joseph Pulitzer, and department-store magnate Marshall Field. In all, Finney and DuBignon found 53 individuals to serve as co-owners of the new club. The group met in New York to discuss the various by-laws and fees that would come with being a member. They selected the renowned attorney Lloyd Aspinwall to serve as its first president, with Judge Henry Elias Howland as Vice President. After seven long years, the group finally founded their luxurious holiday destination as the “Jekyll Island Club” in 1886.

Construction on the facility began almost immediately with the development of the “Clubhouse.” Opening some two years after its grand debut, the Clubhouse would go on to become the main building for the Jekyll Island Club. Designed by renowned architect Charles A. Alexander, this magnificent building displayed a gorgeous blend of Queen Anne-style architecture. Several other beautiful buildings soon followed over the next several decades, such as the Faith Chapel, San Sourci, and the Morgan Tennis Court. The club’s most illustrious guests also developed their own summer retreats throughout the grounds. Eighteen in all, those spectacular seasonal cottages featured an amazing combination of architectural styles found across Europe. Famous landscape architect Walter J. Travis also designed the club’s renowned golf course, the “Great Dunes.” Jekyll Island Club had started to develop a reputation as a golfer’s paradise, when the United States Golf Association chose it as the site for equipment testing. Travis died roughly a year into the project and did not get to see his grand idea come to fruition. Nevertheless, the fairways at the Great Dunes Golf Course became some of the most popular—and challenging—throughout the entire country.

By the turn of the 20th century, Jekyll Island Club became the gathering spot for the nation’s leading figures. Its membership list featured the names of prominent American families, including the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Goulds. William Rockefeller, a co-founder of Standard Oil, developed the first summer home onsite known as “Indian Mound.” A few others followed suit, including Richard T. Crane, Walter Jennings, and Frank Gould. Shortly thereafter, Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island decided to host a top-secret meeting with American financial leaders at the club in the aftermath of the Panic of 1907. Together, their discussions led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. The President of the American Telephone and Telegraph, Theodore N. Vail, also conducted the first transcontinental telephone call from the Jekyll Island Club. Among the attendees to partake in the call remotely were Alexander Graham Bell and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

The prosperity of the Jekyll Island Club was not to last, unfortunately. When the Great Depression spread across the country during the 1930s, the club struggled to retain its membership rolls. Its management team desperately tried a variety of novel marketing strategies in a vain attempt to attract more people. But World War II proved to be the final straw though, as most of the male staff left the area to enlist in the U.S. military. As such, it became impossible to operate the Jekyll Island Club and it shuttered its doors in 1942. The State of Georgia then came to its rescue several years later in 1947, when it purchased Jekyll Island—including the club—for sum of $675,000. Under the guidance of Revenue Commissioner Melvin E. Thompson, the state rehabilitated the Jekyll Island Club into a public resort. It, too, struggled to make the endeavor profitable. Thus, the entire business closed down again in 1971. Sitting dormant for more than a decade, the resort received a much-needed renovation when Leon N. Weiner & Associates acquired it in during the mid-1980s. Now operating as the “Jekyll Island Club Hotel,” this magnificent historic resort has since resumed its status as one of America’s best vacation getaways.

  • About the Location +

    Jekyll Island today is a state park managed by the Jekyll Island Authority on behalf of the Georgia state government. Easily accessible from the mainland by way of the Sidney Lanier Bridge, millions of people visit the island every year. It features many popular cultural attractions, including the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Founded in 2007, this fantastic facility is Georgia’s only sea turtle rehabilitation unit. But Jekyll Island was not always a state-run park. The first known inhabitants of Jekyll Island were Native Americans part of the Gaule tribe, who resided along the Georgia coastline centuries before the arrival of European colonists. But the Gaule Indians called the area “Opso Island,” and mainly used the area as a spot to hunt and fish. When the English landed on nearby St. Simons Island in the 1730s, Jekyll Island remain largely unpopulated. It was not until a Frenchman named Christophe DuBignon purchased most of the arable land on the island that it finally had permanent residents. Fleeing from the mounting violence of the French Revolution, DuBignon chose Georgia as the place of his exile during the early 1790s. He subsequently bought dozens of acres on Jekyll Island for the creation of a grand plantation. DuBignon’s descendants operated the estate throughout the antebellum, until the American Civil War bankrupted their enterprise. Seeking a way to distance themselves from the failing estate, the family eventually sold the plantation to Newton Finney in 1886.

