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Jekyll Island, Georgia - Overview

Jekyll Island is an island off the coast of the U.S. state of Georgia, in Glynn County; it is one of the Sea Islands and one of Golden Isles of Georgia. The city of Brunswick, Georgia, the Marshes of Glynn, and several other islands, including the larger St. Simons Island, are nearby. Its beaches are frequented by vacationers and guided tours are available of the Landmark Historic District, comprising a number of buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


The English occupation

General James Oglethorpe established Georgia as a colony in 1733. Jekyll Island was named shortly thereafter by Oglethorpe in honor of his friend, Sir Joseph Jekyl (the additional "L" was added later). Prior to English establishment along the coast of Georgia, the Spanish had established missions in the coastal Georgia area. No mission is known to have been established on Jekyll; however, the Spanish certainly influenced the island from the mission that was established on St. Simons Island prior to the English settlement.

In the late 1730s, General Oglethorpe appointed William Horton to set up a military post in the area to protect Fort Frederica on St Simon's Island. By 1738 Horton had set up permanent residence on Jekyll Island, near what is now called DuBignon Creek. At his residence, Horton established a plantation prosperous enough to supply the population at Frederica with beef and corn.

Horton continued to make improvements on his property on Jekyll throughout his years on the island. Even after his property was destroyed in 1742 during Spanish attacks, he rebuilt his home and worked on new experimental crops on his plantation, including barley and indigo.

William Horton died in 1748-1749 and his property on Jekyll passed through many men's hands, until just before the year 1800, the entire island became the property of Christophe du Bignon.

Plantation era

Christophe du Bignon and his family arrived here in 1792. The family came to the United States in order to escape the French Revolution, which devastated provincial families like the du Bignons. The plantation that du Bignon owned on Jekyll was very prosperous and grew cotton as its main crop. Christophe du Bignon also introduced slavery to the island. Christophe died in 1825 and ownership passed on to his son Henri Charles Dubignon. Under the new ownership of Henri Charles the plantation continued to prosper up through the 1850 census.

On November 28, 1858, fifty years after the importation of slaves to the United States was made illegal, the ship The Wanderer landed on Jekyll Island with 465 slaves. This was the last shipment of slaves to Georgia soil from Africa.

However, by 1860 there was a great decline in the productivity on Jekyll. By 1862 when Union Army troops arrived, the Dubignon plantation was completely deserted. After the American Civil War ended, the Dubignon family returned to the island. Henri Charles divided the island up between his four children.

In the late 1870s John Eugene Dubignon became owner of property on the island. He had bought the southern third of the island from his uncle's estate, intending to establish a home there.

The Jekyll Island Club

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).

Development of the Jekyll Island Authority

Initially, Jekyll Island was part of the State Park system. But by 1950, as costs associated with getting the island ready for visitation begin to mount, the island was taken out of the state park system and organized into a separate authority in order to become self-sustaining.

The Jekyll Island Authority was created in 1950, and was designed to be a governing board. This board consists of nine gubernatorial appointed members. The board was charged with the operation and care of the island. This management structure continues today.

The island affords many opportunities for visitors who wish to come to the island. Some of the advancements made by the Jekyll Island Authority include the Convention Center, 3 12 Golf Courses, miles of public accessible beaches, a Soccer Complex, bicycle paths, and a Historic District registered with National Historic Landmark Status.

By legislative mandate, sixty five percent of the island is and will remain undeveloped, and left in its natural state.

Role in the history of the Federal Reserve

Jekyll Island was the location of a meeting in November, 1910 that may have hastened the creation of the Federal Reserve and affected the 1912 presidential election. Following the Panic of 1907, banking reform became a major issue in the United States. Senator Nelson Aldrich, (R-RI) the chairman of the National Monetary Commission, went to Europe for almost two years to study that continent's banking systems. Upon his return, he brought together many of the country's leading financiers to Jekyll Island to discuss monetary policy and the banking system, an event which some say was the impetus for the creation of the Federal Reserve.

On the evening of November 22, 1910, Sen. Aldrich and A.P. Andrews (Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department), Paul Warburg (a naturalized German representing Baron Alfred Rothschild's Kuhn, Loeb & Co.), Frank Vanderlip (president of the National City Bank of New York), Henry P. Davison (senior partner of J. P. Morgan Company), Charles D. Norton (president of the Morgan-dominated First National Bank of New York), and Benjamin Strong (representing J. P. Morgan), left Hoboken, New Jersey on a train in view of a group of confused reporters, who were wondering why these bankers, representing about one-sixth of the world's wealth, were gathering at this particular place and time and leaving together.

Forbes Magazine founder Bertie Charles Forbes wrote several years later:

"Picture a party of the nation's greatest bankers stealing out of New York on a private railroad car under cover of darkness, stealthily hieing hundred of miles South, embarking on a mysterious launch, sneaking onto an island deserted by all but a few servants, living there a full week under such rigid secrecy that the names of not one of them was once mentioned, lest the servants learn the identity and disclose to the world this strangest, most secret expedition in the history of American finance. I am not romancing; I am giving to the world, for the first time, the real story of how the famous Aldrich currency report, the foundation of our new currency system, was written... The utmost secrecy was enjoined upon all. The public must not glean a hint of what was to be done. Senator Aldrich notified each one to go quietly into a private car of which the railroad had received orders to draw up on an unfrequented platform. Off the party set. New York's ubiquitous reporters had been foiled... Nelson (Aldrich) had confided to Henry, Frank, Paul and Piatt that he was to keep them locked up at Jekyll Island, out of the rest of the world, until they had evolved and compiled a scientific currency system for the United States, the real birth of the present Federal Reserve System, the plan done on Jekyll Island in the conference with Paul, Frank and Henry... Warburg is the link that binds the Aldrich system and the present system together. He more than any one man has made the system possible as a working reality."

Sen. Nelson's biography claims that they were going duck hunting in "Jamaica," which may have been a code word for Jekyll Island. Some speculate that not only was the Federal Reserve created during the Jekyll Island meeting, but also plans to alter the 1912 presidential election. The attendees knew that the popular incumbent, William Howard Taft (R-Ohio) was not in favor of creating a central banking system, so they decided to split the Republican vote by convincing former president Theodore Roosevelt out of retirement to form the progressive Bull Moose Party. The Jekyll Island attendees' chosen candidate was Woodrow Wilson. Wilson gained the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency. On December 29, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law.

Many years later, the Jekyll Island meeting was all but forgotten. However, author Eustace Mullins was talking to his friend, poet Ezra Pound, and Pound brought up the subject of some friends of his who had died in World War I. According to Mullins, Pound wanted to know why they died. He also said that he suspected that the Federal Reserve had something to do with it. After months of poring through the economics section of the Library of Congress, Mullins found an obscure article about the meeting and took it to Ezra Pound. Pound, according to Mullins, was thrilled. "You have uncovered the greatest detective story of the 20th century," said Poun

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