Friday, June 14, 2013

JEKYLL ISLAND CLUB, A MILLIONAIRE'S PLAYGROUND


Map of the Southern Charm Tour courtesy of Collette Vacations

I have to be honest. Savannah stole my heart. I could have easily sent for my belongings and moved into one of those mansions with the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Monterey Square and been happy as a clam for the rest of my life. But, there was more to the south than Savannah so the next morning we set off down the coast and headed for Jekyll Island.

Things began to decidedly look up when I heard that we were going to spend a day living just like the upper crust did a century ago. Our itinerary read, “The Jekyll Island Club Hotel was originally built in 1886 as a hunting retreat for America’s wealthy elite including J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer, as well as the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Cranes and Astors. Restored to its original splendor in 1986, it is now a National Historic Landmark.” Well now. Things were looking up!

The Queen Anne style Jekyll Island Club was built in 1886.

The 53 founding members of the “Club”, everyone a card carrying tycoon, bought Jekyll Island to have a place to bring their families to get away from the harsh northern winters and, more importantly, smoke cigars and hobnob with each other. It was a members only club and not just any old body with money could join either, just those with social standing and connections. One of the first buildings erected on the site was the Victorian Queen Anne style club house where after days spent enjoying lawn parties and hunting trips, the millionaires dressed in tuxedos and gowns and gathered for three hour dinner parties. And we were going to stay in that very same club house!

As soon as our bags were unloaded at the Club, we climbed aboard a tram for a guided tour of the nearby “cottages” that the rich and famous built for themselves. While not as grand as the summer homes in Newport, Rhode Island, the “cottages” were still impressive. They may have been a little more laid back, but they housed the wealthy, don’t forget, which just probably meant that servants were kept to a minimum. As we rode around I could see why the founders chose to purchase the entire island. Cooled by soft ocean breezes and cut off from the rest of the world, its serenity and beauty would relax anyone.

The Crane Cottage
This little modest beauty was built by Richard Crane Jr. in 1917. Mr. Crane is
the reason we all have indoor bathrooms in matching porcelain! 

The Cherokee
Built in 1904 by Dr. George Shrady, a renowned surgeon. He named it after Georgia's
state flower, the Cherokee Rose. 

Faith Chapel is guarded by gargoyles and has two of the most stunningly beautiful
stain glass windows I have ever seen. One is by Tiffany, the other, and I think even more
beautiful, is the one behind the alter by Maitland Armstrong. No pictures were allowed, darn it!

San Souci (without care) is the nation's first townhouses. J.P. Morgan lived in one.

Moss Cottage built in 1896.
 Some of the earlier cottages actually managed to look like cottages.

duBignon Cottage built in 1884. duBignon was one of the
founding members of the "Club".

Some of the miles of biking trails around and through the Island; the best way to see it.

St. Simon and Driftwood Beach

 The Lighthouse on St. Simon Island

Next day, some of us opted to spend a few hours visiting nearby St. Simon Island. It was a perfect day and I enjoyed seeing the quaint lighthouse and browsing the boutique stores lining the sleepy main street. When it came time for lunch though, I had no clue where to stop because there were so many cute places that looked like they served tasty food. Then I saw the “4th of May Café” and my choice was made since that’s my birthday! I sat outside and ordered a barbecue chicken sandwich and as I  smeared it all over my face, I asked the waitress how the café got its name. She said, "The owner and her two partners all have the same birthday—May 4th. And on every May 4th, they invite the entire town for birthday cake to celebrate".  I would just love to join them. (It was also one of the best meals I had on the trip!)


 The 4th of May Cafe


Later that day, Courtney arranged for hotel transportation to take some of us to see Driftwood Beach a few miles away from the Jekyll Island Club. It was an eerie and yet beautiful site of uprooted and bleached oak trees, victims of erosion. It is a wonderful place to take photographs, especially at sunset.

 Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. St. Simon Island is in the background.

Sunset as seen from the Island.

 Leeza and Courtney in front of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel at sunset.

Phoebe and the wealthy ghosts of Jekyll Island Club

After sprucing up and “dining at the Club”, Courtney, Leeza and I walked down to the pier and enjoyed the spectacular sunset then wandered around looking for a little bar that we were told was tucked away someplace in the hotel. Walking up and down several sets of stairs, through a dark passage way and under a dim light we finally found a small sign that read, “Vincent’s Pub”.  Entering in a door that looked as unremarkable as someone’s laundry room, we found a cozy little bar tended by Cindi, a tiny barista with a big smile who turned out to be the one of the best parts of our stay on Jekyll Island.

Cindi could spot lovers of ghost stories a mile away. It must have been written on our foreheads. In between wiping down the bar, ringing up drinks and answering the phone, she spun story after story of the resident ghosts who had never left the Jekyll Island Club. We hung on her every word:

“See that picture on the wall by the door? A Budweiser mirror used to hang there. We had to take it down a few years ago after losing a bartender. Story goes it was late at night and the bartender was here all by himself cleaning up when he heard three knocks on the bar behind him. He had already locked up and couldn’t imagine who could have gotten in. He glanced up at the mirror and saw a well dressed man in a dark suit behind him. He turned around to ask him what he wanted but there was nobody there. Well, the bartender he left everything, his tips, the cash drawer, everything, and he never came back. It scared him that bad.

Then there’s Phoebe. She’s the ghost down at the Bookstore. We know her name because once she actually talked to somebody. A lady came in the store one day with her little boy. She shopped for a little while then looked up to see where her son was and saw him standing and looking up like he was listening to somebody. When she asked him what was he was looking at, he told her, ‘Phoebe. She’s real nice.’ See, they already knew all about her at the bookstore because she often throws toys off of a bench by the front door, but they never knew her name until she told the little boy. Come to find out, Phoebe used to be a nanny for one of the families on the Island.

My favorite one though is about the gentleman ghost that lives in a certain room on the second story of the Annex. Lots of people over the years have said they’ve heard him move around or open and close doors and stuff, but the best story about him is this one: A fella staying there once said that he left his newspaper and a cup of coffee out on the balcony for just a minute and when he goes back out there, the newspaper was folded and the cup was empty like somebody drank it. He swears there was no one else in the room.”

If you ever get to the Jekyll Island Club and Vincent’s Pub, say hello to Cindi for me.

 Cindi, barista in Vincent's Pub. Jekyll Island Club's best kept secret.

 Next time: St. Augustine, Florida

**Double click on any picture for a full screen slide show.

No comments:

Post a Comment