    Jekyll Island is specifically one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, which themselves are part of a much larger geographic location known as the Sea Islands. Stretching from Jacksonville to Charleston, the Sea Islands are a beautiful chain of barrier islands that protect the coastline for much of the southeastern United States. The Golden Islands of Georgia are specifically a group of four islands that consist of St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and of course, Jekyll Island. They are also home to Historic Brunswick, a coastal city that English colonists under the control of James Oglethorpe first settled during the 1730s. Like the rest of the settlements in colonial Georgia, the English intended to use the Golden Islands as a bastion against incursions from Spanish Florida to the south. Brunswick was formally founded in 1771, just four years before the start of the American Revolution. It then went on to become one of the five major ports of entry by decree of George Washington during his first presidential term. Brunswick itself then lost some of its national economic importance as the country grew, although it became an integral site for the construction of merchant marine ships in World War II. Much of Brunswick’s rich heritage is preserved today within its nationally recognized Old Town Historic District.

  • About the Architecture +

    Jekyll Island Club Hotel is a resort complex consisting of several unique historic structures. The most historic among them is the Clubhouse, which functions as the resort’s main building. Constructed in 1888, the Clubhouse is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s most celebrated landmark. It was designed by renowned architect Charles A. Alexander of Chicago, Illinois. The Clubhouse displayed some amazing Queen Anne-style architecture, complete with a central hall and a gorgeous tower. The club’s third president, Charles Lanier, then commissioned the development of a four-story annex in 1901. This magnificent addition expanded the Clubhouse’s room count to a total of 56 room, as well as eight luxurious suites. Many of the exclusive suites contained access to new parlor rooms and views out onto the East River. Around the same time, celebrated landscape architect Horace William Shaler Cleveland created the layout for its surrounding grounds. Cleveland had worked all across the United States, crafting the design for parks in such major American cities like Omaha, Providence, and Minneapolis.

    The Clubhouse was gradually joined by 18 unique summer cottages, which were scattered throughout the grounds by the club’s most illustrious guests. First to appear was William Rockefeller’s house called “Indian Mound.” Built in 1892, architect Gordon McKay crafted its memorable façade on Rockefeller’s behalf. The structure was then followed by buildings like the Dutch-style Moss Cottage (1896) and the Georgian Revival-style Goodyear Cottage (1903). Some of the other cottages featured cutting-edge amenities for their day, such as the electric elevator installed inside the Mistletoe (1903). But perhaps the greatest of the summer homes emerged at the club around the start of the Roaring Twenties, with Richard T. Crane’s marvelous Crane Cottage the best of them all. Built upon the site of an earlier house called “Solterra,” Crane’s residence cost around $500,000 to complete. It displayed some brilliant Spanish Revival-style architecture and was the largest of the club’s summer cottages. It was then followed by two more cottages called “Villa Ospo” and “Villa Marianna.” Built in 1928 for Walter Jennings and Frank Gould, respectively, the two were referred to as villas for their resemblance to Mediterranean palatial estates.

    The rest of the Jekyll Island Club Resort complex contains many other unique historic structures. The most noteworthy of these buildings is “San Sourci,” which first appeared on the campus in 1896. A group of members led by John P. Morgan developed this fascinating construct, which many architectural historians have since considered to be among the first condominiums in the United States. Translated to mean “without care” in English, San Sourci stood three-stories tall and offered six luxurious suites. The resort is also home to Faith Chapel, a quaint church created with Gothic Revival design aesthetics. Built in 1904, the chapel featured four gargoyles inspired by the ones that adorn Notre Dame in Paris. Inside, is the spectacular King David Window, which many believe was installed personally by Louis C. Tiffany of the famed Tiffany & Co. The original proprietors of the club even constructed a luxurious indoor tennis facility that they called the “Morgan Tennis Court.” This local landmark was transformed a century later into a terrific convention center known simply as the “Morgan Center.”

