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Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island is an island off the coast of the U.S. state of Georgia, in Glynn County; it is one of the Sea Islands and one of the Golden Isles of Georgia. The city of Brunswick, Georgia, the Marshes of Glynn, and several other islands, including the larger St. Simons Island, are nearby. Its beaches are frequented by vacationers and guided tours of the Landmark Historic District are available. Bike trails, walks along the beaches and sandbars, and Summer Waves, a waterpark, are a few of the many things vacationers can do. The district consists of a number of buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The island is also full of wildlife, consisting of many different mammals and reptiles living in the island's inland marshes.

Jekyll Island is one of only four Georgia barrier islands that feature a paved causeway to access the island by car. It features 5,700 acres of land, including 4,400 acres of solid earth and a 200-acre Jekyll Island Club Historic District. The rest is tidal marshlands, mostly on the island's western shore. The island measures about 7 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, has 8 miles of wide, flat beaches on its east shore with sand packed hard enough for easy walking or biking, and boasts 20 miles of hiking trails.

Northern End of the Island

The north end of the island is the main area that has been impacted by human development over the past few hundred years. Early settlers and the loggers that came after them developed plantations in this area and felled trees to be used for extra-strong ships during wartime. In later years, much of this wilderness has been developed into golf courses.

Clam Creek Picnic Area

A short winding road leads to a parking lot and one of the three picnic areas on the island. To the west is a vast marsh hammock and an astounding view of the Sidney Lanier Bridge, a 203-foot (62 m) tall suspension bridge on Hwy 17. There is a large fishing pier that extends northwest from the picnic area. To the east, a bridge crosses Clam Creek in front of an inland marsh to connect the picnic area to the North End Beach and Driftwood Beach. These beaches are characterized by another tidal creek emptying into St. Simons Sound and a boneyard of pine and live oak tree roots, killed by beach sand eroded toward the south end of the island.

Horton House

A two-story structure built from tabby in 1742 stands in ruins along N. Riverview Rd. The house was occupied by Major William Horton during the British colonial period, who also brewed beer in Georgia's first brewery (the ruins of which are a few hundred yards down the road). This structure has been meticulously preserved over the past 100 years as an example of coastal Georgia building techniques and as one of the oldest surviving buildings in the state. Across the street from the Horton House ruins is the du Bignon cemetery, a tabby wall surrounding the graves of five people who all died in the 19th century.


Just across the street from the entrance to the Clam Creek picnic area is the campground, an 18-acre facility in a cleared maritime forest. The campground has running water for restrooms, showers, and laundry, as well as a store and bike rentals.

South end of the Island

The southern end of the island was virtually unused by settlers and visitors until the 20th century. After homes and motels were built along the northern beaches of the island, the southern areas were majorly used by African-Americans for segregated facilities until 1964. The multiple parallel dunes on the southernmost tip are a result of the beach sand from the eroding north beaches traveling southward and being deposited in a recurved spit.

South Dunes Picnic Area

This picnic area on the ocean side of the island features plenty of picnic tables, a full bathroom with showers, and a boardwalk to traverse the 20-foot high dune ridge that protects this wooded area from sea breezes. This area was repaired in 1983, with bulldozers pushing new primary dunes into place to correct the damage caused by 30 years of beachgoers trampling over the enormous dunes to the beach. Alligators can be seen here in the two ponds near the boardwalk.

Glory Beach

Access to this beach is by way of a long boardwalk built in the mid-1980s by the producers of the movie Glory, and it can be accessed from the soccer complex at the north end of the Jekyll Island 4-H center property. The boardwalk passes through a variety of natural habitats ranging from ancient dunes to freshwater sloughs. Looking south from the beach at the end of the boardwalk one can easily see Little Cumberland Island.

St. Andrews Picnic Area

The farthest point on the beach from Clam Creek, St. Andrews is a picnic area on the river side of the island, facing the marsh and mainland. This beach is very popular with fishing birds and dolphins, surfacing for air, can commonly be seen to the south.

In 2008, the Jekyll Island History Museum, the Jekyll Island Authority, and the Friends of Historic Jekyll Island commemorated the survivors of the slave ship Wanderer, the last slavery vessel to transport slaves without repercussions. On November 28 of 1858, nearly 50 years after slavery was outlawed in the United States, The Wanderer anchored near the southern portion of Jekyll Island, transporting 409 enslaved Africans ashore. The historic site includes 12-foot tall steel sculptures of ship sails, signifying the cold hard reality of slavery.

Jekyll Island Club Historic District

In the mid-section of the river side of the island is a 240-acre Historic District where most of the buildings from the Jekyll Club era still stand, most in remarkable preservation. The centerpiece of the grounds is the enormous Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a two-winged structure that contains numerous suites for rental, including a beautiful presidential suite that contains the 3-story turret on the front of the building. Thirty-three buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries surround the hotel, with many being mansion-sized cottages. Rooms in some of these cottages are for rent, while others exist as museums, art galleries, or bookstores. The hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district itself has been listed as a National Historic Landmark District since 1978.

