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A Short History of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel

Jekyll Island Club Hotel history
I'm one of those people who love learning about the history of a place. I've been known to research the previous owners of the houses that we're thinking of buying just because I want to know more about those homes' stories. I love genealogy and learning more about all of my great-great-great-people.

It's no wonder, then, that I dove into the history of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. And there was plenty of it for me to swim around in luxuriously.

I had the privilege of taking the tour that the hotel offers for guests in the afternoons; my guide was the concierge, Sherri, and her enthusiasm for the property made the entire experience that much more fun. 

The Club was originally founded in 1886; several elite families, including the Rockefellers, the Pulitzers, the Morgans, and the Astors, created this group. Their goal: to establish a rustic hunting club where families were welcome. (I love that they thought that the JICH was "rustic"!)

Jekyll Island Club Hotel history
If this is rustic, count me in.

Apartments in the San Souci building were added in 1896, and the Club built the Annex (where I stayed!) in 1902 due to demand. By the early 1900s, the Club was in full swing and was absolutely the place to be during the winter season. From January to March, there were picnics, hunting parties, five-hour-long suppers in the Grand Dining Hall, and racing on the beach. 

Jekyll Island Club Hotel | CosmosMariners.com

The Club was a hopping place during the early 1900s: it was the place from which the first trans-Atlantic phone transmission originated from, and it also hosted the "First Names Club," a group that laid out the plans for the Federal Reserve. 

"Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?"

The stock market crash in 1929 hit the Club's members hard, and membership numbers dwindled over the next decade. 

The Club's last season was in 1942. After that time, the state of Georgia took over the property and attempted to keep it running. As you could imagine, a gigantic historical property like the Jekyll Island Club Hotel consumes a massive amount of resources. 

In the mid-1970s, the property fell into complete disrepair. Sherri, my guide and the concierge, told me that she could remember exploring the dilapidated Club around 1975 with her grandfather and watching local kids ride their bikes down the ruined Hall of Mirrors. 

I know. Imagining that makes my stomach hurt, too. 

In the mid-1980s, a group of investors, including an architect fresh out of school and an environmental lawyer, approach the state of Georgia with their hopes and dreams of restoring the property. By 1987, this entrepreneurial group had restored the hotel to its former glory and opened for business once again. 

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia | CosmosMariners.com

I tip my hat to that group. Because of them, Jekyll now has an amazing piece of its history up and running again. And it only (ONLY) took $22 million dollars...and that was before they started buying furniture and all of that. 

Clearly, they really, really, really believed in their project. I wish we had more people like that! 

Today, the Jekyll Island Club Hotel is one of Travel and Leisure's top 500 hotels in the world. It's absolutely still a work in progress, as the property needs continual restoration to keep it up and beautiful. One of the meeting rooms takes on 4 to 5 buckets of water a day, and it's only through the ongoing historical restoration efforts that the room--and its stained glass panels--are being preserved for future generations. 
Hopefully, Britton and her kids and grandkids will always be able to experience this piece of American history.
If you're ever at the JICH, definitely take the tour! You'll even get to peep into the Presidental or Junior Presidential Suites if they're available. 

Jekyll Island Club Hotel | CosmosMariners.com
The view from the Junior Presidental suite. Not too shabby!

If you're thinking about visiting the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, do it. Not only will you get to stay in one of the coolest hotels around, you'll also be supporting the ongoing preservation efforts.