Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt… These are some of the names that made the Jekyll Island Club on Georgia’s Atlantic coast the most prestigious millionaires club of its time. The private club never had more than 100 members at one time, and it flourished from 1888 until World War II put an end to the exclusive island party–but not before it served as a location that hosted the beginnings of the federal reserve.
After the American Revolution ended, a French officer by the name of Du Bignon rebuilt the Horton House on Jekyll Island, and brought the historical jewel of a property not only back to its former glory, but into a state of wealth and prosperity. When the island was split among his children, his son John Eugene Du Bignon bought his siblings out (along with a brother-in-law) and went about creating a retreat for the deepest pockets in the U.S., to whom they sold the location for $600 per share. 53 members purchased shares of the exclusive club, and it was decreed that members were never to exceed 100, to keep it nice and posh.
Besides all of the usual tennis and horseback riding you’d expect from the privileged men and women of this America era, business was also conducted on the island, and in the main clubhouse. In 1910, a meeting was held on Jekyll Island between the top five financiers of the time, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department, and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich to discuss banking policy. This conversation sowed the seeds of what would eventually become legislation creating the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The swanky southern playground served the well-to-do throughout the early 20th century, but it was not immune to the Great Depression, and WWII shuttered its opulent doors. The state of Georgia purchased the island in 1947, and in 1957, it placed a convict camp onto the property to get it all gussied up for public use, landscaping and all. It has since been turned into a self-sustaining historical spot of local interest, the club house is now a hotel, and there is shopping, activities, and a museum that demonstrates the island’s history, and the powerful men who used to roam its shores.
Know Before You Go
On I-95 take Exit 29 onto Highway 17/82 North for 6 miles to the Jekyll Island Causeway (State Road 520). Proceed on the Causeway East 5 miles to the Jekyll Island toll plaza ($8 park entry fee). Continue over the Jekyll bridge and make the first left (U-turn). This is Riverview Drive and takes you directly to the front of the hotel. The Sans Souci Cottage was built in 1896 and owned (in part) by JP Morgan. It was built as a six-unit building for multiple families, so some call it America’s first condo. The Morgan’s occupied the third floor, and it’s been said that guests who rise at 5 a.m. as Morgan did and admire the view from the patio on the third floor north side of San Souci can smell the faint odor of his beloved cigars.