  • Famous Historic Events +

    Drafting of the Federal Reserve System (1910): While the actual founding of the Federal Reserve financial system occurred in 1913, several prominent American politicians met at the Jekyll Island Club Resort three years prior to draft its legislation. In the wake of the Panic of 1907, Senator Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island called for a convention of the nation’s leading financial figures to discuss important economic reforms. Many answered his summons, including representatives from several major banks, such as the National City Bank of New York and the J.P. Morgan Company. A.P. Andrews—the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department under President Theodore Roosevelt—attended the event, as well, serving as a direct representative from the administration. The group departed the northeast together in early November onboard a top-secret train bound for the club. Upon their arrival, they spent the next several days holding discussions that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve Act. This new law would allow for the establishment of a central banking system that could help alleviate future financial crises. Known as the “Federal Reserve System” or the “Fed,” it would play an important role infusing capital back into the economy during such calamities like the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession.

    First Transcontinental Telephone Call (1915): The first ever public phone call to cross the continent occurred at the Jekyll Island Club on January 25, 1915. The creation of such a network first began three decades prior, with cable lines connecting New York City and Chicago before extending to places like Denver, Colorado. The whole idea had been conceived by Theodore N. Vail, who was the President of American Telephone and Telegraph, better known today as “AT&T.” Since the beginning of the project in 1888, Vail and his American Telephone and Telegraph employees established some 4,750 miles of telephone poles throughout the entire nation. When his linemen raised the final pole in Wendover, Utah, Vail transmitted his voice across the United States in July of 1914. But Vail desired more proof that his beloved telephone network actually worked. Thus, six months later amid the ongoing Panama—Pacific International Exposition, he used a branch of the line at the Jekyll Island Club to call Alexander Graham Bell’s office in New York City. Bell then telephoned his assistant, Thomas Augustus Watson, at his own office in San Francisco, where U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sat in attendance. The only message Bell spoke was, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you,” to which Watson replied, “It will take me five days to get there now!” The call was a resounding success and launched the AT&T’s first transcontinental service plan.

    Thirtieth G8 Summit (2004): Originally organized as the “G7 Summit” in 1975, the conference first sought to address global economic issues among its earliest members: France, Italy, Japan, West Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Over time, though, the discussions started to look at larger geopolitical problems after Russia joined the coalition three decades later. (Russia’s inclusion within the group led the body to become known throughout the world as the “G8 Summit.”) Among the new topics that the group addressed involved everything from public health crises to human rights violations. The honor of hosting the summit rotates among its members, as well. As such, America obtained the responsibility in 2004, after France had supervised the event the year prior. President George W. Bush’s administration subsequently selected the quaint tranquility of Jekyll Island Club Resort to host the upcoming summit, for it offered both security and world-class service. Arriving in June, the member nations covered a whole range of contemporary problems facing the world at the time, such as HIV vaccinations, ending famine in Africa, and a general nonproliferation plan. All of the main member countries attended the event, as well as two representatives from the European Union (which had also become a “core” member). Yet, the summit entertained a number of “guest” nations from places like Afghanistan, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Turkey, Ghana, Iran, Senegal, and Jordan. In the end, scholars have since concluded that the 30th G8 Summit was successful in its endeavors.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Joseph Pulitzer, celebrated publicist of the New York World and namesake of the Pulitzer Prize.

    John P. Morgan, legendary financier and founder of J.P. Morgan and Company.

    William Rockefeller, financier who helped co-found Standard Oil with his brother, John D. Rockefeller.

    George Fisher Baker, founder of Citibank’s predecessor, the First National Bank of New York City.

    Richard T. Crane, founder the modern aerospace manufacturer, Crane Co.

    Marshall Field, founder of Marshall Field and Company department stores, as well as the namesake to the Field Museum of Natural History.

    James Jerome Hill, renowned Chief Executive Officer for the Great Northern Railway.

    Edwin Gould, prominent railroad financer and graduate of Columbia University.

    Cornelius Vanderbilt III, famous yachter and war hero from World War I.

