We spent New Years on Jekyll Island Georgia which is a very different type of State Park. The campground is actually private but the State of Georgia runs the island. Here is a brief history of the island:
- The first residents of the island were ancestors of the Timucuan and Guale people and they lived on the island from 2500 BC – 1562 AD based on the archelogy done on the shell middens.
- Next was the plantation era which was from the late 1700’s into the 1800’s when the Dubignon family owned the island and ran a large cotton plantation with slave labour.
- In 1886 the island was sold to two entrepreneurs who in turn formed the Jekyll Island Club. They each sold 50 memberships to the club to the wealthy of the day for $600 so they could come to the island in the winter months (Jan – Mar) for hunting, sports, and socializing. They built a 60 room Clubhouse which opened in 1888 for the members to stay in. Subsequently the members starting building “cottages” around the clubhouse for their families to stay in during the winter. However, they still ate most of their meals in the clubhouse building. You could only get to the island by yacht or by the ferry, so it stayed a very exclusive location.
- When World War II started the island was left abandoned. After the war the club members tried to reopen the island but there had been a lot of damage from storms during the war and then the Georgia State government gave the club a cheque and said they now owned the island and would be making it a State Park. The legislature declared that 2/3’s of the island would stay undeveloped so it could continue to be a refuge for animals and people. Less than a thousand people live full time on the island, but thousands visit each year.
- The State Park was opened in 1948 but the causeway to the island wasn’t built until 1954. Now you pay an entrance fee to go on the island and this money is used to support the State Park, so it is self sufficient.
Unfortunately, it turned out that on our first full day on the island it rained quite heavily for the majority of the day. Before the rain, we had decided to go biking so needless to say we got quite drenched on our 34 km circumference of the island. The island is really well setup for biking as they have a trail system that goes around the whole island and the sand on the beach is firm enough that you can ride on the beach for large sections. We went north from the campground to the Clam Creek Fishing pier and then drove along the marsh area with lots of birds. As we continued along the Atlantic coast side the rain started and got heavier so eventually we reached Tortuga Jack’s restaurant and decided to stop for lunch. I had really good Fish Tacos and Sharon had a Shrimp bowl and since they were also still serving breakfast you could get bottomless Mimosa’s for only $8 so naturally, we had to get our money’s worth😉
After lunch we carried on along the coast and eventually decided to exit the trail and ride along the beach. On the southern tip we saw some brown Pelicans, Terns, and seagulls along the shore. We tried going up the eastern coast but eventually the driftwood stopped us as it wasn’t low tide yet. We knew we were close to a residential area, so we tried to go through the bush on some unmarked trails when we got a surprise with two cannon mounts in the middle of the forest. We checked our more detailed map and it did show these cannon mounts which were from the Spanish American War time period, but we suspect very few people actually find them. We did find our way back out of the bush and on to the trail.
We continued along the eastern coastline and got our first glimpses of the so called “cottages” in the historic district. Our photos of the cottages were better on a subsequent sunny day so I’ll hold the photos for now. As we got closer to the campground the rain stopped and we checked out the William Horton Historic tabby style home built in 1743. Tabby was the common construction method used in the plantation era where you mixed equal parts of sand, lime and oyster shells to make the walls. The lime was created by burning oyster shells. Truly amazing that these structures are still standing after all this time. Major William Horton was an Englishmen who lived on Jekyll island from 1736 though 1748 and he succeeded James Oglethorpe as the commander of the of the military forces for the Colony of Georgia.
The following day the weather was better so we rode back into the Historic district to see the various buildings from the outside. Several are now used for hotel guests and others you can tour. It must have been such an opulent lifestyle in its heyday. The tour guide actually told us that at a dinner at the clubhouse one night they actually had 1/6th of the world’s wealth represented! To return we went across the Island to the Atlantic coast side and since the tide was low we were able to ride all along driftwood beach as the sun started to set. It was a magical night with the colours of the clouds.
For the last day of the year we rode back into the historic district so we could do the tour of the Indian Mound cottage, go inside the Faith Chapel, and also tour the Jekyll Island Museum. Mr. and Mrs. William Rockefeller purchased the cottage in 1905 and made extensive modifications to it until it was a total of 12,000 sq feet. Since it was the closest cottage to the clubhouse it was a very prestigious location. The tour guide gave us the history of the family and then let us explore many of the rooms inside. The furniture was from the time period but not necessarily exactly how they had it set up.
Our next tour was the Faith Chapel established in 1904. The stained-glass windows were amazing, especially the one at the front which the guide told us had over 4,000 pieces in it, some even layered to get a specific colour. It was also interesting to see the carved animal heads inside and the gargoyle drain spouts on the outside of the church.
Last stop of the day was the new museum where we got all the history of the island. One of the interesting exhibits was about The Wanderer, the last ship to smuggle enslaved people from West Africa onto Jekyll Island in 1858. After 1807 it was illegal to import slaves, but you could still own slaves. These people certainly lived a hard life in the cotton plantation days. We also discovered that the first transatlantic phone call passed through the Island in 1915. There were several displays about life at the Jekyll Island Clubhouse including stories of some members and the elaborate parties. Before leaving the museum, we decided to see what we would wear if we were going to the Clubhouse for our New Years Eve celebration, too bad it was sold out!
A beautiful ride back to the campground as the sun set on 2019. We had a quiet celebration with bubbly, shrimp and steak, watching the ball drop in New York (since we had cable TV) and getting a kick out of the TV show clip with Barbara Walters saying “Welcome to 2020” over and over again!!