Jekyll Island has a checkered history, having been occupied at various times by Indian tribes, Spanish missionaries, English soldiers and French settlers. In January 1888, East Coast millionaires bought the island from John du Bignon and his brother-in-law, Newton Finney, who'd only paid $13,100 for the land, but having sized up their prospective buyers, resold it to them for $125,000.
The 10-mile-long Barrier Island – separated by the Inland Waterway and a causeway from Brunswick, Ga. – was formerly a winter gathering place for the elite. Now, it's a magnet for vacationers seeking beaches, calm, ocean swimming and miles of sand dunes.
Another plus is the natural beauty of the island, which has basically been left intact, having resisted billboards, used-car lots and low-flying planes carrying tacky advertisements. Unlike some beach areas, the island is thick with towering loblolly and yellow pines that stretch 60 feet to 70 feet above the level terrain.
Live oak trees, with Spanish moss draped delicately over their branches, line the roads that circle and dissect the narrow island. Adding to its appeal are palm trees that appear unexpectedly.
If you've done any exercising besides using your TV remote control and you can still remember how to ride a bicycle, there are 20 miles of paved paths that run adjacent to the roads. You will pass beach areas and snake through patches of dense greenery that are close to some of the points of interest, like Driftwood Beach, historic homes, the golf course and the "Summer Waves."
This last item is an 11-acre water world, with a wave pool and tube slide from 30 feet to 60 feet high – guaranteed to act as a liquid stress test. With such names as the Big Bounce, the Tornado and the Hurricane, you know what to expect. You slide down undulating curves and land with a loud splash into a small pool.
Another worthy attraction? The 500,000-gallon pool aptly dubbed the "Frantic Atlantic." You might think that with so many families with children in tow, singles would be an endangered species here, but it's only because the wind seems more attracted to children's voices and carries them farther.
No one, however, would even dream of thinking that shoppers are on any endangered list. One large shopping center exists on the eastern part of the island, near one of the beaches that provide the basic needs of tourists, including user-friendly ATM machines that look at you and seem to say, "Empty me, empty me!"
With 63 holes of year-round golf, Jekyll is Georgia's largest public golf resort.
Other activities are provided by the 13 clay tennis courts, parasailing, cable water-skiing and deep-sea fishing. And for the ecology-minded, beach exploration, marsh discovery and bird-watching trips are scheduled all-year-round.
But the main contribution to the island's appeal is the Historic District.
In these 240 acres lies a cluster of homes and cottages highlighted by the Jekyll Island Club, a tower-topped Victorian building. The club was completed in 1887, and opened for its official season in January 1888. Wealthy past members included James J. Hill, Marshall Field, William Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, Vincent Astor and William K. Vanderbilt.
Nonetheless, the descendants of these families aren't among those visitors who indulge themselves in the Victorian ambiance of a century ago. In 1942, the club officially came to an end when supplies and labor were being diverted to the Second World War effort.
It is said that chairs in these Victorian rooms were aplenty because a gentleman would always stand up when a lady entered, but since he wouldn't think of allowing her to sit in his personally warmed chair, a cool one was always at the ready.
The Jekyll Island Club, operated by the Radisson Resort, has 136 units in the restored turn-of-the-century building. To enhance its feeling of elegance comes a daily tea in the late afternoon, offering at least two-dozen exotic brews. Additionally, some nine other hotels operate on the island, along with two home-rental agencies.
The best way to see the Historic District – with its 16 primary structures – is to take the 90-minute tour that originates at the Museum Orientation Center. That excursion also includes a slide show that details the history of the island.
In 1978, the area was designated a national historic landmark.
For lodging and other information regarding travel here, call 1-877-453-5955.