In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat, known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Members prized the island for its sense of splendid isolation, beautiful landscape, and moderate climate. Jekyll Island, with its cottage colony and clubhouse, was viewed as a little paradise, where members and guests pursued “a life of elegant leisure.”
Here, members enjoyed a variety of outdoor pursuits, such as hunting, horseback riding, skeet shooting, golf, tennis, biking, croquet, lawn bowling, picnics, and carriage rides. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States.
It was with great excitement that Jacksonville Magazine launched its new Explorers Club with an exclusive outing on the grounds of gorgeous Jekyll Island. Located about an hour north of Downtown Jax, three of the island’s historic “cottages” were opened for a private event featuring fine eats, cocktails and local craft beer. Some 40 guests wandered the rooms and hallways of the more than 100-year-old homes built by Gilded Age tycoons—including seeing spaces and rooms normally off-limits to even guided tour groups. Explorers Club members poked around third-floor attics and received behind-the-scenes insights about the Jekyll Island Authority’s preservation efforts, including its collection of original furnishings and mission to restore the buildings of the historic district.
“Preserving the past is a longstanding tradition on Jekyll Island. In 1890, members of the Jekyll Island Club raised funds for one of island’s first preservation projects, the restoration of Horton House. Since that time, preservation of the island’s rich history has been an important part of its story,” says Meggan Hood, senior director of marketing for the Jekyll Island Authority.” At more than 240 acres, the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District is twice the size of Williamsburg, Virginia and one of the largest preservation projects in the southeast.
After arriving on the island, Explorers Club guests were greeted at a check-in tent by docents dressed in circa-1900s period costume. Next, they were invited to begin their tour at the grand Mistletoe Cottage.
Mistletoe Cottage was designed by architect Charles Gifford, who worked the firm of McKim, Mead and White in New York City before opening his own firm there. The firm was the primary developer of the Colonial Revival and Shingle styles of architecture in the United States. Gifford was best known as a designer of resort hotels, including Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire (which was owned by Club member, Joseph Stickney) and Clifton Hall in Niagara Falls, New York. He also designed the New Jersey State buildings for the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. Between 1896 and 1900, Charles Gifford was commissioned to design five buildings for the Jekyll Island Club and its members. Gifford also designed the Glynn County Courthouse in a Beaux Arts style, which is quite different than the styles he utilized here on the island.
Moss Cottage was built in 1896, as shown by the inscription in seashells on the front. Typical of the early club cottages, its rustic appearance is a reflection of the casual lifestyle of the original club members, who sought to escape from the pressures of the city to hunt, fish, and enjoy the natural beauty of the coastal environment. Downstairs are an entrance hall, a game room with wood shingle walls, a parlor, a dining room and servant’s area with butler’s pantry and kitchen. Upstairs are five family bedrooms, two full baths, one half bath and a servant’s room. The attic floor contains seven rooms, probably used as servants’ quarters, storage, and one bathroom. The cottage, like many built during the Club Era, also has a basement. Originally, a solarium was located on the south side of the cottage.
The final stop on the tour was Goodyear Cottage. Architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings of New York City designed this white stucco winter home, typical of Mediterranean Revival architecture. Their firm also designed the New York Public Library and the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. The cottage was built in 1906 for the lumber baron, Frank Henry Goodyear of Buffalo, New York. There are seven rooms and a half-bath on the first floor and five bedrooms and three baths on the second floor. The third floor originally contained a servant’s room, a bath, and a storage area. The house was restored in 1974 and is now used as a center for the creative arts, housing the Jekyll Island Arts Association and the Jekyll Island Pottery Guild.
Here, Explorers Club guests enjoyed a private reception in the gallery featuring wine, appetizers and an added bonus–a special discount on any artwork purchased. In closing the inaugural group outting, guests were thanked for taking part in the new concept and asked to provide feedback and ideas for unusual regional destinations they wished to experience on future Explorers Club gatherings.
“As stewards of the island, the Jekyll Island Authority protects the natural and historic resources on island, including the historic cottages. Like those first preservationists, we want to preserve the story of the island for future generations to enjoy, says Hood. “It’s rare to see these historic homes intact and on full display. The Jacksonville Magazine Explorers Club event offered guests an exclusive look inside the homes of millionaires from a bygone era. Guests even had access to the period furniture collection on the second floor of Moss Cottage, a rare glimpse into the Gilded Age on Jekyll Island.”