Tram tours originate from the Jekyll Island Museum located on Stable Rd. directly across from the historic district several times daily and detail much of the history of this area.


Native American settlement

In the mid-2nd millennium, the island now known as Jekyll was part of a coastal Georgia Native American chiefdom called Guale. Muskogian tribes, who comprised a majority of the Creek Nation, were the inhabitants of this territory.

These inhabitants allegedly hunted, gathered, and grew all of their food. The surrounding creeks yielded fish that were speared easily by hunters, and the tribes utilized native vegetation for food and drink, gathering nuts and fruit, even making a type of tea from parched holly leaves. These settlers also allegedly grew pumpkins, beans, tobacco, sunflowers, and maize among other crops.

Arrival of Europeans

Explorers from Spain were the first to make an official claim to Jekyll Island in 1510, giving it the name Isla De Ballenas (Whale Island) and later Juan Ponce de Leon served as the civil governor of this and Spain's other claimed North American territories. In 1562 French explorer Jean Ribault claimed the island for France despite the Spanish claim, describing the island as "the fairest, fruitfullest, and pleasantest of all the world," and renamed the island Ille de la Somme. Ribault later surrendered to the Spanish and was executed, an event that began a conflict between the two countries along the Georgia and Florida coasts. After his army swiftly defeated the French, Philip II of Spain immediately had a colony established on Jekyll.

More brief conflicts between these two countries along the coastline followed, and Spanish priests had established missions with the intention of converting Native Americans to Christianity. Upset that their culture, including dances, banquets, and bonfires, was being suppressed, natives from the modern area of Darien began destroying the missions and slaying the priests in a southward journey; however, Father Davilla on Jekyll was spared, and kept as a slave (though he was later released to the Spanish in a prisoner exchange).

In 1663–65, England established grants to land stretching southward from their Jamestown colony to an area below St. Augustine, Florida. The English allied themselves with the Cherokee, Creek, and Yuchi tribes, and sent members of these tribes armed with English weapons to attack the Spanish and Native American settlements on Jekyll in 1681–83. By 1702, the English had driven the Spanish from the entire area.

General James Oglethorpe established Georgia as a colony in 1733. Jekyll Island was named shortly thereafter by Oglethorpe in honor of his friend, Sir Joseph Jekyll. For many years, including the "Club Era", it was misspelled as Jekyl Island. The additional "L" was later re-added by the Georgia legislature in 1929 to correctly spell the name of the former sponsor of the colony. Prior to English settlement along the coast of Georgia, the Spanish had established missions in the coastal Georgia area. No mission is known to have been established on Jekyll; however, the Spanish influenced the island from the mission that was established on St. Simons Island before the English settlement.

In the late 1730s, General Oglethorpe appointed William Horton to set up a military post in the area to protect Fort Frederica on St Simon's Island. By 1738 Horton had set up permanent residence on Jekyll Island, near what is now called DuBignon Creek. At his residence, Horton established a plantation prosperous enough to supply the population at Frederica with beef and corn and ale.

Horton continued to make improvements on his property on Jekyll throughout his years on the island. Even after his property was destroyed in 1742 during Spanish attacks, he rebuilt his home and worked on new experimental crops on his plantation, including barley and indigo.

William Horton died in 1748–1749 and his property on Jekyll passed through many hands until, just before the year 1800, the entire island became the property of Christophe du Bignon.

Plantation Era

Christophe du Bignon and his family arrived here in 1792. The family came to the United States in order to escape the French Revolution, which devastated provincial families like the du Bignons. The plantation that du Bignon owned on Jekyll was very prosperous and grew cotton as its main crop. Christophe du Bignon also introduced slavery to the island. Christophe died in 1825 and ownership passed on to his son Henri Charles Du Bignon. Under the new ownership of Henri Charles the plantation continued to prosper, as evidenced by the 1850 census.

On November 28, 1858, fifty years after the importation of slaves to the United States was made illegal, the ship The Wanderer landed on Jekyll Island with 465 slaves. This was the last successful shipment of slaves to American soil from Africa.

However, by 1860, there was a great decline in the productivity on Jekyll. By 1862 when Union Army troops arrived, the Du Bignon plantation was completely deserted. After the American Civil War ended, the Du Bignon family returned to the island. Henri Charles divided the island up between his four children.

In the late 1870s John Eugene Du Bignon became owner of property on the island. He had bought the southern third of the island from his uncle’s estate, intending to establish a home there.

