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Jekyll Island: Historic District and Northern Area

The Jekyll Island Club National Historic District

[Fig. 21(7)] History buffs will enjoy the 200-acre Jekyll Island Club National Historic District, a collection of 33 buildings constructed by America's richest families from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Some buildings are open for overnight stays and tours, or have been converted into shops. Judging by early photos, the area is probably more beautiful today than at any time in its past as the landscaping has had time to grow in, with beautiful Live Oaks festooned with Spanish moss, 100-year-old cabbage palms, pines, flowering oleander, and azaleas.

The club was established to provide a pressure-free retreat where millionaires and their families could enjoy outdoor recreation such as hunting, fishing, golfing, tennis, boating, swimming, and biking during winter months. Driving newfangled motorcars on the beach was another popular activity. Between 1886 and 1928, members built "cottages," which were more like mansions, in styles ranging from informal Shingle to formal Italian Renaissance Revival with expensive furnishings and indoor swimming pools and tennis courts. This was the period in American history of rapid industrialization, when vast fortunes were being made and income tax had yet to be invented. Members such as Morgan, Vanderbilt, Astor, Gould, Rockefeller, McCormick, Baker, Biddle, Whitney, Armour, Crane, Goodyear, Pulitzer, Macy, and Bliss controlled one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy. Rest and relaxation may have been the goal, but the club members managed to conduct some business including the development of the Aldrich Plan in 1910, which led to the formation of the Federal Reserve System. In 1915, the island participated in the first transcontinental telephone call across the U.S. In 1899, a secret meeting was held with U.S. President William McKinley and his rival, the speaker of the house, to determine who would be president in the next election. A Brunswick reporter learned the details of the meeting and wired it around the world, which broke up the meeting and caused a political scandal. McKinley won re-election and Thomas Reed was ousted as speaker.

Jekyll Island historic district.At the height of its popularity, the village was a self-sufficient compound that was supported by artesian wells, an electric power generator, and an infirmary with an on-call doctor. A seasonal staff maintained game on the island, and chefs used the island's gardens, dairy, oyster beds, fishing grounds, and terrapin pens. The stock market crash of 1929 started an era of decline for the club, which closed after 55 years during World War II and was purchased by the state. In 1979, the area was designated a National Historic District, and historic preservation of the cottages is ongoing.

The area and cottages have many fascinating features and stories to tell that are beyond the scope of this book. It is recommended that history buffs visit the Jekyll Island Museum and take a tour of the district, which includes several interesting shops and art galleries. The tram tours are twice a day, take an hour and a half, and include access to three historic buildings. The area can be walked or biked for those who want to explore the area on their own. Some of the buildings are available for rent by large groups. The museum is located in the Club Stables on Stable Road. See lodging and restaurants on Jekyll Island for information about the Grand Dining Room and Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

Jekyll Wharf Marina

[Fig. 21(6)] Of Jekyll's two marinas, this is the historic wharf built in 1886 by the island's millionaires for their expensive yachts. J.P. Morgan, who anchored his 304-foot Corsair II in the channel, was asked about the cost of this fine pleasurecraft, which generated his famous reply, "If you have to consider the cost you have no business with a yacht." The wharf is located in the historic district off Pier Road. A seafood restaurant, Latitude 31, offers "fine dining in a casual atmosphere" on the wharf. Open for dinner. Phone (912) 635-3800. Amenities offered here are gas and oil, floating docks, food, soft drinks, and ice. Phone (912) 635-3152.

Duck Pond Bike Path

[Fig. 21(14)] A less than 1-mile path connecting the historic district with the Ben Fortson Parkway is popular with bird watchers and naturalists. The trail runs from the intersection of Shell and Stable roads to beyond the gas station on Ben Fortson Parkway. Passing through marsh and oak-pine forest, the path runs on top of an old dike for a view of marshes and uplands until it ends at a road that connects with the parkway. The first part of the trail, according to Schoettle, runs along the natural border of the Pleistocene uplands to the north and the intermittent wetlands of the Holocene recurved-spit system to the south. Duck Pond, to the east, is a dike-controlled pond that was created by the millionaires for duck hunting. Because of the variety of habitats, the area is good for wildlife watching. Look for alligator "slides," where mashed down marsh grasses reveal the activities of these ancient reptiles.

Clam Creek Picnic Area, Fishing Pier, North End Beach, Horton Ruins, and North Beach Picnic Area

[Fig. 21(2)] In a beautiful natural setting of woodlands, beach, inland salt marsh, and marsh hammock, this area offers one of three picnicking facilities on the island with a covered fishing pier that extends out into St. Simons Sound. Bird watchers, bikers, and hikers have much to explore in this area, which is conveniently located near Jekyll's campground and historic ruins to the south. Horseback rides also start from here.