    William K. Vanderbilt, successful railroad financer and founder of The Jockey Club.

    Alva Belmont, multimillion dollar socialite and major figure within the U.S. women’s suffrage movement.

    Theodore N. Vail, renowned President of American Telephone & Telegraph (now known as AT&T).

    Nelson Aldrich, Republican Senator from Rhode Island (1881 – 1911) and father of the Federal Reserve System.

  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Glory (1989)

    Camilla (1994)

    Legend of Bagger Vance (1999)

    X-Men: First-Class (2011)

    Royal Pains (2012)

    Southern Charm (2015)

    Live by Night (2016)

    The Walking Dead (2016, 2019)

    Whose Wedding is it Anyway

    Three Day Weekend

    Southern Living Presents on Turner South

    Southern Woods and Water

    The Southern Gardner

    Restore America

    Great Hotels

    The Grand Tour

    George Hirsch Living It Up

  • Women in History +

    Alva Belmont: Among the guests who frequented the Jekyll Island Club Resort regularly was Alva Belmont, a renowned socialite and prominent civil rights activist throughout much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Born as “Alva Erskine Smith” in the early 1850s, Belmont spent most of her childhood in Alabama before her parents relocated to the Big Apple around the time of the American Civil War. Belmont also spent a portion of her formative years in Europe, where her family occasionally vacationed during the summer months. In fact, she attended a boarding school in Paris, while her father conducted business in England. During the 1870s, Belmont met William K. Vanderbilt at a party thrown for one of his sisters. The two immediately formed a connection and wed in 1875. Despite being a part of the Vanderbilt dynasty, Alva and William often had trouble connecting with New York City’s most affluent elites. As such, Belmont spent a considerable amount of time planning various strategies in a bid to change her nascent family’s social standing. She commissioned the construction of a multimillion dollar mansion along Fifth Avenue, as well as an even greater one in Rhode Island’s illustrious seaside town of Newport. Over time, the city’s leading figures accepted Alva and William Vanderbilt, with William B. Astor actually seeking out favors from them every so often. Yet, her marriage with William had started to fall apart, and the two eventually divorced in 1895. Nevertheless, Alva Belmont found love again not long thereafter, marrying Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont just a few months later.

    After her second husband died in 1908, Alva Belmont became increasingly more involved with the movement surrounding women’s suffrage. At first, she began to support organizations that focused on revising state voting rights as a gradual way of enfranchising women across the country. But upon viewing a rally held by the Women’s Social and Political Union in London, Belmont was convinced that the aggressive tone adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters were far more effective. She then joined the executive committee for the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which formed following the breakup of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Belmont also recruited Christabel Pankhurst for a massive speaking tour through the United States and even wrote a suffragette operetta called Melinda and Her Sisters alongside Elsa Maxwell. She also hosted several large gatherings at her sprawling estate in Newport. But her greatest contributions to the cause of women’s suffrage was her unbridled financial support. Belmont bankrolled many political campaigns on behalf of many suffragists, enabling them to hold rallies, conduct fundraisers, and lobby politicians all over the nation. She remained engaged in a variety of political topics that enhanced the rights of women, even after the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Belmont specifically took a prominent role in the National Women’s Party in 1921, serving as its president throughout the rest of her life. She was responsible for establishing the organization’s headquarters on First Street in Washington, D.C., before moving it to its second, more-famous location on Constitution Avenue. The building today is preserved as a National Historic Landmark known as the “Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.”

Image of Historian Stanley Turkel, Historic Hotels of America Image of Stanley Turkel's Book Built To Last: 100 Year Old Hotels East of the Mississippi, Historic Hotels of America.

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Nobody Asked Me, But...

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 his book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi


About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management an and hotel franchising consultation. Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City. He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel News Resource and eTurboNews websites. 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. Executive Vice President of Historic Hotels of America, Lawrence Horwitz, has even praised one book, Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry:

  • “If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Turkel was designated as the “2014 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.

Works published by Stanley Turkel include:

Most of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse—(except Heroes of the American Reconstruction, which can be ordered from McFarland)—by visiting, or by clicking on the book’s title.

Contact: Stanley Turkel

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