On Jekyll

A few weeks ago, for the first time in my 22 years living in Georgia — I have been here now longer, by a good bit, than I’ve been anywhere, and have stayed in this house on this cul de sac in Alpharetta longer than in any single place, including the big red house in Willow Grove — I wandered over to Jekyll Island, a beauty of a barrier island an hour or so north of the Florida state line.

((Cul de sac, in French, means “bottom of the sack.” In English, it’s also known as a “dead end.” I try not to think of Home Sweet Home that way.))

ga-islandsI’ve been to a few of these little islands, like Jekyll, on the southern Atlantic Coast. Tybee (with Luke for a class trip many years ago) and St. Simons in Georgia. Amelia Island in Florida, where I stayed for an dud of a Super Bowl in 2005. Hilton Head, in South Carolina, many times. Johns and Sullivan’s around Charleston. Dipped a toe off of Kiawah, which is south of Charleston, once.

I’m wanted for a multitude of golf crimes on Pawleys Island, further up the coast in South Carolina. Mary Jo and I looked at houses on Oak Island in North Carolina and, basically, turned around. Went to the world’s hottest ever wedding on a beach outside of Wilmington, N.C. (My god was that hot. Had to be 100 degrees that day. Sweated through all my clothes. Twice. And didn’t care, ’cause everyone else did, too.)

Islands are great. Islands, I thought for the longest time, are where I’d like to stick my feet up and live some day. Maybe some day. Maybe. If I can get past that hurricane and swarms-of-tourists thing.

Jekyll, once a playground for Yankee snobbery like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, is a little different than most. Protected by the state of Georgia, bound by law to not develop any more than 35 percent of the place, Jekyll seems to have found just the right balance between getting away and getting too far away.

For years, from what I hear, Jekyll was a nice beach spot to take the family for a nice break. A nice short break. Other than the beautiful beaches and a couple of so-so restaurants, Jekyll was the quintessential beach getaway. Which is to say, often, it’s slow. Lots of nap time. Lots of strolling on the beach. Lots of hanging around and talking.

Jekyll was never intended to be and never was — this, to Georgia’s ever-lasting credit, too — Myrtle Beach.

In the past 10 years, probably less, Jekyll has awakened. The people in charge there have rebuilt the center part of the island into a mini commercial center, with small shops and restaurants. They have a new convention center. They’ve redone their Sea Turtle Center.  I stayed at a new Westin, and a few more hotels are coming in the next year or two. (Though, notably, all will be erected on existing footprints of hotels, as to not run afoul of the 65/35 rule.) People there now tell me “If you haven’t been to Jekyll in 10 years, you haven’t been to Jekyll.”

Cooly, though, the old Jekyll still exists, in the restored vacation homes of the some of the richest men of the turn of the 20th century — J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, Marshall Field, William Rockefeller — and in the Jekyll Island Club, once called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world …” It’s been estimated that, at one time, 1/6th of the world’s wealth belonged to the Jekyll Island Club.

croquetToday, you can tour some of the Victorian homes these rich people built on the island. And the Jekyll Island Club still stands as a hotel, complete with golf courses and croquet lawn (^).

I don’t know Jekyll well. I was there for something like 36 hours, for a work thing. And I don’t think it qualifies for a stop on the Next Stop Tour.

Still, it’s definitely worth a stop for a few days. Beats Myrtle Beach.


A living sand dollar (^^) — technically, a five keyhole urchin — at sunrise on Jekyll Island. Yeah, I took the shot, surprising in that A) It’s pretty good, I think, and B) Up at sunrise?


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