Between Riverview Drive and Old Village Boulevard lies the Jekyll Island Historic District, home of thirty-four different historic structures beckoning back to the Gilded Age that drove the island’s growth and cultural renown.
Even before the Gilded Age, there was archaeological evidence of Jekyll Island’s history as a place of interest as early as 1500 B.C., when the island was originally inhabited by the Guale Indians, who called the area Ospo, a popular site for hunting and fishing. Later, the island would be explored by the Spanish and colonized by the English—by Major William Horton in particular, who built two homes and Georgia’s first brewery on the island. The second of his homes, built after the first home was destroyed in a Spanish attack, still stands today as Georgia’s oldest structure—the Horton House. The home was later owned and occupied by the family and descendants of French officer Chrisophe Poulain DuBignon, whose descendant John Euguene DuBignon would come to have big plans for Jekyll Island.
In 1886, John Eugene DuBignon and his brother-in-law, Confederate soldier Newton Finney, conceived the idea of purchasing Jekyll Island and turning it into a retreat and hunting ground for America’s most illustrious citizens. DuBignon and Finney were successful beyond measure in their efforts, creating the Jekyll Island Club, which went on to be named “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world” by Munsey Magazine. Jekyll Island Club had no more than one hundred members at a given time, including the likes of famous and prominent figures like the Astors, the Rockefellers, the Goodyears, Joseph Pulitzer, the Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, and Marshall Field. Here, these families took vacations in elegant leisure, participating in outdoor recreation from hunting and horseback riding to croquet and lawn bowling.
The island played host to a series of historical events, both great and tragic. Before the advent of the Jekyll Island Club, one of the most notorious incidents in American history took place in 1858 on Jekyll Island’s southernmost end, where a slave ship brought 409 slaves from Africa—despite the practice of importing slaves having been outlawed exactly fifty years prior. When the Jekyll Island Club was established, its prominent members had important events happen in their dwellings, including the creation of the Federal Reserve during a secret meeting of the nation’s top financiers and the first public transcontinental phone call made by the president of AT&T in 1915. The island slid back into obscurity upon order of its evacuation by the Federal Government in 1942 and its purchase by the state of Georgia in 1947.
Many of the structures in the Jekyll Island Historic District are restored “cottages”—an amusing understatement, as these homes, though designed comparatively simply in regards to their owners’ urban properties, were the size of mansions—belonging to the wealthy elite of the illusive Jekyll Island Club. Today, the cottages of such families are open to the public, with a myriad of tour options available.
Hours and Admission Pricing
You can experience Jekyll Island’s history firsthand via tours, which often take place by trolley or horse-drawn carriage, with options for exploring various structures.
Passport to the Century is a 90-minute long tour that departs from the Jekyll Island Museum at 11:00am, 1:00pm, and 3:00pm daily (excluding Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Tickets are $16.00 for adults, $7.00 for children between the ages of 7 and 15, and no cost for children 6 years old and under.
Tours of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, where many elite club members stayed, are offered Monday through Thursday at 2:00pm year round. Trolley tours depart from the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, ranging from $10.00 to $25.00 in price.
Narrated historic horse-drawn carriage tours have the ability to take visitors to the cottages of Rockefeller, Macy, and Goodyear, as well as to the elaborate Faith Chapel, which was modeled after Notre Dame. Carriages seat between four and fifteen people and tours last approximately forty-five minutes long. Day tours depart from the Island History Center every hour on Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00am until 2:00pm and on Sundays from 2:00pm until 4:00pm. Evening tours depart from the Jekyll Island Club Hotel on Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:00pm onwards.
Let SSI Rentals Help You Experience Jekyll Island’s History!
We offer not only a superior selection of vacation rentals for your accommodation needs, but our twenty years of experience in the St. Simons Island area! Our seasoned experts can give you pointers on which locales will most pique your interest and which activities you will find the most enjoyable. Contact the reservation specialists at SSI Rentals today to learn more when you book your very own home away from home in the tropical paradise of St. Simons Island!