“Millionaires Island” – Georgia’s Jekyll Island

“Millionaires Island” – Georgia’s Jekyll Island

Through the Gilded Age, World War I, the Roaring '20s, and the Great Depression, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, Morgans and Astors, Macys, Pulitzers, and Goodyears shuttered their 5th Avenue castles and retreated to elegant "cottages" on their wild coastal island. It's been said that when the island's distinguished winter residents were all "in," a sixth of the world's wealth was represented. Early in World War II the millionaires departed for the last time. In 1947 the state of Georgia purchased the entire island for the bargain price of $675,000. Today, it's no longer the exclusive enclave it once was, the island is a resort area with beaches, nature trails, golf facilities, and camping areas.

Located 94 miles S of Downtown Savannah, Jekyll Island is still a 7½-mile playground, but it's no longer restricted to the rich and famous. One side of the island is lined by nearly 10 miles of hard-packed Atlantic beaches; the other by the intracoastal waterway and picturesque salt marshes. Deer and wild turkey inhabit interior forests of pine, magnolia, and moss-veiled live oaks. Egrets, pelicans, herons, and sandpipers skim the gentle surf. At Jekyll Island north end, beach animals such as porpoises, egrets, periwinkle snails, fiddler crabs and herons can be seen from this unique area. Jekyll Island's clean, mostly uncommercialized public beaches are free and open year-round. Bathhouses with restrooms, changing areas, and showers are open at regular intervals along the beach.

“Millionaires Island” – Georgia’s Jekyll Island Photo 2

Driftwood Beach Jekyll Island is Georgia state's smallest barrier island—a narrow sediment deposit that runs along the coastline. The unique geography of such islands has given rise to a lovely and slightly unreal site at the north end of the island. The constant exposure of barrier islands to strong currents causes the north end to be eroded, pushing the sand to the beaches of the southern end.

On Jekyll Island, the eroded soil became unable to support its trees, which fell and decayed gradually over time, creating the beautiful and otherworldly sun-bleached formations of Driftwood Beach seen today. Gnarly pine and oak trees litter the landscape. Some are fully exposed and some appear to emerge from the depths of the sand. The snarl of trunks and limbs and the dramatic, massive root systems of upturned trees are an eerie and intriguing tableau of nature's slow and steady power. It's been estimated that nearly 1,000 feet of Jekyll's beach have been lost since the early 1900s.

It looks almost as if the driftwood rained down from the sky. The chaotic mess of driftwood can make the beach a maze to navigate, especially during high tide - but alas, you will see other like-minded individuals running along the beach hopping over fallen tree trunks and branches. It looks like a quiet tree graveyard, and has an air of romance that makes it a popular venue for local couples to tie the knot.

If navigating tree trunks and branches is not your cup of tea, have a seat on a bench (or a log) and enjoy the sunrise coming over the Atlantic Ocean. Or, go to the beach on a clear night and enjoy the solitude among the stars. It's difficult to not enjoy your time here. Consistently voted one of America's "Ten Most Romantic Beaches," Driftwood Beach is an escape to another world.

“Millionaires Island” – Georgia’s Jekyll Island Photo 3

The Horton-duBignon House on Jekyll Island was built in 1743, by Major William Horton, a top military aide to General James Oglethorpe and beer connoisseur, as part of Oglethorpe's rapid expansion plan to colonize Georgia.

One of the oldest standing structures in the state, the Horton House is made of a material called "tabby." A fairly unique-to-Georgia medium for building structures, tabby was made by burning oyster shells to create lime, which was mixed with sand and water to create a fishy sort of cement. The mixture was poured into forms to create walls, and while it may not sound all that sturdy, there it stands.

It was Horton who decided that the island could use a little R and R as well, and he built the state of Georgia's first brewery on the property, the ruins of which are just a few hundred yards down the road from the house. The vast fields around the house were planted with rye, barley and hops for use in Horton's brewery, and the area around the house was originally known as Rye Patch. Beer was the only alcoholic beverage allowed in the colony at the time and Horton's brewery supplied the soldiers at nearby Fort Frederica.

The Spanish, displeased with the English and their activities on a shore that they had previously claimed, would regularly attack the coast, and the Horton House was a target. Despite being burned, the house still stood - for the most part. Rebuilt by French officer Poulain du Bignon, who brought the historical jewel of a property not only back to its former glory, but into a state of wealth and prosperity. The two-story house lived a second life as his home and base for plantation operations on the island until du Bignon's death, the cemetery across the street created in his name, and of course, his final resting place.

Now the house and the brewery are merely scarred ruins on an island with a rich history, but with its interesting construction and old cemetery, it still attracts attention. The site is open to the public, and a paved path that runs near the cemetery is a perfect place to take in the views of the Marshes of Glynn.

When Du Bignon died, the island was split among his children. His son John Eugene Du Bignon bought his siblings out (along with a brother-in-law) and went about creating a retreat for the deepest pockets in the U.S., to whom they sold the location for $600 per share. 53 members purchased shares of the exclusive club, The Jekyll Island Club, and it was decreed that members were never to exceed 100, to keep it nice and posh.

Besides all of the usual tennis and horseback riding you'd expect from the privileged men and women of this America era, business was also conducted on the island, and in the main clubhouse. In 1910, a meeting was held on Jekyll Island between the top five financiers of the time, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department, and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich to discuss banking policy. This conversation sowed the seeds of what would eventually become legislation creating the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The swanky southern playground served the well-to-do throughout the early 20th century, but it was not immune to the Great Depression, and WWII shuttered its opulent doors. It has since been turned into a self-sustaining historical spot of local interest, the club house is now a hotel, and there is shopping, activities, and a museum that demonstrates the island's history, and the powerful men who used to roam its shores.

The Jekyll Island Club was one called "the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world".

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