The Jekyll Island Club

Du Bignon, who had inherited the southern third of the island from his father, purchased the rest of the island from his siblings with the help of his brother-in-law Newton Finney and an investor. Their plan to sell the island as a winter retreat for the wealthy came to fruition on February 17, 1886, and the clubhouse was completed in January 1888. Fifty-three members purchased shares for $600 each, and a limit of 100 members was imposed to preserve the club's exclusivity.

From 1888–1942 the club opened every January, except a few because of Yellow Fever outbreaks, to accommodate some of the world's wealthiest people. Members and their families enjoyed activities such as biking, hunting, horseback riding, and tennis, and frequented the north beaches. Some of the more esteemed members built mansion-sized cottages that still stand in excellent condition today. During the Great Depression the club experienced financial difficulties, and by the time the United States entered World War II the era of the Jekyll Island Club was over. The state of Georgia condemned the island in 1947 and paid the remaining members a total of $675,000.

Planning of the Federal Reserve System

At the end of November 1910, Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department A.P. Andrews, along with many of the country's leading financiers, who together represented about one-fourth of the world's wealth[citation needed], arrived at the Jekyll Island Club to discuss monetary policy and the banking system, an event which some say was the impetus for the creation of the Federal Reserve.

Forbes magazine founder Bertie Charles Forbes wrote several years later:

Picture a party of the nation's greatest bankers stealing out of New York on a private railroad car under cover of darkness, stealthily riding hundred of miles South, embarking on a mysterious launch, sneaking onto an island deserted by all but a few servants, living there a full week under such rigid secrecy that the names of not one of them was once mentioned, lest the servants learn the identity and disclose to the world this strangest, most secret expedition in the history of American finance. I am not romancing; I am giving to the world, for the first time, the real story of how the famous Aldrich currency report, the foundation of our new currency system, was written... The utmost secrecy was enjoined upon all. The public must not glean a hint of what was to be done. Senator Aldrich notified each one to go quietly into a private car of which the railroad had received orders to draw up on an unfrequented platform. Off the party set. New York's ubiquitous reporters had been foiled... Nelson (Aldrich) had confided to Henry, Frank, Paul and Piatt that he was to keep them locked up at Jekyll Island, out of the rest of the world, until they had evolved and compiled a scientific currency system for the United States, the real birth of the present Federal Reserve System, the plan done on Jekyll Island in the conference with Paul, Frank and Henry... Warburg is the link that binds the Aldrich system and the present system together. He more than any one man has made the system possible as a working reality.

Development of the Jekyll Island Authority

Initially, Jekyll Island was part of the State Park system. However, by 1950, as costs associated with getting the island ready for visitation began to mount, the island was taken out of the state park system and organized into a separate authority in order to become self-sustaining.

The Jekyll Island Authority was created in February 1950 under the direction of Governor Herman Talmadge, and was designed to be a governing board. This board consisted of nine gubernatorial appointed members and was charged with the operation and care of the island.

The authority placed a convict camp on the island in 1951, and the prisoners readied the island for public use, executing landscaping for drainage and for the foundations of motels and neighborhoods and building the perimeter road. From September 1951 to December 1954, the island was primarily closed to the public. Upon completion of the six-year causeway project and drawbridge erection on December 11, 1954, Jekyll Island officially re-opened to the public.

Because the post-WWII plan for Jekyll was for the island to become self-sufficient, and because the Authority was receiving negative publicity in the mid-1950s, the Georgia Legislature restructured the Authority in 1957. Board members became elected officials and included the attorney general, state auditor, public service commissioner, state parks department director, and secretary of state.

In the decade following this restructuring, motels, houses, the convention center, and a shopping center were constructed, as well as the towers at the entrance to the causeway. In the 1970s the Authority began renovating the cottages and club hotel in the historic district, and the 1980s saw construction of bike paths and the re-opening of the clubhouse in December 1987. Two more reorganizations of the Authority in the 1970s and 1980s changed the board to consist of the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and eight citizens of the state.

Some of the later advancements made by the Jekyll Island Authority include the Soccer Complex, Tidelands Nature Center, the Jekyll Island Tennis Center, a Historic District registered with National Historic Landmark Status in 1978, and most recently, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

In 2006, plans to revitalize the island were put into place after years of significantly declining visitation numbers. In 2007 the Jekyll Island Authority selected Linger Longer Communities LLC to be the it's private partner in redeveloping a portion of the Island. After a year of planning and hosting public forums throughout the state of Georgia, the Authority and Linger Longer developed a revitalization plan that included a renovated Convention Center and mixed-use public Beach Village to occupy a very similar footprint to that of the current Convention Center, beach deck, and adjacent asphalt parking lot. The Beach Village is also set to include an area for new retail shops as well as a public beach-side promenade.

By legislative mandate, sixty five percent of the island is and will remain in a mostly natural state (including parks and picnic areas).

Article posted 04/05/09 by the Publisher.

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