Clam Creek Road winds through a young mixed oak-saw palmetto forest along the top of an old dune ridge that separates Jekyll's western salt marshes from the meandering Clam Creek. This thin peninsula is a Pleistocene fragment that is threatened by oxbows from Clam Creek to the north. The fishing pier extends from the end of the picnic area into the Brunswick River and St. Simons Sound. Container ships entering the Brunswick Harbor pass close to the pier, evidence of the proximity of the artificially deep channel. Structures have been sunk nearby to create a more suitable habitat for fish species. Fishermen catch flounder, trout, crabs, and other species here [Fig. 21(1)]. The bridge over Clam Creek is another popular spot for fishermen who seek fish, crab, and shrimp that travel the currents between the marsh and Brunswick River. Sharks are caught off the northern end of the island. On the beach, seining is popular, and the nets pull in a variety of species, including flounder, mullet, croakers, hogchokers, whiting, menhaden, pompano, and seatrout, as well as invertebrates such as blue crabs, white and brown shrimp, whelks, oyster drill, and jellyfish.

A hiking/biking path goes north from the end of the picnic area, crosses Clam Creek, and splits into two trails that cross land that is a remaining fragment of Holocene dunes that have been eroding southward. Each trail is approximately 1 mile in length. The northernmost trail, suitable for hiking, follows along North End Beach before turning south along the southern border of a second marsh and continuing to the northeastern side of the island.

North End Beach, best walked at low tide, shows dramatic evidence of erosion, with the exposed roots of dead, decorticated oaks and pines producing a boneyard beach that wraps around to the eastern side of the island. The oaks have flat root mats and the pines have deep, vertical roots. During storms, the heavier oaks tend to tip over and remain, while the pines snap off at the roots and are carried off by the tides. Off the north end is the Brunswick shipping channel, which is annually dredged to allow deep-draft container ships to enter Brunswick Harbor. Geologists believe the dredged channel is responsible for the loss of more than 1,000 feet of beach since the early 1900s when dredging began. Sand drifting southward from islands across the sound is trapped in this channel rather than renourishing the northern beaches. The result is erosion with no accretion, and the Holocene fragment with its natural communities continues to adapt and change.

After North End Beach, the path turns south to border a marsh that experiences poor tidal circulation, thus supporting high marsh and marsh border flora that is less tolerant of salt water, such as the yellow aster-flowered sea oxeye and dark needle rush. On the other side of the marsh, which is accessible by beach during lower tides, is a fascinating and beautiful boneyard beach that reveals the erosion that has occurred on the northern end of the island.

The southern trail, suitable for biking, follows the eastern side of Clam Creek to the North Beach Picnic Area. The bike path follows the marsh, where one can observe alligators, otters, deer, and snakes, along with bird life such as egrets, herons, painted buntings, yellow-throated warblers, clapper rails, and kingfishers. The path dissects some pine and cedar hammocks that are havens for wildlife, before reaching the North Beach Picnic Area. This site was closed in 1986 due to erosion problems. Today, it is the best example of a boneyard beach on a developed island off the Georgia coast. Some exploration will reveal how currents and tides are stripping away soil and undercutting and killing a maritime forest that tumbles onto the sands to create a beautiful boneyard beach. If the erosion continues, Clam Creek will connect with the Atlantic on the eastern side and create an island out of the Holocene northern portion of Jekyll.

Horton ruins.Horton Ruins and Trail

[Fig. 21(4)] One-half mile south of Clam Creek Road on the eastern side of North Riverview Drive are the remains of the Horton House. The two-story tabby structure, one of the oldest in the state, was built in 1742 after Horton's original structure was destroyed by retreating Spanish, who had just been defeated by Oglethorpe in the Battle of Bloody Marsh. An exceptionally large red bay occupies the northwest corner of the house. Across the street in a peaceful setting of cedars, oaks and pines is the du Bignon family cemetery. The du Bignons owned the island for nearly a century before selling it to the Jekyll Island Club millionaires. Major Horton Road, on the north side of the property, connects with Beachview Drive on the eastern side of the island. This road becomes a trail that passes freshwater sloughs and a pond open to freshwater fishing.

Maj. William Horton served as forward lookout on Jekyll Island for Gen. James Oglethorpe during the British colonial period. Horton, who commanded English forces after Oglethorpe returned to England, is best known for having the first brewery in Georgia, the ruins of which are seen south of this site on the western side of Riverview Drive.

Lodging on Jekyll Island

The most famous lodging on the island is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, located in the historic district on the marsh side of the island. Built in 1886, the hotel features turn-of-the-century charm with modern amenities. In 1985, the four-story Queen Anne–styled clubhouse of the megarich was refurbished to the tune of $17 million—25 times more than what the entire island sold for in 1947. The hotel has to be the croquet capital of Georgia. Moderate to expensive. (800) 535-9547.

Other lodging on the island is located along Beachview Drive, which provides easy access to the beach. Most of the following motels are moderately priced and offer rooms with views of the ocean, bike rentals, golf and tennis packages, swimming pools, restaurants, and lounges. Some also offer villas with multiple bedrooms and kitchens. Ask for amenities when you call. Clarion Resort Buccaneer, (800) 253-5955; Comfort Inn Island Suites, 800-204-0202; Days Inn Oceanfront Resort, (800) 325-2525; Holiday Inn Beach Resort, (800) 7-Jekyll; Beachview Club, 800-299-2228; Jekyll Inn, (800) 736-1046; Ramada Inn, (800) 835-2110; The Seafarer Inn & Suites, (800) 281-4446; Villas By The Sea Resort Hotel and Conference Center, (800) 841-6(912) 262. For home rentals, call Jekyll Realty Company, (912) 635-3301 or Parker-Kaufman Realtors, (912) 635-2512.

