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Jekyll Island Club Era

By 1885 Jekyll Island had a new destiny. No longer would it have an agricultural future; it would soon become a playground for the wealthy.

Newton Finney, John Eugene Dubignon's brother-in-law, had bigger ideas for Jekyll Island. Finney had suggested to Dubignon the potential of selling the island to Northern businessmen for a winter resort.

Newton Finney, with the help of his brother-in-law, John Eugene Dubignon, got help from a New York backer to assist with the purchase of the entire island. By 1885, Dubignon was the sole owner of Jekyll.

During 1885 Newton Finney had also partnered with Oliver K. King who was an associate of Finney's from New York. They brought together a group of men and petitioned the Glynn county courts, becoming incorporated as the "Jekyl Island Club" on December 9, 1885. They agreed to sell 100 shares of the Jekyll Island Club stock to 50 individuals at $600 a share.

Finney had no difficulty selling the shares. The six of the first seven shares went to the men who signed the charter petition: Finney, Dubignon, King, Richard L. Ogden, William B. D'Wolf, and Charles L. Schlatter. In all Finney was able to find fifty-three individuals to join the Club, including such famous names as Henry Hyde, Marshall Field, John Pierpont Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William H. Vanderbilt.

By 1886, financial preparations were completed and Finney, as a representative of the newly formed Jekyll Island Club, was prepared to sign paperwork. Officially on February 17, 1886 Newton Finney signed an agreement with Dubignon, selling Jekyll Island to the Jekyll Island Club for $125,000.

On April 1, 1886 a meeting was held in New York to create the constitution and by-laws, and to nominate officers for the club. The first president nominated was Lloyd Aspinwall, vice president was Judge Henry Elias Howland, treasurer was Franklin M. Ketchum, and Richard L. Ogden became secretary. Now these elected men had in front of them the difficult task of turning the undeveloped property into a social club of the wealth upper class of America.

Lloyd Aspinwall only served 5 months as the club president before he suddenly died. Henry Howland then took the position as president of the Club.

Committees were formed to get the club off the ground. Charles A. Alexander of Chicago was chosen to design the clubhouse, and William Shaler Cleveland, the famous landscape architect, was chosen to design and lay out the grounds of the club grounds.

Ground was broken on the clubhouse building in mid-August of 1886. Hopes were that the clubhouse would be ready by August 1, 1887, but after some setbacks the clubhouse was not completed until November 1. The club officially opened its doors when the executive committee arrived for the 1888 season on January 21.

Several nationally important events took place on Jekyll Island during the Club era, including the first transcontinental telephone call made by Theodore N. Vail, president of AT&T, to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson and President Woodrow Wilson in 1915; and the development of the Aldrich Plan for the National Monetary Commission in 1908.

Recreation during the club era

The Jekyll Island Club was a unique resort, more family oriented than the Union Club of New York or the Chicago Club. Women were encouraged to go hunting, horseback riding, and camp out, and enjoy themselves.

When the club started out, hunting was a major recreational activity for both men and women. A gamekeeper was hired to keep the island well stocked with pheasants, turkeys, and quail, as well as deer.

All members were to report daily what they had killed and turn it over to the club. Wild game was a common sight on the menu of the clubhouse. A taxidermist shop was located within the club compound, specifically for mounting the price game that members wanted stuffed.

As the club grew other recreations became popular. Golf eventually took over as the Club's dominant sport. The first course was located just to the north of the Club compound. Later, in the 1920s, an oceanside course was built. A portion of this historic golf course is still intact, and can be played.

Other leisure activities included carriage driving, tennis, and bicycling.

Decline and closure of the club

The Great Depression in 1929 caused great changes on Jekyll Island. This depression touched even the very wealthy across the country and a membership in an exclusive club became very extravagant. Membership dropped slowly through the 1930's as the depression continued.

With the financial situation of the club worsening, the executive committee decided to create a new level of club membership in 1933. A more affordable level of membership, the Associate membership was designed to fit the needs, and pocketbook, of anyone. It was an attempt to draw in new and younger people as well as to draw more members back to the clubhouse. This new membership did revitalize the club membership roster, although only for a brief period.

World War II was the final blow to the life of the Jekyll Island Club. The club opened as usual for the 1942 season. However, by the beginning of March it was announced there would be an early close to the season due to the club's financial situation and strain the war had on the labor situation. The 1942 season would turn out to be the final season for the Jekyll Island Club.

There was hope by the president that the Club might be reopened after the war with renewed interest. However, in 1946 the state of Georgia entered the picture. The Revenue Commissioner, M E Thompson, wanted to purchase one of Georgia's Sea Islands and open it to the public as a state park. Finally, on October 7, 1947, the state purchased the island through a condemnation order for $675,000 (or approximately $5,563,416 in 2003 dollars)

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