Restaurants and Night Life on Jekyll Island

One of the attractive characteristics of Jekyll is the lack of billboards and tacky restaurants lining the roadways—no McDonald's here. This doesn't mean the island doesn't have anywhere to eat. It's just that the island's restaurants are not very obvious because most are built into resort hotels. Night life is somewhat limited as well to hotel lounges.

The most famous, expensive, and best restaurant on the island is the Grand Dining Room at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. The dramatic, colonnaded dining room is indeed grand, with a huge fireplace and view of the swimming pool, and the shine and sparkle of silver and crystal. Service is excellent as hungry diners are served low-country cuisine featuring Georgia fish, shrimp, and quail along with veal and beef options. Informal dress is allowed for breakfast and lunch, but jackets requested for men at night. Moderate to expensive. (912) 635-2600. A more casual and limited low country option for lunch is SeaJay's Waterfront Café & Pub, located in the Jekyll Harbor Marina. Here you can get the low-country boil, Brunswick stew, peel and eat shrimp or a barbecue sandwich. Entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays. Inexpensive. (912) 635-3200. Latitude 31 is a seafood restaurant with a marsh view at Jekyll Wharf. Moderate. (912) 635-3800. Other dining options on the island include Remington's Bar and Grill, with a Saturday night prime rib and seafood buffet. Moderate. (912) 635-3311. The Italian Fisherman, features Italian food, seafood, and beef. Moderate. (912) 635-2531. Blackbeard's Seafood Restaurant and Lounge, fresh local seafood. Moderate. (912) 635-3522. Zachary's Seafood House serves seafood, steaks, chicken, and sandwiches. Moderate. (912) 635-3128.

Nature Tours and Sea Turtle Watches on Jekyll Island

During summer, the best night life on the island emerges from the ocean, crawls up on the beach, buries a nest of eggs, and returns to the sea. Many an environmentalist has been born after witnessing the miracle that occurs on the beaches of Jekyll every summer from June to mid-August. Jekyll Island offers nighttime sea turtle watches that let you discover (without disturbing) mother sea turtles building nests on the beach. Any age is welcome with a parent, and children over 12 can participate unattended with parental permission. Call The Sea Turtle Project at (912) 635-2284. Guided boat tours and nature walks on the beach and marsh are also offered. Call (912) 635-9102 for a schedule of events.

Biking and Horseback Riding on Jekyll Island

Jekyll is best seen on the seat of a bike, where one can pedal the 22 miles of trails while enjoying the natural beauty of the island. Rentals are available at hotels, the campground, the mini-golf course, the Jekyll Harbor Marina, and other locations. Be sure to ask for a bike map. Horseback riding is a fun and exciting way to see the island. Rides depart from Clam Creek Picnic Area on the north end of Jekyll. Reservations are required. Call (912) 635-9500.

Fishing and Boating on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island's beaches are open to surf casting but the best saltwater fishing is on the island's south end at the St. Andrews Picnic Area. Freshwater fishing is allowed at two lakes: one behind the outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the historic district and the one across from Villas By The Sea on the northern end. At the fishing pier at the northern end, anglers catch flounder, trout, and other species. Fishing rods can be rented at Maxwell's Variety Store, 16 Beachview Drive, (912) 635-2205, and bait and tackle is available at Jekyll's marinas. For fishing charters, dolphin cruises, and water tours, contact Jekyll Harbor Marina at (912) 635-3137 or Jekyll Wharf/Water Taxi at (912) 635-3152. See also Clam Creek Picnic Area and Fishing Pier, Jekyll Harbor Marina, and Jekyll Island Club National Historic District.

Campgrounds on Jekyll Island

See Campgrounds in Glynn County.

Golf and Tennis on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island offers 63 holes of exciting public golf at four courses: Great Dunes 9, which retains some of the original holes of the millionaires' course; Oleander, an 18-hole gem; Pine Lakes, the longest course on the island; and Indian Mounds, with wide fairways and spectacular scenery. A driving range, pro shop, and restaurant and lounge are part of the golf complex. For rates and tee times, call (912) 635-(912) 2368 (for Great Dunes 9, call (912) 635-2170).

Jekyll Island Tennis Center features 13 clay courts, 7 lighted, for tennis buffs. The center was selected by Tennis Magazine as one of the 25 best Municipal Tennis Facilities in the country. Call (912) 635-3154 for rates.

Waterparks and Miniature Golf on Jekyll Island

What's the beach without miniature golf and waterslides for the kids? Jekyll truly has it all. Miniature golf: phone (912) 635-2648. Summer Waves Waterpark: phone (912) 635-2074.

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